Conveyancing firms may not be taking advantage of their websites to attract clients, research published by a niche regulator suggests.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers' latest Annual Regulatory Return report, which covers 2016, shows that nearly nine in 10 CLC-regulated firms have a website. However, six in 10 have a 'brochure-only' website with no added functionality; three in 10 offer a quote-generator tool. Few offer clients access to an online portal to upload documents or display price information. Four firms offered an email enquiry service or quote functionality.

Personal recommendation was the most common (38%) route to business, followed by referral (24%) from, for instance, a mortgage lender, and direct client approaches (18%). Personal recommendations were more common among firms with a turnover of under £500,000 (41%) than among larger firms (31%).

The CLC says the annual regulatory return, which its members are required to complete, helps the regulator target activities to effectively protect clients and support innovation. 

Around half of firms said residential conveyancing made up over 90% of their firm's transaction work. Four in 10 firms reported that up to 10% of work was related to commercial conveyancing. Firms with alternative business structure status were significantly more likely to do remortgage work. Six in 10 firms who had conducted remortgaging or commercial conveyancing work in 2016 acted for both sides.

For freehold residential properties worth £250,000, firms charged, on average, £639 to buy a freehold property; £643 for a buy-to-let purchase. Firms charged £595 for selling a freehold property; £397 for a re-mortgage. Firms charged a similar fee for releasing equity from a freehold property on a lifetime mortgage (£525) as they did for a home reversion (£528). The average fee for transferring equity was £371.

For leasehold residential properties worth £250,000, firms charged, on average, £747 for buying a leasehold property; £744 for a buy-to-let. The average fee for selling a leasehold property was £690, compared to £456 for remortgaging. A 'friendly' lease extension attracted a £577 fee; £878 for an 'unfriendly' one.

Cybercrime was considered to be the greatest business risk, followed by fraud and money laundering. Six firms reported that they had been a victim of fraud in 2016. The fraud cost three of the firms between £7,500 and £25,000. One firm said the fraud did not cost them at all; two said they 'don't know'. At least nine in 10 firms said relevant staff had been trained on anti-fraud measures. 

Six in 10 firms did not receive any 'first-tier' complaints in 2016. One in 10 received one complaint. Ten firms received more than 20 complaints each. Nearly all the complaints were resolved; 21 complaints were not. One complaint in 10 was referred to the Legal Ombudsman.