The government has mooted the possibility of encouraging buyers and sellers to retain the same conveyancing solicitor as part of its mission to fix what it considers a 'broken housing market'.
The Department for Communities and Local Government raises the question in a call for evidence to improve the home-buying and selling process. It asks: 'Would there be an advantage to encouraging buyers and sellers to use the same conveyancing provider? If so, how could it work, without creating conflict of interest problems?'
The thorny issue was last raised in 2015 by Dame Janet Paraskeva, chair of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the conveyancers' regulator, who said at the time that the freedom to represent both sides was being 'abused' by some practitioners.
Solicitors Regulation Authority guidance states that solicitors must consider whether they can achieve outcome 3.5 of the code of conduct - never acting where there is a conflict or significant risk of conflict between themselves and the client - if they are to act for both parties.
The regulator says: 'The outcome does not necessarily prevent you from acting for both parties in a conveyancing transaction, but this is an area in which there is a high risk of a conflict arising during the course of the transaction.'
Research published alongside today's government call for evidence shows that nearly half (47%) of people who bought a home in the past two years blamed the seller's solicitor for delays; 58% of sellers blamed the buyer's solicitor.
Nearly a third (32%) of sellers were dissatisfied with the other party's solicitor; 28% of buyers were unhappy with the seller's solicitor. By contrast, more than 80% of the 2,000 people surveyed for the research were highly satisfied with the estate agent.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid said that buying a home 'is one of life's largest investments, so if it goes wrong it can be costly. That's why we're determined to take action to make the process cheaper, faster and less stressful'.
Today's paper proposes banning referral fees, after highlighting concern that some people are 'guided by their estate agents' towards using certain conveyancers. It also calls for evidence on ways to speed up the introduction of e-conveyancing.
The government rules out reintroducing home information packs. But it suggests that giving buyers information about property boundaries, disputes, lease lengths and service charges, before an offer is made could reduce the risk of buyers pulling out of the purchase at a later stage.
A Law Society spokesperson said there is 'room for improvement' in new-build or leasehold transactions, and ensuring buyers and sellers have the necessary information at the earliest possible stage in the transactions. 'We will continue to consult with members to establish where the most effective improvements can be made, and we look forward to working with DCLG throughout the consultation period,' the spokesperson added.
Eddie Goldsmith, chair of the Conveyancing Association, a trade body, said the association is working through internal pilots that will provide solutions to some of the issues raised in today's paper. These include a digital home report, reservation agreement (to tackle aborted transactions and gazumping) and completion code.
The consultation closes on 17 December.