Anyone who has gone through the process of either buying or selling a property in the UK will know that estate agents, mortgage brokers and lenders are usually the least of your problems.
It’s the legal bit of the process that really holds things up and often costs both buyers and sellers the most in hassle and cash.
Conveyancing – the legal process of transferring ownership of land and property from one party to another – has changed considerably over the past 10 years.
Originally the preserve of local family law firms, various changes in legislation have enabled massive conveyancing bucket shops to set up since around 2012.
These companies don’t have to be run by lawyers and typically, rather than being a full service law firm where lawyers can deal with any legal issue, they’re focused solely on providing residential conveyancing.
Conveyancing remains one of the least technologically advanced parts of UK business
By selling their services in bulk to mortgage lenders, which also require conveyancing during the purchase process, they have driven volume up and costs down.
Now – why on earth do ordinary people care about any of this?
The reason we should is because the way this market has developed has resulted in huge time delays in the house buying process in England and Wales.
Because bucket shop profit margins are so skinny, these firms have attempted to automate processes but have instead oversimplified them, creating huge potential for problems to arise late in the day – and this is what causes seemingly nonsensical delays.
Land searches that show up communal drainage preventing planning permission for building works, or titles that appear not to have been properly registered with the Land Registry, or public rights of way at the bottom of your garden that date back 200 years and mean you have unlimited liability for anyone falling over your fence – these are the sorts of things that conveyancers are supposed to pick up, but which often get missed by firms that send your application through a computer system.
They’re also the sorts of things property owners and mortgage lenders really need to know about – unregistered titles leave you open to not legally owning a property you thought you had purchased.
Unlimited public liability meanwhile might mean the difference between a lender approving or rejecting your mortgage.
While these things slipping through the net until the last minute is partly to do with volume and costs prohibiting thorough enough searches in every case, it’s also because the legal profession is one of the last bastions of piles of paper wrapped up in pink tape, fax machines and dictaphones.
Technology has so far failed to make inroads to improve the process – and no matter how slick your online lender or mortgage broker tries to be, everyone’s held to ransom by the law.
When you Move chief executive Simon Bath believes he can start to modernise conveyancing to help speed up the house buying process
It’s for this reason that Simon Bath and his co-founder Peter Goodman developed When you Move, an app that is trying to streamline these problems for home movers.
But is this latest attempt to modernise the law in England and Wales a hiding to nothing or will it really make life easier for those of us trying to move house?
For the latest in our Start-up Spotlight series, where we review the latest developments in financial and property technology, we spoke to Simon to find out more.
What is When you Move ?
Conveyancing has remained widely neglected by technology since the launch of the dictaphone
Simon: When You Move’s co-founder Pete and I have long been familiar with the antiquated industry that is conveyancing, having run a law firm specialising in it ourselves.
Frustrations we’ve seen our clients navigate, in addition to our personal experiences, triggered something of an obsession to develop a tech solution for an industry deep-rooted in some of the most archaic practices still in use in modern-day business.
When it comes to buying and selling a home, the client experience drops off a cliff at the point at which the offer is accepted; a purely transactional approach doesn’t bode well in a space where relationships and communication are paramount.
When You Move is an app that allows home buyers and sellers to see easily in real time where everyone is up to in the process – be that you, the lawyer, the mortgage broker, the valuer or the lender.
You can log into the app and review your current status without sifting through endless emails and letters, and it sends automatic push alerts to tell you when you need to upload the next bit of information.
What problems are you trying to solve with this business?
Simon: The app will keep all relevant parties – the buyer, seller, mortgage broker and conveyancer – updated through proactive messaging and provide transparency about what is actually going on throughout the legal process.
This will allow for the process to run smoother and, ultimately, quicker.
There are a staggering 81 steps that form the legal underpinning of a property transaction
Lots of tech businesses claim they’ll speed up the house buying process and make it simple for buyers – why are you sure yours will work?
Simon: There has been much innovation around the process of buying and selling your property – such as with online estate agents Purplebricks and eMoov – however this has been focused on the broader consumer journey as opposed to a focus on the staggering 81 steps that form the legal underpinning of a property transaction.
This arena has remained widely neglected by technology since the launch of the dictaphone.
When You Move is focused on using technology to advance the legal process of the transaction, ensuring a better and quicker experience, not only for the consumer but the agent, broker and legal partners critical to its conclusion.
Why should consumers sign up?
Simon: Lots of estate agents and mortgage brokers will have ‘preferred relationships’ with lawyers who they’ll recommend to you. Sometimes these work out, but bear in mind there will almost always be a commission being paid between them for referring your custom.
That doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best person for the job.
When your estate agent or mortgage broker recommends a solicitor to act on your behalf, be sure to ask if they are using When You Move and they’ll be able to handle the sign up process for you.
As we have just launched this week, we’re still negotiating with estate agents and mortgage brokers so not everyone in the UK works with us yet. We already have a partnership with one of the three biggest estate agency groups in the country, which owns Your Move and Reeds Rains, and any mortgage broker who is registered with Pink or First Complete also has access to our service.
Free legals v cashback
Free legals can be a bit of a misnomer – in most cases, the lawyer is working for the lender, not for you.
This means their obligation is to check the lender understands the risk involved in providing your mortgage.
It doesn’t mean they’ll check your legal liability in taking it on.
Cashback allows you to instruct your own solicitor to look after your legal interests. It may not cover all the legal fees, but it can help reduce costs.
Lots of lenders offer ‘free’ legals with the mortgage – can buyers still use the app if they want these?
Simon: There is a big shift with lenders moving from free legals to cashback offers; by using the When You Move platform, clients will be able to utilise the cashback offer against a trusted supplier on When You Move.
We have carefully selected some of the very best property law firms in the UK to work with us.
Using this approach, my preference would be to move to the cashback offer as it allows the client to make the choice on who works on their transaction.
How do you make money and does it cost consumers anything to use your service?
Simon: Using When You Move costs nothing for the consumer.
As with any property transaction, upon completion the costs of services like ours that help to sell the property are distributed across the agent, broker and solicitor. This remains the same when using the platform, with the added benefit of a more efficient process to get to this stage.
What are your plans for the future?
Simon: When You Move is officially launching to market this week to help bring an innovative tech solution to the legal process around buying or selling your home.
Over the course of this year and next, we have some great plans to develop the offer further by bringing much-needed, smarter time saving measures into play such as ID verifications, document signing and instant verification.
These are methods that are in place for the majority of life’s transactions, yet not so much for the most significant of them all – buying and selling your home.
We have a detailed roadmap of what’s in store – such as surveyor selection and utility switching – and we’re looking forward to rolling each stage of development out and bringing this industry up to speed.
Financial start-up spotlight
At This is Money we hear from hundreds of new start-ups across property and financial services.
If you’ve come across one but you’re not sure whether to invest your money with them, purchase a property through them or entrust them with your personal financial details, get in touch with us.
We’ll be putting financial and property start-ups under the spotlight in a new series to take a closer look at the detail.
Email email@example.com with your ideas.