Minister urges conveyancers to increase pace of innovation

Penn: Transactions times could be reduced to days in some cases

Conveyancers have “a central role” in realising a digital home buying and selling process but innovation needs to happen at a greater pace, the housing minister told last week’s Council for Licensed Conveyancers’ (CLC) annual conference.

Baroness Penn said that “placing digitalisation at the heart of our home buying and selling reforms has the potential to reduce transactions times from months to weeks and even days in some cases”.

This needed to be coupled with upfront property information, and she commended the work of National Trading Standards estate and letting agency team in pushing this forward.

The minister told the event in London that countries like Norway “have already demonstrated how digitalisation can foster a simpler, more transparent processes for consumers without imposing significant additional costs”.

She continued: “We recognise that parts of the transformation need to be driven by government but there is a huge amount that can and is being driven forward by industry…

“With conveyancing at the heart of home buying and selling and conveyancers being one of the most qualified and regulated actors in the system, your profession will have a central role in realising this shared aim.

“We’ve seen an openness to change in recent years but, as with other aspects of the home buying and selling process, there’s still so much more scope for innovation to come… We need more people to become involved and we need innovations and improvements to be made at a greater pace.”

In his address, Mike Harlow, deputy chief executive and director of customer and strategy at HM Land Registry, said it took an average of 47 days from moment a person in Norway thought of selling to when the buyer moved in, about three weeks of which was compiling the information needed before the property can go on the market.

There are no chains, because of the speed of buying a property, and bridging finance is “easy and common” for the same reason. This different approach is “truly something to strive for”, he said.

Mr Harlow added that the “other striking element” of the Norwegian experience was how all the stakeholders in the market –lenders, insurers, lawyers and institutions – collaborated to co-design the system.

This was the vision of the Digital Property Market Steering Group, which has been convened by HM Land Registry, he said.

Mr Harlow, who stressed the importance of dealing with residential and commercial property together in introducing reform, said: “Imagine if everybody who was a party to the transaction, or representing them, had a single shared view of what the property is, who the parties are, the terms of the deal and the progress of the deal.

“There would be no chasing, no doubt, no need to make three phone calls to find out where something was stuck. This is what will make the wheels spin faster.”

Delegates also heard about the achievements of the CLC over the past year as it published its annual report. This showed a 12% increase in the number of licenced conveyancers and probate practitioners to 1,825. The CLC regulated 205 firms as at 31 December 2023 with a collective turnover of £335m.

CLC chair Dame Janet Paraskeva says: “We have committed significant resource to supporting this in 2024 and beyond, helping to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers and foster innovation in the delivery of conveyancing.”

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