‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’
I’m not prone to quoting ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, and I’ll freely admit that the link between this and the UK’s conveyancing process is slightly ‘stretchy’ to say the least.
However, a variation of this famous quote did pop into my mind when I saw that HM Land Registry had finally announced it was now accepting witnessed electronic signatures on mortgages, leases and the like.
Progress at last, although given the nature of our home purchasing process, this of course has to be tempered in some way by the news that e-signatures won’t be acceptable for signing deeds, and they’ll still need to be signed physically in the presence of a witness.
What did I say about ‘one step’? But progress is progress and perhaps shouldn’t be sniffed at, especially when it has taken so long to get to this point.
Despite plenty of lobbying on these types of matters and a raft of evidence to suggest that the greater use of technology seems like common sense not science fiction in conveyancing, it has taken a global pandemic and an unprecedented lockdown in order to get this relatively minor part of the process changed and over the finish line.
Which might lead you to think that the only thing getting us to a fully-digitised conveyancing process would be global Armageddon, but that’s not really the case because progress is happening in so many areas.
Who would have thought, for instance, that the Law Commission would come out and recommend commonhold as a replacement for leasehold? Who might have anticipated that HIPs would be on the verge of making a return, albeit as the beefed-up Property Log Books and this time actually doing what they were meant to do in the first place? And who would have thought that in so many other related areas, such as the provision of upfront information or ID checking, we would be moving closer to a solution that actually speeds up the entire process and actively cuts down on the number of aborted transactions.
And, that’s the big point that may often be overlooked here. These are not changes for change’s sake but small steps forward that should ultimately lead to a far better customer experience, and should genuinely mean that we can get the time it takes to complete the process down from months to weeks. Plus, of course, we are not seeing millions upon millions of pounds wasted every year when the process fails and a transaction is aborted.
That has to be the real positive force for conveyancing that is left behind by Covid-19 and the pandemic as a whole.
It’s a recognition that the way we have done things for years and years just isn’t up to scratch – and I believe the vast majority of people within the sector have known this for a long time – especially when you encounter extraordinary circumstances, where people can’t leave their homes and where the whole process grinds to a halt. It’s a recognition that the technology we use every single day on the most common devices within the home, can be utilised in order to keep everything flowing and to ensure everything moves at a much faster pace. It’s an understanding that consumers, and indeed all of us as practitioners, deserve something better than we’ve been accepting.
Those will be major, positive takeaways from all of this and I suspect that the catalyst this provides will be phenomenal when we look back in years to come about how quickly those changes came to pass, and the difference they made.
In the meantime, advisers will continue to do all they can to match reality with client expectations I’m sure; it means using the specialists in the conveyancing space through distributors like ourselves to give them the very best chance of completing on time and with the minimum of fuss. And eventually – although this journey will never end – it will be providing that end client with a process which is ultra-slick and couched in the very latest technology to provide the best of all conveyancing worlds.
Steps are being taken and with each one we’ll get closer to those goals.
Mark Snape is managing director of Broker Conveyancing