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‘Conveyancing crunch’: workload rises as sector shrinks

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(7 March 2023)

Property transactions have nearly doubled in a decade but the number of active conveyancing firms has shrunk – resulting in ‘the great conveyancing crunch’, according to a search company that regularly tracks the market.

Search Acumen said the volume of annual property transactions rose from 714,000 in 2012 to more than 1.3 million in 2022. However, the number of active conveyancing firms has fallen by 10%.

The latest findings are part of a report on market activity between October and December last year. Search Acumen said the top 50 firms accounted for 20.5% of transactions towards the end of last year, compared with 19.3% a year earlier. Search Acumen said 1% is equivalent to 3,000 transactions at current market level activity.

Whilst transaction volumes have ‘rampantly increased’ over the past decade, Search Acumen said figures for October-December 2022 fall roughly in line with activity in the same period for 2021, indicating that things might be levelling off.

‘Similarly, the average number of quarterly transactions for all firms has decreased by 4% from the previous quarter, from 80 to 77, but is a similar figure when compared to a year ago when firms averaged 76 transactions in Q4 2021,’ the company said in its report.

‘Indeed, according to Landmark Information Group, average residential transaction times are getting longer, taking an average of 132 days up from 82 days in 2007, and as consumer confidence hangs in the balance against an uncertain outlook for UK house prices, this may have an impact on transacting numbers for conveyancers in the months ahead. Search Acumen predicts things are unlikely to continue in this upward trajectory, as wider economic factors take the heat out of 2022’s boom.’

Search Acumen director Andy Sommerville said an unprecedented decade of pressure on the conveyancing sector culminated in extreme levels of market activity during and after Covid.

‘With transaction volumes rising while firm numbers have consistently fallen, this has obviously created new commercial opportunities, but equally put huge strain on lawyers to meet the needs of the market through some of the most challenging years we’ve ever seen,’ he added.

‘We cannot underestimate how critical the UK conveyancing sector has been in keeping the property sector going, with lawyers going above and beyond, putting themselves at risk of burnout to meet the needs of their clients. Beyond conveyancing, the result of these efforts will have been a contribution to the UK economy that similarly cannot be overlooked or overstated.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)