On Saturday, 5 January 2019, The Straits Times reported that the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) had on 4 January 2019 launched the Property Agents’ Transaction Records initiative to publish on its website information pertaining to the transactions undertaken by agents for the last two years to assist the public in their search of a competent estate agent to advance their intentions to buy or sell a flat. CEA has plans in the pipeline to expand the initiative to include agents’ history in concluding transactions for private residential properties and even collect and publish consumer ratings of agents in a bid to be more transparent and professional.
The CEA initiative is but one of the manifestations of the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (REITM), canvassed in February 2018 to transform, inter alia, the property transaction services subsector with a vision of providing “seamless, efficient, and secure property transactions from end-to-end.” We can expect more automated processes in the future to streamline and digitize property transaction processes along the lines of what the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has done with the launch of the HDB Resale Portal in January 2018, in the process halving the total transaction time from 16 weeks to eight weeks for HDB flats. It helped that HDB has a standard template for the option to purchase that parties must use in all sale and purchase transactions involving HDB flats. But the drawback to the HDB Resale Portal is that it covers the process in part only and access is limited to just HDB and the direct parties involved, with no access to lawyers involved in the transaction.
It would be far trickier to apply the same move to the private sector, as it would involve diverse industry stakeholders coming together to develop and agree on digitalized standardized contract templates for property transactions and streamlining processes, allowing greater and easier access to government agencies to conduct due diligence checks, seamless banking transactions for financing and the electronic preparation and lodgment of documents, all in one portal. It is indeed an ambitious plan—something to be welcomed, especially if it comes with a one-stop shop to complete the entire conveyancing process electronically without the need for original hard copy letters changing hands. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are being canvassed and developed to make this possible. A Digitalised Property Transactions Workgroup, comprising representatives from key government agencies and relevant industry associations, has been formed to help revolutionize the property transaction process to transport it into the future amidst the challenges of technological disruptions and changing consumer patterns.
Imagine, if you will, a future where the property transaction workflow is fully automated right from the start with the extraction of paperless templates for options or sale and purchase agreements, use of digital signatures on documents, automated diligence checks and generation of due diligence reports. Instead of cashier’s orders being tendered on completion (which has to be banked in and takes two business days to clear), an electronic funds transfer from the buyer’s bank, morgagee and Central Provident Fund for payment direct to the seller’s account on completion could be activated and verified at the touch of a button, thereafter triggering automatic stamping and lodgment of transaction instruments to effect the change of ownership at the end! Sound far-fetched? Or is the online conveyancing portal closer than you think?
Selvam LLC is a Singapore Law Practice in Joint Venture with Duane Morris LLP, under Duane Morris & Selvam LLP.