"These fixes are readily available, already used in many jurisdictions around the world, and particularly in terms of technology can be delivered relatively easily."
Here’s how the Law Commission does in outlining home buying as one of its potential areas for law reform – ‘can be slow, complex and opaque’.
Clearly that’s not the case for every single purchase but when you have the statutory body responsible for the law calling the process in this way, then we probably all need to sit up and listen.
Now one of the arguments might be that the industry as a whole, and the bodies charged with overseeing and developing it, have been late to the party here, and that the ways and means for ensuring the process is not ‘slow, complex and opaque’ have not been taken up as quickly as they should.
Historically, efforts to improve the process have either been met with wholesale resistance and/or not had the courage of their convictions, or ultimately failed to recognise the true problems at the heart of why we have average transaction times of over 20 weeks.
This last six to eight months, while having been a boom period for the market, has evidently shown the problems that can be raised, albeit within an environment which is very far from normal with large numbers of stakeholder staff working either remotely or from home. That said, these are issues that exist regardless.
However, for those wishing to lay all the blame firmly at the door of the conveyancing profession, you will need to think again before finding your scapegoats. The issues we face in the home buying process lie right across the industry, from the marketing of the property, through to securing the mortgage offer, to obtaining the searches, getting the valuation, and onto the legals, the mortgage funding, etc, etc.
I think we’d all agree that it needs a number of fixes across the board, however the good news is that these fixes are readily available, already used in many jurisdictions around the world, and particularly in terms of technology can be delivered relatively easily.
Whether is the provision of more upfront information at the very start of the marketing of a property, to the use of digital signatures, the introduction of property logbooks, potentially a move to reservation agreements, there are a number of ways and means that we can get that average completion time down.
For a start, it’s a positive that the Law Commission itself recognises the need for action in its own backyard. It is seeking views on how to improve the way homes are bought as part of its Fourteenth Programme of Law Reform. It’s suggesting it may look at other jurisdictions and how homes are purchased there, it may look at the whole buyer beware nature of the process, and also what role tech should be playing. There is plenty of scope for change and it’s my view that the Commission should not shy away from introducing reform if it believes it can have a tangible benefit.
Until then, the conveyancing industry itself is forging ahead with a number of the initiatives I mentioned previously, because it recognises that it cannot continue to work efficiently with so many inefficiencies in the process.
Of course, some solicitor firms are simply inefficient at completing conveyancing, and as advisers you can do much to weed these out of the process, and ensure your clients aren’t instructing these firms, rather than the specialists who have the very best opportunity to complete within the desired timescales.
We can all do our bit here. Lockdown is ending but the impact of the pandemic will be with us for some time to come. However, what we can all ensure is that our clients work with the most efficient, specialist firms.
I have no doubt that the home buying process is going to see some sizeable improvements in the years to come – while we wait for them to truly hit home, let’s continue to use the conveyancers who are at the top of their game.