Hayley Hellon is head of legal practice at ProConveyancing
The recent stamp duty holiday showed once again just how unfit for purpose certain parts of the conveyancing process are in the digital age. As buyers and sellers clamoured to exchange contracts before the June 30 deadline, conveyancers were pushed to near breaking point as hundreds of thousands of transactions were held up in the mother of all conveyancing logjams.
But it’s not conveyancing firms that are at fault here. Most have invested in technology that has automated a lot of their internal processes and their day-to-day client communications. The problems arise when communicating with all actors within the process, from the Land Registry, to lenders, estate agents and other conveyancing firms. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Therefore, major reforms are needed which tackle the inefficiencies within the conveyancing process end-to-end. As a starting point, here are some of the key areas these reforms should focus on.
The black hole in the middle of the process
At present, each conveyancing firm is responsible for processing all the required data and interacting with all parties during a title transfer. It’s this arrangement that causes many of the current issues the industry faces. For example, other conveyancing firms may use different data standards that make sending and receiving data into a CRM difficult. Or a lender may not use an online platform such as Lender Exchange, meaning they can’t exchange information electronically.
In any of these scenarios the process gets delayed and the client suffers from a less than ideal experience. This can only be solved by creating a central administrator that is responsible for processing and exchanging all data between every party. This would enable lenders, the Land Registry, local authorities and other parties to push data into the exchange, which would then enable conveyancers to easily pull the data they need to complete a title transfer.
Interoperability of data
As mentioned, the interoperability of data is a key constraint within the existing system. Conveyancing firms use a variety of data standards in their internal systems, while a few even still insist on sending paper documents in the post.
For the central exchange to become a reality, a framework of data and operating standards must be defined and rolled out. All parties would then be required to adopt those data standards when interacting with the e-conveyancing process.
Initial attempts to create something akin to this have been developed within the industry, with the launch of the Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI). This has been created by the industry trade body the Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG), and aims to create a “single source of truth”, by collecting data from a seller in a set format when a property is first listed. However, given that this is a voluntary scheme, take up could be limited.
Out of date regulations
Following on from the above point, the existing regulations governing conveyancing are no longer fit for purpose in the e-conveyancing age. Industry needs to work with government in drafting legislation that defines what the data standards and operating models should be, which all parties involved in a title transfer will need to abide by.
Furthermore, a regulator needs to be charged with ensuring all parties are abiding by these new rules, as well as given powers to fine those found to be repeatedly in breach.
Once these regulations are in place, prop-tech companies will be able to develop the next generation of CRMs and other case management solutions for conveyancing firms, which interact seamlessly with the central exchange, using agreed upon data standards.
No amount of investment and innovation among individual conveyancing firms will deliver the e-conveyancing process that clients and industry professionals now expect. The overall framework of the conveyancing process needs to be reimagined and bold decisions will need to be made along the way.
At the heart of the matter is the fragmented process that conveyancers currently have to navigate when managing title transfers. And while the creation of a central exchange to administer data exchanges between all parties won’t be a magic bullet and remove every problem overnight, it’s development is critical.
How best to implement this and what form it should take will need to be decided between industry and government, working in tandem towards this shared goal. This could be within the remit of a government agency or the brief could be handed to the private sector to deliver. But once it’s in place, along with updated regulations and operating standards, the industry can finally start to deliver on the promise of true e-conveyancing.