Does the Government really need to reform the house-buying process?

Does the Government really need to reform the house-buying process?

The Government’s pending call for evidence on reforming the house-buying process has been welcomed by many who believe change from the top could deliver efficiencies and reduce the number of failed transactions. I, alongside many, have fully supported attempts to improve the consumer and solicitor experience – there is no denying that the path to home ownership is a rocky one and there are inefficiencies in the process that must be addressed, but I must ask; just how much of this can the Government solve?

George Osborne announced in the 2016 Budget that the Government was to publish a call for evidence on ‘how to make the process better value for money and more consumer-friendly’[1], yet this top-down approach to reform may not be as helpful as first thought. Many of the problems in the system are not structural, but practical, and governments of all colours have left a legacy of failed interventions into the housing market. Better communication and improved productivity are far more straight-forward ways to deliver the efficiencies that will, ultimately, benefit the industry and consumers.

Conveyancers, and for that matter anyone involved in client or customer facing business, should understand the importance of communication, yet poor communication between conveyancers and their clients continues to drive customer dissatisfaction in the property sector. Although reformers and critics of the system focus on gazumping, polls have found that almost a quarter of UK consumers blame a lack of effective communication between lawyers, lenders and estate agents for collapsed house sales[2].

Why do buyers and sellers place so much value on communication? The purchase of a house is likely to be the largest financial commitment of their lives, and it simply has to go right. Timing can be critical. Consumers are naturally anxious and they want to know exactly what is happening at each stage of the transaction.

Keeping clients updated on the progress of their purchase doesn’t just benefit consumers. A satisfied customer can save time for solicitors, because they don’t need to spend so much time reacting to queries. The most efficient conveyancers are those proactively communicating with clients rather than waiting to be called or chased by them.

By prioritising communication as a key driver to our business, we at Search Acumen received just a handful of follow up calls in 2015. Clients have told us that clear communication and managing expectations has saved them time and reduced anxiety levels right the way down the chain to buyers and sellers. Quality customer service also frees up conveyancers’ time to process a higher volume of transactions. The way we speak with clients and customers cannot be influenced by government policy – it is up to property professionals to tackle the sectors’ inefficiencies from the bottom up.

Effective communication isn’t just about picking up the phone – when embraced fully, big data and new tech has the capability to increase engagement on both sides of the customer-conveyancer equation, smoothening the process from start to finish whilst protecting all from soaring fraudulent activity. Automatic email notifications or texts to clients’ mobiles, along with efficient case management systems have the potential to spread benefits to all involved in the house buying timeline. As the online offering grows, the conveyancing sector becomes more and more competitive – those who do not modernise the way they communicate will find themselves falling off the trail.

I do not wish to cast unfavourable light over governmental reform but I do think there are many issues with the conveyancing process that can be resolved by conveyancers, industry suppliers and developments in technology. A top-down strategy has failed us in recent times: the failed implementation of HIPS along with SDLT reform has spread doubt of this approach among many in the industry.

Parliament cannot tackle this alone – changes to the house buying process must come from the frontline and efficient communication is an easy step in the right direction and a matter of common sense.

References

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508193/HMT_Budget_2016_Web_Accessible.pdf pg. 37

[2] http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/poor-communications-blamed-for-conveyancing-delays-finds-poll/5039081.fullarticle

This article was submitted to be published by Search Acumen as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Conveyancer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Conveyancer.

Andrew Lloyd, Director of Search Acumen

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