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The clunky homebuying process negates our tech-advanced lives – Rudolf

by: Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)
  • 23/02/2024
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The clunky homebuying process negates our tech-advanced lives – Rudolf
By the time you have read this first paragraph, you could have gone on any retailer’s website, tapped a couple of buttons, and pretty much bought yourself anything you desired – from an ice scraper for your car windscreen, to the car itself.

You could have booked yourself a flight leaving today, a car to pick you up from your airport destination, a hotel to stay in, and all manner of excursions and sight-seeing trips.

I specifically picked those two examples – cars and holidays – because, outside of purchasing a home, they tend to be the two most expensive purchases people make. You are able to purchase these outright, or via a range of finance options – like you can for a property – and yet the process to do the above looks very different and takes far less time than anything people will currently encounter in the property market.

Buying a home still feels like a pre-internet/pre-mobile phone purchase, and while those of us who were brought up in an age before either of the above might be able to get our heads around this, what about the generation that has known nothing but the internet and mobile phone age?


Bringing the homebuying process up to speed 

They might begrudgingly accept that buying a property is a rather big deal.

It costs a lot of money and the likelihood is they will be borrowing a large proportion of its cost in order to do so. They will probably accept that with such large amounts of money involved, there is a greater chance of fraud being committed, and all those involved will need to have fully satisfied themselves of the identify of those taking part in the purchase, where the money is coming from, where it currently sits, who owns the property being bought, whether they can afford it, etc.

There will be an understanding of that, but what might they not accept so readily? That information on a property they have already put an offer on only comes to light weeks after they have begun the process? That they must provide the same information time and time again to different firms and people involved – from agent, to adviser, to lender, to conveyancer, etc?

That many firms still require them to show up in person to their office in order to sign documents? That huge swathes of paper are sent to them via the Post Office rather than via secure email? That they can’t simply offer out their identification, their bank details, their payslips, etc, via a secure online portal but instead have to photocopy or scan or, dare I say it, fax? 

Imagine if it was the same to book a holiday – having to sign the contract with the airline, the airport security, caterer and the baggage handler and to prove your identity to each of them.

And yet we don’t. It is all handled digitally, and all co-ordinated between several stakeholders to ensure your baggage makes it to your final destination (hopefully) and you get your dietary requirement on the plane. During Covid, it even enabled your identity to digitally interact with your NHS vaccination record to ensure, when you swiped your passport, you could get into the country requiring vaccination to enter.


A lack of cohesion 

Can we truly say we have this within our property market? Are we all talking the same language, let alone using the same systems, or operating in the same tech-driven manner, that would allow us to get a lot closer to the ‘click-and-purchase’ aspect that is available across so many other aspects of retail purchasing?

It may seem somewhat far-fetched to think that, at some point in the future, we would be able to buy and move as fast as that. Of course, time does need to be built in in order to maintain the required checks and balances, and to ensure there is no consumer detriment – but there is nothing to stop us now from having a digital conveyancing process that could bring down the length of time to completion from what we have – 20-weeks-plus – to a matter of weeks. 

Certainly, I have met few working property professionals who would not support a process that was able to work this fast. After all, when you get paid on completion, your desire is to complete and get paid as soon as possible.

Plus, when it’s so available and simply ‘there’ in all other parts of our purchasing lives, then to have one area seemingly outside this begins to look very odd – especially when you compare it to other countries and jurisdictions who do not operate in this way, and have fully utilised the tech available to make the process far quicker, far slicker, and just as safe and secure. 


Working towards a better system 

The good news is we’re getting there and there has been a huge amount of progress made. We are working with many stakeholders to get the improvements we require, and working with our members to help them pick and use the tech solutions that will deliver and endure.

But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand more of those who can help us along this road, and have the power to ensure we get there much more quickly.

Governments, policymakers, regulators, and we ourselves, should demand more, otherwise we’ll continue to look like an industry out of date and out of time, and someone somewhere will eventually decide enough is enough, and be the disruptive force that could take it out of our hands entirely.

Given how far we have travelled, the destination remains tangibly close, but we need to work together in order to finally get there.

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