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Conveyancing Association outlines ambitious e-reforms

Digital focus central to improving homebuyers’ experience

13 March 2017

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E-home reports, enhanced ID verification, and a secure property portal are part of the Conveyancing Association’s ambitious plans to improve the home-moving process.

The trade body has published a strategic plan, ‘Building the framework for the future’, comprising eight work streams that aim to deliver swifter certainty, fraud protection, and effective communication with a view to giving homebuyers a more positive experience. The proposals build on the association’s whitepaper, ‘Modernising the home moving process’, published last year.

A digital theme underpins the CA’s plans, with biometric ID verification, artificial intelligence to reduce enquiries, and a blockchain-inspired ‘property log book’ all high on the agenda. Leasehold reform, an improved lending process, and greater completion certainty also feature.

The association acknowledges the challenges it must overcome to deliver its strategic aims, particularly the development of a secure communications portal. Through meetings with affiliates, the association hopes to create and gain backing for middleware that would help reduce frauds such as fund redirection through email modification.

Speaking exclusively to Solicitors Journal, Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the association, said that the antipathy of software providers to integration was the biggest challenge for the portal: lack of architectural stability within a case management system, the concern over loss of commerciality through ‘exclusive’ arrangements, and indeed cost were all cited.

However, she stressed the importance of a joined-up approach of existing systems that would enable data to be passed seamlessly without the double keying currently required by some portals. The CA is also hoping to use blockchain technology to create a ‘property log book’ that would prevent duplication of information, save cost, and eliminate any risk of forged documents.

Rudolf explained that tackling cyber-fraud and improving security is paramount for the association, which wants to develop biometric ID verification with a view to centralising the process within the Land Registry’s verification services.

‘It will provide greater certainty that the person completing the ID verification process owns that ID and is not using a forged passport,’ she said. ‘By centralising through the Land Registry, conveyancers and estate agents can benefit from a much more rigorous process and the additional data which the registry holds will reduce risk. For the consumer, it is a win-win as it reduces cost and hassle in only having to complete ID verification once.’

Continuing the digital theme, the CA wants to develop comprehensive e-home reports that collate all relevant information of a property prior to it being marketed. This would reduce the number of enquiries made thereafter and enable the conveyancer to pre-empt any additional enquiries.

Closely linked to this will be improved local search data provisions which will help reduce costs and delays. The creation of a new CON 29 form with optional borrower questions will be put forward with a view to gaining endorsement from regulators and lenders.

‘Quick wins’

While the digitally focused reforms could prove challenging, the CA believes there are a number of work streams where ‘quick wins’ can be achieved. The association cited the progress made on leasehold reform, with a review of leasehold promised by Gavin Barwell MP at the end of last year.

Another stream where the association believes change can occur sooner rather than later is on completion certainty: ‘This can be delivered through a small amendment to the Law Society’s code for completion by post to enable funds to be sent the day before completion,’ explained Rudolf. ‘Within our membership we can pilot this where there are chain-free transactions before moving on to chains.’

The CA will report back on its completion reforms by the end of the year and, if successful with a view to them becoming a standard though the association acknowledges that for this to happen it would greatly help if it were accepted by the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.

Other work stream ‘quick wins’ would be the creation of a reservation agreement, post-valuation query reduction, and the creation of a reliable mortgage decision in principle.

The CA will be lobbying the government to support the proposed changes.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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