Conveyancing needs its digital enablement moment

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

Chief Executive Officer at Reapit

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Conveyancing is an integral part of the house buying and selling process. But it is a slow process, with the length of time required and the steps needed to get there often shrouded in mystery, particularly for first-time buyers.

I spent seven years with Visualfiles, whose customers were the largest conveyancers, Halifax, CPL, Nationwide, Shoosmiths and all the regional law firms and licences conveyancers; I was also the Chairman of a standard working group on Home Information Packs, a forerunner to what is now the non-mandated but non-regulated Buyer Information Pack. Over 15 years ago we defined the workflow, swim lanes and the XML standards to make this joined up, 15+ years later nothing much has changed.

Clearly conveyancing has challenges that need fixing in order to speed up the process and improve visibility for buyers and sellers. There has been some recognition recently within government circles that increased digitalisation is required to speed up the conveyancing process. HM Land Registry (HMLR) recently announced its “new vision for a world-leading digital property market” – its vision for a more efficient, fully digital property market supported by a modern land registration system that will help to reduce pressure on conveyancers and to save them (and the government) time and money on the conveyancing process.

Sadly, for estate agents, it’s little more than a headline with no substance behind it, with no discussion of the how agents will be impacted or potentially benefit from the HMLR’s digital strategy. That’s not to suggest that the process doesn’t have merit, as the wider property industry is going through its own digital transformation journey, it’s certainly due time that conveyancing also has own digital enablement approach to ease the house movement procedure and streamline the end-to-end process.

The demand for agile and digitally enabled conveyancing is likely to come swinging back into the spotlight again with (then) Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announcing during the ‘mini-budget’ on the 23rd of September a permanent cut to the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT). Reaction to the cut has generally been mixed. While some conveyancers feel positive that the cut being permanent won’t result in bottlenecks, others are more concerned:

Simon Brown, the CEO of Landmark Information Group argues that the while the cut will stimulate demand, the “inefficiency across the market and failing capacity in the conveyancing process” will reduce any impact on the volume of completions. And Dan Salmons, the CEO of Coadjute, argues that the announcement “underlines the need for this market to have a digital infrastructure that enables it to work efficiently so estate agents and conveyancers have the tools at their disposal to make it function at all times.”

It would be discourteous to knock the conveyancing industry’s efforts to take advantage of technology. When law firms were faced with a bumper workload during the Stamp Duty holiday that took place from 8 July 2020 till 30 September 2021 during the pandemic, there were several digital trends that accelerated within the industry, from increased automation to client-facing portals and digital ID verification, all aimed at expediting and improving the process for buyers and sellers, as well as reducing work strain on conveyancers themselves. What’s perhaps not been so forthcoming industry-wide is an end-to-end digital process to conveyancing that brings upfront information and transparency of the process between consumers, conveyancers and agents.

It’s understandably tricky, residential conveyancing is already a complicated area and the legal nuances involved can undoubtably add a delay to the highly emotive process of buying or selling a house. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t, and indeed aren’t already in motion. You’ve got eConveyancer’s DigitalMove platform as an example which connects home movers, conveyancers, mortgage brokers and estate agents together, but as a separate bit of technology, it may not match the demands of agents looking to streamline the end-to-end house movement process for their clients.

What stood out to me from HMLR’s Strategy 2022+ roadmap that accompanied their new vision and strategy was the stated goal of having a well-developed “open ecosystem of digital services that support property transactions … supported by our open data and service connections” by 2025-26. The idea of an end-to-end (and more importantly open) technology ecosystem that can enable the house-moving value chain with improved visibility for agents, conveyancers and consumers is needed now more than ever.

On the technology front, some of our some of our partners at Reapit are already working towards this, with Coadjute, Gazael, GOTO Group, Perfect Portal, The Partnership, and WeCOMPLETE all offering digital services that help to streamline conveyancing, which agents can access in one place via the Reapit AppMarket. It’s an exciting direction of travel for the industry which offers substantial benefits for all actors and stakeholders involved in the chain.

Perhaps then the wider issue is not that the technology in conveyancing isn’t there, but rather that it needs to become more integrated with the tools that agents, conveyancers, and consumers use to track and progress the transaction process. I’ve said before that the digital transformation of the property industry is not a new chapter, and that holds true for conveyancing as well, but the sector needs to make further leaps to deal with the surging demand for conveyancing services as well as the increasing expectation of consumers for transparency and upfront information.

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