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The Woolwich and the Halifax have both launched in-house conveyancing pilot schemes ' paving the way for the likely launch of national schemes next year.
Although the banks refuse to commit to a full-blown assault on the conveyancing market, the moves are a further indication of the growing threat that conveyancing solicitors face from the powerful lenders.
The Halifax is already running a pilot in Leeds, while the Woolwich is preparing to open its pilot one-stop property shop, to be known as the HomeSmart, in High Wycombe before the end of the year.
Under the scheme, the Woolwich acts as a chain-breaker by buying houses, renovating them and then selling them to the public.
The banks conveyancing work will be outsourced to Maidstone firm Argles & Court. Argles partner Colin Trelfer explained that the firm would be acting for the Woolwich both when the bank bought the properties and also when it sold them on.
Under the Halifax scheme, first-time buyers are offered a free conveyancing service from Hammond Suddards, paid for by the bank.
The Halifax has also been piloting a remortgaging service with Kent firm Marsons, which will involve the use of title insurance.
Halifax group solicitor Chris Jowett said that the firm was considering a wide range of options, but he downplayed widespread speculation in the Leeds legal community that it was three or four months away from launching a new conveyancing service there.
I think its fair to say that we see conveyancing as a opportunity, said Jowett.
The banks moves follow Hambro Countrywides opening of three conveyancing centres this summer, in tandem with national firm Eversheds, Shoosmiths & Harrison and EDC Lord & Co.