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Technology and disruption – the reality

14 January, 2019

Stephen Ward, director of strategy and external relations at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, gives an insight onto some of the innovations that are bringing about change in the conveyancing world

For all of us who work in the property sector, there is more and more talk of a possible future where the norm will be seamless online property transactions taking days or hours instead of weeks and months.

While this prophesying of a brave new world for the UK property market is exciting, it can at times feel very futuristic and speculative indeed and removed from the day-to-day business of property buying and selling.

However, not all of this is a great distance away. There are plenty of would-be disruptors out there who are already bringing changes to the way we do things. So, let’s take a step back and see what changes have already occurred in the market and what companies are transforming the shape of our everyday work.

Digitising conveyancing

One conveyancing practice that is seeking to digitise what they can of the process is Juno. It is looking to give clients an experience that is closer to what is expected from other online transactions such as buying groceries or insurance.

This involves giving greater clarity about the options available to ‘purchase’, and a clear overview about the whole process, along with exactly where clients are in that process. It will undoubtedly only be a matter of time until others start to follow suit.

For those who need a fixed time to move, say because of changing jobs or needing to be in a new home so kids can start school, Nested is an online agent that will guarantee a minimum sale price for sellers and advance them money if they need to buy their new home before they’ve sold the old one.

The firm promises fair prices unlike other operators who have become known for offering poor prices in exchange for a quick sale.

Estate agents

A number of sites such as One Dome and Perfect Portal are providing platforms for conveyancers to secure business from estate agents. They offer functionality for agents and conveyancers to streamline the property marketing and conveyancing process and integrate with existing case management systems.

These approaches set out to improve the current consumer experience, by combining the marketing and purchase sides of a transaction that traditionally would have been siloed and dealt with separately by the estate agent and the conveyancer.

This avoids the consumer having to play ‘piggy in the middle’ and liaise between both, as all aspects of the transaction can be accessed and viewed by all parties online, providing a smoother less stressful experience for all.

Other advancements

Recently a provider of escrow (or third party managed accounts) services – Shieldpay – has won the contract to replace BarCo – the scheme that saves direct-access barristers having to handle client money. ThirdFort is another start-up that is developing a similar tool.

In May this year a pilot of escrow was run by Shieldpay powering the UK’s first fully digital mortgage settlement. It demonstrated that, in addition to the enhanced security, the system has potential benefits for identity checking and increasing the certainty of day and time of completion.

If paper work has been lost or in other tricky situations Orbital Witness can help answer questions about the property. No record of planning permission for that extension? Orbital Witness can use satellite imagery to ascertain when it was built, and as seven years is the date after which local authorities will take no action, it can provide security for many would-be purchasers.

Whilst at the moment it has been mostly utilised for commercial and very high value residential properties, there is nothing to prevent its use becoming more widespread. It’s also a nice illustration of new uses for old data.

Government and industry

There are also a number of working groups set up by both the government and industry that are striving to make the process better. For example, the housing minister, James Brokenshire, convened a working group in mid-November to look at what can be achieved now with existing tools and current technology.

The government is showing a real determination and is continuing to push this agenda.

While much may not seem to have changed for many years in property transactions, there a number of changes happening around us that do seem to be changing how property marketing, sales and conveyancing are happening.

Home movers are beginning to see the adoption of technology that will improve communication, security and the overall process, provide them with nearer to real-time information about their transaction and better meet the high expectations we all have today about the delivery of services.

If you’re interested in discussing these changes and see what 2019 may bring do register for the CLC’s Annual Conference on 23 January

This article was first published in Mortgage Finance Gazette.