It's time to improve the property transaction process

Hugh Davey | Estate Agents, Conveyancers

Moving home is one of the most stressful things you will do in your life, and worst of all, data shows as many as 1 in 3 property transactions will fall through before completion. With more than a million property transactions taking place per year that is not only a lot of money being wasted on fees but a lot of unnecessary stress being suffered by many prospective buyers and sellers.

It’s part of the worst kept secret in the industry. The current property transaction process is barely fit for purpose and built on foundations that have hardly changed or been modernised in years. The process is fractured, convoluted, and opaque, and that’s just for the sales that see completion! The scale of fall-throughs highlights it’s not efficient - it’s time for change.

As part of our Working Better Together Report estate agents and conveyancers on the frontline were asked what would be the one thing they’d like to improve in the current transaction process. The results are in. Keep reading to find out what they had to say.

Download the report now

The 2 C's: Communication and cooperation

It will come as no surprise to anyone, even those who have spent a fleeting period involved in the UK property market, that the top priority for 1 in 3 conveyancers and estate agents was that ‘better communication and cooperation between parties’ would most improve the property transaction process. While it’s categorically the top priority for both professions, estate agents (36%) felt more strongly about it than conveyancers (27%) did. A feeling that only crystallises the longer someone’s tenure, with as many as 1 in 2 estate agents with 15+ years experience placing it top.

Now, ‘better’ communication doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more’, which may explain why slightly more estate agents felt so versus conveyancers. The estate agents we surveyed were seeking more communication as they often feel left out of the loop or struggling to chase updates on cases from conveyancers. Whereas conveyancers' responses were leaning towards more productive cooperation, as they sought more efficient communication in order to do their casework instead of responding to constant update requests. More communication will only take you so far, it’s about quality, not quantity.

Automating administrative tasks that don’t bring value but have to be done

No one particularly enjoys performing tedious administrative tasks, and those associated with property transactions are no different. Rather predictably 1 in 5 conveyancers and estate agents agree, stating that ‘automating administrative tasks that don’t bring value but have to be done’ would be top of their lists in improving the property transaction process. However, it’s a feeling that’s not felt with the same conviction across the different professions with conveyancers (26%) nearly twice as likely to seek to automate certain tasks away compared to estate agents (15%).

While the pandemic did accelerate the take-up of automation in the workplace the data would suggest that conveyancers are keener to continue embracing this trend than their estate agent peers - particularly those who are newest to the professions with conveyancers (31%) and estate agents (22%) with less than 5 years experience pushing for this trend the strongest.

Improved processes for client identification and data sharing

We all wish that some processes could be better or more efficient, right? Well, this is no different for elements of the property transaction process. ‘Better and more secure client identification and data sharing' might not have been at the top of the list for everyone but it certainly was for nearly 1 in 4 estate agents (23%). 14% of conveyancers surprisingly weren’t as fussed about this particular improvement and instead placed better communication and automating certain tasks as higher on their lists of improvements.

When we dig a little deeper into the numbers we notice an interesting pattern that trends down the longer someone has spent in the profession. For those with 15+ years of experience, as few as 1 in 10 estate agents (11%) saw it as their top priority, decreasing from a high of almost 1 in 3 for estate agents (30%) with less than 5 years of experience. That same bracket was even lower on the conveyancing side, with as few as 5% of conveyancers seeing this process improvement make the top of their lists.

Greater transparency for all parties in the process

Let’s face it, the way we currently buy and sell properties in the UK is outdated, broken, and in desperate need of modernising. Speak to anyone who has recently been through the transaction process and chances are that ‘a lack of transparency’ will be high on their list of stress-inducing complaints. And that’s just a lack of transparency over the moving parts of their own transaction never mind oversight over the other transactions potentially involved in their chain!

Surprisingly, however, ‘Greater transparency for all parties in the process’ was only 4th on the list of priority improvements for conveyancers (18%) and estate agents (15%). Greater transparency falls even lower down the priority list among conveyancers with 11+ years of experience and estate agents with less than 10 years of experience with only around 1 in 10 saying it would matter most to them. There could be myriad reasons for this, most notably the fact that both conveyancers and estate agents feel that there are bigger, more important issues with the property transaction process to fix first before worrying about the issue of transparency for all parties throughout the process. And the data from our report would seem to back this up.

Having more control over the many moving parts in the process

When it comes to ‘Having more control over the many moving parts in the process’ – and let’s be honest there are lots of moving parts even in the simplest cases driving all parties up the wall. It was bottom of the list for our survey respondents with everything we’ve spoken about until this point ranking higher. Only 15% of conveyancers and 11% of estate agents saw it as an important fix to make, with so many others opting in favour of other improvements first.

Incredibly, the apparent apathy towards having more control was starkest in the 11+ years of experience bracket for both professions. As few as 1 in 10 conveyancers placed it at the top of their priority lists, while for estate agents it barely registered as important, with a meagre 1 in 30 placing having more control as the first thing they would improve. This could be part of a broader malaise, where conveyancers and estate agents have simply grown to accept that there are too many moving parts to control them all, and it’s easier to just sit back and roll with it. Like a game of snakes and ladders, when you’re unfortunate enough to slip down a snake back to square one you just have to remain positive and hope you can claw your way back to complete the transaction.

Things can only get better

At the end of the day, everyone involved in the property transaction process wants the same thing - to see it improved. Whether that be by communicating better, providing greater transparency or by automating certain tasks, they all share the same common goal of modernising the process we have grown to accept as normal. Things can, should, and will get better by working better together.

Want to see some further insights into the property transaction process? Or maybe delve deeper into what conveyancers and estate agents think about their working relationship with one another?

Download our Working Better Together Report now and find out more.

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