Imagine, if you will, an indelible record containing every single milestone in a property sale – a record that can be accessed at any time by anyone entitled to do so. Imagine, too, that you can see at a glance, using the same record, the state of play of every other transaction in the property chain. Add in the ability to view every single bit of information you need – planning applications, flood risk searches, Land Registry records, ID checks – all at the touch of a button.
Welcome to blockchain – the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Also known as distributed ledger technology, it allows the creation of an immutable record in the cloud that is available to anyone entitled to see it.
Blockchain records are encrypted, so they can’t be tampered with or altered in any way. Each block in the chain represents a single action, whether it be confirmation of someone’s identity or the sale of a property. Together they create a chain of events that could be visible not just to parties in the immediate property transaction, but elsewhere in the buying and selling chain, too.
Coadjute is the pioneer of using blockchain in property transactions in the UK. It was formed following a successful initiative in 2018 brought about by HM Land Registry to test the use of blockchain technology in the property market. The founding team behind it spent the next two years piloting the concept with property market businesses including estate agents, conveyancers, software platforms and banks. It launched in July this year.
The Land Registry has hailed the innovation as a milestone in the digitisation of the property market. Deputy Director Eddie Davies said, “HM Land Registry ran the Digital Street initiative in 2018 to encourage the industry to work together to improve the efficiency of the market. We’re delighted to see Coadjute take this work forward and are happy to be working with them now as they bring their network to market.”
The Land Registry has hailed the innovation as a milestone in the digitisation of the property market.”
Property sale fall-throughs are the bane of every agent’s life. Agents blame conveyancers for being too slow; conveyancers blame agents for not getting all the information together up front. Everyone blames local councils for being incredibly slow with searches. So, could blockchain be the solution to the intractable issues of sales progression and what are other companies doing to ease the house transaction pain?
One company that hopes to make blockchain the de facto information system for the property industry is Coadjute. It is pioneering a system that it hopes will be adopted by all the CRMs used by agents, creating an industry-wide ledger that everyone can tap into.
Coadjute claims to have signed up CRMs used by 70 per cent of agents, including Reapit. The software went live in beta mode a few weeks ago, and expects to be fully up and running by the end of the year, with a rapid roll-out in 2022.
“We like to think of ourselves as a piece of infrastructure that is connecting all the other parts of the property market,” says Chief Marketing Officer Rebecca Shears. “What we are doing is connecting all their existing software platforms, whether it’s the agent or the conveyancer or the mortgage broker. They can all still carry on working in the way they do – what the Coadjute network does is connect all those systems together, which enables real-time viewing or updates and activity, and document sharing and messaging.
We believe we’re a gamechanger because all of those systems will all have access to the same information at the same time, which could really cut down on delays. Rebecca Shears, CMO, Coadjute.
“At the moment, the way the property market works is quite disjointed and there is a lot of phone calls and chasing and emails and people coming in and out of different systems.
“We believe we’re a game-changer because all of those systems will all have access to the same information at the same time, which could really cut down on delays.”
Coadjute will not offer its own software platform and will only be available through CRMs, with phone apps for buyers and sellers in the longer term also coming from third parties.
“We want people to carry on using the CRM they are familiar with, with some additional functionality,” explains Coadjute CEO Dan Salmons. “It makes it much easier to adopt and it’s a much more effective way of connecting the market than asking people to use a completely new platform.
“Because Coadjute uses blockchain it actually synchronises databases. It allows a really clean ‘one source of truth’. People who want to do that historically have had to build their own connectivity; once Coadjute exists they won’t need to do that.”
We want people to carry on using the CRM they are familiar with. Because Coadjute uses blockchain it actually synchronises databases. Dan Salmons, CEO, Coadjute.
Mio has an award-winning app which is simplifies the sales progression, clearly defining milestones, but crucially, having centralised communications giving a view of the whole chain, so the agent knows exactly what needs to be done next. There is also a client-facing version, which keeps the mover up to date too, reducing calls to the agent, stress and fall-throughs.
Nick Ball, Mio’s Head of Sales and Client Services is excited by what blockchain could bring to transaction party.
“Blockchain technology has the potential to speed up the whole process. Information could be assembled into one distributed ledger and authenticated at the point of creation by consensus mechanisms. This means each stakeholder would have instant access to all the information, be able to provide confirmation of completion of their element of the purchase, in real-time, and the ability to track the ‘live’ progress of the transaction.”
There are administrative and cost savings to be had and buyers and sellers would gain more visibility and confidence, whilst fraud attempts would be reduced. Nick Ball, Head of Sales & Client Services, Mio.
