Conveyancing attorneys are qualified professionals who generally conduct their business ethically and professionally. Surely, the public would be better advised and better protected if they were exposed to the conveyancer at an earlier stage of the transfer? At the same time, this will allow firms to maintain their conveyancing work and extend their client base. They could increase profitability by earning commission for both estate agency work and conveyancing work. Let us turn to Scotland for a working example.
Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC)
Solicitor property selling has been a feature of the Scottish market for decades; the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre (ESPC) has over 90% of the local estate agency market. Under the ESPC banner, solicitors throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians have been able to provide homebuyers and sellers with a convenient, cost-effective, hassle-free means to buy and sell property under one roof.
These Solicitor Property Centres (SPCs) use the display centre model for selling property. This means that the centre itself does no more than advertise property. It leaves all the actual estate agency-, conveyancing- and financial services work to the 700 member law firms. The only way that a seller can access the system is by going to a member firm; they then arrange for the property to be advertised at the centre and in its weekly newspaper. If buyers who find properties through the centre do not have their own solicitors, they can choose a solicitor from a list of other centre members. The centres encourage members to compete with each other. Some have their own satellite property shops, while others often advertise properties in their receptions. With the help of a computer, solicitors can do everything the centre does from their offices.
Essentially clients can now get all the services they need from this 'one-stop shop' of conveyancing, estate agency and financial advisers. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) report in 1997 found that even though a 'complex monopoly situation' existed in favour of the SPCs, it did not operate against public interest. They discovered that consumers were very satisfied with the attorneys' services.
The showrooms and website
Some 4500 properties are displayed at any one time in their showrooms and around 8000 people view them every week. In addition, a website was launched in 1997, allowing users to access every property for sale through member solicitor firms - now amounting to over 300 throughout the United Kingdom.
This website, that is updated daily, has:
- an enhanced property search service, with improved maps.
- a personalised matching service, so that buyers can be notified of suitable properties by e-mail or SMS.
- up-to-date and useful information on the full range of ESPC services.
- a virtual tour of their Edinburgh property shop.
Properties can be searched for by area, address, map, or by reference/erf number. Potential homebuyers need to sign up whereupon they are allocated a login identity and a Homeline account.
Here are some of the benefits of signing up:
- Users can have e-mail sent to them as soon as suitable property comes onto the market.
- They can save property searches in a personalised portfolio.
- Users also have a direct link to financial consultants.
Last but not least, the website has a number of other services, links and information on moving house. In many ways, it is representative of most other property websites.
ESPC also employs a team of independent financial advisors and mortgage consultants to give users advice on obtaining mortgage finance. The Solicitors Property Shop (SPS) has been operating in England since 1998 and has a dedicated website www.sps.net. It recently opened offices in Spain.
Despite the successes that attorneys have had in Scotland, success as a whole is not guaranteed. However, many potential opportunities exist to cross-refer business from one side of the practice to the other. Property selling also has a very positive spin-off - it diversifies the attorney's business - so that in times of economic slowdown one part of the practice can act as a buffer to the other. Selling property could therefore provide an opportunity for attorneys to take the initiative.