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 Is the Land Registry about to drag property purchasing into the 21st century?

If you were under any misconceptions about how pivotal a role HM Land Registry is going to play in the future of housing market, be that from an agency or conveyancing point of view, then its most recent announcement has probably dealt firmly with that. 

Ever since its ‘stay of execution’ when the Government decided it would be staying within State ownership, rather than face privatisation, it might appear that the Registry has gained a new lease of life. 

Indeed, in terms of its ability to move forward with projects, rather than staying in a fall-back position, we are seeing a new organisation, with some significant ambitions, and an over-riding commitment to being ‘the world’s leading land registry for speed, simplicity and an open approach to data’.

This has huge ramifications for all of us property stakeholders, especially in terms of how purchases are transacted and the conveyancing process that accompanies it. 

The announcement made earlier this month focused on the Government ‘s approval of the changes which are necessary to further enable the delivery of a digital land registry, and as a trade body, the Conveyancing Association is very supportive of these further moves because (as we know) the greater digitisation of data at HM Land Registry means we should have a much slicker process, one that is not reliant on the shuffling of different papers around conveyancers’ desks.

It also, to my mind, signals the next stage in the move towards a much more, fit-for-purpose property purchasing process. I’ve been quoted many times before in saying that the current system is not fit for purpose, and luckily there are enough people in positions of power who seem to agree, and are committed to moving us all into the 21st century. 

It shouldn’t really be a far-flung dream to offer consumers a far quicker, less stressful and more joined-up conveyancing process, and it’s certainly been our aim at the CA to work with others, such as the Land Registry, to deliver much-needed change in key areas in order to get to that ‘utopia’ far quicker.

Clearly, technology and digitisation is going to generate some significant leaps forward in this regard. Indeed, the Land Registry’s announcement paves the way to enable digital (rather than ‘wet’) signatures to be delivered and accepted. And that’s not far off in the future, but will be offered from April 6 this year. 

To do this, users will be identifying themselves using the Gov.UK Verify service and again it pushes us further towards a central process and system for ID verification – something that we are very keen on because ID verification, currently carried out by pretty much all parties, is unnecessarily time-consuming, especially if it can be achieved at one source.

Where we are unlikely to butt heads slightly with HM Land Registry in its commitment to making ‘conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper’. Now clearly one would not argue with the first two commitments but supporting the third might sound strange coming from an organisation which represents conveyancers however this is not a case of turkeys voting for Christmas.   

Let’s be under no doubts here that the delivery of a conveyancing service costs money, and many firms would argue that they are currently operating at the cheapest level possible to enable that. In fact a quick review of pricing across the country shows that competition is working very well for the consumer. 

However, simply by centralising ID verification activities you are immediately taking cost out of the process; by using digitisation to provide data upfront enabling a binding offer you are reducing the number of failed transactions estimated by the Government to cost over £250 million a year in waste.

So, it’s our belief that the process and technology-aided changes will be of benefit to all. Indeed, as mentioned, the ability to automate tasks should leave conveyancers more time to focus on the service they provide to customers, and ultimately that should ensure a far better experience for all concerned. 

This is undoubtedly a key time for all concerned and, at our Conference in December, we heard a lot about how tech ‘disruptors’ could significantly alter our world, and that of our customers. 

For all of us in property, the focus must be on keeping up with these changes, embracing them, and ensuring that they allow us to thrive in an ever-changing world. 

What seems certain is that the Land Registry is going to be playing a much bigger role in that world.

*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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