So, how far are we on the road to full digitisation, and what will this mean for conveyancing law firms and the wider property industry?
Services on demand
In the 21st-century economy, many traditional business models are being replaced by on-demand services that offer instant empowerment to users. Apps put a customer in touch and in control.
Often referred to as ‘Uberisation’, on-demand means that customers want the same services faster and cheaper – and all delivered with the click of a button from their mobile device.
For obvious reasons, the idea of on-demand presents a problem when buying and selling property. This is a legal process, one that requires diligence and care because of the large sums of money involved and the requirement for accuracy in recording ownership.
However, conveyancing is also one area of the law that many people will come into contact with, so the push for on-demand will only increase.
Many law firms on the Fitzalan Partners panel report that more than 75% of clients are interacting with the company by mobile, suggesting this area is ripe for expansion.
Putting the customer first
Through our brands – Homeward Legal, In-Deed, Fridaysmove, Best Value Conveyancing and Capital Conveyancing – Fitzalan Partners uses its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to deliver the best possible customer experience.
In the first instance, the system allows our team to monitor the workload of the law firms on our panel to ensure we can prioritise client requirements.
Through our sister sites, Surveyor Local and Searches UK, we can offer complementary services such as building surveys and local searches to customers and legal firms, respectively.
The focus is on the customer at all time, aiming to make their journey to property selling or ownership as seamless as possible.
Searches are an essential part of conveyancing with many being returned within hours but some take much longer, causing frustrating delays in a property transaction. Through the Fitzalan panel, Searches are ordered on day one of the offer being made which helps to limit unnecessary delays.
The search industry is also working to eliminate delays throughout conveyancing transactions. Thanks to better relationships between councils and search agents, timescales are always coming down.
E-Rot – an electronic report on Title provided by Lexsure, SDLT facilities allowing e-submission of forms directly to Inland Revenue, Companies House and the Land Registry all help to reduce data duplication and reduce timescales of tasks required to be completed by lawyers.
These intelligent search ordering platforms allow clients to view reports in real time, again cutting down on the potential for delay.
Pioneering digital services
Leading the way with digitisation in the property industry is the HM Land Registry, the government agency responsible for registering all property titles in England and Wales.
So far, more than 1,000 digital mortgage deeds – for those remortgaging a property – have been registered at HM Land Registry since the service launched in 2018.
The digital service reduces paperwork and delays when a homeowner is applying for a remortgage.
HM Land Registry is also working with local authorities in England to migrate their local land charges data to a central, digital register.
Local land charges are necessary in conveyancing because they reveal any restrictions or prohibitions on a property’s use. A central register will help conveyancing solicitors get instant online search results and reduce delays.
Securing the ID process
Money laundering regulations mean the onus is on law firms to confirm a client’s identity.
This is often still done the old-fashioned way: a client turns up in the solicitor’s office with their passport or driver’s licence and proof of address.
However, secure two-factor identification processes are changing how firms deal with ID.
There are many digital property platforms, offering a system that carries out identity checks on buyers by matching images of documents with ‘selfies’ uploaded by the client and cross-referencing with data held by the likes of credit-checking firms.
Estate agents in England are currently trialling an encrypted system which will provide an escrow vault, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, to hold all client money.
An escrow vault would alleviate the risk of conveyancing fraud, where either client or solicitor communications are hacked by a third party to divert funds illegally.
The paperless office finally exists
Law firms leading the way in digitisation have done so through digitising their own internal processes.
And their use of automated client update services, case management systems, online portals and live chat means even the relatively new innovation of email is virtually obsolete.
Now customers can use secure messaging to send and receive crucial files and documents.
Obviously, there are still some elements of property and land transactions that require signatures that must be witnessed. But the welcome rise of the use of digital or e-signatures on most documents means the requirement to post or email a sheaf of paper to clients is dramatically reduced.
Finally the paperless office can genuinely exist!
What now for digitisation and conveyancing?
There is a worldwide grassroots movement pushing for greater use of technology in law practice. Its members include lawyers, policymakers, designers, technologists and academics looking to devise creative solutions.
Building on the on-demand nature of our economy, the industry should expect greater customer interaction and ownership of the conveyancing process. And that can only be delivered through more innovation in the sector.
From better communication to greater customer control of the process, digitisation looks likely to transform conveyancing for the better.
So what does this all mean for estate agents?
Improved conveyancing procedures will have a significant impact in the whole transaction process, which will in turn lead to important benefits to estate agents. Firstly, the whole process will be significantly more robust and shortened which will lead to less transactions falling through.
Greater transparency will significantly increase customer satisfaction levels which will directly help you build long-term customer relations. So, with increased revenues and happy customers, it will be important to keep ahead of all these developments.
*Lisa Summerton is Business Development Director at Fitzalan Partners