Covid-19 has encouraged us to do more online, and this is especially true of the property sector. From estate agents offering virtual viewings to solicitors working remotely, the accelerated use of digital technology has helped us move home safely despite the pandemic.
‘This trend is unlikely to end with the pandemic,’ says Anna Manning, an Associate in our conveyancing team. Here, Anna provides a round-up of recent digital developments in the residential property sector and how they could help your next home move.
Choice of communications
Once you have chosen your next home, you will want to get things moving quickly. So, it is important your solicitor can discuss your needs and send out the initial documents promptly.
The best form of communication will depend upon the individual circumstances, and we will always consider your personal preferences, but there are clear benefits in going digital where appropriate. For example, email is generally quicker than post, and SMS or text messaging can give you instant updates.
Online ID checks
Before your solicitor can start work, we must verify your identity and carry out regulatory checks to comply with money laundering laws. Fortunately, there are online identity checking systems that can speed this process up, often removing the need for a physical meeting. As these systems follow best practice and the recommendations set by HM Land Registry, they also ensure consistency and reduce the need to supply additional identity information later.
Integrated case management
The right software lets your conveyancer manage your move effectively and efficiently, as updating and sharing information becomes much easier. There is no need to search for information in a paper file, or to speak to colleagues; it can be accessed with a single click. Your solicitor can access your transaction details, even if working from home, and provide you with the latest information.
Often there is no substitute for picking up the phone and talking to someone directly.
However, conveyancing involves a lot of written information which is important, and sometimes it is better to share this digitally. This way your solicitor can resolve issues and agree any changes to documents without having to pass paper copies around. It can also result in a more collaborative way of working and better communication, helping to keep your transaction on track.
Conveyancing also relies upon many different stakeholders, including mortgage lenders and government departments. Many of these are adopting new ways of working digitally. Our conveyancing team understand these systems and are experienced in working with them effectively. For example, at the end of your purchase, stamp duty land tax will be accounted to HMRC online.
Banks and building societies have also moved many of their services online, including mortgages. It is now possible to create a digital mortgage, without physically signing a deed, and the use of these looks set to increase.
One of the big advantages of a digital mortgage is speed. In the case of a straightforward remortgage, the process takes on average 18 days less than for a similar paper-based transaction.
Electronic sale contracts
The need to work innovatively and remotely during the pandemic has encouraged the wider use of other electronic documents, for example, sale contracts. Instead of signing the contract physically, each party enters their electronic signature (a type of code) once they have agreed all the terms and are ready to become bound legally. This can save time because it is no longer necessary to send the contract out and wait for its return by post.
Transfer of title
As well as the sale contract, the seller will need to sign a deed to transfer their title to the buyer. There are complex legal rules surrounding transfers of land, which unfortunately have not kept pace with modern developments. However, it is still important to get these right to avoid problems proving ownership later.
For example, the transfer must be executed as a deed; the buyer must sign it in front of a witness, who must also add their signature. There has been a lot of debate over whether this can happen electronically, mainly because the witness must physically watch the person signing the deed.
HM Land Registry, the government department responsible for maintaining the register of title ownership, now accepts you can execute a deed electronically. However, it has set out strict requirements which all the parties to an electronic transfer must follow. Electronic deeds can save time and overcome some logistical problems, but they can also bring their own set of issues. So, it is essential to choose a solicitor who has expertise in this area.
The use of online platforms to carry out conveyancing searches is more established. Your solicitor needs these to check a seller’s ownership of a property and whether other matters, like planning restrictions, could affect its use. Historically, searches have been one of the main reasons for delay in conveyancing transactions. Carrying them out electronically can significantly reduce turnaround times. Just as importantly, using an online platform means we can quickly check progress, and anticipate any bottlenecks.
Sadly, fraudulent activity has increased during the pandemic with conveyancing transactions targeted because of the sums of money involved. Hackers may attack emails and insecure wi-fi systems. So, it is more important than ever to ensure your transaction is secure.
The good news is that digital services can often be safer than traditional channels, provided the necessary steps are followed.
How we can help
Moving home is a very personal matter, and while we invest in state-of-the-art technology to support you when you move home, nothing can replace the close personal attention of your own solicitor.
The smart use of technology can complement this, letting us keep you updated in the way which works best for you.
For further information about how we can help with selling or buying a property, please contact Anna Manning in the Residential Property department on 01823 362892 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.