Building optimism in the housing market

Just when you thought property sales were dead as a doornail, one company is on the up. Roger Trapp reports

In the heady days of the Eighties housing boom, local authorities were swamped with requests for searches and there were often lengthy delays, seriously holding up transactions and sometimes leading to sales collapsing. Then along came a company that offered, for a fee, to guarantee that the search would not unearth anything untoward, and so allow the conveyancing to be completed pending the result of the search.

Solicitors did not exactly sign up for the deal in droves, but enough saw a way of easing their clients' frustrations to help the company cruise to a turnover of more than pounds 1m by the time the bubble burst in the late Eighties.

Sales have slumped to about pounds 300,000, but the new management of Legal & Professional Indemnity (LPI) insists that the recession is only slightly to blame. The problem has been more a lack of product focus and attention to marketing, says Grant Whiskin, who was earlier this year installed as general manager of the company by its new owner, Lombard General Insurance.

Although he accepts that the housing market is in many ways the opposite of how it was when LPI started out, he maintains that the products introduced in the mid-Eighties are applicable to current conditions.

First, the search service can prove valuable when there are local rushes. Moreover, the scarcity of buyers means that sellers are increasingly anxious not to lose would-be purchasers through "technical hitches". They are, says Mr Whiskin, "prepared to pay pounds 40 to guarantee a sale".

Second, the deposit guarantee scheme - essentially a low-cost alternative to bridging finance, a service that was much acclaimed when it was introduced in 1986 - can help buyers with equity locked into their existing properties as well as the first-time buyers without a deposit for whom it was originally designed. Moreover, the recently published scheme to assist tenants to buy their homes provides a further market. Mr Whiskin and Andrew Laing, Lombard's managing director, believe that such situations should provide plenty of business for these and related products.

LPI is not the only player in the market (Sun Alliance, Norwich Union and Royal are among the insurers offering legal indemnities) but the company is like many in financial services in believing that it can make up recent setbacks by concentrating on service. In particular, it is investing in information technology so that it can market more effectively. For instance, if the computer suggests that a "pocket of activity" is developing, it can alert solicitors in the area.

Likewise, it is seeking to build on its policy of employing only legally trained staff (chiefly members of the Institute of Legal Executives), to create stronger relationships with solicitors. In the past, LPI has dealt with more than 5,000 solicitors, but obtained the bulk of its business from just 300. Mr Whiskin says it will be spending time on dealing with that.

With each month already producing better figures than the last, he is hoping that turnover will be back up to pounds 400,000 by the end of the year, with a doubling of that by the end of next year. Even a housing market in the doldrums is seeing 1.25 million purchases a year, says Mr Whiskin in response to suggestions that this might be a little optimistic. If you consider that this is about half the peak figure of 2.5 million transactions, then it is not difficult to see the potential if the housing market should unexpectedly return to life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave