How two Lancashire firms partnered to keep the property market moving during the pandemic
Supplying property searches is an important part of the UK property transaction process, and X-Press Legal Services continued to innovate its offering during the Covid-19 crisis with the introduction of more online facilities to enhance its suite of digital data services.
The impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy has been unprecedented with many staff furloughed, businesses put on hold and business owners managing their workforces remotely.
However, for X-Press Legal Services, the adoption of a new way of remote working enabled the business to put in place efficiencies, speed up product time to market and reach a far greater number of clients and prospects remotely than pre-coronavirus business ‘as usual’.
The firm uses its Intelligent Conveyancing Online System (ICOS) to provide over 400,000 search reports for around 500 conveyancing firms each year. One client using the suite of online services is 828 Law based in Preston, Lancashire.
When news of the pandemic broke, 828 Law started preparing for the possibility of remote working and switched to VOIP calls and remote online access to case management systems. From Monday 23rd when lockdown commenced, owner Angela Bartley grabbed her paper files and relocated to full-time home working.
Angela collected the business post from the office each day as the charges for re-directing it were so high. Staff worked remotely, keeping in touch via video conferencing and telephone calls. The only thing that the eight person 828 Law team was truly missing was the large office printer!
For those members of staff with young children at home, they were able to be flexible around the working hours and the business has reduced its 8am until 8pm opening hours to 9am until 5pm to assist with balancing home and work life for families.
Wendy Reece is the director of X-Press Legal Services Fylde Coast & Cumbria. Angela and Wendy have enjoyed a business relationship since the launch of 828 Law. Over the years, the two businesswomen have become firm friends, socialising together and sharing their love of playing pool!
Wendy comments: “Part of our ethos is providing the perfect combination of technology and the personal touch as it’s the local knowledge and relationships we have with our clients that set us apart from other providers. To have been able to continue to offer this level of one-to-one service even during social distancing has been great for business.”
Angela comments: “During this time, working with X-Press remained the same. The high service levels didn’t change. Wendy and Scott Reece went above and beyond to ensure that their workarounds were not visible to their clients.”
As a business that is only as good as its last search, the first thing the firm did during lockdown was to research individual councils to ascertain whether it could still access the data needed to provide quality regulated searches.
Once each of the 27 offices had obtained the information this was pooled throughout the network so every staff member knew which councils were able to provide the correct information. For those council offices that had basically shut their doors, X-Press staff worked with their teams to determine when they would be able to supply data.
As a result of Government social distancing measures, the firm switched to using webinars to deliver Continuous Professional Development (CPD) sessions to its network of property conveyancer and solicitor clients across the UK. These training sessions are usually held in large conference centres or venues such as Haydock and Cheltenham racecourses. The first online webinar held on 29th April received almost 400 attendees and blew previous regional event attendance out of the water.
Angela has enjoyed attending the X-Press webinars and feels that having this time to focus on personal development during lockdown has been invaluable. “It’s been great to attend the webinars hosted by X-Press and to have the added reassurance of CPD training during lockdown.”
Moving forward Angela says 828 Law will probably need to change its business model. “To keep everyone safe we’re looking at introducing a bit of a hybrid really with some staff working from home whilst others relocate back to the office.”
“We’re being cautious but there are some practices that we will have to reinstate due to the nature of our work, including client ID checks. When you have to see original documentation some clients were, quite rightly, reluctant to pop them in the post and would rather have the reassurance of attending the office with them and taking them home securely.”
Wendy and Angela have introduced a new way of performing remote onboarding for clients that, as well as being compliant, means that they do not have to part with their physical proof of ID documentation. To support and speed up the conveyancing process for its clients during the pandemic, X-Press partnered with Thirdfort - a remote onboarding app - to offer a compliant remote client ID verification as part of its suite of digital data services. The partnership was announced as industry regulators reminded legal practitioners of the importance of using electronic ID and verification processes in order to safely comply with governmental social distancing advice whilst in lockdown.
Some 50 per cent of 828 Law’s client work is conveyancing and with strict social distancing and the closure of estate agencies during lockdown, there were concerns. Although her team was fully prepared to reduce to 80% of their hours to keep the law firm afloat and invest in its future, Angela did not have to implement a reduction in output or income during Covid-19.
She notes: “During both lockdowns we have been kept as busy. We’ve seen a rise in tenants wanting to purchase land and vacant properties. We’ve also seen people wanting to move out into the countryside away from town and city centres.”
With the reawakening of the housing market mid-May and a 40% increase in activity on Rightmove within the first week, Angela believes that consumers have the confidence to invest in the market.
“The majority of the properties we are handling are under the £350k mark, with a lot of first-time buyers. You can imagine that young couples having to spend lockdown living with their parents will be keen to escape to a place of their own and get going on the property ladder.”
“Lockdown has given people the opportunity to take a good hard look at their current lifestyle and while they’ve been trapped within their domestic home bubbles, they’ve had the chance to look at ways of making that bubble better.”
Wendy concludes: “X-Press provides around 400,000 search reports to conveyancing solicitors each year but we’ve just seen our best September on record with a 53% increase in instructions compared to September 2019 as the housing market has reawakened with vigour since the first lockdown.
“We’re also urging home buyers to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday as soon as they can as the 21 March deadline has not yet been extended so we’d say the sooner you start the property transaction process the better chance you have of not paying the 3% tax.”
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Sara Wheater .