The Law Society has announced plans which could revolutionise all residential property transactions in England and Wales by putting them online.
It has unveiled the launch of an e-conveyancing portal, planned to go live next year and handle transactions paperlessly online.
It is the second attempt to put online the process of buying and selling a home.
If the Law Society succeeds in its ambitions, all parties to a transaction, including estate agents, solicitors, lenders, sellers and buyers, will be able to log on to a secure ‘deal room’ on the site to view documentation and to check up-to-date progress.
A ‘chain view’ feature will allow participants to check the progress of other transactions in the chain.
All information will be accessible through a smartphone or a computer tablet.
The Law Society says the portal will streamline the conveyancing process, make communications between all parties easier, assist law firms with compliance and risk obligations, and make conveyancing greener and more in tune with the 21st century.
However, cynics will points to the failure of a similar project launched by the Land Registry in England and Wales, and which was abandoned in 2009 at a cost of £15m. Reasons for its failure four years ago included IT problems and the intransigence of some in the legal sector who disliked electronic signatures.
The Law Society seems confident that it will achieve a breakthrough, but has not named its IT supplier.
The cost of the Law Society portal is likely to be covered by subscription fees paid by law firms. The portal will be available to all solicitors and conveyancing firms. However, those not accredited under the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme will have to be vetted before being able to use it.
Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said that moving online should save time and avoid the costs created by traditional paper-based approaches.
He said: “In the future we want to work with estate agents and lenders so that more of the key parties are in the portal. Right from the start it will dramatically improve collaboration with clients and other conveyancers.”
Eddie Goldsmith, senior partner at property solicitors Goldsmith Williams, said: “This is great news.”
However, Rob Hailstone, of the Bold Group, was more cautious.
He said: “If the portal delivers on all hoped-for fronts, it will be a welcome addition to the conveyancing process.
“However, that is a big if.
“Apart from the obvious technical difficulties, there will be the additional challenges of working with lenders and estate agents harmoniously and competing with other systems and processes that are being developed by companies that are traditionally more experienced than the Law Society in working in a truly commercial environment.
“The Law Society comes under a lot of fire from many of its members (sometimes justified, sometimes not) and in my opinion, the success or failure of this project could have a lasting impact on it. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
There are some videos – aimed at conveyancers, but which agents may find informative – on the link below.