Conveyancers expect the property boom to continue throughout the year, but they remain cautious about increasing headcount, according to an authoritative market snapshot.
The Conveyancer Sentiment survey, run by search provider Searchflow in association with the Gazette, shows that 84% of firms have seen the volume of conveyancing work increase over the past three months. At 41% of firms, business rose by 25% or more.
Of the 71 firms that took part, just over half (37) were based in London and the south-east.
Three-quarters (73%) said that the government’s Help-to-Buy scheme had made no difference, while 27% said it had ‘contributed somewhat’ to growth.
Recent heavy flooding did little to change buyers’ attitudes to risk when undertaking searches. More than half (56%) said it made no difference to their clients’ wishes, although 37% said views had changed ‘somewhat’ and 7% said they had changed ‘a lot’.
Solicitors were more aware of flooding problems, with 52% saying it changed their approach to searches and 15% that it had affected them ‘a lot’. In cases where flood risks were identified, most respondents said they experienced no problems with mortgage offers or insurance.
Despite the growth in business almost half (49%) said they were ‘unlikely’ or ‘very unlikely’ to increase staff. Just under a quarter (22%) said they were ‘very likely’ to take on staff and 30% said it was ‘possible’.
As volumes continued to increase, 43% of respondents reported experiencing delays in the transaction process, attributed in most cases (59%) to lenders and in 23% of cases to the vendor’s solicitor.
Conveyancers’ biggest concerns centred on lender panels, in particular the cost of gaining access. Fee levels (64%), fraud (48%), professional indemnity insurance (40%) and recruitment (21%) were also highlighted as challenges.
Searchflow’s group marketing director Perran Moon said: ‘Overall the level of confidence is increasing, but it is not matched by recruitment.’
He attributed this to ‘nervousness’ arising from the recession’s impact on the property market over the past few years. ‘Firms want to be certain the rise is sustainable before they look at long-term investment in people,’ he added.