Since 2018, online shopping has outstripped the high street1 with seven out of 10 people in the UK now banking online2 . Our ‘always-on’ digital world means we want everything done more quickly, and more conveniently.
So how does that translate to house-buying? We have already seen the move from advertising through high street estate agents to advertising online, and more recently the proliferation of DIY selling or buying using digital platforms to set up the deal. But so far, that’s more or less where digitisation stops. The transaction itself is still heavily reliant on paper-based processes that involve multiple exchanges of information and take considerable time.
Securing Local Authority data can be a particularly time-consuming process. A search into planning permissions, Tree Protection Orders or light obstruction, for example, can often cause lengthy delays of weeks, if not months. The Local Land Charges (LLC) process was therefore a logical priority for digitisation and a pilot scheme was launched across five Local Authorities as a first wave in 2018 (with the aim of full rollout in due course).
Benefits of a digital LLC Register include 24/7 access to data, freeing up council resources in searching for and providing information and, crucially for the consumer, dramatically speeding up the search process. For local authorities that are already participating, it’s been a resounding success and is due to roll out across a further 18 Local Authorities over the next 18 months. The plan is for all 326 Local Authorities within England to be offering digital LLC within the next five to seven years.
And it’s not solely Local Authority searches that are set to benefit from digitisation. HM Land Registry’s ‘Digital Street’ research and development project is leading the charge here, exploring how new technology can make the homebuying experience simpler, faster and cheaper for consumers. From the use of blockchain in payments to embracing the technology that will ensure transparency of property-related information, the project is looking at the overall process from numerous angles and engaging with a broad community of stakeholders.
Half of all UK house sales currently fall through before completion3 , so there is plenty of room for improvement, and plenty of scope to make the data that we have work for rather than against us.
Information collected along the way includes environmental data, local authority data, surveyor reports, details on significant property improvements and various aspects of local services. While these records are useful, managing the sheer volume of repetitive data associated with the housebuying process is often cited as a major cause of delay in transactions going through and even leading to ultimate failure.
Could we imagine a future when holders of flood data, contaminated land data, or drainage and water information make these details accessible through an online portal, attributed to every registered address and summarised instantly for potential buyers (and their legal representatives) at the touch of a button and for a set fee?
In other words, each property would come complete with its own set of data at the point of being offered for sale. And of course, just because the information becomes accessible online, it doesn’t mean that its commercial value to providers reduces– it just means that they need to be smarter in the way that they provide it.
There is obvious scope for monetisation on a ‘pay-per-view’ basis, such as the £15 fee already in place on the Digital LLCR for official copies of search returns as well as the ability to review the search over the next six months.
In fact, data in the 21st century has been described as the equivalent of oil of the 18th century – an incredibly valuable resource with potential for immense rewards for those who learn how to extract and use it4 .
Digital transformation is here to stay – those that embrace it (and keep up with the Joneses) will be the ones to reap the rewards, across the home-buying process as much as anywhere.