Simon LaBlack of LaBlack Lawyers shares his secrets to minimising his clients' stress levels, making sure everyone stays happy and relaxed throughout the conveyancing process.
As lawyers and conveyancers, it's easy to forget that our day-to-day work can actually be very stressful for our clients. In order to ensure as smooth a settlement as possible, it's up to us to anticipate common problems and communicate effectively. Here are three points worth considering.
1. Minimise timing issues
One of the most common stresses I see with conveyancing is around the timing of linked property settlements. If you deal with these often, you'll likely agree – clients can get particularly nervous when they're using the proceeds of one property sale to buy another, especially when there’s only a small window of time to settle the transaction.
Even for ordinary transactions, sometimes other parties aren't ready on time, whether that's because of an issue with documents or finance.
How I do it: I always try to deal with this issue preemptively by meeting beforehand with anyone selling or buying. I prompt them to think about their intentions and when they might want settlement to be.
Rather than having a contract with unworkable dates, I first like to have an idea of what the client is trying to achieve, then draft the contract to reflect their intentions.
We try to entice our clients to get our advice early by including a draft contract review as part of our fixed-fee service.
2. Understand the differences between clients
As always, the stresses clients face depend on their particular circumstances. Sometimes investors are more relaxed about delayed settlement, but I find my first home buyers tend to be far more stressed in the days leading up to settlement, due to their lack of experience and their emotional connection with the transaction.
How I do it: I've found that it's really important to tailor advice to each particular client and be flexible. Not everybody is necessarily going to fit the rigid structure of the same process every time – some clients want to sit down and chat, while others prefer to speak only over the phone.
The person selling their first property in 40 years or the first home buyer has a far different level of knowledge to the investor who has sold 20 properties and knows the steps they need to take.
3. Communication is key
Problems arising from a lack of communication can be frustrating for everyone involved. Sometimes a buyer's name is misspelt on mortgage or transfer documents, delaying settlement or resulting in an incorrect name being registered on title.
Other problems can arise if the conveyancer doesn't properly inform their clients of their rights and obligations in buying or selling property. For example, I've heard of situations in which a home buyer is not aware they might be taking on a significant portion of land tax liability.
How I do it: To smooth the communication process, we initially send out a document pack to our clients outlining critical dates, key fees and information that needs to be supplied. We then work with the clients to complete and return these documents, whether they choose to do so at their house or with us in our office.
I also find it's really important that as a lawyer, I actively encourage my clients to ask us any and all questions that they may have, because sometimes they feel that they can't ask.
On average, we have about 20 interactions with a client during a typical 30-day conveyancing matter. For investors, the number of interactions may be as little as five. For first home buyers, it tends to be more. We include all of these conversations in our fixed professional fee.
Build trust to minimise stress
There is far more to conveyancing than simply settling property transactions. It's also about being adaptable enough to serve different clients based upon their needs, talking them through the process, building trust and minimising stress at every stage in the process.