Experts Discuss Transactions, Social Distancing And Furloughing

The property sector is facing unprecedented challenges at the moment.

Covid-19 has decimated the home buying and selling process with searches and new mortgages almost halving in four weeks.

Similarly, lenders are now reluctant to offer finance until social distancing regulations are lifted and survey valuations and home viewings can resume.

Economic forecasts have predicted that transaction levels could fall between 40 per cent and 60 per cent in 2020 with a spike back to normal levels next year.

As more law firms adapt to the situation by working remotely or even furloughing staff, Today’s Conveyancer asks what the situation means for conveyancing firms in addition to the present and future home buying and selling process.

Rob Hailstone, CEO of The Bold Legal Group commented:

“The feedback I have had from some of the BLG member firms is that it is a real mixed bag of frustrations, worries and practical problems.

“’I am attempting to maintain transaction momentum but am seriously hampered by other firms simply not responding in a timely manner or not at all.’

“’Our professional indemnity insurance was due on the 1st April and despite not having a single paid out claim in the last 20 years our PI has doubled from £25,000 to £50,000.’

“’Lenders in some cases are proving a nightmare! Companies with a far bigger budget than solicitor firms are simply grinding to a halt! To be fair to them they are inundated with requests to defer mortgage payments.’

“’E-signatures procedures/acceptance need to be standardised.’

“’HMLR flexibility re priority searches etc needed.’

“But one of the biggest worries is the emotional and mental toll it is having on some practitioners.

‘My partner (as a key worker) still goes out to work every day so I am home schooling a 9-year-old. It is impossible to be a lawyer, teacher and parent at the same time and I fear that I am doing all of them quite badly. I can’t be alone in this. I have been in tears. A lot.’

“I think the workload pressure lightened a little after Easter, but that is when the reality of the next few months of lean pickings really struck home. As an association I know that I and the BLG members will do all we can to support each other in these horrendously difficult times. I wish all conveyancers well over the coming months.”

Paul Sams, partner at Dutton Gregory Solicitors, said:

“The market has stalled in lock down. Yes some deals are being done but property is a people business.

“Interaction face to face in the flesh is key to property sales and that cannot happen at present. Yes we all have video conferencing but let’s face it, it is not the same.

“Conveyancing has been hit. I have had to furlough some great people. It has not been easy. Some law firms with a “hand to mouth” existence will cease to exist. Only the strong will survive. Blunt I know but true.

“The property market will bounce back. Property is a long term investment. Long term it thrives. The building blocks of recovery are in place. Interest rates are ridiculously low and stock (properties for sale) remains restricted. When lock down ends plenty of people will be sick of their homes and will want to change.

“Firms who survive will learn to thrive. Use of technology is key. If any firm dealing with conveyancing comes out of this where their lawyers have more than one assistant each I actually think I will be horrified. Now is the time to change. Dictating to a human being in the 21st century to type something you should be able to do yourself or voice recognition software can do is ludicrous.

“We need to hunker down, give thanks to all the unsung heroes in the NHS, carers, emergency services, supermarket staff etc, and get ready for lock down to end.”

Today's Conveyancer