In the Spotlight with Stuart Forsdike

We spoke to Stuart Forsdike, founding partner of PCS Legal, about the current challenges in the conveyancing process and his predictions for the property market in the rest of 2024.

Related topics:  In The Spotlight
Amy Loddington | Online Editor, Financial Reporter
24th May 2024
stuart forsdike pcs legal
"If not for the election, I would predict a strong year for the property market"

Please tell us a little about yourself and your current role in the property industry.

I’m Stuart Forsdike, founding partner of PCS Legal. I have over 25 years of experience in the property industry, specialising in residential and commercial conveyancing, wills, and probate. I started working in the conveyancing industry in 1997 and qualified as a licensed conveyancer in 2003, holding a full manager's conveyancing and wills and probate licence.

PCS Legal was established in 2006 and we’re fortunate enough to have grown organically to become one of the largest firms of licensed conveyancers in the UK, regularly ranked in the top 6 law firms dealing with volume conveyancing based on land registry statistics. From opening our first office in Basildon with just two staff, we have expanded to locations in Ongar, Wickford, Harlow, London, and Rayleigh, now employing over 170 members of staff.

In addition to my role at PCS Legal, I also host "Conveyancing Matters" with Lorraine Richardson of Adapt Law. "Conveyancing Matters" is a YouTube channel we started during lockdown to provide advice and commentary on the conveyancing process. Since then, it’s grown in popularity covering all things property-related, offering guidance and advice useful to brokers, estate agents, licensed conveyancers, solicitors, and anyone involved in the property industry. We also run three Conveyancing Matters Live events a year for attendees to earn CPD.

What are the current challenges in the conveyancing process and how can it be improved?

One of the biggest challenges we're facing in the conveyancing process is the significant delays at the Land Registry. These delays have become a pressing concern for homeowners and homebuyers alike. With registration processes sometimes taking up to two years to complete, individuals are left grappling with financial strain and added complexities when navigating property transactions. Whether it's building new homes or simply updating property deeds, the impact of these delays is far-reaching and demands urgent attention.

The root cause of these delays lies in the Land Registry's inability to cope with the surge in property transactions, exacerbated by the stamp duty holiday post-COVID. The sheer volume of transactions overwhelms their capacity, leading to prolonged processing times and significant backlogs. This backlog has severe ramifications for homeowners and homebuyers, hindering transactions and exposing them to heightened risks of title fraud.

Homeowners seeking to sell or refinance their properties find themselves stuck in limbo due to unregistered ownership status. Meanwhile, borrowers in new-build flats face the burden of expensive standard variable rates while awaiting registration. The complexity and cost associated with these delays only compound the challenges faced by individuals already navigating property transactions.

At PCS Legal, we are inundated with inquiries from clients eager to proceed with transactions. Yet, until the Land Registry addresses its capacity issues, transactions remain in limbo, prolonging uncertainty for all parties involved. To me, the situation not only highlights the urgent need for investment and modernisation within the Land Registry to streamline processes but across the whole home buying process.

As the conveyancing process moves further into the digital world, how do you see AI impacting the sector and what would say are the pros and cons of this?

As an organisation, we have started looking at AI and its potential impact on the conveyancing sector.

On the positive side, AI has the potential to streamline many aspects of the conveyancing process. It can automate routine tasks such as ID checks, document verification, and data entry, which can significantly speed up the process and reduce the likelihood of human error. By handling these time-consuming tasks, it could allow us to focus more on providing a high level of personal service to our clients. This means that our staff can spend more time addressing specific client concerns, offering tailored advice, and ensuring a smooth and reassuring experience for home buyers and sellers.

However, there are also cons to consider. One major concern is that the increased reliance on AI could reduce the overall skill set in the industry. As AI takes over more routine tasks, there may be less need for junior staff to learn the ropes, which could impact the development of expertise within the sector. Additionally, there's a risk that the personal touch, which is so crucial in conveyancing, might be lost if we rely too heavily on automation.

It sounds cliché but at PCS Legal, we have always prided ourselves on offering that personal service where other organisations don’t. Homeowners appreciate being able to pick up the phone and talk to someone who can provide answers and reassurance. We’re looking at AI as a tool to enhance, not replace, this personal interaction. By automating the more mundane aspects of the process, we hope it will give us more time to focus on our clients and their individual needs. For example, AI can help us manage large volumes of transactions more effectively, ensuring that we maintain the quality of our service even as we handle more clients.

