Since 2011, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has published an Annual Tracker survey[i] about
how consumers are choosing and using legal services. This important research has helped drive
the transparency agenda championed by the CMA[ii].
Taking a deeper dive into the Panel’s research produces some perhaps unsurprising findings.
For example, it finds that the most-used legal service is conveyancing, at 36%. It seems even in
a very challenging housing market, the British attachment to owning one’s own home remains
Whether we all like it or not, the Panel’s research also shows that price is the most important
factor for consumers choosing conveyancing (82%).[iii] But, perhaps reassuringly, the research
reveals that consumer satisfaction with conveyancing is high[iv] with over 90% satisfied with the
outcome and over 80% satisfied with the service. But do these findings tell the whole story? For
example, were over 90% satisfied with the outcome simply because they managed to buy their
dream home, or avoided buying a home that was falling down? Were over 80% satisfied with the
service from their conveyancer but dissatisfied with the process of buying their home? Isn’t one
in five dis-satisfied actually pretty poor?
And do these findings tell the real story? How does the average consumer judge whether the
process that led to their house purchase really has been as good as it should have been, given
their lack of technical and professional knowledge. To think that high user satisfaction, or
satisfaction of outcome tell the whole story, in my view, risks complacency from conveyancers.
In March 2018, the SRA published a detailed research report[v] which delved deeper into exactly
what the consumer experience is of buying and selling a home. It did not make for happy reading;
for example 37% of dissatisfied consumers said this was because the service was slow or
inefficient. Their overall conclusion was a call for ‘clearer conveyancing information, especially
for first time buyers’.
In fact in the last year or so, hardly a week has gone by without another research report or
consultation probing one aspect or another of how we buy homes in England and Wales, offering
up recommendations on how it ought to change and numerous failures in the process, some
potentially very serious indeed, for example about leasehold houses. Here’s a snapshot: we’re
told ‘consumers don’t trust law firms referred by estate agents’[vi], the Law Commission launched
a review of Commonhold[vii], the Government set out how it wanted to tackle ‘unfair practices in the
leasehold market’[viii], while digitising and centralising Land Registry reforms were back on the
agenda[ix]. And just this week, new research shows that most home-buyers choose a conveyancer
on their estate agent’s recommendation but are in the dark about whether a referral fee was paid.x
But perhaps most significantly in April 2018 the Government published a response to their
consultation on ‘Improving the home buying and selling process’[xi]. It started with the Minister’s
very blunt assessment: ‘We all know that the current home buying and selling process in England
is not fit for purpose. It is stressful, time-consuming and costly for buyers and sellers alike – with
over a quarter of house sales falling through each year’. The report goes on to list a range of
measures the Government will take to reform the home buying and selling process. Interestingly,
just as this Panel has argued, the Government also acknowledge that price is not necessarily a
good metric for consumers to make informed choices. The report states: We want consumers to
be able to make a more informed choice of conveyancer which considers service levels, not just
It’s time to really put the consumer first, and move on from the traditional blame game and passing
the buck, to secure actual improvements. Ten years after the ill-fated but well intentioned Home
Information Packs, and after countless research reports, I still don’t see meaningful change or
leadership driving consumer-focused transformation.
From my own personal experience, writing as a relatively well-informed consumer who has bought
and sold two houses in the last three years, my recent conveyancing experience was so awful
that I’m amazed 100% of consumers don’t express some dis-satisfaction with both the process
and the service. Would anyone like to tell me just how wrong I am?
The author, a member of the LSCP since January 2017, declares an interest as a Non-Executive
Director of the Property Ombudsman