The Beginning Of The End – Commercial Property Searches Are Changing Forever

Search AcumenAndrew Lloyd, Managing Director at Search Acumen

It’s the beginning of the end for searches as we know them in the commercial property market. And that’s a very good thing.

A bold statement from someone in our line of work, we know. But we’ve never been content with the status quo. Today’s commercial property market already wants – and needs – better due diligence processes than when the Search Acumen team, in our previous working lives, longer ago than we sometimes care to remember, pioneered the approach that many law firms still use.

With 2017 so far seeing a relative boom in the commercial property market – Savills suggests over £11bn has been invested in central London already – we’ve been excited to bring a data revolution to a number of firms tasked with seeing transactions through to completion. The Commercial Real Estate (CRE) platform we launched this year was carefully crafted to address their specific needs – and it’s already changing how they think and work.

Resetting expectations

Despite the emergence of in-house legal innovation teams, a lack of innovation by commercial property search companies meant a real opportunity to create something special. We began working with Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) to understand the key issues they faced and invested in engineering a new approach to address them.

They told us they needed to be able to quickly assess the risks associated with a proposed deal, they needed to speed up the legal process by accessing more information faster, and they needed to minimise mistakes. What they didn’t want was to be sold more searches.

To do this, we needed to change the way they interact with commercial property data. The CRE platform embodies a new approach entirely which puts a wealth of information at users’ fingertips in an easy-to-read visual format.

What it means for legal workflows is instant access, to a host of integrated data relating to a property or group of properties – from company ownership and mortgage charges to highways, public transport infrastructure, conservation areas, listed buildings and flood zones.

What it means for due diligence is game-changing:

  • Identifying unique risks – giving lawyers an early warning system to help screen potential issues and identify risks. By displaying HM Land Registry’s title boundaries and other property data on a map, lawyers can visualise from the outset the issues their client may face. Teams can instantly assess the site – even using Google StreetView to see it with their own eyes – understand if the project will be able to feasibly move forward and share this knowledge with their clients.
  • Increasing efficiency – in a complex, expensive commercial property deal, saving time means saving money. No real estate professional wants to trawl multiple portals for data if technology can deliver the information they need to one place without the time lag. The CRE platform equips them to interrogate the most up-to-date information from HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, Historic England, Companies House and others – all by simply searching for an address or title number.
  • Minimising mistakes – it goes without saying that in a commercial property transaction, mistakes can be costly. The platform was therefore designed to minimise the opportunity for error. Bespoke search templates designed for specific transaction types mitigates the risk of ordering incorrect data.

Evolving from searches to personalised data

The result is that progressive firms are switching on to the transformative effect data and technology can have on their due diligence, by equipping them to deliver far greater value to their clients.

The CRE platform will still serve up the search reports that are familiar currency in the legal world. But the real potential lies under the bonnet, in data which can already be mined for insights and will continually be added to as more becomes available.

Bespoke data projects or packages will become an increasingly valuable commodity to commercial property lawyers in future and a point of differentiation. Their work lies at the heart of complicated, expensive transactions and a tailored output can help them identify and act upon risks faster and more effectively. It empowers them to anticipate issues far earlier and to help set the scene on what all parties hope will be a successful outcome.

We have been excited to be part of early ‘Eureka’ moments in the offices of forward-thinking law firms. Due diligence for commercial properties is being transformed once again, and there is a new world of possibilities for commercial firms to explore.

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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