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Anthony Bogan is a director of SPC and a member of the Law Society council.
The recent survey by BDO Stoy Hayward into property selling by solicitors makes interesting reading. It tells us two important things: First, that if you are a conveyancer the 'do nothing' option should be avoided. Conveyancing as a stand-alone discipline is unlikely to thrive in the new millennium. Secondly and I believe more importantly it tells us that there is a market opportunity for solicitors in property selling but only if we recognise that the public expects a more efficient system when they move home.
Many lawyers that I speak to support the concept of solicitors selling property but are reluctant to take the plunge. They have similar reservations lack of know-how, insufficient time to experiment or a shortage of money. The initiative by Solicitors Property Centres (SPC) set out to address these basic problems when it launched last summer.
Where are we now? With over 650 firms registered, a new and exciting brand image and an IT package that should match the consumer's needs, we are well on the way to achieving our objective a national network of solicitors property centres that will both transform the entire home transfer process and put solicitors back in the driving seat.
When we succeed, the tortuous conveyancing debate will at last be over.
The advantages of joining in a national initiative are many: the know-how is there and can be applied in any location. SPC is non-profit-making and therefore a whole range of services and support will be available at cost.
Quality is paramount and we will therefore be adopting the best standards of estate agency practice a conveyancing protocol that is more user-friendly and good old fashioned independent financial advice. We will be recruiting a panel of mortgage lenders. As a 'bulk' introducer, SPC will expect bespoke products that will compare favourably with the best in the market better use of IT, mortgage offers made available much more quickly than they are at present and, of course, a much more equitable retainer between lender and solicitor, a fair fee for a job well done and perhaps even the odd procreation fee.
SPC's IT strategy applied through a national network of property centres will transform the home transfer process. It will provide: efficient systems for matching buyers and sellers to remove much of the time-consuming legwork; proper multi-listing through a national property database that can be accessed through the Internet; touch-screen technology that is simple to use and open to users 24 hours a day; direct access to the Land Registry and other service providers; and better communications between participating solicitors through a secure intranet.
The property centres will combine the professionalism of solicitors with the convenience and comfort of modern retail outlets. They will provide more than a traditional estate agent. There will be information points, a legal help desk and an opportunity for member firms to market a broad range of legal services within their local communities.
Inertia is the greatest obstacle to change. Solicitors are not renowned for their innovation, but within the home transfer process maintaining the status quo is simply not an option.