National Conveyancing Week aims to boost an ‘undervalued and unappreciated’ sector. This week’s inaugural event heard many gripes but also set out to bust a few myths

National Conveyancing Week – a new cross-sectoral initiative – was established to improve the profile of conveyancers and the conveyancing process. It covered topics ranging from recruitment and retention to better working relationships with estate agents. And the latest calls to make the provision of upfront information mandatory.

An online discussion about panel managers revealed tensions. On what panel managers can bring to the sector, Kevin Tunnicliffe, chief executive of Sort Group, which provides conveyancing portals for mortgage brokers and estate agents, said: ‘From my side, it’s support. We’ve never been to a law firm and said, “You have to do this, you have to do that”.’

Hexham firm Humble & Clark Legal does not use panel managers as the firm does not want too much volume work, but senior partner Paul Clark understood commercially why panel managers are necessary, especially for large estate agents.

However, an attendee commenting in the online session’s chat section described panel managers as ‘middle people that do not need to exist’.

Another attendee said: ‘It would be interesting to know what training panel managers have. We, as solicitors, seem to be the only profession that get bombarded with calls/emails asking if we are doing our job. It is disappointing when we receive generic requests such as “are the searches in?”, “is the mortgage offer in?”. Receiving searches/mortgage offers does not mean it has been looked at yet. They need to be reviewed, reported on etc, yet this does not seem to be appreciated. Every call/email slows us down.’

Meanwhile, the Home Buying and Selling Group, a stakeholder group helping the government to improve the home buying and selling process, updated practitioners on work being done to provide upfront information. This subject inevitably leads pessimists to recall little-lamented home information packs (HIPs), which were scrapped in 2010 by the incoming coalition government.

Yet upfront information is still an issue conveyancers need to get to grips with. National Trading Standards wants ‘material information’ to become mandatory on property listings. Since June, a property’s council tax band, price and tenure information have been required on all property listings. ‘Material information’ will soon include restrictive covenants and flood risk. The government said in its Levelling Up white paper more than a year ago that it will legislate if necessary to ensure critical material information for buyers is available digitally wherever possible from trusted and authenticated sources, and provided only once.

'Scotland brought in home reports which are much more expensive than what we’re talking about, but there has been no reduction in the number of transactions'

Beth Rudolf, co-chair, Home Buying and Selling Group

The Home Buying and Selling Group took the thinking behind HIPs to create what it called the ‘Buying and Selling Property Information’ (BASPI) dataset, which is designed to be the ‘one source of truth’ for a property.

Attendees heard that BASPI collects information from the seller. The data can populate the Propertymark Property Information Questionnaire and the Law Society’s TA6 property information form, currently completed by the seller after lawyers are instructed. BASPI also contains a summary of information needed by a valuer or surveyor.

BASPI is updated annually to reflect important developments. For instance, questions on spray foam insulation were recently added.

Beth Rudolf, co-chair of the Home Buying and Selling Group, said upfront information would improve operational efficiency, reduce liability, cut the number of additional enquiries and post-valuation queries, and reduce stress.

Rudolf also ‘busted some myths’. On the argument that sellers will be reluctant to pay, Conveyancing Association research found 98% of people thought upfront information was a good idea and 62% would pay more than £300 for it.

‘We have tested this in the HIP regime. We had no problem with sellers paying for home information packs,’ Rudolf said. ‘Scotland brought in home reports which are much more expensive than what we’re talking about, but there has been no reduction in the number of transactions completed before, during and after delivery of home reports comparable to England and Wales.’

On what she described as the ‘myth’ that BASPI will not make a difference to timescales or fall-throughs, Rudolf said stakeholders using upfront information are now averaging transaction times of 12 weeks. Transaction times generally average 22 weeks. During the HIP regime it was 12 weeks.

National Conveyancing Week has also provided an opportunity to celebrate the sector. HM Land Registry said: ‘It has been a tough few years that has seen unprecedented sharp rises in volumes. And yet conveyancers have found a way through. Millions are now in their new home thanks to the care and attention paid by their hard-working conveyancer.’


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