We are now well over a month into the country-wide lockdown, and while there are clearly a large number of concerns for mortgage/property market practitioners, I’ve been impressed by the renewed vigour and focus that advisers in particular have brought to the current situation.
Of course, getting completions across the line is undoubtedly a ‘team exercise’ in this industry and there’s no doubting that – in the past couple of weeks specifically – we appear to have moved on from a holding exercise into one which is actively seeking to get business done.
In those early days of lockdown, understandably there was a lot of worry that this would bring the entire property market to a complete standstill. However, even with the most difficult purchase cases – which may have to be currently on hold – there is still a desire to get them to an ‘end point’, even if that is awaiting a physical valuation to take place in order to move them any further forward.
It has also been incredibly heartening to see mainstream lenders doing everything they can to keep on lending, with a far greater use of AVMs/desktop valuations, plus of course those in the conveyancing process, who very early on, benefited from industry-created guidance and support in order to continue moving cases through the pipeline.
Added to this I have also been incredibly impressed with the work being done by our law firms. Despite having to work from home for the first time ever and not having access to their normal tools of the trade, they have been working tirelessly to help us move cases through the pipeline. Brokers have been commenting on how brilliant the conveyancing staff have been.
All this in an environment where firms have had all staff working from home or remotely, and many have also had to furlough employees in order to get through this period. We should certainly not underestimate the disruption this presents, and to see our industry work quickly to overcome these obstacles, and to get to a point where business could be conducted, has been incredibly pleasing.
We are clearly some distance from where we would like to be, but each week we appear to be creeping back towards a better situation. Mainstream lenders have been upping LTVs and returning to certain product sectors, and it’s my sincere hope that the specialist lending fraternity will also be able to find solutions to enable them to keep on lending, either during or after the lockdown has ended.
I think we would all agree that the breadth and reach of the specialists over the past couple of years has grown considerably; they have been helping far larger numbers of borrowers than ever before, and we certainly need a healthy specialist lending sector in the future, especially given the changes to incomes that many potential and existing borrowers are currently dealing with.
From our perspective, what we have sought to do through this crisis is not just keep our doors open but to work with both our adviser and conveyancer partners to ensure business, where possible, can flow. It’s also been about supporting our users in terms of the certainty they can provide to their clients.
It’s fair to say that certainty can be in short supply at this time, especially if you are waiting on parts of the chain out of your control, or for the government to change its guidance in order for cases to be progressed. What we do have in place is a guarantee whereby should a case not complete, there is no fee to be paid, and in the case of searches, should again the case not make it through there is ‘fall through’ protection in place. It means that when searches have to be raised again, the client will not have to pay for them twice.
Of course, the ideal situation would be for cases to be completed, but for significant numbers of cases that isn’t possible. In that regards, we have a duty to ensure there is no financial loss for those, who through no fault of their own, have been hit by this.
What we’d also like to see is the property sector recognised quickly as one part of the UK economy that should be allowed to open as soon as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. Whether we get that or not, remains to be seen, but I’m aware that our trade bodies and associations are working together to produce guides which can be utilised to safely reopen the market, given it is imperative that we can hit the ground running when that green light is offered.
All in all, these remain difficult times, but our doors are certainly still open and so are those of our conveyancing firms. The industry is doing all it can to continue working and make it through this period. I am utterly confident that we’ll be in a strong position to move things forward as soon as possible. Hopefully, those times are not too far away.
Mark Snape is managing director of Broker Conveyancing