Estate agents have called for the introduction of digital property logbooks, supplied by companies regulated by the government, to help speed up the conveyancing process.
Propertymark, which represents over 17,500 estate and letting agents, said that if the use of logbooks was to become “industry-wide” rather than optional, regulation was essential.
Responding to a consultation on the Law Commission’s 14th law reform programme, which suggested that the time had come to move away from caveat emptor, Propertymark agreed that buyers should have access to more upfront information.
It said digital logbooks would hold “the key information required to complete a transaction”, including details about leasehold management companies. They would be accessible at the start of marketing a property and change hands with it.
“At present, property logbook companies are self-regulated and their use is entirely elective, therefore Propertymark believes that regulation by government is needed to provide a mandate for industry-wide use, as well as ensure that data is kept securely and in accordance with GDPR.”
The logbook should include “sections on each stage of the transaction, allowing for documentation to be uploaded from the various parties with dates for deadlines and timescales”.
The response continued: “Property chains can become long and complex, and a missing piece of paperwork can cause delays for all involved.
“An online filing system would speed up the process and enable documents to be loaded onto a central repository and, crucially, downloaded quickly and easily to produce documents upon request.
“Furthermore, the conveyancing process requires information to be provided by third parties before contracts can be exchanged. The logbook would help to avoid delays and allow regular contact with the agent and buyer to deal with any arising issues.”
Propertymark – formerly called the National Association of Estate Agents – backed the use of reservation agreements, in which buyers and sellers agree to accept financial penalties if they pull out of a transaction before exchange.
It welcomed the government’s announcement that a trial of reservation agreements would take place later this year but warned that “without access to information prior to an offer being made, the scheme will be simply unworkable in practice”.
The migration of land charges data from local authorities to the Land Registry, which it also supported, should be accelerated – the current aim is 2025.
“The provision of information upfront via property logbooks, digitisation of local search mechanisms, and a shift towards vendor disclosure will undoubtedly make prospective buyers better informed, speed up the conveyancing process and reduce the number of failed transactions making it quicker, cheaper and less stressful for all.”
Propertymark also backed the Law Commission’s separate proposal for the creation of a dedicated housing court in England and Wales.
“At a time when they may already be in financial difficulty due to rent arrears, landlords are required to submit a claim for possession at a cost of £355 and wait more than five months for a possession order – or far longer should an inaccuracy on a notice result in it being rejected.”
It went on: “A specialist housing court with a single cost structure and procedural rules would simplify the route to justice for all.
“It should be granted the existing powers of both the county court and First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to ensure that wherever possible, persons bringing proceedings are able to have their matters dealt with in a single process.
“Appeals should then go to the Upper Tribunal and on to the Court of Appeal, if necessary.”