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Let’s not waste another opportunity to reform the transaction process – Rudolf

by: Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)
  • 30/08/2023
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Let’s not waste another opportunity to reform the transaction process – Rudolf
When it comes to pivotal moments in the financial history of this country, 2007-2008 is going to figure pretty heavily, as the ongoing fallout from the ‘Credit Crunch’ played out and the situation worsened with seemingly every single day.

Some 15 years on, those events continue to determine a lot of how we approach the mortgage and housing markets. You might well argue that a lot of the regulatory changes over the past decade and a half have been designed to ensure there is no repeat. 

Now, understandably, when it comes to what was going on back then, measures and legislation designed to improve the home buying and selling process – which were subsequently jettisoned – may not figure greatly in terms of what was lost.  

However, it is informative to understand the debates we were having back then are even more acute now. 


The same desires and demands 

Just recently I looked at the output of a group called the E-Home Buying Forum from 2008.  

Set up to help improve the process, particularly around the introduction of home information packs (HIPs) and how they might speed everything up plus, of course, better use of the Property Information Questionnaire and how it might be digitally populated.  

It was somewhat baffling to read the same arguments put forward then, the same solutions presented, and the same aims as we have now. 

Back then, the forum was pushing for reform which would actively bring down the length of time the buying/selling process was taking, which would deliver greater certainty, via greater use of upfront information, that would cut down on the huge amount of wastage in the system when transactions fell through.  

Doesn’t really sound any different to now, does it? 

However, back then, the average time for a transaction to move through to completion was eight to 12 weeks, and that was deemed too long. Now, the average is around 22 weeks, and it seems increasingly bizarre that any of us active in the property market – adviser, lender, conveyancer, but most of all, the consumer – is willing to accept such a timescale. 


Learning from the past 

Add in the fact that transactions are so susceptible to failure all through that point, and you can understand why the need to reform the process is so acute.  

This is why we as a trade body are so adamant that we need government mandation across multiple areas, but particularly the delivery of upfront information in order to get significant improvement.  

Talking of government, and a point which many do not want to address, which harks back to pre-2008, and that is HIPs. Quickly overturned by David Cameron’s coalition government, they have become something of a ‘joke’ within our sector, to the point where government officials are told not to even mention them again. 

However, the point of HIPs as originally constructed was absolutely sound, in that they delivered upfront information. It offered certainty to those who were considering buying the property, delivered the information at the front of the process rather than after an offer had been made and the client was emotionally invested, and it went a long way towards ensuring the process was quicker. 

Property Packs are the direct legacy of HIPs, and combined with upfront information, digital ID, digital signatures, and the like, they can ensure a much speedier process is achieved, delivering all the benefits of quicker completions, not least the ability to turn the pipeline quicker and to get paid sooner. 

Again, I can think of few stakeholders who wouldn’t want that.    

Better yet, once stored in a digital property logbook, the owners during the lifecycle of the property can access the data digitally when looking to remortgage, alter, retrofit or sell. This means they are kept up to date and the post-valuation queries become a thing of the past. 


A demand for change  

Interestingly, the secondary legislation for HIPs is still in existence, it was never scrubbed from the statute books. Therefore when we talk about government mandation of these measures, it’s entirely possible that the HIPs legislation could be utilised to deliver these changes quickly.  

Research conducted by the HM Land Registry’s Customer and Market Insight Team on upfront information this year, surveying members from a range of organisations including the CA, found that three in four agree its use should become the new normal.  

We’ve said many times before that all the solutions and delivery mechanisms to achieve this are already in place. While it remains a voluntary option – particularly for conveyancers – we will not get the change or the results it can deliver.  

This is a real opportunity to make a break with the past. Back in the noughties we had a real chance at change, then the Credit Crunch and change of government happened, and HIPs were seen as the problem, rather than the start of the solution. 

In 15 years, we could well argue we have actually moved further backwards, if not for the fact that everything is now available to demonstrably improve the process, the time it takes to complete and the consumer (and stakeholder) experience. Plus, technology has improved, which makes the current situation even more bewildering. 

If we are still talking about this in five years, let alone 15, we will have wasted another major chance for reform. The time is right for (any) government to deliver what we all want and need.  

Let’s not waste this opportunity again. 

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