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2020 Conveyancing: Adapting to the New Normal

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We’re halfway through 2020 and what a year it has been so far. It’s fair to say it’s not necessarily the year we had all planned for when considering our resolutions or business ambitions back in January.

At the end of March, we saw unprecedented restrictions come into force – essentially halting many business activities that could not be conducted safely, compliantly or from home. For property lawyers, while progress on transactions could happen behind the scenes for most, the inability of estate agents to actively market properties at one end of the chain, and for removers to support the physical moving process at the other, meant many transactions were in a state of limbo until the blockages at either end of the funnel could be removed.

As a business, Landmark Information Group worked with two other leading organisations that help facilitate a property transaction, to lobby the Government on how to safely ‘kickstart’ the housing market.

A letter was written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to detail their view of how government could quickly get the sector operating again and critically, bridge the gap until momentum gathers.

Working collectively to make the case to government, the aim was to support consumers while also protecting jobs across the property industry.

The group’s proposals included getting the home moving market working quickly by defining a ‘safe move’ and ensuring that the sector is one of the first to reopen under the phasing out of ‘stay at home’ measures.

In addition, ensuring that those who were part way through a transaction are protected by lenders continuing, where feasible, to honour mortgage offers. Providing a fiscal stimulus for the market, enabling a speedier recovery, as well as ensuring the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was extended for businesses beyond the restart of the market, to allow firms to rebuild income.

Since writing to the Secretary of State shortly after the housing market was paused, the group held a number of virtual meetings with policymakers across government.

Businesses across the conveyancing industry face particular challenges from Covid-19. The time it takes for the pipeline of transactions to be rebuilt, and the receipt of income on completion by many in the sector mean the right policy decisions by government are essential to support the market’s overall recovery. After all, the market has the potential to act as an important catalyst for the wider economic recovery: home movers on average spend £12 billion per annum on furnishings, improvements and appliances supporting small businesses and the high street.

On 13 May, the Government gave the industry the go ahead to restart England’s property market, which includes a Safe Working Charter plan. In doing so, over 380,000 properties that were sold subject to contract but unable to complete were effectively released, as well as providing an important fiscal stimulus for the overall economy.

With the market reopening, we’re seeing a lot of movement across the country. In fact, new research1 by GetAgent, which compared property stock levels in the week prior to industry restrictions being lifted to the week following the market resuming tracked new listing volumes. It found that the largest increase in new property stock was in Birmingham, with 152 properties marketed in a week, followed by Exeter (151 homes) and Wiltshire with 144. Bristol, Cornwall and Plymouth also saw some of the biggest market bounce backs with more than 100 new homes listed for sale in a single week.

Now, we are working in an evolving ‘new normal’ with conveyancers either continuing to work from home, or in socially-distanced safe working environments that adhere to the latest guidance. The flexibility provided by online working and cloud-based software has come into its own this year, and many businesses will be looking at ways of extending this further to provide additional service enhancements.

We therefore await the next six months of the year to see what they will bring; one thing is for sure, property transactions will continue and we remain at your side to support you, your business and your clients.

1. https://www.propertyreporter.co.uk/property/property-market-regaining-health-as-home-sellers-rush-to-relist.html

Tony Rollason is Regional Manager – Legal at Landmark