We live (and work) in highly-regulated times – I probably don’t need to tell advice firms anything on this front – and, with perhaps one notable exception, pretty much all stakeholders within the house-purchase process are subject to a level of scrutiny that might make other industries wince.
The recent FCA Mortgages Market Study Final Report is – despite its name – simply one in a long line of consultations, reviews and rule change announcements that have been brought to bear on mortgage advisers. Do any of us really believe there is anything ‘Final’ about this?
The report itself sets out a number of further work programmes and consultations for the future, one of which is going to look at advice itself – this is nowhere near the end of the tinkering and intervention into the mortgage market, and I suspect advisers have resigned themselves to a lifetime of constant regulatory change. Regulators’ regulate as someone once put it.
The same is actually true of the conveyancing sector which is currently subject to a significant about of intervention from both the government and its regulators, and if advisers are active in this space, they have a real role to play here acting as the bridge between the client and the conveyancer. I think it’s probably true to say that conveyancing is often a process which is deeply misunderstood by consumers and any support advisers can provide in this area is not only welcome, but it’s going to help the process move far more smoothly.
For consumers who might only go through the process once or twice in a lifetime, or indeed those first-time buyers who have never been through it before, there will always be a lot to take in. And who better than their mortgage adviser to explain it? That becomes even more of an imperative if those clients read any of the mainstream media which is not often overly favourable to conveyancing firms.
Indeed, the likelihood of consumers being introduced to conveyancing via some sort of negative, dare I say it, scare story is probably quite high. How many would have read about a purchaser being defrauded of their deposit money, for instance, and the blame that is often put on the conveyancer for this? That’s been a major fight for conveyancers in recent years and we’ve been pleased to see the level of investment and resource that has been put in by firms in terms of countering this.
Then there’s the potential for service issues that are often raised. A couple of years ago there were deemed to be major problems with the service levels of some conveyancing firms who appeared not to be able to cope with the level of free legal, remortgage business that was put their way by one panel provider. This caused large numbers of dis-satisfied customers to take to social media and, for the short-term at least, appeared to result in a significant shake-up with a number of lenders no longer offering free legals.
Just recently one of the conveyancing sector’s own regulatory bodies, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) highlighted some concerns it has with certain firms’ conduct particularly around perceived transparency on the prices they charge and, a major media issue, the information they have provided to clients who are purchasing leasehold properties.
The raising of such issues can dent consumer confidence in the entire sector, and it’s important to point out that these are a very small number of firms across a very small number of cases, however mud can stick and we do not want a situation where we have a total breakdown in consumer confidence with regard to conveyancing.
I don’t believe we’re at this point for a second, but advisers can clearly play a major role in this regard, not just talking and educating clients through the conveyancing process and what they should expect/their responsibilities and the like, but also (crucially) pointing them in the direction of a conveyancing firm that is not just fit for purpose but has a strong track record, and can deliver a quality service within the necessary timescale.
Advice provided at this point is likely to be welcomed with open arms by clients and, with platforms like our own making the process of choosing and recommending conveyancer so simple, there are clearly plenty of positives to becoming involved in the process beyond the mortgage. In an area where clients can have little knowledge, the adviser should be able to stand tall, deliver the recommendation and make everyone feel that much more confident about the choices that have been made. Without such involvement, the whole process could appear to be in the lap of the gods.
Mark Snape is managing director of Broker Conveyancing