John Phillips

Time to stop playing the blame game

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14th September 2017

There’s no other way to put it but those who work in the housing and mortgage markets often feel like something akin to a dysfunctional family.

We’re all related, inter-linked and depend on each other but at the same time often fail to see each other’s point of view, understand why we do the things we do, and wonder whether other ‘family members’ have sometimes lost control of their faculties. At key times we can also be accused of being ungracious, downright rude, and we’re not averse to trying to steal business from each other.

How the system and process works can seem like a mystery. Indeed, as I’ve heard many people say, if you were to design the system you certainly wouldn’t want to emulate what we have now, and if you did, then you’d probably scrap the whole thing and start again. There’s no doubting that it can be ultra-fractious, in which the family is not prepared to give one inch, and it’s always someone else’s fault.

In a way we’re a bit like The Royle Family, however like that comedic family, I believe there is a warmth behind the arguments, there is an understanding that we all need each other, and there’s certainly a warped sense of loyalty that keeps us all together and eventually wins out in the end. Perhaps I’m being far too positive here?

I say all of this because, just lately, there appears to be a growing number of public altercations amongst various stakeholders and certainly an underlying feeling that certain parties are either not pulling their weight, or getting it wrong, letting the side down and effectively putting the kibosh on clients’ ambitions to get into their new properties.

Over the summer, this was certainly the case when it came to certain conveyancing practitioners who appeared to be getting it in the neck from all and sundry, specifically when it came to the delivery of their ‘free legal’ services as provided via the larger remortgage lenders.

I’ll put my cards on the table right now and say I’m not enamoured of free legals for all kinds of reason, notably the fact the client is not being represented at all (the conveyancer represents the lender), free never really means free, it adds to the overall delay especially in busy times, and (quite frankly) when there’s cashback available the alternative seems far better.

However, and here is where I do take exception to the brickbats that were recently thrown at some conveyancers, often delays and resource problems are not the problem of the conveyancer at all. They can be due to the lender having a spurt of business that its panel manager is inept at placing – which from what I hear was the case this summer – and it is actually the conveyancers concerned who are trying to sort out the mess on behalf of those that have created it.

And yet, because the conveyancer at this point is the customer-facing element in all of this, it is that firm that takes all the blame. Try telling the client that there’s been a third-party problem in placing their case, or that the panel manager sat on the case for weeks which resulted in a greater backlog, and you’re likely to get short shrift from them.

Agents too can often find themselves dragged into these issues, even though they may have warned the client of the potential problems involved. From my experience, agents (on the whole) work their collective backsides off in order to get deals through to exchange/completion, and why  wouldn’t they, given how they’re paid? This doesn’t stop other parties – advisers, etc – bemoaning their perceived poor performance. And this works both ways? How often have you, as an agent, whinged about the mortgage adviser who hasn’t been able to secure the offer on time, or is supposedly twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns? Not forgetting the lender or the valuer or the search providers or the EPC provider? All will have gotten it in the neck at some point in the very recent past.

Which brings me to my original point: the system isn’t really fit for purpose and despite the promise of technological advances – many of which have been of benefit, some less so – we are still tending to use the same system of work that’s been around for a long time. And that means that we have to rely on each other to get things done and humans are fallible - they make mistakes and get it wrong. A small number of those mistakes are catastrophic but on the whole we can work through them and eventually get to the end result. It may not have been in the anticipated timescale however and that’s certainly something we all need to work on.

However, playing the blame game doesn’t really get us anywhere, does it? It ‘not being your fault’ also doesn’t get the client to where they want to be either and therefore in the spirit of family matters, I’m suggesting that there is no rift that can’t be healed, no argument that can’t be resolved – indeed, industry ‘blood’ has to be thicker than water if we’re all going to complete a case and, let’s not forget, get paid.

Let’s operate within a spirit of conciliation and seek to do the best we can for our clients, whilst supporting those who we rely upon to get the entire job done. It’s a big ask I know, but from a PR perspective it might give us all a break from the seemingly constant negativity that can often blight the good work we’re actually all doing.

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