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. 
Price & service transparency review 
In February 2020 Pitsford Consulting reviewed the websites of 1,000 conveyancing firms in England & Wales. 
Firm selection was based around the average number of residential purchase completions by all firms (136 cases) between 1 January 2019 and 30th September 2019. The survey looked at the 500 firms above this figure and the 500 firms below it. The range of residential completions by individual firms stretched from 244 cases down to 79 cases in the period. 
These 1,000 firms represent a snapshot of the ‘engine room’ of the profession. The largest firm was ranked 610th and the smallest 1,610th. Together, these firms bought 142,406 residential properties in the period, representing 22.5% of all purchases. This therefore excludes the high volume ‘factory’ conveyancers at the one end and the 1,153 firms at the other end who each completed less than 10 residential purchases in the 9 months. 
The Review 
Each firm’s website was interrogated to establish: 
1) how the firm has dealt with the requirements to provide pricing information for residential conveyancing. 
2) whether the firm publishes client reviews on their website. 
In terms of pricing information, firms were categorised as either: 
• Providing a quote personalised to a visitor’s particular circumstances without requiring the visitor to supply any contact details. 
• Providing a quote personalised to a visitor’s particular circumstances in return for the visitor supplying contact details. 
• Inviting visitors to submit their details in order to subsequently receive a communication with a personalised quote. 
• Providing indicative fee scales and disbursement schedules. 
• Failing to offer any guidance on the cost of their conveyancing services. 
In terms of client reviews, firms were categorised as either: 
• Using recognised third-party review sites (principally Trustpilot, Feefo, Review Solicitors or Google / Facebook / Yell). 
• Using their own testimonials. 
• Not publishing any client reviews. 
1. Fees 
Almost a quarter (24.1%) of firms in the sample offer prospective clients the opportunity to calculate a conveyancing fee. The balance of just over three quarters, (75.9%) do not. 
Just over another quarter (26.6%) offer prospective clients no guidance at all on likely costs. 
The 44.1% that offer indicative fee guidance cannot be said to be maximising the value to prospective clients. Details are typically squirrelled away in impenetrable tables reached by innocuous hyperlinks often placed away from residential conveyancing tabs. 
The dislocation between compliance and client value is sharply apparent. 68.2% of the sample can be judged to be compliant with the Transparency regulations, but only 6.3% of firms are delivering a quote without requiring prospective clients to register with them. 
2. Client reviews 
There is little or no evidence of objective, third party reviews making inroads with this segment. Almost three quarters of the sample (73.3%) gave no client reviews at all on their sites. 
The 22.3% who did include client reviews they had collected themselves, typically included only a handful of quotes, always anonymous and always glowing. 
Reviews by their nature are subjective, but the curation of these reviews by firms is obviously part of a marketing presentation, not an attempt to give an honest insight. 
Only 4.4% of our sample can be said to be presenting an independent view of their service levels. 
Richard Hinton 
14th July 2020 
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