Over the years it’s been a notable trend in the conveyancing sector that the number of firms carrying out conveyancing business has declined significantly.
Now, that might be an odd thing to say when the most recent data from Search Acumen suggests that 3,808 firms completed conveyancing business over the last year – which is clearly still a lot of firms – but when you consider this number was 4,836 in 2011, you can see that we’re seen over a 20% drop in numbers.
Search Acumen suggests these firms have gone ‘missing in action’ and that this is mainly down to merger and acquisition activity taking these businesses out of the conveyancing market, but I’m not so sure.
In fact, my version of the truth of this is that the vast majority of those firms still exist, they just can’t be described as ‘conveyancing firms’ anymore.
And the reason for that is many of them were not conveyancing firms in the first place – they completed the odd case when requested but it wasn’t a core part of their business, and over the years they’ve either decided to stop, or they’ve just stopped receiving business.
Where once we would have large numbers of family solicitors or high-street firms ‘dabbling’ in the conveyancing market, that’s not as true today, because what is now valued in this space is specialist knowledge and skills. It’s those specialist firms who are large-scale, volume operators, with experienced staff who carry out this business 24/7.
This has perhaps never been so true as during the pandemic. When you have almost everyone who normally works in an office environment working from home, who would you rather be working on your conveyancing cases? Those who are experienced, specialist in this business, carrying out large volumes, and set up to work on these cases, or those who spend half a day a month ‘doing’ conveyancing and for whom this is the least important task of their working week.
Intermediaries have also played a pivotal role in this smaller conveyancing space, because they have increasingly recognised the importance of working with specialists in order to give their clients the very best chance of completing within the necessary timescale.
Again, this is without doubt the case when time has been of the essence, as it has been through the stamp duty holiday period, but it’s also true whatever the situation. Each mortgage will come with a degree of time pressure, and as we know, the sooner the client completes, the sooner the adviser gets their procuration fee.
Advisers have been traditionally faced with a number of options when it comes to the conveyancing needs of their clients, which let’s face it, tends to be the least understood part of the process by borrowers.
They can either a) leave it to the estate agent to provide the recommendation, b) leave the client to their own devices running the risk of them choosing a firm that is not up to the job, or c) make the recommendation themselves, be confident in the specialist firm chosen, and earn extra income as a result.
You can see why so many advisers are choosing c) with each and every client, especially when they have access to platforms like ours which make that recommendation/advice process so simple, and they know they’re getting a conveyancing firm who have the capacity and skills to deal with the cases.
Close to 4,000 firms is still a large number to be working in conveyancing, but I have little doubt, that when we revisit this number in a decade’s time, another 20%-plus may well have been shaved off. Volume conveyancers dominate – the average number of transactions per conveyancing firm has grown by 64% – but there are still large numbers who only carry out a smattering of cases each year.
The benefits of them doing this are slim, and I anticipate the volume players will continue to pick up market share, especially as advisers increasingly take control of the conveyancing process for their client. To my mind, that is a no-brainer decision for everyone involved, and those who are yet to operate in this way, should undoubtedly consider their options in this area.
Mark Snape is chief executive officer of Broker Conveyancing