Doug Crawford, CEO of myhomemove, spoke exclusively to Today’s Conveyancer as the company expands and opens a new Manchester office.
You joined myhomemove in April 2012. What makes conveyancing an interesting sector for you?
Conveyancing, for me, is at a crossroads. When I joined myhomemove a couple of years ago after 16 years in financial services, I went to legal service events and talked to people who believed that conveyancing was becoming increasingly commoditised with the focus more on the legal process than on people.
I don’t accept that’s the way forward. So, when I joined, we rewrote our vision and our mission statements to make sure the customer was at the heart of what we do. We talk about completion numbers and we’re justly proud of ours — 38,000 in 2013. But we have to remember that every one of those completions is a real life event for somebody — it’s move day — and we genuinely empathise with the client, appreciating that this is a stressful time for them.
I was in a strange position when I joined myhomemove. I was about to become chief exec of the largest mover conveyancer in the UK but, because I’d only ever lived in Northern Ireland and Scotland, I didn’t actually know how to buy a house in England! So I bought a home in Leicester and, of course, used myhomemove for the conveyancing. That gave me a lot of insight. Like 80% of our clients, I used eWay, our real-time, online case management portal, which, I felt, cut through a lot of the jargon and explained things in a simple and effective manner.
What makes moving to Manchester so exciting?
Traditionally we’ve been in the East Midlands and as a geographic base it has supported our growth so far — but we have extremely ambitious growth plans. Our aspiration is to achieve 100,000 mover completions a year by 2016. To do that, we need to recruit more people and are looking at creating 200 jobs in Manchester, the second largest legal services centre in the UK, over the next two years.
Our approach there, as it is in the East Midlands, will be two-fold — we want to recruit experienced legal property professionals and to train our own. In February 2013 we set up our CLC and SRA accredited Learning & Development Academy in Leicester and by the end of the year 83 conveyancers had graduated from that.
What do you look for in a myhomemove employee?
For me, an ideal recruit is someone with the right attitude — legal skills can be learnt but the right attitude has to be inherent. We listen to calls as a Board and when I hear our conveyancers talking to clients and the client chatting away about their new house as if they’re talking to an old pal, that’s perfect. It’s not formal or stuffy and in that sort of environment, the client feels relaxed and able to ask questions.
What do you think will happen in the housing market over the next year?
There are all sorts of estimates. Our view would be that the market would grow 15% this year and on a similar level next year. But, obviously, our own plans are to grow beyond that, by around 40% year on year. And we believe that, by focusing on the client, that’s achievable.
We’re trialling new services to help clients all the time — for example, in our Northampton office we’re testing a system whereby when people are on-line with us they can rate our service and the result is pinged over to us immediately. So we had a situation last week when one of the team leaders said to me: ‘We’ve had our first ever 1.’ Obviously a ‘1’ is not good.
As soon as the team leader saw it, she phoned the client. And what had happened was that the client didn’t understand what the green ticks were for — the ticks that tell you that a file has been opened. That was explained, the problem sorted out and thereafter all the transactions with that client were rated ‘4’ and ‘5’. It was a relatively simple thing but because we were alerted to the confusion immediately we could clarify it and move forward with the client’s understanding of the process back on track.
You’re in the business of helping people buy houses. What would your dream home be — a country cottage or a private Caribbean island?
For me getting into the countryside at the weekend is the thing. During a typical week I’m whizzing back and forth between Manchester, London, Birmingham and Leicester. But, come Friday night, I’ll drive up to my house in Scotland and the week is left behind. The house is in a quiet village on the edge of the loch and there’s this amazing sense of space and openness, which I really value.
You’ve achieved your boyhood dream of owning a Jaguar? What qualities would you say myhomemove as a company shares with Jaguar as a car?
The Jaguar I’ve got is the F-type, launched last year, so the first comparison I’d make is between the technology at the heart of the Jag and the technology at the heart of myhomemove — eWay, for example.
Of course, the Jaguar is fast and we’re fast at myhomemove too. I’m trying to prove this definitively but we reckon that we’re three weeks faster than other conveyancers on a like-for-like transaction.
Another comparison — Jaguar customer care is phenomenal and the customer’s at the heart of our business too.
And, lastly, there’s that whole British thing. The whole idea — the dream — of buying a house is quintessentially British and the Jaguar is the quintessential British car. That’s another match between us.