My neighbour had been seeking to move home for some time. Suggestions that he wanted to get away from his neighbours were fiercely denied, but he finally got his wish and they moved to a nearby village at the end of June.
When I say “some time”, I mean that he had originally put his house on the market in 2019, in the months leading up to the General Election, and maybe unsurprisingly given the circumstances he had little initial interest. Fast forward to early September 2020 and all stars were aligned, and a chain of four had been created.
So how, in the name of all things holy, did he only complete at the end of June 2021? It would, after all, have taken less time to have a baby.
Readers of this column will know all too well the familiar challenges that he faced. Belligerent sellers, slower than usual local authorities, and a lack of capacity within the conveyancing industry to cope with the recent peak in demand. But even with those factors, it shouldn’t have taken the best part of ten-months to go from a completed chain to exchange and completion.
The truth is that the home-buying process has been made more and more complex, whilst at the same time failing to address the fact that the process necessarily has multiple owners. When I started my career many years ago as a salesperson, I was taught the fundamental fact all salespeople are taught – time kills deals.
People are rarely experts at house-moving, and they usually can’t understand why everything takes as long as it does, and it causes doubt and mistrust to grow – and often those emotions are aimed not only at the other parties, but also the professionals involved in the process.
The term PropTech is regularly bandied around as if it’s got some magical alchemy to make the property transaction smooth, but all too often it’s geared around the needs of a single party, and we all know we only move at the rate of the slowest wagon.
Throughout my time in this market I’ve sought to focus on technology which creates transparency for all, to help identify where the wagon is moving slowest, so that all parties can understand and if necessary help that wagon catch-up.
Effective sales progression would have made a huge difference to my neighbour. One significant cause of the time it took to exchange turned out to be the buyer at the bottom of the chain failing to get finance.
After a period of standstill in January, and with the concern over missing out on the stamp duty relief coming to mind, my neighbour had to phone up and down the chain, to all conveyancers and estate agents, only to discover that the person in question had failed AML checks twice and was showing no signs of being able to resolve it.
My neighbour had to then cajole the other parties and their estate agents to make them aware of the issue and find a resolution, clearly a role which a seller should not have to take on, and one that creates an unnecessary range of emotions. Had the agents been using something like mio, then all parties and agents would have had access to the same information well in advance and would be able to spot the issue before it had to be uncovered.
As alluded to earlier, you cannot have a single owner in a property transaction, but it helps if all owners can see the same information. This transparency keeps everybody onside and prevents the potential fall-out. In my neighbours’ case, relationships with certain parties frayed substantially during the course of the transaction, and eventually the seller at the top of the chain threatened to pull out in May, claiming that he felt he could now sell for a higher price.
This would have caused the collapse of the chain, but in the end all three below felt so emotionally wedded to the process that they all agreed to contribute some extra money to prevent that happening. So they all moved, but nobody enjoyed the experience and I doubt any will have the appetite to go through it again anytime soon.
My story is completely true, and I’ve just told thousands of people about it. My neighbour may not write a column for Estate Agent Today, but he’s been telling everybody he meets about his experience, and the various parties and professionals he blames for it.
Everything I’ve said so far is purely human, and PropTech in itself will not resolve human challenges, but technology is a valuable tool and those that use it effectively will do better than those that won’t. By using tools which provide all parties with joined up information, the homebuyer has a better experience, and all parties can see that matters are progressing and where any potential issues might be forming.
We have started sharing relevant chain data from mio into large conveyancing practices, which has added a further layer of transparency and helped conveyancers proactively target those cases which need it most, and we are seeing transaction times drop even during the challenging period that we’ve just lived through.
Transparency and communication breeds trust, and that’s where PropTech can make the biggest difference.
*Joe Pepper is CEO of tmgroup, one of the UK's leading conveyancing data and search platforms and parent company of sales progression tool mio