Given the easing of the lockdown in England – and the assumption that similar measures will be soon be relaxed in the other countries of the UK – there will be plenty of property and mortgage market practitioners currently weighing up whether their pre-Covid-19 proposition is now suitable for a new environment.
In many ways we, as an industry, have been somewhat fortunate because, despite the lockdown meaning a sharp fall in activity, certain kinds and types of business have been able to continue. It means that we have been able to move along with the market and perhaps have a calmer return, unlike many other businesses who were forced to close with immediate effect and will have carried out no activity during the past few months, before reopening again.
That said, this is by no means an easy path to navigate. Staff may have been furloughed, income may have been cut considerably, and no-one can be 100% certain about how the market is going to run, especially in an era where the way we all work, and interact with customers, is changing.
While we might be starting to see the ‘green shoots’ of recovery, I’m sure none of us are willing to count our chickens before they hatch and therefore it’s completely understandable that firms might want to take a cautious approach across their business, not going too gung-ho without fully knowing just what is coming over their horizon in terms of business.
Of course, there are still plenty of options to take, but I wonder if the recent advice from a specialist legal advisory service urging conveyancing firms to increase their fees immediately, is exactly the right one. After all, it might result in a short-term income boost if competitors are not back up to full speed yet, but if transactions don’t return as we might all hope them too, and indeed if the service doesn’t justify the increase in cost, then what might be the outcome?
As some have already pointed out, price tends not to be the over-riding problem for conveyancing firms anyway, much as it’s not for advisory practitioners. Fundamentally, it’s all about the service, and when it comes to conveyancing, many of the issues are around the handling of the case and the sheer number of weeks it takes to get it completed. From my experience I must add that the conveyancing firms that we work with have done an extraordinary job in moving cases along the process during the lockdown.
And lest we forget, this is an ultra-competitive part of the property market. We might well know that the vast amount of conveyancing business is handled by a few hundred firms, but when you look at the latest figures, there are over 4,000 firms carrying out cases every year.
Simply putting up prices as a catch-all response to Covid-19 might well come back to bite you, especially if the service offered is deemed not to be worth the initial price let alone that which it has been pushed up to.
This is one of the reasons why we work with a relatively small number of conveyancing firms on our platform, because while we acknowledge that price can be an important factor, it tends not to be the only one when advisers are looking to provide conveyancing advice to their clients. Indeed, working with a firm that has a strong reputation for service and can prove that reputation time and time again, tends to be a far more influential factor than price.
Now, it just so happens, that our firms also tend to be some of the keenest on price as well, but we feel there needs to be a much more rounded approach to a post-pandemic proposition, not just one that ups pricing and simply hopes for the best. That approach, whether it be taken by a conveyancer, adviser, lender or distributor, is unlikely to herald the results they would hope for.
I certainly won’t be increasing the fees for my business. The end consumer is in an equally challenging environment, so our focus will be on helping cases through to completion in the shortest possible time.
Far better to adopt a ‘nudge unit’ approach I would think. Looking for those smaller value benefits or opportunities that, when added together, can deliver a significant benefit for the firm. Even the most tightly run business can always find that extra inch and, in many ways, for advisers at least, those extra inches can simply be the extra products and services that clients need but they often go elsewhere for.
Capture those and it won’t just be 1% improvements you’ll see, but far higher percentages that will not just see you through this uncertain period, but push you on to greater levels of growth when the market decides exactly what it’s going to be. I have been hugely enthused with the considerable uplift in new cases since the restrictions were eased for the housing market, and pleasingly this confirms my approach throughout the lockdown that we must push on and be ready for the bounce back, was the correct one.
Mark Snape is managing director of Broker Conveyancing