Estate agents use property technology each and every day for residential property transactions, but is there more they can do with it to optimise fast and efficient client service, especially for High Net Worth Individuals? Kate Bould, managing director of Index West Midlands, investigates.
Despite the challenge for estate agents of the mismatch in supply of homes and new listings and buyer demand, the country’s residential property sector continues to record high levels of transaction activity and a rise in the number of homes newly listed for sale.
Against this backdrop, 2022 is an exciting year for property tech for estate agents, with more and better products that enhance day-to-day operations and help homebuyers navigate the conveyancing journey, especially with AML, TA6 forms, SDLT, and even utilising capital allowances.
Property tech (PropTech) has gained new ground and momentum in the last 12 to 24 months, some developments and evolutions driven by legislative changes, others in response to the record-breaking fast pace of the residential property sector.
The long-awaited roll-out of the HM Land Registry’s Digital Local Land Charges Register is now well underway, and for those councils already on board, estate agents and property professionals are reporting a ‘revolution’ in the work and time efficiency of local land searches.
Among the next changes are the new rules governing upfront material information. The ‘Improving the Disclosure of Material Information in Property Listings’ was first published in February this year, and took effect at the end of May. This sets out the key information estate agents should display so that buyers are given enough information to make informed decisions about properties, with the aim of reducing fall-throughs and helping to speed-up the time between when an offer is accepted, and the sale agreed.
Whether the property market remains at current buoyant levels or not, estate agents are very busy, and more than ever need reliable systems to guarantee a speedy, efficient, compliant completion on every house purchase and sale – now is the time for proven, robust property tech to help.
As in every sector and profession, the adoption and use of technology varies - from those embracing it at every possible opportunity, to others who use it as much as is necessary to ensure compliance, especially if paper-based alternatives are still an option.
To succeed with tech, estate agents and property professionals must be given more training and education on individual property tech products, and how and why to make full use of them throughout the conveyancing journey. HNWI are among the most discerning of clients, are savvy, street wise, and have high expectations for the very best in client service when buying a luxury, expensive, new or second home.
Looking beyond the reality TV programmes about the big-ticket, high-end real estate sector in the US, UK property professionals can learn from how realtors in America use and maximise PropTech.
Before starting Index West Midlands, I was CEO of a real estate agency in California for seven years. The US real estate sector is a mixture of what a conveyancing solicitor does in the UK, coupled with negotiation and contract review, including interpreting title reports and property searches, always with a keen eye on economic climate changes to enable clients to be nimble, agile and responsive to opportunities.
My company specialised in high-end waterfront properties, commercial and agricultural property, and our work won us ‘Best Realtor in Delta’ two years running, and a place in the top 1% for sales in California and Hawaii.
The differences between the UK and US residential property sector aside, the experience was a true journey of learning and knowledge development for me – significantly, that prop tech is central to real estate transactions. I learned much that informs my work with UK estate agents today, and so I speak from experience when saying that estate agents really can benefit from training on using property tech so they too can feel the positive impact it will make operationally, to their reputation, and to boosting client service.
Onboarding and checks
For example, US real estate agents have used technology with new clients for years, because it speeds-up client onboarding and checks, with all the basics done at the outset. It saves hours for agents and solicitors, and earns kudos.
With the ‘personal wallet’ coming soon in the UK – probably Q4 of this year – and which will include Anti Money Laundering (AML) information, estate agents have another opportunity to embrace property tech to save time, as well as costs: currently buyers and sellers have AML searches run at each stage of the transaction, so by the estate agent, solicitor and mortgage lender; if they have a personal wallet, the AML will only have to be run once, with other companies paying a small fee to access the information, saving time and money on repeating these highly crucial and necessary checks.
The UK is also getting on board with the best time to complete the TA6 form, and by whom. Again in the US, this step has long been done by the real estate agent with the client, and this works really well, making sense from a time and efficiency point of view.
The Homebuyers and Sellers Group is currently trialling TA6 form completion by estate agents here in the UK, and so far the feedback is positive. However, if adoption by all estate agents is to be effective, this is a specific area where training is essential, so that estate agents understand every aspect of the TA6, including the questions on big issues like Japanese Knotweed; this can be a nasty legacy for sellers, their agents and conveyancers, if there are future problems with this invasive weed, and it wasn’t spotted or declared at the time of the sale.
PropTech not only enables estate agents to add value at the start of the sales process, it can also be powerful further along the conveyancing journey. For instance, estate agents can use its integration to help clients identify and use any potential capital allowances, and as part of the overall house purchase ‘solution and service’. This is a tangible and relatable benefit for top end, HNWI clients purchasing premium properties, but again estate agents do need support in understanding how and why, and at what stage to talk to clients about it.
*Kate Bould is Managing Director of Index West Midlands, the regional operation of the national group Index Property Information, the UK’s number one provider of conveyancing searches and reports, technology and compliance, to the property industry, and a partner to The Law Society for CQS guidance.