5 February, 2024
Housing Minister urges “greater pace” of innovation to transform home buying and selling
Conveyancers have “a central role” in realising a digital home buying and selling process but innovation needs to happen at a greater pace, the Housing Minister told last week’s Council for Licensed Conveyancers’ (CLC) annual conference.
Baroness Penn said that “placing digitalisation at the heart of our home buying and selling reforms has the potential to reduce transactions times from months to weeks and even days in some cases”.
This needed to be coupled with upfront property information, and she commended the work of National Trading Standards estate and letting agency team in pushing this forward.
The minister told the event in London that countries like Norway “have already demonstrated how digitalisation can foster a simpler, more transparent processes for consumers without imposing significant additional costs”.
She continued: “We recognise that parts of the transformation need to be driven by government but there is a huge amount that can and is being driven forward by industry… With conveyancing at the heart of home buying and selling and conveyancers being one of the most qualified and regulated actors in the system, your profession will have a central role in realising this shared aim.
“We’ve seen an openness to change in recent years but, as with other aspects of the home buying and selling process, there’s still so much more scope for innovation to come… We need more people to become involved and we need innovations and improvements to be made at a greater pace.”
In his address, Mike Harlow, the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Customer and Strategy at HM Land Registry, said it took an average of 47 days from moment a person in Norway thinks of selling to when the buyer moves in, about three weeks of which is compiling the information needed before the property can go on the market. There are no chains, because of the speed of buying a property, and bridging finance is “easy and common” for the same reason. This different approach is “truly something to strive for”, he said.
Mr Harlow added that the “other striking element” of the Norwegian experience was how all the stakeholders in the market –lenders, insurers, lawyers and institutions – collaborated to co-design the system.
This is the vision of the Digital Property Market Steering Group (DPMSG), which has been convened by HM Land Registry, he said. It wants to create a “simpler, faster, more certain and less stressful” system.
Mr Harlow, who stressed the importance of dealing with residential and commercial property together in introducing reform, said: “Imagine if everybody who was a party to the transaction, or representing them, had a single shared view of what the property is, who the parties are, the terms of the deal and the progress of the deal. There would be no chasing, no doubt, no need to make three phone calls to find out where something was stuck. This is what will make the wheels spin faster.”
Other speakers at the conference stressed the central role of data – and the need for open data standards to underpin the new system – and were optimistic that the latest push would be more successful than previous reform efforts because of the sophistication of the technology now available. There was also consideration of what lessons could be carried over into probate, to ease the challenges there.
Delegates also heard about the achievements of the CLC over the past year as it published its annual report. This showed a 12% increase in the number of licenced conveyancers and probate practitioners to 1,825. The CLC regulated 205 firms as at 31 December 2023 with a collective turnover of £335m.
CLC Chair Dame Janet Paraskeva says: “As the specialist regulator of conveyancing and probate, the CLC has a particular role to play in the effort across the entire property sector to transform the home buying and selling process and the transfer of commercial property. We have committed significant resource to supporting this in 2024 and beyond, helping to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers and foster innovation in the delivery of conveyancing.
“We do this against the backdrop of our robust oversight of the profession, with our assisted compliance approach proving so successful that one broker has said CLC firms can expect to pay fifty per cent less for their professional indemnity insurance than those regulated by others.”