Getting the conveyancing resource conundrum right

For any business the issue of developing sufficient quality resource within the organisation is always a priority, however perhaps for conveyancing firms it is even more of a challenge, especially when you are coping with a marketplace where activity levels can swing high and low within a short timescale.

Looking at the media ‘noise’ around activity levels in the housing market fuelled, by what some are calling a ‘rush to let’ by landlords, it would seem that conveyancing firms in particular are often placed within a rock and a hard place when it comes to resource. It might be best described as the ‘go early’ or ‘go late’ dilemma.

It’s fair to say that you don’t need a long memory in this field to recall a time when the peaks and troughs of the housing market laid many firms low. The period immediately post-credit crunch, and the subsequent recession, meant that many conveyancers had to cut their cloth accordingly when it came to dealing with the downturn. That was completely understandable and when it’s a question of survival then we all know that you have to do everything necessary. The problem comes of course when that market begins to show signs of life and, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years, begins to find its feet again.

At this point when (hopefully) business levels begin to show a marked improvement, a decision has to be made on both existing resource levels and whether they are up to coping with the upturn. Again, understandably given recent history, some conveyancers have traditionally been rather slow to bring in that extra resource, no doubt worried that any upturn might not be sustained, and no sooner had, for instance, new staff been brought in and trained, they would have to be let go.

No partner or management team would want to be in that position and therefore we probably went through a period when some firms were ‘managing’ by the skin of their teeth. As we have moved on, and certainly in the last 18 months or so, it’s been clear that activity levels have been sustained and in certain areas – notably buy-to-let – they have increased considerably since those dark credit crunch days.

Now of course we reach a point, again fuelled by the buy-to-let market, where we have a noticeable uptick in business caused by the Government’s decision to increase stamp duty charges for those buying homes which are not their main residence. Not only does this put a strain on the lenders and mortgage advisers, but clearly conveyancing firms as well, especially when we see a concerted move away from individual purchase to, for example, purchase via a limited company. How many specialist conveyancers are available who have the necessary expertise and experience to deal with such cases quickly?

Again, conveyancing firms may be looking at the current market and wondering if such an increase in activity will be sustained. Is this simply a buy-to-let fuelled flash in the pan which will peter out post-1st April? Or will activity levels, as lending volumes have done, continue to push upwards, and be consistently up for the rest of 2016? If so, will firms need to continue to bring in extra resource? The other big question of course is whether we will continue to see a move towards the larger conveyancing firms, as we have done over the past decade? Again, if this happens, as seems increasingly likely, the issue of regular resource increases needs to be tackled.

Of course simply bringing in bums on seats is not going to work for anyone. New staff, as stated above, need to be trained and qualified in order to carry out their roles and to continue to provide a quality service. It’s for this reason the Association recently launched its Paralegal course which is designed to do just that – getting new employees au fait with the conveyancing process via an individual training package which can be digested in bite-sized chunks and can quickly help the employee secure an accredited certification. This is not about bypassing the necessary training and competence requirements but ensuring that new employees are up to speed as quickly as possible.

In the never-ending conundrum which is business resource we hope that we’re providing members with an opportunity to react quickly and to ensure both staff numbers and staff understanding match up. Anyone who has been around the conveyancing market for any length of time will know that, with the vagaries of the housing market and this ever-changing sector, this has not always been possible. Hopefully, we are all on a much steadier footing now, and with courses like this offered by the CA, we are in a position to provide our members with the means to develop, compete and secure the greater levels of business that are out there.

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