In this day and age, especially in the mortgage and housing markets, I believe the need for quality, professional advice has never been greater. So, it surprises me somewhat to see the recent Mortgages Market Study Interim Report from the FCA which, reading between the lines, appears to be rolling back somewhat on the heavily pro-advice MMR that, lest we forget, came from the very same FCA – albeit written by a number of different architects/authors who now appear to have left the regulator.
That said, this is the same organisation and, at a time when the public require greater clarity and expert opinion on their financial product options, it seems rather incongruous to be pursuing a line which might ultimately push more people down the direct route with a misplaced confidence about which product(s) are right for them. When you add in the fact this is advice around the biggest purchase most people will ever make in their lifetime, then you have to wonder why this agenda is being pursued. I, like many, sense the influence of the large banks on this one.
I can’t help but view such a position in terms of the advice that people receive when it comes to conveyancing – a vitally important part of the house purchase market, the choice of which (in my opinion) is too often left to the customer to make from a position of ignorance. That’s not to suggest that it’s the customer’s fault – when you are only perhaps needing to deal with a service every 10-15 years at most, you can be forgiven for not being engaged with what that service is, what you should be expecting from those firms, and whether or not the service you’ve received is at the quality end of the spectrum.
Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that customers’ view and analysis of the conveyancing service they get seems rather underwhelming. I saw some recent survey results which suggested 39% of consumers thought the conveyancing part of the whole process was the most dis-satisfying part of buying/selling a home. Again, this doesn’t surprise me because (let’s be honest here) the conveyancing part takes the longest, is the least understood, and the choice of conveyancer may be based on luck rather than judgement.
Talking about that choice of firm, the same research suggested consumers also distrust estate agents’ recommendations of conveyancers. 38% in fact said they were not convinced by the recommendation, although it has to be said, 16% also said they’d still go with the referral mostly due to convenience. Although I suspect, most consumers would also say their lack of knowledge in this area and the difficulty they have in comparing conveyancers would also play a role in their decision.
Which leads us on to the role of the mortgage adviser in all of this, and a perception on my part, that the numbers who would trust a recommendation from their adviser regarding the conveyancing firm would be far more than those accepting it from their estate agent. For what it’s worth, the ‘up-selling’ perception that comes with conveyancing advice might be very difficult for the industry to shake, however I tend to believe mortgage advisers’ recommendations would be far more trusted than many other professionals that exist and operate within the home-buying process.
And that should be a crucial take-away for any adviser not active in conveyancing. Compared to an agent, who is acting on behalf of the seller, and may not be the most trusted professional from the buyer’s side, the adviser is acting on their client’s behalf. There should be no doubting whose side they are on, and therefore moving into advice areas like conveyancing should not be a stretch and should not be misconstrued or deemed as purely a money-making exercise by the client.
Ask most clients if they need help and advice with their choice of conveyancer and I believe the vast majority would answer in the affirmative. Explaining how the market operates and why advice in this area is important should help smooth that transaction, and clients should also be made aware that opting for their recommendation puts the adviser in control and allows them to help and support clients but also means they can cajole and communicate with the solicitor. Effectively, the client needs to know the recommendation comes from a place of experience and is designed to make their lives easier.
Clearly, when it comes to conveyancing, clients are looking for help – to such an extent that they are willing to take recommendations from those they do not necessarily trust. That being the case, mortgage advisers can work from a position of real strength and underline the overall importance of advice right across the piece. The market opportunity is clear – consumers want (and need) your conveyancing advice.
Harpal Singh is managing director of Broker Conveyancing