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Estate agent hopes in-house conveyancing service will lead to faster transactions

11 March 2008

A LEADING London estate agent has launched an own-brand conveyancing service offering “no sale, no fee” and online tracking.

Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (KFH), which has 50 branches across the capital, is referring clients to a wholly-owned subsidiary, Londonwide Conveyancing, which it will run from its HQ in Wimbledon.

The eight law firms involved in the initiative work to a scale of fixed fees, depending on the type of property.

Adam Miller, partner at Seddons in central London, said he hoped Londonwide Conveyancing would generate a good flow of business.

“Having no sale, no fee is not ideal, but it should work out if the volume of work is there,” he said. “Times change and businesses move on. We have a good relationship with KFH and want to keep it going.”

Miller said that once clients were referred to Londonwide, there was no restriction on the services firms could offer them.

He said the amount of the conveyancing fee used to finance Londonwide would be disclosed to clients by KFH. “You have to be pragmatic,” he added. “If it is not financially effective we will look at it again.”

Angela Neale, partner at Comptons in Camden, another of the panel firms, said: “It is good to be part of a panel which emphasises service and charges fees similar to the kind we would have charged anyway.”

Carl Brignell, business development director at KFH, said the agency could have gone to large conveyancing networks such as LMS Conveyancing or Conveyancing Live, but decided to set up an in-house service.

“There is a conflict between what these umbrella groups want to achieve and what we want to achieve,” he said.

“We want a better quality of service and reduced timescales. We could make a lot more money if we sent the work outside London, where the fees are cheaper.

“We are not interested in making a profit from conveyancing. What we are interested in is differentiating our service from the competition in what is becoming a slower market place.

“The difference we offer will be in our speed. We will aim for exchange within 28 days.”

London Conveyancing launched last week in north-west London, with 14 branches of KFH referring work to eight law firms.

Brignell said that although clients would be free to use their own solicitor, the aim was for 60 to 70 per cent of customers to use London Conveyancing.

Elizabeth Bellamy, managing director of Drummonds in Chester, said the firm acted on a no sale, no fee basis only for online clients.

“Otherwise, if a sale falls through for no reason of their own making, we wouldn’t generally charge clients.

“However, if they mess you about and pull out, normally we would want to charge.”

Bellamy added that the online tracking was of limited use.

“A lot of clients don't use it,” she said. “You can only have a certain number of tick-boxes for each transaction. It is easier to communicate via a quick email to the client.”

Paul Marsh, vice-president of the Law Society, said he was concerned by the growth of schemes such as Londonwide Conveyancing.

“Individuals must be able to choose their own solicitor,” he said. “Instead, the impression is given by the estate agents that they have to use the firms on their conveyancing panel.”

Marsh said he visited the new housing minister, Caroline Flint, last week and argued for greater transparency in the housing market and better regulation of estate agents.

However, he added that he believed the government was suffering from house-buying reform fatigue.

“They thought they had a vote winner with HIPs, but it turned out to be an absolute disaster,” said Marsh. “The last thing they want to do is make the situation worse.”

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