Conveyancing Industry News 
Are we finished with Price & Service Transparency? 
 
A week might be a long time in politics, but a year in conveyancing passes in the twinkling of an eye…. 
How slowly the wheels turn! The Price & Transparency regulations were introduced in December 2018 to a conveyancing industry at best unconvinced of their benefits. This lack of conviction that seems to have been shared to an extent by the Law Society, has in my view, left the initiative struggling to achieve its aims. 
The sponsors of price and service transparency long for a better-informed decision by clients but conveyancing practitioners have either metaphorically ticked what they see as a compliance box and moved on or have simply parked the issue. 
The CMA is set to review the position shortly and this divergence between compliance and added value for clients will be apparent. The SRA’s own review of a sample of firms in June 2019 found that 25% of firms were fully compliant and a further 58% were partially compliant. 
 
Our own survey (see below) of conveyancing specifically, found only 5% of firms provide a personalised online estimate of fees without the need to supply an email address – the preferred end game for the CMA. At the same time, only 9% of firms promote client reviews collected by an independent third party – another key indicator for the CMA. 
 
These statistics illustrate starkly the dislocation between the two drivers of compliance and client value. 
Nor is there any sign that firms are flocking to sign up with comparison sites – probably on the sensible premise that other than price, there’s nothing much to compare anyway, there are no agreed standards or metrics and should they sign up, then no doubt they’ll be charged for the privilege. 
 
Moving this agenda forward, on anything other than an attritional, incremental basis needs a new alignment between the rule makers and the rule takers, and, I’d suggest, more proactive, enabling behaviour from the regulator community that gives the profession the tools and reference points it so desperately needs. 
Until then, firms will profess correctly that they’ve done what has been asked of them and clients will be left with only a marginally better understanding of the purchasing decision they’ve made. 
You can lead the proverbial horse to water – but how on earth do you make it drink? 
Especially when the legal profession just isn’t thirsty for improvements to the consumer experience. Implementing the MHCLG’s and the CMA’s plans for more transparent pricing, performance data, standard metrics, kite marks and quality standards hasn’t in my view, gone well. 
 
The evidence to date is that mandation on price transparency has encouraged either bare minimum compliance (with little improvement of the consumer experience) or given the lack of effective enforcement, in many cases no action whatsoever. 
 
Efforts to introduce new comparable metrics haven’t yet broken through to the market (including my own) so there aren’t any new operational standards to act as a benchmark for consumers and at the same time kite marks and quality standards haven’t shed their historical baggage. 
Sure, we’re evolving – everyone and everything evolves, doesn’t it? Sometimes the pace is slow other times it feels faster. In a Darwinian sense, there are winners and losers at each turn as we respond to changes in our environment, but who holds the real levers of change in the property market? 
 
Generally, we all have a sense that the pace of change is on a strong upward curve. We can point to examples where generic technological advances have improved processes, where communication has been made easier and faster, where new data has improved understanding but can we really say (for better or worse) that the industry has broken free of the structural shackles that have shaped it over the last 50 years? 
 
I think the emergence of Rightmove and the portal industry is the one genuine example of how the industry has been transformed in my working life. In all other respects, I see improvements to processes that are still shaped and constrained by fundamental structural barriers. 
 
The chronology of a transaction is unchanged (except for the honourable exception of the insertion of the new portal community). The legal framework is unchanged. We still have chains. We still have caveat emptor. A purchase remains the single biggest financial transaction in most people’s lives. Members of the public remain blissfully ignorant of the process. 
Predictions for the future of the search industry 
 
Clients will continue to behave cautiously and be ever-hungry for data 
The complex home buying and selling process looks ugly from the outside but its Darwinian evolution is beautifully aligned to balance the rules, relationships and constraints that have shaped it – and which continue to shape it. Without changes to these levers, the equilibrium won't change radically. 
 
The principal, immutable lever is the importance of the transaction to the client. Buying or selling property will remain up there amongst the most important transactions we as individuals ever make. 
 
These high stakes coupled with clients' typical lack of expertise and their natural self-serving motivations mean clients will behave cautiously and tactically. They will be ever-hungry for data that better informs or gives them a competitive advantage. 
Savvy clients could become search providers’ new customers – instead of conveyancers 
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