“There are administrative and cost savings to be had and buyers and sellers would gain more visibility and confidence, whilst fraud attempts would be reduced as platforms automated and sped up more of the process. This is why land registries the world over are investigating the instant and secure transfer of property ownership, including the UK government who, through their Digital Street project, have committed to trial blockchain technology and digitise the country’s land registry by 2022.”
While Coadjute is offering a network of interconnectivity and visibility for all parties in the transaction, others are putting forward their own proptech solutions to help speed up the process, improve transparency and reduce the fall-through rate.
Launched in January, Movebutler is a new property sales tool launched by the company behind Iamsold, the residential auction service used by more than 2,500 agents. Designed to streamline the current sticking points in the buying and selling process –compliance, conveyancing and offer verification – agents will carry out all relevant tasks within the Movebutler platform, speeding up transactions and improving communication between all parties involved.
Building on the firm’s auction experience, the aim is to get private-treaty vendors as sale ready as possible before the property even goes on the market. The agent can choose from basic, recommended and premium modules. Premium includes an exchange-ready legal pack, with Movebutler getting the title information, raising standard enquiries and arranging for vendors to complete
the necessary TA6 and TA7 property information forms – all pre-sale. Searches are paid for up-front by the vendor, but reimbursed by the buyer.
“The intent is to get the client in the perfect position to move forward and nurture the client through that journey without the agent having to do anything,” says Ben Ridgway, Managing Director of Iamproperty.
“The one thing that’s not really been done before is to be able to get a client to essentially have answered all enquiries, reviewed the title, raise material facts from the title, reviewed searches and raised any points off the searches, and drafted the draft contract and pass that pack of data to the buyer’s solicitor. Essentially there is then, in terms of conveyancing, very little to do.”
The intent is to get the client in the perfect position to move forward and nurture the client through that journey without the agent having to do anything. Ben Ridgway MD, Iamproperty.
Movebutler is currently carrying out an integration with Redbrick, the CRM used by roughly a third of conveyancers, so that key conveyancing milestones can be captured by the system. Further down the road, it is hoped to have a ‘chain view’ offering, allowing people to see what is happening elsewhere in the property chain.
Another new sales progression tool is Sort Move. Launched at the beginning of 2020, it aims to speed up completion by keeping everyone involved in the process connected.
“Agents are very good at racing towards the line when they think a transaction is nearing exchange but what a lot of them don’t do is set the transaction up right so it does progress in time, and doesn’t become one of the national one in three fall-throughs,” says head of estate agency proposition, Tom Gilbert.
Sort Move’s ‘Fast Start’ onboarding process aims to get vendors sale-ready as soon as the property is listed, going through all the necessary paperwork straight away, rather than waiting for an offer to be received.
All law firms who join the Sort Move panel must integrate their case management system with our portal. That delivers real-time milestone and case note updates. Tom Gilbert, Head of Estate Agency, SortMove.
Where Sort Move differs is by having its own dedicated team of conveyancers at Sort Legal, who handle a third of the case load. The remainder work for a specially selected panel of conveyancing firms, who have to meet key criteria.
“It’s a condition that all law firms who join the Sort Move panel must integrate their case-management system with our portal. That delivers real-time milestone and case-note updates,” adds Gilbert.
Everything is recorded on the Sort Move platform so agents can see the state of play a glance.
Gilbert is open to the idea of an industrywide blockchain solution, but also sees limitations. “You’ve got to have all the data inputs for that to work,” he observes. “The problem is all the suppliers and all the CRMS don’t want to give the control to one centralised company, which could then have the monopoly on data in the industry.
“The only way it could work in my view is if government mandates it and government sets up something that becomes the blockchain technology.”
The Moving Hub
Over at the Moving Hub, CEO Peter Joseph has spent the past four-and-a-half years building and fine-tuning his own CMR system. The Moving Hub has its own panel of conveyancers who all have to use the Moving Hub portal and update key milestones in a timely fashion.
“If a milestone isn’t updated within a timeline when we think a solicitor should have done that work, they get bombarded with emails,” he says.
The main part of progression is onboarding – whereas it was three weeks on average in the UK, for our clients we are now getting everything done within three days. Peter Joseph, CEO, The Moving Hub.
Critically, agents also have access to the portal and can view the progress of a sale. “Most property transactions fall apart in the first three weeks of the transaction and that is simply, in my view, about communication,” adds Joseph. “In my mind the main part of progression is onboarding – whereas it was three weeks on average in the UK, for our clients we are now getting everything done within three days.
