In conveyancing, a PDF provides a snapshot of information taken at a single point in time for those conducting local searches.
But, although within a moment it is out of date; it has been the mainstay of search documentation in property transactions for the past decade. It can take up to 21 days for councils to search their Local Land Charges Register – or even longer – potentially leaving buyers unaware of changes in the weeks leading up to the conclusion of sale.
Silverman’s ‘Conveyancing Handbook’ states, ‘lawyers should start searches early.’ In reality, conveyancers often wait until payment is received from clients before instructing reports. This adds time to the transaction, causing frustration for clients.
The process also assumes that searches contain completely accurate information at the time of request, but instead of looking at the live records held at source in each council department, many searches are compiled using data centralised within Land Charges departments or ‘one-stop-shop’ facilities at the council, where only ‘after- the-event’ matters are available to view.
The process of getting departmental records from source to the council’s central point is often flawed or suffers time lags, by weeks or months. Buyers cannot be confident they have the most accurate and up-to-date information prior to purchase when relying on council searches.
TIME FOR CHANGE FOR LOCAL SEARCHES
The Land Registry’s proposed intervention into Local Land Charges provides an opportunity to deliver real change. Past attempts by government bodies to improve the home buying process, such as HIPs, the chain matrix and NLIS, failed or delivered only part of their original goals, the common theme was lack of engagement with existing industry stakeholders.
As Property data specialists, OneSearch Direct invested £10 million in the integrity of our data set over 20 years, employing over 30 permanent data staff to update records taken direct from source on a daily basis. We lead the way in real-time property data and know how vital it is to get data collection right. Research conducted with key industry partners over the past seven years identifies significant flaws in the data aggregation and distribution processes at many local authorities, resulting in risk to consumers engaged in the home-buying process. Improving data quality and delivery in the conveyancing process could have enormous citizen benefit.
To find a solution, we must look to other industries where advances in technology solved the issues of effective data management. These lessons can directly transfer to both local government and the property sector.
Leading companies are now employing cloud feeds and XML data to access, interrogate and extract records in a manner than improves accuracy, and is instantaneous. Using real-time feeds in this way is transparent and ultimately will speed up property transactions.
Live data also removes the laborious processes associated with ‘moving information manually’ and the inevitable ‘human error’ rate that this method attracts. New technologies provide an opportunity for property transactions to become a ‘de-intermediated’ process, reducing administration and paralegal time, and potentially saving clients money.
OneSearch Direct is the largest local authority data company in the UK, and has been providing private searches for more than two decades. The integrity of our dataset ensures conveyancing lawyers and clients can feel confident our ‘real-time data’ searches are the most accurate available. We are developing new products and services that exploit advances in technology to improve property searching.
Our OneSearch Alert service, for example, allows searches to be instructed at a much earlier stage in the process, cutting transaction times by days, and alerting consumers and their legal representatives with an ‘early warning’ of potential issues. It also assists lawyers to comply with the best practice of ‘starting searches early’ with no consequence should the sale fall through.
Because our data is obtained from source, we are able to perform final checks prior to exchange, ensuring that nothing has changed before the transaction completes. We are confident that we provide the most efficient and accurate solution when it comes to Local Authority searching.
The challenges of conducting rapid and accurate local authority searches are many, and the industry struggles to solve the problems. The use of live data is key and must be given serious consideration, should the Land Registry intervene in the Local Land Charges market.
Ronnie Park, Executive Member of CoPSO, the Council of Property Search Organisations and Managing Director, OneSearch Direct. www.onesearchdirect.co.uk