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It is widely accepted that the way the industry transacts property in the UK is in need of a shake-up. Movers are typically waiting 5-6 months to get the keys to their new home in their hands. In many cases, they are experiencing preventable obstacles and delays, at a detrimental cost to homeowners and the industry. The current situation is both unsustainable and perilous.
tmgroup’s industry-wide ‘Back to the Future’ research report found that while property professionals are crying out for change, there’s a lack of confidence in how to go about it or indeed, where to start. It remains each business owner’s individual choice as to how they navigate change within their business and embed greater confidence and investment in the property market.
Some changes are now taking seed, thanks to updated Consumer Protection Regulations and working groups, such as the Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG), working with Government and industry to facilitate the provision of upfront material information for estate agents and conveyancers.
Change can often be a complex and sensitive path to navigate, and thankfully even small changes can be transformative for the better. tmgroup’s latest tm:tv episode assembled leading experts from National Trading Standards, the HBSG and more, to share their tips on how businesses can successfully lead their own drive for material change and shift the needle towards a ‘new world’ of transacting properties. Let’s look at some of their main recommendations:
Educate and keep learning from innovation and best practice
A common thread was that professionals within the industry can learn a lot from each other, while still working in their own specialisms, as a means to educate themselves, their peers and consumers.
Legislation serves as a reference tool to guide professionals and set a standard of service expectations for everyone involved, as Emma Cooke, National Trading Standards’ Policy & Information Manager, explained, “Legislation is there to help provide a foundation and a framework for everybody to be able to have a level playing field. If people accept change and understand change is the only constant in life, it changes people’s behaviours too. Soft skills are just as important as knowing the legislation, you have to relate to your clients.”
The panel agreed that consumers are also on a journey of learning and that increased knowledge and empowerment will also help drive positive change from the bottom up. Emma added, “An empowered consumer will ask you more questions because they are embarking on one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make. So, continue to learn, continue to adapt and make sure that you know your journey, as well as your clients’, is a happy one.”
David Opie, Editor of Conveyancing Today, observed, “Encourage home movers to be more proactive in terms of seeking out their own support, help, guidance. Conveyancers have a role in pointing them in the direction of some of that advice and guidance.”
Chartered Surveyor, Marion Ellis of The Surveyor Hub believes that surveyors can also take a more supportive and longer-term approach, remarking, “The role of a surveyor is to support you as you buy your property and to live in it. We’re setting people up for a fall and missing things like safety, maintenance, and climate sustainability. Surveyors are in a great position to help move that forward.”
Communicate and collaborate with each other
It was felt that property professionals should remind themselves of their core common focus – to get people moved into their new homes, as seamlessly and painlessly as possible. Agents, conveyancers, brokers and surveyors can successfully achieve this by proactively exploring how they can work more effectively with their peers and stakeholders involved in the transaction. In building better relationships with others in the industry, everyone can pull together in the same direction with greater strength and mobility to transact property effectively.
Emma Cooke set out the importance of teamwork within businesses and across the industry, “My acronym for team is Together Everyone Achieves More. We can achieve hardly anything operating in our own silos. We’re all an important part of the home buying selling and letting framework. You have to have a collaborative mindset.”
By learning to work more cooperatively with partners and counterparts, property professionals can also come to a better understanding of each other’s pressures and processes that can actually make communication easier. David Opie, cited a common problem with excessive chasing of information and made a suggestion as to how such pressures could be eased, “Time and time again people say, ‘I have nothing to say; the transaction hasn’t moved on as I’m still waiting for the searches or inquiries from the other side.’ Tell them, ’No update IS an update’ – that’s really important.”
While building collaborative business partnerships is important, Marion Ellis also warned that property professionals should also take responsibility for who they are referring work to, as this will not only impact the quality of the service their client receives, but also their business reputation.
Embrace upfront material information and supporting tech
When reflecting on why property transactions are taking so much longer than they used to, the panel contemplated how much easier the process was during the 1990s with the provision of early property information. Chair of the HBSG, Beth Rudolf said, “The reality of having all of that information in one place meant you could answer the questions. We need to recreate that, by getting all of that upfront information and storing it digitally so that it is accessible during the lifecycle of the property – not just that particular person as a home owner. “
“Life will be so much easier if we can have the digital data about the property in one place, all accessible and with the material information guidance that’s coming out. That will identify all the things that the average consumer will need to know about.”
The year-long pilot by residential conveyancing experts Thomas Legal and specialist search provider Conveyancing Data Services, part of tmgroup, which reduced transaction times by 40% was cited as an example of successful data sharing in action. Beth commented, “tmgroup’s recent pilot worked really well in reducing transaction times and fall through rate, so we know it works. The HBSG’s Property Data Trust Framework enables FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data, which means that we can stop duplicating information and start sharing it, securely and reliably.”
Property professionals were also warned to take a proactive approach and not to wait for legislation to fix all issues with the property transaction, as Beth explained, “We need to get behind upfront information and see the benefits and the opportunities that it brings. If you speed up the process just by reducing the transaction time from 22 weeks to 12 weeks that will save, for most estate agents, three full-time equivalent people in the time it takes to do the progression, updates and chasing. It’s the same for the conveyancer. So, don’t just sit back and wait for legislation because that’s going to be a long time coming.”
Match resources and service levels to customer needs
As the provision of upfront material information for consumers increases, it could pave the way for property professionals to offer different service levels to reflect the level of delivery, evaluation and response provided.
Beth Rudolf suggested this could take the form of a Bronze, Silver and Gold service standard, whereby the seller is offered; a material information summary; a review of the upfront information to identify potential issues which could disrupt or delay their transaction, or; action to fix or mitigate identified title defects and issues respectively.
Beth explained that the seller has a legal obligation to identify anything that would prevent the buyer from using it as their intended use, “By agreeing what to offer the seller, they are aware of what needs to happen and the options available to make informed decisions. This will encourage more collaboration between sellers, estate agents and conveyancers.”
This approach could also support the division, allocation and specialization of resources for some firms, according to David Opie. “We’re starting to see a leasehold specialism or leasehold specialist teams develop within firms, particularly larger ones. We’ve certainly seen that in new build.”
Change is inevitable in business as in life, and our agility can determine whether we flourish or flounder. By embracing innovation, opportunities to collaborate, and learn and impart our knowledge to others for the benefit of all, the future for the industry can be bright.
You can watch the full tm:tv episode “Top 3 Tips: How to drive material change” here. You can also register your free place at tm:tv’s next online panel discussion webinar ‘How to unburden your staff through process improvements’ on 26th September.