If we were looking for a sign at how the political and economic uncertainty has impacted upon the housing market throughout 2019, then look no further than the latest conveyancing statistics from Search Acumen which cover the first nine months of this year.
According to these figures, 2019 has so far seen 100,000 fewer conveyancing transactions than during the same period in 2018 – a significant 12% drop, albeit conveyancers during the third quarter of 2019 said they had seen a quarterly increase of 8%.
Given this drop in transaction numbers, it’s perhaps no surprise to see the number of active conveyancing firms falling as well. Now, just over 4,000 firms are active although, for those only dealing with fewer than 50 cases per month, this number has dropped by 6%.
Indeed, in this current market, the larger, more specialist firms continue to take a greater market share – the top 1,000 firms now account for over three-quarters of all transactions. A trend we are likely to see continue particularly in an environment where the number of transactions might continue to be sluggish.
There is however better news, specifically for those advisers and advisory firms who are active in the conveyancing space. Certainly, from our perspective, we continue to see a much larger adviser cohort providing conveyancing advice – our registration numbers have grown, in fact we’ve had a record year for new users. It perhaps means that advisers are more switched on to the earning opportunity with conveyancing, and the fact that they retain ownership of the case.
No adviser would want their client to go elsewhere for their conveyancing, when they could quite easily look after it themselves. There is an inherent danger here in terms of losing the client to a competitor down the line, or indeed allowing that client to use a solicitor/conveyancer who is nowhere near up to the job.
Also, half of our broker-introduced transactional cases are for first-time buyers – this is a core market for advisers and it’s pleasing to see our registered users being switched on to this opportunity, plus our elite panel of law firms doing exactly the same.
As we hurtle towards the end of the year, the big question however might be, what happens next? There’s no doubting that the political impasse has had a major impact on the housing market – those who might ordinarily have put their house on the market, or committed to a purchase, or indeed simply gone through with a remortgage, are hanging back until they see a greater level of certainty. Whether they get it or not, however remains to be seen.
I write this just a week or so away from the General Election and as the polls narrow, the ability to predict any sort of result gets more difficult. In the summer, the Conservatives suggested stamp duty reform was high on their agenda – perhaps if they do secure a majority this will be enacted. However, one can’t also help but think that all the focus post-Election will continue to remain on Brexit for some time to come – those hoping, and perhaps hanging on, for immediate changes to stamp duty before they (literally) make their move, might have to wait a while longer.
As always, all we can do is maximise the business available. For advisers, that means ensuring no advisory stone is left unturned, no business diversification opportunity is turned down, and no client feels they need to go elsewhere for services and products which should be readily available from one source.
With a new year on the horizon, the message should really remain the same – if you’re able to provide a service, then do, if not, then make sure you have a referral mechanism in place to offer it. At least then you can pick up an introducer fee and the client knows they have an adviser that can offer everything they want and need.
I suspect that 2020 will be eventful, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a significant uplift in transactions. It might, if we can get political stability, but if there’s one thing we’ve not had over the past few years, it’s that. It might take something seismic to deliver it now.
Mark Snape is managing director of Broker Conveyancing