Samantha Gardner and Ursula Moore are both directors at The Title Consultancy Limited; set up last year to analyse property titles, draft reports and raise title enquiries for all residential properties in England and Wales. To celebrate the company’s first birthday Jane Common at Today’s Conveyancer asked Samantha and Ursula how the company works and about its first year of operation….
What was the thinking behind the launch of The Title Consultancy?
Ursula: “Since the 2008 crash the property market in general and the conveyancing industry in particular have been quite fragile, with lots of peaks and troughs meaning that, now, there’s a shortage of experienced conveyancers as so many were laid off during the lean periods – indeed, that’s what happened to Samantha and me. We were both made redundant when we worked together at an established nationwide volume conveyancing firm.
“Now the market is improving, a lot of firms are relying on less qualified staff; bringing issues around training, supervision and extra liability. So we thought: ‘We could plug into this – take some of the pressure off law firms in a way that’s cost-effective for them but doesn’t impact their standards of service’. And we decided upon title consultancy as it’s a niche area but also very easy for firms to just plug into.”
Samantha: “The conveyancing process can’t move forward until someone has sorted out the issues around the titles and that’s where we come in.”
What are your backgrounds?
Ursula: “I qualified in 2003; then worked two years in-house for Oxford Brookes University legal department doing all sorts of contracts, property, intellectual property licensing and contract law. But the conveyancing side of what I did there really interested me so I moved into that full-time in 2005.”
Samantha: “I left school and went straight into a legal office as a junior – then I did the legal executive course over 20 years ago and reached the level of associate legal executive. I have worked for a quite a few high street conveyancing businesses and higher-volume firms too, which has given me a wide range of experience.”
How does The Title Consultancy work?
Samantha: “Title checking is obviously a vital part of the conveyancing process so we take it from the solicitors; sort it out for them and then hand it back, completed. Ursula and I have both worked as team managers in busy conveyancing offices and had stacks of title check files sitting on our desks but sometimes, when clients and estate agents ring constantly, there isn’t a second to glance at them. So now we’re in a position to say to the lawyers who run those busy offices: ‘Hand that work to us. Take some pressure off your staff.”
Ursula: “When I was in the shoes of those people in busy offices I was sometimes handling 300 files at a time!”
So what was the business plan?
Samantha: “Well, we both have home offices so that keeps costs to a minimum – we’re acutely aware that the fees in conveyancing have got to a stage where margins are very tight so we price our reports with that in mind. We’re keeping our costs down to keep our clients’ costs down too.”
Ursula: “I even do our own IT as my degree was in law and computing. I created our webpage, which we’re about to update, and our file sharing system too. And Sam is a wizard at social networking and marketing.”
Samantha: “I use Twitter and Facebook – all the usual things – and a lot of our work has come via LinkedIn as well. I sent out 100 emails telling people about what we do and expected one reply – instead I received 12. So it’s all about getting our name out there but in a drip, drip sort of way. We don’t want to log in on a Monday morning and find we’ve gone overboard with the marketing and have a thousand files waiting for us. Not yet anyway!”
What are your turnaround times?
Samantha: “One to three days at the moment, but if the titles are particularly complex, we agree a longer time frame with the client so everyone knows where they are at the outset. Likewise if a lawyer says something is urgent we prioritise it.”
What level of Personal Indemnity (PI) do you have if – worst case scenario – something goes wrong?
Ursula: “We carry PI of up to £2 million for each transaction. And we limit the risk to law firms by never asking for the clients’ names or personal details. Obviously there are things we do need to know – whether they’re purchasing a property as a buy-to-let, for example – but we only ask for details that will impact on how the checks and subsequent report are completed.”
Why do you think it’s in a law firm’s interest to outsource title checks?
Ursula: “Firms don’t have to pay our National Insurance and our pension; they don’t have to give us any training and, as we’re not on long term contracts, they don’t have to give us any notice. We just do what we’re here to do quickly and professionally.”
Samantha: “Yes, they aren’t paying us to chat at the photocopiers or go to the loo – we charge per report, rather than by an hourly rate, and we don’t stipulate a minimum amount of files. If a firm only wants to give us one file that’s great – although usually we’ve found that after we’ve worked on one a lawyer will ask us to do more. And we’ve had lots of emails saying: ‘Could we use you all the time to do our title checks?’ The answer to which is obviously yes!”
And, a year in, how’s business?
Samantha: “It’s going really well – we started with a couple of enquiries and it’s escalated from there. It’s very exciting – we were dubbed the title check fairies by one lawyer because he got into the office on a Monday morning, logged in to his computer and all the title checks were there, waiting in his inbox.”
Ursula: “Yes, it’s like the story about the elves and the shoemaker! In truth, the business has actually taken off far more quickly than I expected. Law is generally quite a conservative environment and I thought it may take people a while to grow used to the idea of passing some of their work on to a third party but that hasn’t been the case at all. Lawyers have clicked on to what we’re doing and how we’re working straight away. In the half hour we’ve been chatting to you I’ve had five new files pop into my inbox!”
What about longer term – it sounds as if you’re both so busy you might need to recruit?
Ursula: “We have one former colleague that might join us in 2016 but really, growth-wise, we want to build steadily. Our emphasis is always on quality – we’re very fussy about the standard of the work we produce so we can only take on people who are perfectionists like us.”
So how can conveyancers get in touch with you?
Samantha: “Contact us by phone or email: we can set up a conference call or arrange to go and meet lawyers at their office to discuss the work. Then we invoice at the end of each month. Ring us on 0161 818 8987 or me on my mobile, which is 07984 514684. Or email [email protected]; [email protected] or [email protected]. It’s easy!”
For more information log on to www.thetitleconsultancy.co.uk.