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UK conveyancing market gathers pace in June

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The UK conveyancing market saw a recovery in May and June following a precipitous fall at the start of Q2 2020 as the property market was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest Conveyancing Market Tracker by Search Acumen.

The property data insight and technology provider’s tracker showed that just 82,385 completed transactions were registered in England and Wales during Q2 2020, which is down by 65% from Q1 and the first time on record quarterly transactions fell below 100,000.

The low figures, which are based on HM Land Registry data, are likely to be attributed to lockdown-related delays to its registration of transactions according to Search Acumen. April saw 440 transactions registered, which is less than 1% of the 55,381 total in March, as the full impact of the lockdown was felt across the market.

The bounce-back began with 25,459 registrations in May and 56,486 recorded in June, rising back above the 55,381 seen in March when the lockdown first took hold.

The number of active firms similarly recovered from an all-time low of 317 in April to 3,735 in June, although this remained lower than the average of 3,928 who were active in Q1. In addition, only 75 firms averaged 50 or more transactions a month in Q2 compared with 338 in the previous quarter.

For the average conveyancing firm, transactions declined by 43% quarterly from 60 in Q1 2020 to 34 in Q2 2020 taking them back to levels of business last recorded in 2011. However, the uptick in June meant that business stayed above the levels of the worst quarter on record, Q2 2011, when the average firm completed just 28 transactions.

Andy Sommerville, director of Search Acumen, said: “As suspected, the second quarterly figures have demonstrated the challenges that conveyancers and much of the property market have been tasked with navigating under COVID-19. May saw the full force of the pandemic’s impact in terms of significant drops in the number of transactions and active firms, but the June data highlights some positive signs of the market coming back to life. The market has since been bolstered in July by the government’s Stamp Duty holiday which should help to propel activity for the second half of the year.

“While the figures for the second quarter were largely gloomy, there are some important lessons to learn from. We saw many firms adapt to new, digital ways of working under lockdown in order to maintain some level of activity. Now that some demand has returned to the market, it is time for all firms to act and harness the available data and latest innovations once and for all.

“We have started to see indications that the market has accepted the reality that digitisation is the way forward for the industry. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s (MHCLG) bid to modernise England’s planning sector is just one such sign. The government is waking up to the fact that an over-reliance on manual tasks and in-person activity has gone on for far too long.

“It is not just up to the government to enact change. Instead, the private sector must work hand in hand with local and national public bodies to forge a property market strong enough to bolster the UK’s economy as we emerge from COVID-19. We have long called for collaboration around the increased availability of accurate data, the importance of integrating the latest technologies including AI and blockchain into property processes and ensuring that people are well versed in these innovations to best leverage the data at our fingertips. This is not only what the market needs to be more efficient, productive and to better serve clients but is equally crucial for the country to bounce back post-COVID.”