Moving minds towards the property market

THE CONCEPT of solicitors running their own estate agents is proving a hard one to sell to high-street practices.

An upturn in the housing market, statistics showing that solicitors still control 96 per cent of the conveyancing market, and the fact that establishing a property centre requires the agreement of dozens of firms, time, commitment and thousands of pounds of capital has so far spawned little enthusiasm for the concept.

Yet around 60 delegates at the Defending The Residential Conveyancing Marketing conference in the London suburb of Richmond last Tuesday were prepared to listen, even if they were somewhat sceptical.

The plans of Hambro Countrywide to offer a seven-day-a-week conveyancing service as part of a one-stop house-buying concept has given, what campaigning conveyancing solicitor John Edge describes as, a well timed “kick up the arse” to the profession.

Diverse groupings, such as the Solicitors Association and the Solicitors Property Group, say lawyers must now join together to circle and fight off the forces of competition by beating them at their own game and offering house buyers a complete service.

“The biggest obstacle to solicitors' success in this field is the solicitors' mind set and culture,” says Phillip Hodges & Co partner, Michael Garson, who organised the conference.

As if to emphasise Garson's point, of the 800 firms he contacted in the Surrey area, just over 60 were represented at the conference.

Those who were there gave their biggest applause to Glasgow Property Centre director Alan Simpson, who told them how the 126 firms involved had snatched 30 per cent of the residential market in the City after just three years.

Yet Simpson tempered those comments by pointing out that the firms had to raise more than £500,000 of capital jointly and a return on their investment was still a long way off.

Law Society council member, and prospective presidential candidate, Robert Sayer, said English firms had little choice but to shell out as no one else was going to help.

“Co-operate or die,” he says. “Either you are going to be doing estate agency work or estate agents are going to be doing conveyancing.”

The Law Society, which has just sent out a consultation document with regard to freeing up conveyancing rules, also came under attack from frustrated delegates. “We're just dying under the weight of regulations from the Law Society,” says one solicitor from Liverpool.

Yet after six hours of speakers and debate, delegates at the conference agreed that it was they, not their professional body, which had to take the initiative in setting up a centre.

It remains to be seen if the message of the minority is seized upon by the masses.