Why technology should play a crucial role in the Government’s call for evidence

Matt Lancaster, Osprey’s sales & marketing director and founding partner of Free2Convey 

In this year’s Budget statement, the Government announced that it would be looking at ways to make the process of buying and selling a home “better value for money and more consumer-friendly” and has called for evidence as to how this can be achieved.

The announcement has been met with a range of responses, from despair that the call for evidence is merely the ill-fated HIPS in different clothing – HIPS lite, son of HIPS, whatever you prefer – to relief that the conveyancing process may become more streamlined and user friendly for all concerned.

The devil’s always in the detail, of course, and at the time of writing, there hasn’t been any further information from the Department for Innovation, Business & Skills on the timescales involved, although it is thought that reforms may include mandatory early provision of property information and plans to make gazumping illegal, with around £270 million wasted annually on failed house purchases in England and Wales. One option on the table is for house purchases to become legally binding earlier in the process, bringing English law in line with Scotland and across Europe, as well as forcing people who pull out of a transaction liable to pay the other party’s costs.

At this point I should say that I’m hugely in favour of any initiative, which at its core has the ability to achieve better value, fewer delays, greater transparency (and therefore reduce gazumping) and collaboration between all parties involved in a conveyance. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about, with everyone driving towards the same goal? With the right technology in place, these aims can be achieved.

Last year, huge strides were taken by the conveyancing sector towards digitalisation, including the launch of Free2Convey. I see no signs of this slowing down – if anything, the trend towards transparency within the sector will result in further online product offerings this year.

There will always be resistance to change, but there is a strong sense that the current conveyancing system needs a good shake up. It’s vital to look ahead at how to improve things, even though it creates disruption in the marketplace. When developing Free2Convey, it was about looking at the needs of the parties involved in a conveyance, the conveyancing process itself – both existing and what is desirable in the future – to assess where the gaps are, and then looking at what technology would bring all those elements together to enable collaboration between all parties.

Our research into current conveyancing processes revealed that there is huge support among stakeholders for ways to address growing concerns over an increasingly complex conveyancing communication process. There is also growing demand for online access to the status of a conveyancing chain, enabling the process to be truly collaborative and transparent.

What also became clear is that those acting on conveyancing transactions felt there were lots of different systems being introduced – and with different resources too much time is taken up going between systems – but nothing offering a complete chain view. By offering one view throughout the entire chain, as opposed to dozens of calls up and down the chain followed by updating the client and the agent, there are obvious time saving benefits and fewer delays.

Although little has changed in decades for the legal framework governing conveyancing, the call for evidence should be used as an opportunity to reform the way homebuying is carried out and create a better conveyancing process for all concerned. With the right ideas on the table, the process of conveyancing can be shaped for the 21st century.

First published by Today’s Conveyancer