Here we go again – as soon as the Prime Minister’s announcement was made, the biggest question for the legal sector, along with if courts were to remain open, was if house moves could still continue. With levels higher than ever caused by pent up demand of lockdown #1 and then the Chancellor’s SDLT freeze, the industry feared that it was going to be shut down once again.
Guidance provided by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that the housing market would literally keep moving:
This is of course a relief for all. That said, in order for firms to remain efficient and keep clients happy proper process needs to be in place that is both compliant and now, Covid-19 safe.
Prior to the pandemic, many law firms and conveyancing departments have been reliant on outdated matter management systems that really failed to put the client first. It can certainly be said that, for many, the Covid-19 outbreak and its devastating consequences on both life, livelihoods and the economy has propelled both companies and individuals to embrace technology.
A new approach to service levels has been forced upon many and the legal sector has really had to get on board with technology.
Having a process which ensures, compliance and an excellent client experience along with creating great relationships with third parties such as estate agents, lenders or other representatives is key.
Filing cabinets and face-to-face document signing had been dumped for tech long before Covid by many businesses from fingerprint technology in phones through to online facial recognition ID verification for signing up for a bank account in minutes, the legal sector has been falling behind for a while
In the new norm of social distancing the approach of having a client produce their ID verification by way of a utility bill and a passport simply does not work. It is not safe and it is not practical.
A combination of a new lockdown, a deadline for the current phase of Help to Buy and the end of the SDLT freeze means that the only direction for demand to go is up.
Law firms who have already welcomed and adapted to new technology which helps to improve the structure of their processes, will come out as the winners.
Working with technology to eliminate delays, speed up transaction time (when it comes to conveyancing) through the use of remote identity and verification to portals that can keep customers and advisers updated 24/7 is the way forward for all firms if they want to still be able to service their clients.
Digital efficiencies brought into the Conveyancing process by Minerva have recently enabled a purchase in less than 8 weeks. Unheard of even before the pandemic.
According to Zoopla, the SDLT freeze and pre-covid demand has meant that, at the time of writing, there are around 418,000 residential property sales in the pipeline – this is around 140,000 more buyers than in comparable years who are wanting to sell their properties before March 2021.
The issues of delay surrounding conveyancing transactions will only get worse unless the industry harnesses the power of digital client onboarding, including quote acceptance, form filling and the all important KYC and AML compliance - including facial recognition ID verification.
The stamp duty holiday and pent-up demand has left the 140,000 more buyers in the race to finalise their home purchase than a year earlier, as people rush to complete before the clock runs down.
Providing these clients with the best possible communication tools is key to keeping them happy. Transparency is key and using a portal that allows for communication between all parties will really help not only keep things moving, but also ensure there is no breakdown in correspondence between parties.
Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark explains in a letter sent out to the Government by the NAEA, Conveyancing Association and a number of other bodies;
“The boom, caused by the stamp duty holiday, has been hugely beneficial for the housing market; however, the stamp duty cliff edge on the 31st March could cause thousands of sales to fall at the final hurdle and have a knock on and drastic effect on the housing market which has recovered well from the Covid slump.
“We are calling on government to rethink these timings, so pressure on the system can be released to allow transactions to complete and avoid a disorderly and distressing period for movers and businesses throughout the market.”
In order to relieve pressure on fee earners and conveyancing departments, now is the time to embrace technology that can help not hinder by those firms who have yet to have a digital onboarding process for clients.