How conveyancing can be a source of certainty in a changing housing market
Angela Hesketh shares her views on how digital solutions can help conveyancers alleviate uncertainty
The UK housing market has faced increased uncertainty in recent months. Towards the end of 2022, mortgage rates spiked to almost six percent after successive base rate hikes and the market turmoil sparked by September’s mini budget. This was compounded with wider economic ambiguity and a deepening cost-of-living crisis, which continues to strain household finances across the country. For many conveyancers, the resulting slowdown in house price growth and elevated rates signal a return to normal market conditions after the surge in activity seen during the pandemic. For prospective buyers and sellers, however, this shift has been a source of intense anxiety. Conveyancers who simplify and streamline their processes through the adoption of digital technology can not only help to restore confidence to the market but can also improve their working lives.
Conveyancing is generally seen as one of the more complicated, and at times frustrating, aspects of buying a property. The complex legal terminology, vast quantities of paperwork and extensive checks can often be overwhelming for buyers and sellers. According to Smoove’s Home Movers Report, the length of time spent completing forms during the process, like property questionnaires, gift information and sources of funds is a particular source of confusion for movers. The identification process can also be an irritating experience for many, with customers usually having to go through this at least three times with different parties involved in the process.
Many of these problems are exaggerated by conveyancers typically being viewed as an afterthought when moving home, with buyers only consulting a conveyancer once the transaction is moving forward. Indeed, according to our research, nearly a third of homeowners (31 percent) find their conveyancing firm via their estate agent and a fifth (21 percent) through their mortgage broker. As a result, problems are often only encountered further down the line, leaving some transactions marred by unforeseen issues.
With buyers and sellers more apprehensive than in recent years, addressing these problems through the adoption of intuitive digital solutions has become more important than before. Products like Smoove Start can streamline the onboarding process for new buyers and sellers by collating key tasks on one digital platform. With tailored platforms for buyers and sellers, this can enable stakeholders to only view the relevant sections of forms and to track the sale process, allowing for more streamlined transactions. Upfront checks for anti-money laundering (AML) purposes, ID verification, energy performance certificates (EPCs) and land registry checks also serve to identify any potential issues earlier on in the process. Other technologies, like Open Banking, can help to relieve some of the issues around manual identity checks. By quickly and securely sharing data, Open Banking can streamline the source of funds checks conducted during the conveyancing process. Digital solutions like these can bring greater certainty to transactions when many buyers and sellers are seeking reassurance.
However, it is not only customers, but also conveyancers that stand to benefit from these solutions, both in relation to their working lives and when interacting with the evolving regulatory landscape. Digitalisation is supporting the transition to more independent ways of working, which have been increasingly favoured by conveyancers since the pandemic. Part-time employment, once unthinkable in the industry, is becoming more common, while many others are now working remotely. More experienced professionals are even choosing to break with their firm entirely to pursue roles as independent consultants.
By removing some of the heavy administrative burdens that have long weighed them down, digitalisation can also help conveyancers to navigate growing regulatory scrutiny. The UK government is set to add a ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offence to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, currently going through Parliament, taking aim at intermediaries who lack adequate measures to prevent money laundering or fraud. In addition, in January, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced they will be cracking down on firms not complying with transparency rules. By alleviating conveyancers of tedious manual processes, lengthy forms and long hours, digitalisation can help conveyancers to avoid unnecessary errors that can lead to regulatory challenges.
The current market conditions present conveyancers with an opportunity to improve their processes and simultaneously alleviate the uncertainty being experienced by many prospective buyers and sellers. Digital solutions can help conveyancers to achieve this while also improving their working lives and interactions with regulators. As rates stabilise and people adapt to new market conditions, conveyancers have a real opportunity be a source of certainty and progress in the moving process.
Angela Hesketh is the director of conveyancing transformation at Smoove