How has Covid affected the conveyancing industry?
If you are in the process of moving house or have moved recently, it might not come as a surprise to you that property was one of the biggest sectors to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Activities like property viewings were problematic, and it was thought that conveyancing and property services would be seriously affected, holding up the process of buying and selling property.
In fact, although a large backlog was built up, the property industry has generally done better than thought in the lockdown – with the help of technology and legislative changes. Some conveyancing solicitors, like us at Osborne Morris & Morgan, have adapted processes to fit new circumstances, and thus, the process of e-conveyancing has been born.
What was the problem with traditional conveyancing in the lockdown?
Conveyancing is the collective term for all the legal paperwork that needs to be done between acceptance of an offer and completion. This ranges from the various forms and documents you will need to provide at the start of the process, to arranging searches, to drawing up and exchanging contracts. Finally, the conveyancer will need to coordinate the transfer of the various monies involved and handing over the keys.
The pandemic brought with it two broad areas of problems that impacted this process. One; many professionals involved have been on furlough. Two; organising face-to-face meetings, both with clients and other professionals, has been difficult, whether to discuss progress or to sign vital documents.
This has resulted in serious delays where conveyancing has been conducted in the traditional way, even causing transactions to fall through. Depending on the location, the solicitor and the authority, transactions can take up to eighteen weeks to transfer ownership. However, more forward-looking conveyancers have quickly adapted to the new situation and introduced the process of e-conveyancing.
What is e-conveyancing?
E-conveyancing is the term used for a move towards digital processes undertaken by more adaptable firms, including Osborne Morris & Morgan. Among the changes we have introduced, for example, are offering clients the option of Zoom meetings instead of them having to come into the office, or have one of our solicitors visit them at home and being able to send documents and ID by email.
This has the advantage of streamlining the processes involved in conveyancing and speeding up the whole buying journey, as well as making it a smoother experience. Going forward, now that people involved are likely to have come off furlough, this will help to clear up the large backlog of property transactions that have built up during the pandemic.
So why have some firms avoided e-conveyancing? No doubt some have reasons, but most often it is simply the way of “how things have always been done”. For very large law firms, in particular, the reorganisation these changes demand can be a painfully laborious process. This contrasts with smaller firms like Osborne Morris & Morgan, where a greater focus on engaging personally with clients has helped us to adapt quickly to new requirements.
What are the advantages of e-conveyancing?
Using e-conveyancing in place of traditional conveyancing can offer huge benefits for the two groups of people we care about most: our clients and our staff.
Clients have a wider choice to suit their situation and their preferences. Using remote meetings and email is by no means the only option. Some of our clients would much prefer to pop into our offices to drop off a document, sign a form or discuss the next move. They are still completely welcome to do so — but there is now an alternative.
It also benefits our staff, who are able to work more efficiently in a team setting, helping them to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from any other department that needs to be brought into the process. This creates flexibility in working which benefits their mental health.
Are there any disadvantages to e-conveyancing?
The main problem with exchanging documents and identities electronically has always been that they are easier to forge than if they are seen in person. The last thing you want, for example, would be to find out that the transaction you are involved in is part of a money-laundering scheme.
However, we at Osborne Morris & Morgan have overcome this with the help of our electronic anti-money laundering (AML) check on identification documents. We are able to check the documents are original documents and also our AML providers checks are ongoing if anything changes in the course of the transaction this will be flagged up. It is of course important to verify our clients’ identity.
Besides protecting our clients from exploitation by criminals, this effectiveness in confirming identities is what has made it possible to offer this remote, electronic service. And that benefits all our clients by making it possible for their documents to be processed far more quickly than would be possible by traditional methods.
What is the future for e-conveyancing?
The introduction of e-conveyancing is helping to clear a large backlog of property transactions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but does that mean we will be returning to traditional methods once the crisis is over?
Not at all. In some ways, the pandemic has merely propelled the conveyancing industry into embracing practices that have been becoming normal in many other sectors. Just as in other areas of life, the changes we have made from necessity are likely to become an essential part of the future.
This will give us a far greater degree of flexibility to fulfil our goal of meeting each client’s precise needs. Some clients, of course, will always prefer the immediacy and reassurance of a meeting in person, and that will continue to be available if desired.
However, many people find it difficult to fit appointments into their busy schedules. While we have always been happy to arrange evening meetings for those unable to be free during the day, the chance to log into a meeting from wherever you happen to be will make it considerably easier. At the same time, sending off an email with an attachment can achieve in moments what would have required either a visit to our offices or a trip to the post office to mail the document, with all the expense and uncertainty that involves.
In fact, our adoption of e-conveyancing is not only making it easier for us to provide an excellent service to our current clients. We have also begun to help people all over the country with their conveyancing, and this trend is likely to grow.
Eventually, e-conveyancing will inevitably become part of all conveyancing solicitors’ offerings. For now, however, it is only offered by flexible, forward-looking firms like Osborne Morris & Morgan.
To ensure you experience a property transaction that is as smooth and stress-free as possible, get in touch with our expert Conveyancing Team for a free quotation. You can do this either online or by calling us on 01525 378177.
We look forward to hearing from you!