Covid saw the lockdown of the property market followed by a sharp increase in volume, the industry creaked and, in some areas, completely broke.
Recent surveys show many suffered with mental health issues culminating in conveyancers leaving the industry. As a profession are we facing a repeat of 2007/8 when conveyancers left the industry, although this time it is through choice.
In the pandemic I sat back and thought, why are we doing this, there must be a better way. One where we can obtain all property information prior to an offer being accepted but also a system whereby we significantly reduce the 4-5 month millstone we all carry. My conclusion was I cannot change the entire industry, but I can do things differently, I decided to set up my own law firm.
I am sure you are asking through the turmoil and madness why have I decided to go it alone? I have been involved in the conveyancing industry for over 20 years. We have all seen significant changes but this time it is different. Remote working is here to stay, client demand has increased, systems are evolving but not at the same pace as demand, yet we still have a painstakingly slow system that takes 4-5 months to buy and sell a house and a culture that I believe needs a radical change.
The only way to remove the traditionalist landscape I faced was to challenge myself and create something different. I focused on;
- What did I want to achieve, what was my product and service offering and why/how was it different?
- Who would help shape my thoughts?
- Who would join me to make the vision a reality?
I asked myself, why do we do things a certain way, apart from we have always done it like this? Some of my initial whys included:
- Why do I need to employ cashiers, why shouldn’t I outsource to manage my overhead but also my capacity at a fixed cost. By outsourcing it also reduces my PII and increases my risk profile.
- Why don’t we look at searches, OEs, plans, title when a property is put on the market to reduce timelines. Why don’t we raise enquiries at point of market and deal with any issues on the title?
- Why don’t I outsource all or part of my forecast title reports and enquiries? Yes, I am still responsible from a liability position but if I can receive my reports in 24 hours isn’t it a better experience for my colleagues and clients? We all know it can take hours to report on some titles as other work increases. If I change the dynamic isn’t this a better solution?
- Why am I completing my post completion in-house as opposed to paying a fixed fee and outsourcing? This provides a quality measure and again reduces my overhead.
Believe me I had many more whys, but eventually as a Day 1 solution I had created my vision.
I decided to apply to the Council of Licensed Conveyancers as a Recognised Body status. I had an initial meeting, shared my strategy and was advised the next stage was to obtain a quotation for Professional Indemnity Insurance. It was only when I had a quote would I re-engage with the CLC in respect of setting up the firm. I felt confident, I knew what was required and understood the CLC door was ajar should I have any further questions or concerns.
I contacted the CLC’s recommended insurers, started drafting the Business Plan and supporting documentation. At this point I realised there wasn’t a network to help new start-ups. Everyone appeared to work in silos, my expectation was there would be collaboration, shared data and information but there wasn’t – it was non-existent. As an industry we do not have a forum to encourage and support new ventures. It is very much who you know in the industry.
I spent weeks/months reaching out to people, sharing my vision and seeking information. Initially it was exciting even exhilarating, but it was also eye opening. One frustration was around lender panels. I could not locate one entity that provided a comprehensive overview of lender panel requirements. Why? It cannot be linked to any potential fraudulent activity as I merely ended up emailing all of the lenders for their requirements – so why the secrecy? As an industry why aren’t we helping each other and adopting a collective mindset.
Once I collated the lender requirements, I could plan my projections based on when I could expect lender panel appointment. Would it be month one or would I need to complete a minimum amount of purchase cases (120). I then looked at work sources based on reduced lender panels. From there I worked out my cost base, case carrying capacity, turnaround times and investment with my business partner. I eventually had my Business Plan and Projections. As my Business Partner was not qualified my application changed from Recognised Body to an Alternative Business Structure. I redrafted and was ready for the next phase – indemnity insurance.
I thought this was paperwork exercise. As far as I was aware I had ticked all the boxes, created a stable business proposal and was ready to go. I submitted my documents in February thinking a few weeks, perhaps a month I would have a quote to enable me to engage with the CLC. It is now May and I still have not received a quote, or feedback or indeed any questions at all in respect of the business. I do not have a timeline or understand why there is a delay. Despite my best efforts I hit another wall. I was also contacted by others looking to set up new law firms advising insurers are reluctant to support start-ups.
As I write this article, I have been advised I should receive a quote in 2 weeks, 13 weeks after I submitted the paperwork. If this is truly the case, next stop CLC…..and recruitment.