Britain’s housing market bears the characteristics of a pyramid-selling scheme that is approaching a tipping point.

Paul rogerson

Paul Rogerson

Or does it? Google ‘housing market Ponzi’ and you’ll find that respected commentators have been saying as much for at least a decade. And yet the juggernaut rolls on.

After surviving a famine, conveyancers are now invited to a feast. We should not be too surprised. Over 100,000 transactions were recorded in January last year, before the pandemic hit, the highest number for almost five years. The market needed to be reassured that Jeremy Corbyn was not going to do anything silly like build lots of affordable social housing and cap rents.

With the government continuing to pump-prime activity, the only way is up – for now. Will chancellor Rishi Sunak make the stamp duty land tax ‘holiday’ permanent? Anecdotal evidence suggests many sellers are simply adding the tax saving to the asking price, but that is incidental. Maintaining positive market sentiment trumps all (even common sense). Yet the OECD is among the august organisations which is calling upon him to do so.

A super-abundance of work ought to be a cause for celebration for solicitors, and so it is up to a point (see feature). But the buying frenzy has brought its own headaches, focusing attention once again on what consumers perceive to be the myriad faults of the home buying and selling process. A recent survey by The Times, for example, found that the majority thought the system could be improved with more information from sellers upfront (97.5%), offers to be made legally binding (95%) and greater use of technology (everybody). Many also called for greater transparency across chains or, ideally, an end to a system of having chains.

Much is therefore expected of the Conveyancing Task Force, formed in February by the principal associations representing conveyancers, including the Law Society. They will seek to agree reform of the conveyancing process for the benefit of consumers and lawyers alike.

As someone who thought Home Information Packs were a great idea, I’d better keep my own counsel. Except to observe that achieving consensus will not be straightforward.