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The damaging effect of the blame culture between agents and conveyancers

In the last year, we have seen a number of issues arise in the property industry, one of the most significant being the emergence of ‘blame culture’ between agents and conveyancers. Peter Ambrose, founder of award-winning conveyancing firm The Partnership, draws upon his own experience and reveals how his firm has overcome the challenges associated with this issue.

I’ve been running a conveyancing business for over 10 years now and this type of blame culture is something we’ve seen get worse over the past year. Agents and conveyancers are having difficulties communicating efficiently and are struggling to work cooperatively, consequently having serious implications on property sales, delays in particular.

However, there is a wider issue at play here that we cannot wholly blame property professionals for. In general, expectations are higher and clients are becoming less patient; there’s a desire for immediacy. We are all victims of this change in culture and our behaviour only reflects the way that our clients are acting. They are becoming unpredictable and this is having a knock-on effect.

Not only is patience running thin but there is no longer a middle-ground when it comes to satisfaction. Clients react on a polarised scale; we call it the ‘one star, five star problem’. They are either ecstatic or furious. For instance, we had a client who called up with a non-critical issue however their lawyer was not in the office due to illness. The client understood the situation and was happy to wait until their lawyer returned. To our surprise, a few hours later, the same client put through a complaint due to lack of progress. This is a prime example of the new demanding culture in our society today.

It is very difficult to manage these unrealistic expectations, especially when time-consuming tasks are expected to be completed almost instantly, even in uncontrollable circumstances. When clients put pressure on agents, they have to pass it on, which then creates a chain of frustration between property professionals and that’s where the blaming begins. And, in this situation, all the client sees is their paid professionals in dispute with each other which can lead to disengagement from them.

I don’t like the blame game; we cannot pin this all on one party. We must acknowledge the fundamental differences between agents and conveyancers: agents are driven by the need to get deals over the line, whereas conveyancers are held back by their duty of care that cannot be ignored due to the risk of being sued. Lawyers are in a naturally precarious situation which has an effect on how they interact with agents. Typically, lawyers find picking up the phone risky because there is no audit and they will usually only talk to their counterpart on the other side of the deal. This is understandable given the legal implications of the job, however it can be detrimental to sales. It would be useful if lawyers could communicate just enough to keep everyone in the loop as it would keep customers happy and make sales more efficient.

That being said, there are some things that lawyers cannot control and that is the taxing task of enquiries that can, at times, seem endless. We call it the “black hole of conveyancing!” Unfortunately, it is agents who have to deal with clients chasing them up when this process is taking a long time, which they then pass on to us. This becomes frustrating as there is nothing we can do to speed up the process and once we do think all enquiries are complete, more enquiries come in. The lack of understanding surrounding how long these processes take can cause issues and spoil relationships.

How can we combat this blame culture?

The best relationship we’ve had with an agency was a local one and part of the reason it worked so well was because we always allocate specific lawyers to particular agents. This means that if they see a potential problem along the road, we can call our corresponding agent in advance so that they can call the client and manage expectations.

This is where communication between agents and conveyancers is so important. We’ve had over 80% success rate with these agents which is incredible considering the national average is only 67%. It really does have a lot to do with the relationship between lawyer and agent. The ability to warn people in advance is key and helps level the playing field when it comes to blame culture.

We need to ensure that everyone across the chain is informed, from clients, to agents and conveyancers. Tools like mio are a great solution to this as they provide full transparency with updates, visibility across the chain and forecasting of potential issues. mio keeps the conversations going to help things move forward.

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