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Digitising the house-buying process

  1. 28 September 2023
  2. By Jeremy Greer

Will recent efforts to bring more of the process of buying and selling property online make things quicker and more efficient?

When it comes to buying a house, there’s a whole stack of paperwork involved and various parties who need to see a range of documents and obtain information before a purchase can proceed to completion. These range from mortgage companies viewing your proof of income to solicitors negotiating the finer points of your deal.

Is it any wonder that up to a third of sales fall through? But what if digitisation could change that risk by speeding up the process and making it easier to keep track of what’s going on, as well as get you to completion faster and with less stress?

Why do things need to change?

The paperwork mountain of property purchases can seem insurmountable to many, with an endless chain of communication. While the best agents and solicitors will work proactively to keep things moving, some may move at a slower pace, leaving you trying to chase up to see exactly what’s happening. During the longest period of the process, between the offer and exchange of contracts, that can be a hard task – also, it’s not really your job.

The challenge is that any delay in the process makes buyers nervous and leads to a greater risk of a deal falling through, especially where lengthy or complicated chains might be involved. According to Rightmove in 2022, it took around 150 days on average to reach completion day. That’s 50 days longer than in 2019. As a general rule of thumb, it can take anywhere from two to six months. And in busy London, it can take even longer.

New digital solutions 

New platforms and solutions aim to speed up this process and ensure the sale goes through while you’re still keen, not when lengthy timescales mean you’ve all but given up and have started looking elsewhere to buy.

So, what’s available? Various digital offerings help accelerate the process. Virtual tours, for example, mean that as a buyer you have already got a feel of whether the property is right for you before spending time on viewings. Online document signing, meanwhile, streamlines a process that previously had to be done in person.

Solutions that aim to break down the silos in which many parts of the industry operate also offer the potential for speeding up the time taken, since this is where the biggest delays can lie. In many countries, including Sweden, Finland, Australia and Singapore, digital mortgage processes are already in place.

HM Land Registry’s attempts to speed things up

Back in the UK, one of the biggest changes is the decision by HM Land Registry to digitise conveyancing and make Local Land Charge search results available instantly.

This means conveyancers can access property information and register titles more quickly and easily and also allows the potential for the rise of digital seller packs. In November 2022, HMLR went ‘digital by default’ for all incoming applications and it says that 90% of applications are now received digitally.

Despite HMLR aiming to have all local councils onboard by 2025, as of last summer, only 40 local authorities in England and Wales were said to have migrated to the digital application process.

Improving the process

There are valuable opportunities for speeding up the process of moving through digitisation. In Scotland, the digitisation of the Scottish Home Report has cut property transactions by four weeks and reduced fall-throughs by 60% when compared to England and Wales. A year-long upfront information pilot conducted by search provider, Conveyancing Data Services, saw transaction times reduced by up to 70 days. Participants in the trial were able to use all the existing technological solutions available to them which helped them complete that dreaded paperwork faster and more efficiently.

Separately, the Conveyancing Association reports that earlier this year it completed a consultation on the Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI) dataset, which was published at the end of July 2022. It is part of a National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team (NTSELAT) three-part project, aimed at improving the availability of upfront information in the conveyancing process in order to cut waiting times.

Meanwhile, the development of a Property Data Trust Framework by the Technology Sub-Group allows all the data collected via the BASPI to not only be authenticated but also shared across all stakeholder technology systems, providing a single source of truth since there is no longer a risk of duplicated paperwork.

For buyers, the digitisation of what has traditionally been a paperwork-dominated process means the chance to get their dream property sooner – without the risk of a deal falling through simply because it’s taking too long to get to completion.

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