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It’s time for conveyancing to up its game

Conveyancing regularly adds unnecessary and costly delays to the home buying process and improvement could be far quicker than any efforts are currently achieving - that is no secret. Yet, it’s an experience that we accept and move on from…

Until we find ourselves once more at the coalface of conveyancing. Here, I speak with first-hand experience as I’m currently selling a property of my own. I’m reminded of the numerous fallacies and barriers associated with what is an ancient system.

Put simply, this medieval process requires radical reform. This is not about baby-steps and now that I am reminded of the constant annoyance of conveyancing, I am driven to air my grievances and call for change – not for my benefit of course, but for the whole industry.  

Improved conveyancing would grant the property sector greater respect; enable it to enjoy quicker transactions times and reduced costs; and lessen stress and uncertainty. Radical improvement can only be a win-win situation as I see it. So, what’s the issue?

The fact is, conveyancing lacks the poise of digital technology that has brought so much greater efficiency to almost everything that we do in life.

Let’s consider the key components involved in this process: finance, searches and surveys.

Finance is easily dealt with: we simply need to ensure that it becomes the norm in every transaction that evidence of a mortgage agreed in principle, or sufficient funds already deposited, is established as soon as an offer is tabled.

Whilst searches are often-mundane, they are vital for finding out that the home of your dreams stands on a ready-to-implode mine shaft; that planning permission has been granted for an abattoir at the end of your would-be garden; or that covenants are in place which could impact on your own enjoyment of living in said property.

Necessary is one thing; arduously time-consuming is quite another. Searches are so-often routine and previous searches against a given address should be readily available. Yet we’re still at least seven years away from complete migration to a fully digitised Local Land Charges register. It’s not good enough.

Surveys are a mostly quick and straight forward aspect of the conveyancing process so let’s leave those as-is for now. A revisiting of the Home Information Pack is, after all, a debate for another day.

But aside from the data and legal aspects of conveyancing, there’s something else that is simply not fit for purpose in its current form: communication.

Too often, the system fails because people aren’t kept informed; because someone goes on holiday without leaving an update; or paperwork goes missing. For the buyers and sellers involved, the emotional impact this brings shouldn’t be under-estimated. Lives are placed on hold for months all for something that may or may not happen and simply because alignment of all parties and associated information is missing, and certainty of the transaction can’t be guaranteed. 

This doesn’t happen in business: when an issue needs resolving, stakeholders are brought together to sort the issues, align objectives and achieve an outcome. The opposite is true in conveyancing: no one communicates, and defensive is the modus operandi of choice.

This needn’t be the case and mechanisms already exist to improve the situation.

Imagine a process where all parties had access to the same, digitally stored, information at the same time; where the validation of land title registrations and mortgages could be carried out seamlessly; where updates are continually reconciled to avoid incidences of corruption; and where progress is automatic and near-instantaneous.

This isn’t imaginary. The former Soviet Republic of Georgia already provides land registry via blockchain and Sweden has completed its first pilot. Our own Land Registry speaks of realising ‘easier conveyancing for all’ via greater digitisation. This is, however, still far off.

Change will be complex. It’ll take time and be costly. But when a property transaction could be realised in a matter of days and the likelihood of a chain breaking due to delays or miscommunication could be mitigated, surely this is exactly what our property market needs to see prioritised?

Now is the time for our industry to work collaboratively together to reinvent the whole process.

*David Westgate is group chief executive of Andrews Property Group

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