Any review of the homebuying process must look beyond liberalisation.
Many members of the public form their view of the legal profession from using solicitors in the sale or purchase of a property. As such, to borrow a striking phrase from the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, conveyancing goes ‘to the heart of the trust and confidence the public place in the profession’.
The process has changed almost beyond recognition in a generation, and it is right that policymakers and regulators should look at it in the round. The Department for Business Innovation & Skills’ call for evidence on homebuying is therefore welcome.
However, it risks being a lost opportunity. On the subject of ‘consumer’ interests, the SRA, in its dialogue with BIS, cleaves to the view that competition between service providers automatically delivers all the public needs and wants.
Yet none of the very long list of frustrations clients have with the conveyancing process relates to poor competition or inflated fees. The time taken on many transactions has doubled or tripled over a period when legal fees have remained flat or fallen.
Put simply, a fee south of £300 would not prevent gazumping, gazundering, delays caused by inappropriate standard-list queries or the last-minute collapse of chains. Binding contracts, preliminary deposits, affordable bridging finance and attention to checklists are all ripe for perusal. But a focus on liberalisation alone would have no positive outcome.