“We can instruct our clients, and within a minute they have a link that goes to their phone, or their email address. They can click the link and upload documents from a computer, it can scan their face and verify it using artificial intelligence, and check the dates on driving licence and passport numbers against databases. And all this is done within half an hour.”
The Moving Hub orders all property searches for clients, rather than leaving it to the conveyancers, and it’s one of the first things to be done. “During Covid local authorities became so backlogged – we are emphasising to clients the importance of ordering searches straight away,” says Joseph.
Joseph does see a place for a blockchain system that would give instant visibility to all parties in the transaction. Like many of his peers, the idea of incorporating blockchain technology isn’t something that he sees as a threat to traditional business, just a way to accelerate the whole buying/ selling transaction. “I do believe that more people should be talking with each other and sharing that information and there is definitely going to be a space for a market leader in that coming up, without a doubt,” he adds.
Amy Simmons, CEO at WeComplete points the finger at the entrenched legal practices. “At WeComplete we worked with legal teams on the conveyancing process, finding that existing legal tech accommodates archaic methods and, worse, makes them hard to change. “Working with forwarding-thinking legal teams, we built a technology that reduces the time required on each case by half – why is this important to agents? The knock-on effect has been completion times 42 per cent faster than the national average and fall through rates of less than a third at 8.1 per cent.” Their technology allows agents and clients to watch process in real time, keeping everyone fully in the loop.
We built a technology that reduces the time required on each case by half. Why is this important? The knock-on effect has been completion times 42 % faster. Amy Simmons, CEO, WeComplete.
Amy isn’t so enthusiastic about the blockchain solution though. “We cannot ignore blockchain from what we have seen in cryptocurrency; you can easily see how its attributes could benefit a property transaction. The success of blockchain will be based on the readiness of projects, which takes time. If we think of blockchain as the internet and the information it records as email, the internet itself doesn’t make people respond to email promptly – human beings must be enabled and empowered with the right tools.”
So what do conveyancers believe is the key to good sales progression? Vicky Quinn- Campbell, sales and marketing director at Simply Conveyancing, says the firm has worked hard to improve communications. “The Stamp Duty holiday and impact of Covid created such a pressure-cooker in the market it was clear that just relying on phones to update doesn’t really work,” she explains.
The app really plays a big part in everybody knowing what they need to and if they get a bit anxious about the process or the chain, they know they have direct access to us. Vicky Quinn-Campbell, Director, Simply Conveyancing.
“We have invested in a variety of processes that really help create visibility for agents on the state of play on most of their files that sit with us.”
There is a sales progression portal that agents can log into, where key milestones are updated throughout the process, and there is also a mobile app for clients where they can upload their ID and address verification.
“That mobile app really helps because a lot of the reasons sales fall through is that people don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “The app really plays a big part in everybody knowing what they need to and if they get a bit anxious about the process or the chain, they know they have direct access to us.”
Simply Conveyancing provides one dedicated lawyer from start to finish, and clients are able to speak to them at any time of day or night and can have a virtual meeting via Zoom if they prefer.
“For me the way to speed up conveyancing is to get more information at the outset from the vendor,” she adds. “We’re promoting a sale-ready proposition and ordering searches before they even find a buyer, and we’re paying for that.”
Carl Brignell, CEO at Elite Conveyancing, believes one of the main problems is that agents and conveyancers have different agendas. “They ought to be aligned but they are not,” he says. Brignell is very much ‘old school’ in his approach, and firmly believes that personal communication is still an essential part of the process.
“Everybody in the property industry would tell you this is an emotional journey for their clients and yet at the same time they are all trying to automate communication,” he says.
Those lawyers who fail to connect on a human level in the pursuit of profitability are missing a trick and they are not recognising the true position that clients are in. Carl Brignell, CEO, Elite Conveyancing.
“You don’t see the funeral industry automating communications and texting clients, you don’t see divorce lawyers doing it, because they know it’s an emotional time for clients and they need to make that human connection,” he says. “What we do at Elite is we set aside time to pick up the phone and speak to clients.”
He adds, “Those lawyers who fail to connect on a human level in the pursuit of profitability are missing a trick and they are not recognising the true position that clients are in. We could be a lot more profitable if we pinged out updates like our competition do, but our service would be a lot less as a result. We’ve got a portal that sits behind the scenes but we never use it for client communications – it’s never a substitute for talking to clients.”
There is no doubt that proptech is revolutionising the industry, and sales progression is an area that has been crying out for action to speed up what can, at times, be a painfully slow and frustrating process for all concerned. But as Brignell says, “there is a place for proptech but it will never be a substitute – and should never be a substitute – for looking after your clients.”