However, there has been one development this year that has had a positive impact on the UK housing industry – the acceptance of electronic signatures by HM Land Registry (HMLR).
Gone are the days of endless printing, signing and scanning and the housing industry can at last digitise property transactions from end to end.
Now, estate agents, solicitors and buyers themselves will be offered flexibility, a reduction in time and an enhanced signing experience. But will the guidelines accelerate a change in the way people live, work and use real estate for good?
Here are a few benefits that e-signatures will bring to estate agents that could influence bigger, more permanent change.
Sign agreements from anywhere in the world
Property transactions don’t just happen in an office and we are seeing this now more than ever as workers transition to a hybrid model, splitting their time between home and the office.
The new HMLR guidelines will enable estate agents to be adaptable and enable clients to sign from almost anywhere.
When buying or selling a house, there’s often a desire to move quickly, and as long as you have an internet connection, you can electronically sign property documents on mobile, from the gym, or even while sunning in the Maldives (post pandemic of course).
Stakeholders ranging from conveyancers, lenders, buyers and estate agents will be offered flexibility, and keep transfer deed and other forms of dispositionary deeds fully digital.
Although the future still looks uncertain, e-signatures can provide support no matter where you are.
Save time and increase efficiencies
The post-lockdown surge in demand is already placing considerable pressure on estate and letting agents. To continue to do business at a distance and maintain operational continuity, agencies must streamline processes by finding ways to save time on manual tasks.
Digitising manual, paper-based processes will also speed up the contracting process. What used to take weeks can now be completed within minutes or hours, while eliminating the unnecessary printing of paper heavy deeds and agreements.
This technology can also help free agents from daily repetitive tasks and make the processes involved in tracking and managing viewings and enquiries more efficient. Moving to a digital format helps make the process of registering transfer deeds and other dispositionary deeds more efficient.
This will not only encourage more individuals to ease back into real estate more confidently, but will also create much needed efficiency for agents. This will give staff the time needed to focus on what they do best: building customer trust and loyalty.
Be more secure
Electronic signatures are an advanced and secure type of signature because they are tamper evident to help confirm that a document has not been altered. The Land Registry considers electronic signatures to be more secure as they employ a specific process to identify the signatory and the document is encrypted to make it tamper evident.
An agreement goes through several phases of its lifecycle and estate agents need a solution that helps them manage agreements even after the signing takes place too.
For most companies, this traditional lifecycle involves a mess of manual processes and legacy technologies which pose the risk of legal and compliance exposure due to a lack of standardisation and security.
Many companies cannot even find all their agreements, much less know that they are secure and were executed in a legally valid way. But new digital solutions help enhance the workflow and increase consistency and security to reduce risks.
Reinvent real estate
We live in a world where change is constant and rapid. We may be starting to recover from this storm, but one thing we will definitely have come away with, is an awareness that we need to be adaptable. As more users make the digital leap and adopt digital-first products and services, users’ expectations will be raised, and players that provide a differentiated post-crisis experience will stay ahead of the curve.
Will electronic signatures usher in further changes? As remote working gains popularity, we may begin to see even less face to face interaction and more virtual solutions.
2020 has been a difficult year at the best of times. But the real estate industry is beginning to emerge, and adapt to new ways of working.
Once the dust has settled and many of the social distancing restrictions are eased, I think we’ll be left with a much more modern, fit-for purpose, sustainable market.
Whilst you can’t question the importance of physical interactions, we undoubtedly are beginning to see the property landscape being reinvented.
*Mary Burke is VP for Customer Success EMEA at DocuSign