The conveyancing market consolidated at its fastest rate in three years in 2015, according to latest sector research.

Search Acumen’s conveyancing market tracker published today shows that the number of active firms registering transactions fell from 5,871 in 2014 to 5,357. The 9% drop was three times the rate of decline recorded in 2013 and 2014.

The number of firms operating in the market was almost a third lower than the 7,779 firms recording transactions in 2005.

Direct enquiries and personal referrals were the most common source of business growth last year, with seven in 10 firms reporting a rise in business as a result. Nearly three-quarters of conveyancers said staff recruitment and training were the biggest challenges they would have to meet to achieve further growth this year.

Search Acumen chair Mark Riddick said the importance of referrals and direct enquiries as a source of new business ‘should help to focus minds on the priorities for 2016’.

Riddick said there was ‘no room for a laid-back expectation that introducer-driven guaranteed business from sources like estate agents will simply keep coming through the door’.

Although firms completed 287,583 transactions in the last quarter of 2015, the most since quarterly records began in 2011, transactions in 2015 were up just 0.4% on the previous year.

Dispositionary first lease applications experienced a 36% rise, from 917 in 2014 to 1,248 in 2015. But the number of first registrations fell by 17%, from 24,777 transactions in 2014 to 20,442 last year.

Average transaction volume among the top 1,000 firms grew by 2% in 2015, but this was lower than the 31% growth recorded in 2014.

The collective market share of the top 1,000 firms reached a new high of 71% in 2015, compared with 55% in 2005.

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