By Legal Futures’ Associate The Cashroom
Developments in artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning are reshaping the world of business. And, the conveyancing sector is no different, with property professionals increasingly turning towards Proptech to help meet the needs of the market.
Traditionally, the property industry has been very labour intensive. Searches, enquiries, and the time spent chasing answers can make even simple transactions protracted. And not every transaction is simple! But technology has the power to take overly complicated and time-consuming processes and make them more efficient. So, it’s no wonder that conveyancers are positive about digital developments. Indeed, 61% believe that technology will have a positive effect on the home buying process over the next few years.
The rise of the robot conveyancer
Take AI for example. In some firms, automation and machine-learning are already carrying out routine, high-volume and low-risk tasks – with the ability to do things like check documents and pre-populate forms. Compellingly, in addition to speeding up workflow, such digital tools also remove instances of human error and deliver much higher levels of accuracy.
What’s more, while newspaper headlines might scream that the robots are coming to take the jobs of conveyancers, the reality is more positive. Because, rather than replacing people, AI allows conveyancers to focus on more rewarding work, and frees up time so that they can provide a more personal customer experience.
The challenge of meeting evolving client expectations
Of course, today, customer experience is what it’s all about. People are using technology to do a whole range of things – from ordering food to buying clothes – so why shouldn’t they expect the same level of sophistication when it comes to the most important purchase they will ever make?
One of the easiest ways to meet evolving customer expectations is to invest in online portals. Let’s face it, if there is one thing people hate, it’s not being kept in the loop. It’s no wonder therefore, that a lack of communication during the process is possibly the most common criticism faced by the sector.
By investing in a secure portal, buyers and sellers can log in to see where things are up to at any time. Crucially, as well as making people feel more involved in the process, portals also eliminate the majority of ‘chasing’ phone calls that conveyancers receive every day. So, it’s a win-win.
Technology for technology sake is not the answer
Importantly, when it comes to embracing the digital revolution, it should never be about investing in technology just for the sake of it. Instead, it’s vital that the conveyancing sector identifies common challenges and looks at how technology can help to overcome these.
For example, according to a recent study, one in 6 housing transactions are failing to complete, and this is costing sellers £1,945 on average. Fears about the condition of the property they are about to buy is one of the reasons why buyers are pulling out.
In response to this issue, the Ministry of Housing has floated the idea of property logbooks. Different to Home Information Packs in England and Wales (HIPs), and Home Reports in Scotland, it is suggested that such logbooks would be passed on between owners and contain a whole raft of information about a home. Educational videos, details of DIY, materials used, warranties and supplier guarantees could all be included. And, rather than handing over a huge raft of paper that someone has to trawl through (and which is easily lost), this would all be stored securely online.
Both the Conveyancing Association (CA) and the HomeOwners Alliance (HOA) have been supportive of the idea of digital property logbooks. Moreover, while such an initiative is likely to start with new build properties, it’s easy to see why homebuyers might want this extended to second-hand homes.
Security and compliance remain key
Another area where Proptech developments are impacting the conveyancing process is when it comes to due diligence. Today, verifying who they are dealing with has never been more critical for conveyancers. But, as criminals find newer and more effective ways to commit fraud, neither has it been more challenging.
The good news is that, while technology can’t eliminate the risk, it can certainly reduce it. For example, by using a Consumer Bank Account Checker, conveyancers can verify that bank details match those of the client. This is an excellent way to support customer due diligence and meet the obligations of the Money Laundering Regulations. Facial recognition and document verification technology can also be used to speed up ID and source of funds checks and protect firms from sophisticated criminal organisations.
Science fiction is becoming science fact
When talking about improving security across the sector, we can’t forget about blockchain. Created as a digital ledger for cryptocurrency transactions, today blockchain technology can be used to monitor more than just financial transactions. Also, because it is a shared and continually reconciled database, and not stored in any single location, blockchain is impossible to corrupt.
While it might sound like science-fiction, HM Land Registry (HMLR) is already exploring using blockchain technology in England and Wales. And, when it comes to conveyancing, we predict that it won’t be long before firms are using the technology to validate the registration of land titles and mortgages. Not least because, the first online property transaction by blockchain saw a home go from initial marketing to a verified online exchange in just one week.
Data consolidation is essential
In addition to testing blockchain technology, HMLR has already taken some practical steps to help conveyancers on a day-to-day basis. For example, this summer marked the first anniversary of the digital Local Land Charges Register (LLC) going live in England and Wales.
Designed to make the home-buying process simpler, faster and cheaper, through this initiative HMLR is helping local authorities across England to migrate their data to one central, digital register. Once the data is migrated, anyone will be able to get instant and standardised online LLC search results in an easy to read format. So far, the register has benefited thousands of homebuyers in Warwick, the City of London, Liverpool, Blackpool, the Isles of Scilly and Norwich. And, while the project has had its ups and downs, the creation of a holistic data source will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the conveyancing market.
The challenges faced by the conveyancing sector are not new. But by looking at more pioneering ways to combat them, firms can steal a march on their competitors, while driving up standards for the sector as a whole.