What’s your worth?

When I think of the phrase, ‘Because you’re worth it’, I can’t help but think of those long-running L’Oreal Paris adverts where a host of famous women would utter the phrase, with the company no doubt hoping that millions more would purchase their products because they too felt ‘worth it’.

Worth is a rather interesting concept because as a society we talk a lot about self-worth and empowerment, feeling good about ourselves and generally having a positive mental attitude. There is plenty to feel worried or anxious about, depression is a crippling disease, and especially when it comes to certain sections of society, there is a need to ensure ‘self-worth’ is as strong as it can possibly be.

Translating that value and worth into a work environment is a rather tricky undertaking though. At our recent AGM we held an interesting session all about worth and value, led by Vanessa Ugatti, and it was quite clear that as a sector conveyancing could be said to be in a rather unique position.

As it was pointed out by a number of firm representatives, the value we place on our work, and the charging structure we are able to put in place, can sometimes seem to be out of our hands. Our relationships with clients tends to determine the amount we charge, and from that perspective, perhaps we are not valuing our work as we would like to, and as other businesses do in other sectors. I suspect that we would all wish to increase our charges to reflect the work involved in the conveyancing process, but this is an ultra-competitive market and as firms we need to cut our cloth accordingly.

It was valuable to hear from certain firms who seemed to have eschewed, what we might describe as, market norms in that respect. A number of firms have their charging structure in place, based on the profit they want to earn out of the work, and they do not deviate from that. This take it or leave it approach might well work for them, but that’s not to say that other structures can’t work; again all businesses are different and we should not believe that there is only one way to operate in this market.

Clearly, in any debate about value, worth and payment, there will be some dissenting voices about those ‘market norms’ which seem (for some) to be impossible to change. A couple of member firms voiced their opinion that conveyancing firms could be regarded as competing in a ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to the fees we charge, or (as mentioned) those fees we have to accept. ‘Why should we be selling our services so cheaply?’, ‘Why can’t we all ‘club’ together and agreed a structure that works for all?’, were just some of the sentiments.

The problem of course is that we are not, and should not, be operating as a cartel in this marketplace – ‘clubbing together’ to fix a price is not going to go down well with the regulators. And the fact is that it only needs one dissenting firm to break that structure means it becomes moot anyway. My view is that we have to let the market work as the market does and if a firm is not happy with the fees it is charging/getting paid, then it will have to look inward in order to reassess what it is doing, what it is willing to accept, and perhaps the processes it uses. As mentioned, perfect businesses do not exist, but there are always improvements that can be made, and new avenues to explore. The important point is to keep looking for them and never to stand still.

Overall, perhaps as conveyancers we do have a history and tradition of under-valuing what we do – and who’s to say that this doesn’t translate across to our client base who may believe that we’re not worth the money they pay for the service they get. It’s up to us as an industry to change these perceptions and to begin valuing our services in a more realistic way – when you have the skills and experience built up over many years and through many transactions, why shouldn’t you place a greater value on your work? Perhaps if we value this more, then others will naturally follow suit.

Today's Conveyancer