The benefits of e-conveyancing to both brokers and their customers is huge. The need for conveyancing begins once a client has found the house they want and made an offer on it to the seller, or if they decide to remortgage their property. Conveyancing costs vary widely across the country in both time and money. There is no set fee, and local authority searches differ from county to county, or borough to borough.
The real advantage of e-convey-ancing is that it is so much quicker than traditional conveyancing. Before online conveyancing became available, local authority searches and land registry searches could take weeks to complete, as everything was done manually.
Both searches are an integral part of the conveyancing process. For example, if you buy a house in Cornwall, a tin mine search must be completed. This is because if the house turns out to be on a tin mine site, the mine will still be underground. This could lead to subsidence, eroding the value of the property and could even lead to eventual collapse. Inevitably, searches of this kind tooka long time before the advent of e-conveyancing.
Online conveyancing has received Government backing. In its white paper, Modernising Government, the Government said 25% of local government services should be in electronic form by the end of this year, and that all should be by 2008. This has led to the creation and launch of the National Land Information Service (NLIS). Local authorities have been putting all their data, from reference books and so on, into electronic format so all the information can be sourced at once.
As the NLIS will contain such a vast amount of information, surveys and searches should be more precise and ultimately the process will become cheaper. So the NLIS acts as a central information hub.
The conveyancer submits a search request via a secure internet connection, which is then passed to the ‘hub.’ The NLIS collects the data and passes it back. In many cases, this takes only hours to complete, compared to weeks with traditional conveyancing.
For brokers, online conveyancing will lead to more business. This is because the process is simpler and people will be more inclined to remortgage. In the current market, remortgaging can save homeowners a lot of money and if the hassle factor is taken out of the process, it will become more popular.
As this becomes the norm, the volume of business will increase and brokers should be able to benefit. Previously, people were put off remortgaging because they had to complete exactly the same process as if they were buying a new home. This is a waste of time, effort and money as some issues are not relevant when remortgaging, such as local authority searches. Some organisations have begun streamlining this process and tailoring the service for remortgage clients. If clients do not have to do any of the work themselves, remortgaging becomes a more attractive option.
An example of an e-conveyancing system is the solicitors’ tracking and reporting service (STARS). The system works by linking a network of solicitors all over the country who all work via the web-based system. This allows clients or brokers to update themselves on the progress of a case 24-hours a day, seven days a week via the internet. They can go online to see how far the work has progressed and what is left to do. This avoids wasting time chasing the solicitor just to find out nothing has changed.
All customers want the same things from their solicitors ‘ speed, efficiency, flexibility and customer service.
In addition to this, the ability to handle information technology (IT) is obviously a key requirement. The process that links all law firms together is technology. STARS provides a way of submitting case details, locating the nearest law firm with capacity to do the work, issuing acknowledgment and tracking the case.
Monitoring the achievement of solicitors is also important. STARS defines key stages in the conveyancing process, establishes expectations for those stages, and checks whether those expectations are being met. If not, action is taken to ensure the problem is resolved.
All solicitors on the STARS panel have IT systems that can export data directly into the system, for case management purposes. This is where a ‘big brother’ element comes in as performance can be managed. If solicitors perform well, more work will be sent, if not, the work stream will be slowed. This actually works to everyone’s benefit ‘ those using the system, the brokers, the customers and the solicitors. For an e-conveyancing operation to survive and prosper it is vital it delivers what it promises. Otherwise, customers lose faith in the process and everyone loses out.
The alternative to e-conveyancing, which can also be carried out online, is factory conveyancing, which is usually used for remortgage cases. This is largely favoured by lenders, rather than brokers, but is still an alternative in the market place. There can be problems with this type of service because despite similarities between remortgages, every case is different.
One size never fits all
Although breaking down cases into key steps and training lower paid staff to do each task, as factory conveyancing operations do, the order imposed will never suit all cases. This can lead to cases being passed from department to department, leading to delays and poor service.
If a customer wants to remortgage during a peak period, when demand exceeds capacity, delays will be inevitable. Factory conveyancing operations often have an impressive range of IT systems ‘ but this is not enough.
IT is a weapon and those who wield it well will ultimately get ahead in the property market. It is not having the technology to carry out e-conveyancing that counts, but it is using it well. Many law firms and property professionals make substantial investment in IT, but then fail to implement it. The technological revolution is about people as much as machines.
In the future, firms will need to innovate and re-engineer to stay ahead of the game. IT literacy and accessibility across the whole of society is transforming the way we obtain and are expected to handle, business.
In conveyancing terms, IT is creating trends towards a centralisation of demand ‘ making geography irrelevant. Winners in the future will be those with the right hardware, software and management, but also the right level of IT competence.
E-conveyancing will eventually be the only option because the old, labour-intensive methods will become prohibitive in terms of both cost and speed. Customers are used to business being transacted quickly ‘ with email and mobile phones, for example. If online conveyancing is readily available, they will be less willing to wait months for a process that could be completed in days.
So the ultimate winners will be the consumers because the conveyancing process will become both quicker and cheaper. This is good news for brokers as it will ultimately lead to people being more willing to move, and therfore take out mortgages, and also to remortgage their property to get a better deal. However, it is important to ensure the process is properly administered. That is why it is important to ensure the technology, and the people using it, are of the highest possible standard.
Andy Knee is sales and marketing director at 121 Legals
The lengthy legal process is one of the key reasons why clients do not remortgage.
E-conveyancing enables clients to monitor case progress 24 hours a day.
The Government has backed e-conveyancing in its white paper, Modernising Government.