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Conveyancers! Stand your ground!

A recent article in The Telegraph announced The Saga Group’s plans to enter the Conveyancing industry. According to this article Saga will handle the paperwork necessary for home buying and selling for a fixed fee of £750, regardless of the price of the property. Surely a compelling and impressive offer for anyone involved in buying or selling a home.

Whilst there is no denying the sense behind the announcement itself, it is after this point that the ‘sense’ appears to ‘leave the building’. Roger Ramsden, the Chief Executive of the Saga Group claimed “Fees are traditionally calculated based on the value of the property being bought or sold, yet selling a house worth £1m generally involves the same amount of legal work as selling one worth £100,000. So why should Conveyancers, such as those employed by large estate agencies, cream off more in fees?”

Putting aside any possible concern one might have at a non-regulated, consumer organisation such as Saga, moving into the Conveyancing field, it seems clear that the journalist, and perhaps Mr Ramsden, are confused on two points. The first is that fixed fees are far from a new concept in the Conveyancing market (indeed they have been around for many years and £750 is far from the most competitive available in even the swiftest Google search).

The second and more alarming is the apparent confusion as to the difference between an Estate Agent and a Conveyancer – in particular, the different roles that they play in proceedings, along side the many other parties, and what is expected of them.

What Mr Ramsden overlooks is the level of time, activity and risk each party incurs in the Conveyancing process, when set against the financial cost to the consumer. Conveyancers ensure that the legal title to the property is safe for both the consumer and their lender. With increased pressures from banks, this process gets harder and more complex by the day. Conveyancers are heavily regulated, to protect consumers against fraud and mistakes, and the penalties of ‘getting it wrong’ are there for all to see. If an Estate Agent makes a mistake they are unlikely to end up in jail… yet a Conveyancer could. Ask any Conveyancer if they have woken up in the dead of the night in a cold sweat because they had forgotten to raise a question about the location of a septic tank or ask for a evidence or a right of way over the path at the rear of the property, and you will see their pupils dilate with a shaky nod of the head.

When you consider the level of expertise, continuing professional development and time each Conveyancer needs to dedicate to ensure that each property sale or purchase goes smoothly and legally, then the value starts to become apparent. Proportionate to the return, Estate Agents, Surveyors, Mortgage Lenders and the HMRC all cost far more than even the most expensive Conveyancer and yet they are far less frequently ‘demonised’ in the eyes of the media.

To complain about the setting up of ‘Conveyancing shops’ like Saga and Tesco is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Offering consumer choice in the buying and selling of homes is inevitable and should, frankly, be encouraged. Why present options to sell cars and other possessions flexibly if we are not to apply it to everything?

However, the crucial concern must be that consumers are continually protected from fraud, poor practice and risk. Just as the legal sector has riled against unregulated Will-writers, so too much they champion the cause of regulation for Conveyancers. Buying a house is likely to be the most expensive purchase you ever make and it is tempting to want to save money, if possible. But, at what cost? Getting the Conveyancing process right takes time, experience and expertise, if you are to ensure that your major purchase retains its value for the future. Mistakes at this point can cost far more than any saving, should you have to invest in disputes, down the line. Now is the time for Conveyancers to stand their ground and speak out for the value for money that they bring!

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