Conveyancers react to forthcoming review of the home buying process

The news that the government is to look at how the home buying process can be improved has received a mixed reaction from conveyancers.

The announcement was originally reported in March by Today’s Conveyancer with solicitor and Conservative MP Will Quince mentioning the forthcoming call for evidence in a parliamentary debate last week, calling for reform of the the CML handbook.

The statement in March’s Budget read: “Consumers spend £270 million each year on failed housing transactions.
“The government will shortly publish a call for evidence on how to make the process better value for money and more consumer-friendly.”

Governments have not fared well when attempting to reform the house buying process in England and Wales, with many recalling the aborted Home Information Packs. However many are cautiously optimistic.

Rob Hailstone of the Bold Legal Group wrote: “It would certainly help matters if all lenders had similar requirements and the CML Handbook (or any alternative) was standardised.

“Agreed protocols and procedures would also help. There are so many issues that individual conveyancers can currently ‘take a view’ on, for example when a copy Planning Permission or Building Regulation approval should be requested and provided and when a legal indemnity policy is or isn’t required etc.

“Collecting some useful information whilst a property is being marketed (as also suggested by Quince) would seem sensible. I agree that HIPs weren’t the panacea the Government had hoped for but they should never have been scrapped overnight. There should have been a suspension, followed by an investigation into what did and what didn’t work, and then a decision should have been made as to the way forward. A huge wasted opportunity that cost a lot of people (who invested in the HIP process) time, money and unnecessary stress.

“Without doubt, the way managing agents/freeholders provide information should be standardised, speeded up and, in most cases, made cheaper.

“Low fees and high volumes if not handled correctly, can lead to delays, fall-throughs and even claims. However, it is not only (some) volume conveyancers who cause delays, but also a number of high street firms who haven’t yet reached the 20th century, let alone the 21st century.

“The first thing that should be done however, is to drop the ridiculous notion of privatising the Land Registry.”

Tim Higham of Trethowans wrote: “With respect to the MP, the CML Handbook is absolutely necessary. It sets the standard conveyancers must adhere to.

“The only change to the CML handbook should be to allow a conveyancer to override any issue if they are prepared to sign a certificate of title to say the lender is safe to lend.

“But do not make any other changes. Instead, focus on the legal knowledge of the conveyancer themselves, as the standard is lower than i have ever witnessed, meaning legal errors and sluggish property moves. The human being doing the legal work is at fault, and i blame businesses who focus on profit, and not making sure the customer receives the very best conveyancer.”

Paul Saunders, Head of Residential Conveyancing and Lender Services at Shakespeare Martineau said: “Shakespeare Martineau welcomes any Government reforms to improve the conveyancing process. We would however urge the Government to consult closely with the conveyancing  industry to come up with some practical solutions which will really make a difference. Conveyancing can be a mystifying process for customers. The legal professional has an essential part to play in guiding clients through what is likely to be their largest financial transaction.

“Whilst some of the criticisms often levelled at the industry, typically around speed of response and delay, are no doubt valid; it should also be recognised that conveyancing services have been undervalued in recent years leading to reduced fees. Conveyancers should have more confidence in the skills and value they bring to the process and they should be rewarded accordingly.

“Unrealistically low fees can drive down service and in turn this impacts the ability to recruit good quality conveyancers who are properly remunerated. Our concern is that some prior Government consultations have not fully recognised the views of the industry a prime example being the current initiative to privatise the Land Registry.”

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