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Andrew Montlake: Slipping service standards?

Andrew Montlake MM blog

“It’s a service driven economy, stupid!” With apologies to James Carville, the phrase is of course a slight variation of the phrase “The economy, stupid” which he coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush.

A perversion it may be but it is the one subject that is guaranteed to get a bevy of brokers, if that is the right collective term, most animated when discussing the market.

Whilst justifying to prospective clients what an independent broker does, apart from the obvious and most important advice part, service is the secondary selling point.

We are meant to take the stress out of the house buying process; the fulcrum that pulls together the client, lender, valuer and solicitor. In other words, the one that everyone shouts at!

Buyers rely on not just our advice, but on our ability to smooth over issues and to position them with a lender who can meet the deadlines set to ensure they move into their new dream home unflustered.

Not only do we placate estate agents who want a valuation done yesterday on a three day exchange contract, (although to be fair to them, with good properties still something of a scarce recourse especially in high demand areas, there is often always another buyer ready to jump if clients falter at the first fence); but also attempt to motivate the cheaper, rural solicitor who believe everything is still done via snail mail and close for lunch.

This is why we get upset when a lender’s service falls behind to an extent that we have to go back and “re-position” a client, something that never goes down well.

Across the board there are some worrying signs that lenders are struggling to cope with levels of business as they are now.

Seeing or hearing the words “it will take us five days to look at anything submitted today”, strikes fear through the heart of any broker.

To me, the problem could be one of two things. First the rise in levels of business has caught lenders short as they have lost staff in recent years that they are reticent to replace, so those working there are simply over-burdened. Alternatively, or a combination of both, the front end systems are now becoming out of date or at the very least out of sync with the new underwriting regimes. This I understand cannot be solved without massive investment and takes time.

But, whatever the reason, is it right that we should ever have to go back to a client and say it will take five days for them to get round to even looking at your payslip?

Don’t get me wrong, brokers are often complicit in this with poor packaging or assumptions on underwriting policy. And I know for a fact that this is not something the majority of lenders take lightly and are busy trying to rectify the situation.

Whilst we need to keep pressure on lenders to sort out unacceptable delays, we do need to keep working with them constructively to deal with issues when they arise and not cry wolf when perhaps a case is not quite as urgent as it is made out to be.

Also, a pet hate of mine, there is no point shouting at the hard workers on the other end of the phone – if someone did that to me I may also be inclined to accidently “misplace” that document.

But lenders need to understand the reason for our angst; being stuck in the middle and coming between a buyer and their dream home, is no picnic sometimes.

Andrew Montlake is director of Coreco


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