Ben Whiting, Director at Ab Initio Legal Recruitment
reports on recruitment in the residential property sector and offers his predictions for 2011.
Overall, 2010 has been a subdued year for residential property recruitment. The legal recruitment market has seen the number of new vacancy registrations for residential conveyancers remain well below par due to mortgage lending failing to recover. The forecast for 2011 looks very much the same with the major Banks and building societies not expecting any significant recovery.
Locum recruitment, a desirable career choice for many conveyancers during the busy periods from 2005 — 2008 and a useful resource for over stretched practices, has been hit the hardest. Figures show that only 5% of locum vacancies registered in 2010 have been for residential property locums compared to 85% during the peak period in 2007.
Permanent recruitment has also dropped off. Some firms are still operating part-time working hours for their conveyancing staff, while others are getting by with a reduced workforce. The liquidity caused by redundancies has meant that when vacancies do arise, firms have been able to fill them without the outside assistance of an agency.
On the upside, the economic downturn has created an abundance of talent with strong, technically proficient and top-tier conveyancers now available. Ab Initio Recruitment has found many of these top calibre candidates registering with an agent when previously they would not have needed to. The sector they once knew has changed dramatically and they have had to adapt with it or face being out of work for long periods. As a result candidates are now willing to consider both locum and permanent roles that require a bigger commute and in some cases for a lower than expected salary. Many have found having an experienced agent who understands the market an invaluable resource to securing those much sought after positions.
Where many high street practices have struggled, those committed to the sector such as direct conveyancing companies like Enact direct legal solutions, one of the largest direct conveyancing companies in the UK, have increased market share through client acquisitions, improved customer service and a diverse portfolio of lenders.
Bev Mayo, Remortgage Operations Director of Enact direct legal solutions who employ over 300 staff comments, “ whilst our number of completed re-mortgages is significantly below our full capacity, in 2010 we have seen more remortgage work when compared to 2009. We don’t’ anticipate a significant rise in interest rates for some time yet and it is this which typically stimulates the remortgage market. We have, however, been pleased to retain our talented staff. Their loyalty has seen them benefit from the investment and training we provide. When the market does change we will be in great position to manage the increase in volume.”
The economic downturn has been a major driving force for change across the sector. With the advent of new entrants when Alternative Business Structures enter the market from October 2011 more change and opportunity is predicted. The tendering process for the major brands’ residential conveyancing work has already begun. Those who are successful at making it onto the panels will benefit from an increase in new instructions.
2011 will see many mergers between high street firms; increased focus on competitive fees/ innovative pricing structures and for many a shift to an outsourced model or lower paid paralegals. Those firms that fail to change with the times will be left behind or, worse still, disappear altogether.