Shape up or ship out

The legal profession must shoulder most of the criticism for the problems that exist in the slow, antiquated house-buying system in Britain.

Opportunities presented to the profession over the last 25 years to progress have been ignored or sidestepped. Is there a future for domestic conveyancing as a hard-core business source for the high street firm? The answer is 'No'.

The Government appears to be leaning towards pushing the packaging of properties ready for sale. Many would agree a reversal of caveat emptor to caveat seller would make sense.

Conveyancing is adversarial. It is also reactionary. Solicitors must ensure that they do a perfect job, often acting for lenders from whom they cannot get clear instructions because if anything is omitted they could find themselves defendant in a negligence action. Leaseholds and freeholds will often involve many additional but superfluous enquiries. Delay builds upon delay and if solicitors are the cause, would it not be progress if solicitors were not involved in the clerical transfer of title at all?

Publicity has already surrounded the Halifax pilot scheme for remortgages in 1997. Recently, Household Mortgage Corporation a subsidiary of Abbey National launched a remortgage product which promises completion within 10 days from the date of application being made. So why does a houseowner who is simply transferring his mortgage from 'lender to lender' need a solicitor? He does not.

Woolwich Direct is about to launch two remortgage products, both to be completed using title insurance and both promise a turnaround within days. Very soon the public will get used to the idea that they can switch their mortgage without seeing a solicitor and complete on a date which they request, usually within two weeks from the start. Lenders now see that the home moving business is not getting any bigger but each year more business must be found.

Later this year will see the first pre-packaged home sites being sold, including a mortgage offer and a title insurance policy. It will be possible to buy a new house on site. A solicitor, if instructed, will not receive from the developers any of the paperwork which currently lands on his desk. Once remortgages are established under the new process and the plot sales concept is understood, then the second-hand market will also receive the benefit of the re-engineering ideas that First UK will be launching.

Solicitors will still be involved in the process. First UK, as the umbrella firm, will employ specialist firms to investigate title and issue certificates and policies for the insurance company. The first firm, Marsons, was appointed two years ago and has been involved in all discussions that have taken place. First UK is planning to appoint Dibb Lupton Alsop as the second agents shortly.

Who wants to buy a conveyance? All the customer wants is to buy a home. The process is now available public demand will take care of the rest.