Smart home interface

UK’s ‘archaic’ conveyancing process could benefit from blockchain tech

Few can argue that there are elements of the conveyancing process that need improvement, and modernisation could be a huge boost to the UK housing market.

The solutions to the current issues seen across the home-buying and selling process in the UK are out there, many experts claim, but the industry needs to work together to implement them and make them successful.

Even before the pandemic, many complained that conveyancing – which involves the legal transfer of a property’s title from one owner to another – could be slow, arduous and fraught with problems. Most people who have bought a property in the UK have experienced holdups as part of the process.

Now a group of industry experts have come up with a new raft of comments and suggestions on how things could be improved, particularly by making use of new technologies like blockchain.

Delays in transactions put people off

According to Lennie Shaw, founder of Shaw Financial Services, one major hurdle can be mortgage offers expiring when things take too long – by which point mortgage rates may have increased.

He says: “I had a deal recently where the mortgage applied for was 1.14% fixed for five years; the offer expired, which meant I had to select a new product, 1.92%, all because the chain took eight months to complete meaning the customer had a significantly higher mortgage payment because of delays caused by solicitors.”

Shaw adds that brokers are constantly bombarded by clients asking for updates on solicitors, and believes that a lack of communication is the biggest stumbling block.

“Currently, conveyancing isn’t just the weakest link, it’s completely broken. We need root and branch overhaul as the current delays and issues will only worsen without wholesale adoption of technology.

“Recently I’ve arranged mortgages and had offers issued in four hours. What good is that when the solicitors will then take a further four months, at best, to complete the transaction?”

How tech could help conveyancing

Although there have been advancements in conveyancing, the sector is still notorious for its heavy use of paper rather than digital technology.

Joe Garner, managing director at NewPlace, comments: “Technology offers the key to facilitating a path of least resistance, even in a notoriously slow and convoluted area such as conveyancing. We need greater communication, speedier actions and additional transparency through to completions.

“Less of a reliance on human back-office staff would result in a slicker process across the board, cutting down errors and inefficiencies which invariably drive up the time taken to complete the conveyance.

“Out of touch high-street conveyancers relying on old working methods are not integrating the kinds of technology demanded by clients, intermediaries and lenders, and should be a thing of the past.”

He concludes that conveyancing needs “the kind of treatment Stripe dished out to payments and Amazon blew the ecommerce world to smithereens with”.

Backing blockchain

Blockchain is of course most well-known for its use in the cryptocurrency sphere, with the likes of Bitcoin and similar acting as a new way of buying and selling securely. However, its uses are much more wide-ranging, and could hold the key to improvements in the industry, some believe.

Simon Shinerock, chairman of Choices estate agency, says: “Technology is definitely the answer but to work it has to be joined up and all the players in the game must have access to the system.

“The technology already exists to link buyers, sellers, agents, conveyancers, lenders, mortgage advisers and local authorities, it’s called ‘the blockchain’.

“Yes, the blockchain does have other uses than creating useless cryptocurrency Ponzi schemes. There is even a company called Coadjute working on a solution and starting to make progress but really, like WiFi for everyone, this should be a government-sponsored project.

“Unfortunately, it’s not just technology that is not joined up. The government is wholly unable to keep up with the pace of change, much less respond to it or take a lead role.”

The imbalance of supply and demand is certainly causing some holdups in the UK property market, too, with huge volumes of buyers registered at agents compared to homes for sale. Mortgage lenders are also busy as people rush to secure deals before further rate rises take effect.

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