What do the next 6-12 months have in store for PCS Legal, anything we should know about?

In the past year, we have introduced new products and services, ranging from Apps, online completion of documents and case trackers, in order to reach significant milestones that showcase our commitment to innovation and client satisfaction. Developments we are most proud of include:

- Our client Identification App, streamlining the ID verification process and enhancing security through facial recognition technology

- Property logbooks which provide advanced information about a prospective property and its local surroundings

- Fast and Express move services which expedite the transaction time to completion for vendors by preparing essential documents and a Draft Contract Pack within 24 hours of a sale being agreed

One of our latest services is the ‘Conveyancing Concierge,’ a dedicated platform designed to streamline the onboarding process for new clients. Once customers sign up, they can complete all necessary steps for their sale or purchase directly through the portal, eliminating the need to print and return forms.

What sets this platform apart is its comprehensive support, covering every aspect of the property transaction journey. Our online portal guides clients through a series of questions to identify their specific needs, ensuring they receive tailored assistance to progress quickly and efficiently. From finding their new home to moving in, the portal offers resources and connections to essential services.

For example, clients can find and arrange services like removal companies, decorators, and tradespeople through the platform. Landlords can benefit significantly from the portal as well; they can order tenancy agreements, obtain necessary licenses, receive tax advice, and even arrange property management.

In essence, the Conveyancing Concierge provides a one-stop solution for all property-related needs, simplifying the moving process and enhancing the overall client experience.

Our mission over the next 12 months is to develop this further. The moving process is so fragmented that it is no surprise that it is still considered one of the most stressful tasks a person undertakes. We Are developing every aspect of our service to make the process as easy and streamlined as doing your supermarket shop online. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it has been.

Due to the complex nature of conveyancing, delays are part and parcel of the process. But what tips can you give to sellers to ensure things go as smoothly as possible?

One of the most effective ways for sellers to ensure a smooth conveyancing process is to be well-prepared and organized with all necessary documentation. Here are some key tips:

Collate and maintain important documents: Keep all documents related to your property in a safe and accessible place. Essential documents include planning permissions, building regulations approvals, receipts, and certificates for any work carried out on the property, such as new windows, boilers, or extensions. Having these documents readily available can prevent delays when buyers' lawyers request this information.

Create a property logbook: At PCS Legal, we provide our clients with a property logbook, which is a convenient way to house all essential information about your property. This logbook can be maintained over the years, making it easier to provide accurate and complete information when it's time to sell. Keeping a detailed record of all improvements and maintenance work done on the property can also increase buyer confidence and potentially the value of your property.

Obtain a copy of your title deeds: Ensure you have an up-to-date copy of your title deeds. If your property is registered with the Land Registry, you can obtain a copy of the title register and title plan online. This document confirms your ownership and provides essential information about the property boundaries and any covenants or restrictions.

Address any issues early: If you know there are potential issues that could arise during the conveyancing process, such as disputes with neighbours or unregistered alterations, address these early. Being proactive can prevent these issues from becoming significant delays later on.

What are your predictions for the UK property market for the rest of the year?

I believe we are witnessing a significant shift in the UK property market as people become more acclimatised to the higher interest rates. We've moved past the initial shock that sparked widespread panic, and confidence is gradually returning. Over the last six months, we've seen this reflected in our own experience at PCS Legal, with record-high monthly instructions, indicating renewed activity and optimism in the market.

However, the announcement of a General Election on 4th July is now likely to create a temporary pause in the market. Historically, when elections are on the horizon, there is a degree of uncertainty that leads to cautiousness among buyers and sellers. People tend to wait and see how the political landscape will change before making significant financial decisions.

On a positive note, I hope the election will bring the housing market, and specifically the conveyancing process, to the forefront of the political agenda. Whilst many will be hopeful for a cut in stamp duty, alleviating some of the financial burden of moving, I believe a complete overhaul to make the moving process more fluid and straightforward should be a priority on the agenda of all political parties.

High costs and cumbersome procedures are major barriers to mobility in the housing market. Addressing these issues by simplifying and making the process more transparent could lead to increased activity and satisfaction among homeowners and buyers alike, ultimately benefiting the wider economy.

If not for the election, I would predict a strong year for the property market. Demand remains robust, and as people adapt to the new interest rate environment, we expect continued growth. The return of confidence suggests the market has the potential to perform very well.

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