In April, the first digital mortgage deed was signed for a house in Rotherhithe, London and registered at the Land Registry by a CLC-regulated firm of specialist conveyancers. This was the first in a series of steps HM Land Registry plans to take in its drive to transform the conveyancing market into a more efficient, digital service using technology and a huge amount of digital data to streamline transactions. However, the process is far from widespread and won’t be for some time. But what else would it take to start pulling other aspects of the property buying process online?
A multitude of tools exist which give the potential for the entire process to be available via a ‘one-click’ transaction. So it is easy to imagine a consumer journey beginning with a visit to a site like Zoopla or Rightmove and moving seamlessly to mortgage offer, due diligence and ultimately purchase. HM Land Registry’s digital street programme has already demonstrated how digital title information could be made available with the more usual property details as a property is marketed. So the idea of being able to view a property online and to submit an offer that is digitally delivered to the vendor and either accepted or rejected, is perfectly feasible.
The government’s online Verify service makes provision for anti-money laundering checks to be undertaken and the advent of open banking allows for mortgage offers to be made online. There are also a number of online conveyancing firms, in addition to traditional firms who now also offer online services.
Digital mortgage settlement
There are also several examples of disruptors helping to move the market forward. ShieldPay piloted an instant digital escrow facility in May to power the UK’s first fully digital mortgage settlement.
The transparent payment solution mitigates the risk of fraud by verifying the identity of all parties, holding funds securely and only releasing funds directly to all relevant parties (including HM Land Registry and HMRC) when all sides agree they’re happy for the transaction to proceed. It aims to make business operations within conveyancing firms more efficient, potentially improving the bottom line.
Consumers also stand to benefit from more streamlined processes and greater visibility over their money throughout the entire process, certainty over the date of completion and, critically, the time when they can move into their new home. Others, such as ThirdFort are exploring similar approaches and there is a host of established and new players either developing or already offering a wide range of different new tools.
Dot Button is arguably the most advanced of all solutions currently on the market, as it already aims to allow people to buy a property with just one click. From its platform, potential purchasers can browse available properties. They can then click to purchase, triggering the financing, purchasing, conveyancing and furnishing of a property. Currently this is only available in some regional UK cities and the US states of Florida, Georgia and Texas and only to buy-to-let purchasers due to the structure of the financing that is provided through Dot Button. But it looks like a model that could perhaps work outside the buy-to-let market.
Appetite for change
All of these solutions are demonstrating that there is an appetite for change and there are companies who can step in and provide them, but we are likely some way off ‘one-click’ purchases being the standard method of purchasing a property in the UK. Currently, it is far more likely that digital entrepreneurs will introduce a series of incremental changes that, put together, create the change consumers desire.
The market is in need of disruptors who can provide much needed digital solutions to revolutionise a system in need of an update. We at the CLC are committed to encouraging and working closely with innovators to take advantage of the support that we can offer as a specialist regulator of conveyancing. As they develop and test new approaches and solutions our door is open so that we can help ensure that new tools and approaches meet our high standards of client protection and so can be used with confidence by the conveyancers that we regulate.