Mortgages, Banks, Lawyers & How to Communicate with the Dark Side

“Buying a House is more stressful than bankruptcy and divorce”, so said a piece of research carried out by in 2014. Hard to believe, and perhaps indicated some skewed research to those currently going through the mortgage process rather than divorce or bankruptcy. Nonetheless, for those of us that have experienced it, a good number will have found it a very stressful process, and in no small part due to bad communication on the part of all involved.
It is possible that coordinating a house purchase will involved two set of lawyers, estate agents, surveyors, mortgage brokers and more. That’s an awful lot of communicating that has to be done, and if it fails at any point then the whole process can be delayed, costs increased, stress increased, emotional levels rise… and the whole structure is liable to fragment.
When I was remortgaging, following a divorce, I discovered that despite email signatures requesting that communication stay with the recipient, most people in the chain of communication at some point forward these private emails. Why do they do it? Because it saves time, this email already says what they want to communicate to the next person, so they forward rather than type it again.

The problem? Humans are human and they make personal observations, they pass blame, they avoid responsibility and they can’t help communicating that in these ‘personal’ emails that are traveling around the parties in a circle. So at times, I saw forwarded emails that accused me of not doing certain things and of wasting time, and the blood begins to boil at the injustice ! Its tempting to cut across the circle and set that person straight, but then you risk resolution of your mortgage and just creating a bigger issue. So take those fingers off the keyboard and take a deep breath. It doesn’t matter what pettiness you have just read, all you want is your mortgage or house sale. Fix the factual errors not the petty quibbles.
Now there is a problem that often exists in bigger firms that seriously affects communication. No one owns the communication. They appear to do the right thing – they have an online portal which gives you updates, there is a secure messaging service from that portal to send them a message, or there is an email address and a phone number. However;

  • the portal is not updated with any useful information – failure in communication.
  • The secure messaging service doesn’t actually function – failure in communication.
  • Nobody replies to a generic email address – failure in communication.
  • They don’t like answering the phone, and if they do, the person answering is so junior they can not answer your questions and asks you to send an email, which will not be responded to – failure in communication.
  • You do not have a single point of contact – massive failure in communication.

We all now have overflowing inboxes, email is assaulting us from every direction. We try once in a while to establish filters that will just give us the important stuff, with more or less success, but still they keep coming. So what makes us answer an email rather than ignore it? Because we know it is our responsibility, not someone else’s. If its a generic email, well then someone else will pick it up… or no one else.
We can’t make a firm change its practices just for us no matter how much they should. So what can we do? All we can do, is make sure our own communication is as clear and comprehensive as possible, sticking only to the facts of the case and never veering into the personal.

  • Be happy that anyone in the circle could receive your email and you wouldn’t mind and they wouldn’t be offended. (There are exceptions, when financial negotiations are involved and must remain private – but that should be respected – and even then keep the language neutral)
  • When you must cover several topics and seek clarity, bullet point your email and request a reply by annotation. (It is the easiest way to understand the questions and the easiest way to provide the answers)
  • Ensure that you reply promptly to any requests, so you are not holding up the process
  • Request a single person contact in a big firm if possible. If they’re unwilling, when you ring up, get a name, and in subsequent calls, keep asking for that same person
  • Make a note of what was discussed and put a time and date on it as well as expected outcomes
  • If they are needing to do something for you, ask for a time-frame, and schedule your follow up for the expiration of that time-frame, if not before if you can do it diplomatically
  • Keep clear records of these communications, you don’t want to be doing laborious email searches every time you deal with it, I recommend an old fashioned folder. You’re probably arranging a six figure sum of money, so a folder isn’t a big ask
  • Another big reason for your record of communications, is that if someone else in the circle messes up and tries to pass the blame and cost, you have an audit trail to fall back on

In the worst case scenario, you have all the evidence you need in a court of law. We hope not to end up there, but the UK legal ombudsman identified complaints during property conveyancing as the second biggest area of complaints about the law. Be prepared.

This is really good advice for all business related transactions, but house buying is particularly prone to poor communication. This might be because we have become to used to the churn of house buying and selling, that the firms that deal with it become complacent, doing the same thing day in and day out. We have to be smart enough in our communication to realise they may be dealing with 15 requests the same, and if yours is easiest to understand it may just be dealt with first.

Its also worth remembering the way in which different professions work. Lawyers are used to billing for their time and each email can represent a unit of time, they will not fire them off as you or I do. Try imagining you charged for every email you wrote!  When communicating with lawyers, deal with as much as possible at once and in the clearest possible manner – get those bullet points down.

We have to be realistic, there are times when the emotions will rise. Get into the habit, if you write an email in a state of anger, don’t hit send. Wait until the next day and review it. Keep your mind fixed on the goal, and the people you have to deal with as a logic puzzle to be completed in order to get to that goal. Your clear communications are the solutions to that puzzle.

We can’t legislate for the poor communication of others, and that can be hugely frustrating, but by making our own communications the ideal example of clarity, we set the right tone, and encourage better from those who need to reply to us.

In summary,

  • Go forth
  • Bullet point
  • Stay cool
Posted in General Communications.

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