econveyancingA brave new world and what it means for you

People working in the property sector will now be familiar with the Land Registry's 'e-conveyancing' programme. Whether they know much about the specifics is another matter. The Land Registry's plan has been to phase in 'paperless conveyancing,' with 2008 and 2009 seeing the launch of a number of new features. A fully functional 'e-conveyance' system may not be available until 2010, but such a fundamental change to the process of buying and selling land was never going to happen overnight.

In the current climate of increased competition, decreasing profit margins and a general downturn in property sales, most firms are not complacent about e-conveyancing. Firms that have previously invested in case management software (CMS) and continue to follow developments in the world of e-commerce will be well positioned to take advantage of the benefits offered by the changes. To help you be successful in this rapidly changing environment, we have outlined below some of the key developments to look out for.

In brief, the Land Registry's aims with regard to e-conveyancing are to bring transparency to the purchase and sale of land. The changes should:

  • Make the process more efficient
  • Bring about cost savings
  • Speed up the process itself

Part of the proposed system will allow the conveyancer (and others in the chain) to view the case (what the Registry has called the 'Chain Matrix'). This will allow parties to check the status of the case as it shows the milestones reached within each transaction. In addition, with the introduction of electronic funds transfer, the completion and subsequent registration of a transfer of ownership should become both simultaneous and automatic.

At present, the Land Registry has established 'e-discharges' (ENDs and EDs) ande-conveyancing currently allows e-lodgement of applications of a minor nature (e.g. name change). In addition, it is also possible to download scanned documents from the Land Registry records. All of these developments form part of the e-conveyancing programme. The next two phases will be called 'e-charges' (which will allow lenders to register their charges online) and 'e-transfers' (which will allow the transfer of legal ownership and will incorporate the stamp duty tax return).

The Land Registry has stated that the service must reflect the needs and requirements of the users. After each launch, there will be further consultation and feedback. With so many organisations involved in the consultation process and with the decision to deliver e-conveyancing in stages, it may be some time before e-conveyancing will be available at the 'click of a button.'

The Land Registry has acknowledged that upon rollout, the old and new systems will exist side by side for some time. So why is it necessary to start embracing e-conveyancing now? The simple answer is that if you refuse to prepare for the changes you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to catch up.

It will be even worse for law firms that resist changing how they operate. If they do not invest in IT and training for their conveyancing staff, they may not have a property department left to worry about. Fortunately, there is still time to get started, and if you are reading this article then you are probably the type of person who is prepared to learn and prosper in this brave new world.