The Law Society Gazette under an emotive heading of ‘Ombudsman warns of dangers from ‘conveyancing factories’ recently reported in response to the release of a report from the Legal Ombudsman entitled ‘Losing the Plot – residential conveyancing complaints and their causes’ that ‘conveyancing factories’ pose a potential risk for house buyers.
In the article Adam Sampson, the ombudsman, says:
‘increasingly commoditised automated and competitive’ conveyancing market has resulted in traditional high street firms evolving or being displaced into ‘conveyancing factories’.
The report acknowledges that such innovative services can be helpful, but warns they are ‘not without risk’. It voices concern that by focusing exclusively on volume, some firms risk failing to provide a reasonable service.
A very general ( and perhaps unfair and misleading) finding, and one which it would be unreasonable for a consumer to rely on without further investigation.
To begin with there is an issue of definition. What constitutes a 'volume conveyancer'? Presumably, by definition, it is a conveyancer that conducts over a certain number of transactions each year? If this correct what is the number of transactions an organisation should be handling before it falls into this category and becomes condemned without sentencing?
The biggest mistake critics make when judging a ‘volume conveyancer’ is to jump to the conclusion that due to the size of the organisation it is inevitable that client service will be poor and or that the quality of work produced will be inferior.
In life and in so many different areas of the service industry there are small and large organisations and with both there are good and bad businesses. It is disingenuous and slightly condescending for some professionals to view all large conveyancing providers with the same label.
I accept there are some poor examples of how conveyancing services should be delivered but it is clearly not the case that these are in the main tied solely to the larger organisations. The fact is that there are a large number of the smaller providers who quite simply should not be allowed anywhere near a contract for sale.
Equally just because a larger conveyancer is able due to efficiencies of scale and the use of technology charge the consumer less for the service, it does not follow that the service delivered will be any less inferior than the service provided by a smaller and more traditional organisation.
Many larger providers have both the resources and expertise to invest in staff training and the establishment of technology to make sure that the consumer experience is enhanced. These are organisations that depend on consistent and positive consumer feedback to survive and grow.
They also specialise in conveyancing and are probably a far better and indeed safer choice for the consumer than the small firm who might only do the occasional conveyance.
It is wrong and perhaps small minded to criticise these businesses ( many of which receive awards for outstanding client services ) solely on the basis of size and the drive many possess to use technology to deliver a cost effective and highly satisfactory service to the end user.
My message to the consumer is not to attach too much weight to this report. Instead consumers should undertake research. Look for reviews and testimonials and remember do not be suspicious per se about an organisation that offers a competitive price and the facility to interact and experience an enhanced level of communication through the use of cutting edge technology. Just because a business has a non-traditional approach to conveyancing does not mean that it should be viewed differently or less favourably.
Remember also that the scare mongers out there would like consumers to believe that all large conveyance providers are bad because it suits their interests. They are worried about the forward looking businesses and how they are using technology and processes to introduce efficiencies to reduce fees for the consumer but to still operate with a healthy profit. It is the large providers out there who are leading the way to improve what is a very archaic system for the purchase and sale of property.
Finally it is worth keeping in mind the words of Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson when he says the volume of complaints should be put in perspective. 'There are, on average, more than 675,000 property transactions a year. We are talking about 1,300 complaints on conveyancing to the LeO in a year. My point is that the vast majority of solicitors do a good job when it comes to conveyancing'.