CA highlight impact of ‘scope creep’ on conveyancing times in evidence to Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Committee

The increased responsibilities placed upon conveyancers in recent years has resulted in considerable ‘scope creep’ for the sector and is placing increased pressure on the ability of firms and staff to complete transactions within the required timeframe.

That was the view of the Conveyancing Association’s (CA) Director of Delivery, Beth Rudolf, when she presented evidence to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee Inquiry into ‘Improving the home buying and selling process’ earlier this week.

Taking questions from the various cross-party MPs on the Committee, Rudolf herself a qualified Licenced Conveyancer and Legal Executive, highlighted how the work now required of conveyancers had grown considerably in recent years, resulting in average transaction times of 22 weeks-plus.

Rudolf pointed to onerous leasehold, estate rent charges, managed freehold and the Building Safety Act, as just some of the extra areas which conveyancers now had to be on top of in order to ensure their clients received the right information and advice before proceeding.

She also pointed to the dematerialisation of deed packs which had occurred after 2002 – whereby deeds and other important documents were sent back to owners – as presenting a huge problem given many owners had lost these documents, not realising how important they were. Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association, commented:

“Scope creep has grown hugely in recent years and it presents conveyancers with a huge amount of work to go through. This has been made even more difficult by that dematerialisation of deed packs, and it needs solutions such as digital packs and digital logbooks to be able to bring all that information back together to cut down on the times that conveyancers have to spend trying to find this. In years gone by, that information was kept together and could be readily used by conveyancers in future transactions. Without the digital version of this, we can’t deliver the improvements we need.”

In a verbal evidence session attended by a number of other sector representatives including the Home Buying & Selling Group, the HomeOwners’ Alliance, the Open Property Data Association, RICS and Propertymark, evidence and views were taken on the ways and means by which the home buying and selling process could be improved.

Rudolf also highlighted just how long it was taking conveyancers to work through an individual transaction because of the extra work, the time it took to receive the information from other stakeholders in order to progress a case, and the subsequent time required just to update the client. Rudolf added:

“It used to be that transaction of a sale would take an individual conveyancer seven working hours and a purchase would take 10. Now, if you are manually updating on the progress of a case in a chain and that takes half an hour a week, then with transactions taking, on average, 22 weeks it means you are taking 11 hours of work just telling people you’re waiting for something, let alone advising a client when it arrives. It is a huge problem of where we have got to now.”

The potential benefits of a system where greater levels of upfront information on a property were provided to potential buyers was also highlighted by Rudolf, who argued this would provide better transparency and would help stop people pulling out of transactions when they found out information which became too much of a challenge to them later down the line, or where the mortgage lender said, for example, the individual could not afford to buy the property. Rudolf said:

“That information should be given upfront so the buyer can digest it and so they can understand what it means to them. In the same way if you’re a seller and you get them instructing a conveyancer upfront before they find a buyer, and you ask them to fill out the forms that are necessary, they’re much more willing to do this at the start, because they want to get the process started. After they’ve found a buyer we know they are much slower in providing that information due to loss aversion.”

Rudolf also highlighted the need for mandation of the collection and review of upfront information on listing by conveyancers to identify the Material Information relevant to the property, asserting that it would speed up chains on which multiple conveyancers were working, along with greater use of digital solutions such as digital ID and digital signatures, and a greater focus on technology to deliver digital logbooks for each and every property.

She highlighted that ‘Buyer Beware’ only applies to information specific to the buyer’s intended use and enjoyment of the property, so on listing, the seller’s conveyancers should be able to review the title to advise their client on issues which would impact the average consumer.

Rudolf referenced the recent case of Rosser -v- Pacifico Ltd [2023] EWHC 1018 (Ch) where the seller could not claim ‘buyer beware” and it was held that the seller should have verified their belief there was no breach of planning permission and building regulations, when in fact they had installed a Velux window in breach of planning permission required under a conservation area. The window would have to be removed which would mean the room could not be used as a bedroom in compliance with building regulations.

The buyer’s search would have revealed there was no planning permission for the window but the Judge held the buyer could not have known that the window was added as part of the seller’s conversion work. Losing a bedroom would be material to the average consumer.

The panel of interviewees were also unanimous in their view that regulation of property agents is required to ensure they are educated on the laws impacting them and action taken if they fail to comply.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join over 7,000 conveyancing professionals – Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our daily and weekly round ups

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.