There is a date in everyone’s diaries: 21 June 2021. It is when, all being well, the Government will lift all social distancing measures.
Businesses, consumers and communities can return to life without restrictions. But that is not to say life will return to normal – rather, as we are so often told, we have entered what is deemed to be the “new normal”.
Within the property industry, there have been significant changes over the past 12 months, and these are unlikely to be reversed.
Chief among them is the important role of technology in enhancing all elements of the property transaction process, from viewings through to completions.
So, it is worth considering how tech will continue to play a crucial part in the inner working of the property market long after the threat of COVID-19 has subsided.
Property industry turns to technology during pandemic
Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the old adage goes. The pandemic has proven this point without doubt – forced to adapt almost overnight, businesses involved in the property industry have had to embrace new ways of working and new tools for ensuring they can deliver their services to customers.
For example, during lockdowns, when visiting properties proved difficult if not impossible, video content has come to the fore; be it virtual real-time viewings via platforms like Zoom, or short video tours of a property on listing websites.
According to Zoopla, between April and May 2020, there was a 90% rise in the number of virtual property valuations completed by agents. Meanwhile, as of February 2021, 34% of properties for sale on Rightmove were offering video content – compared to just 2% in January 2020.
It is a trend that is likely to stay.
Zoe Bywater, director of lettings at Belvoir Bedford, said on a recent panel debate:
“Even after Covid-19 is behind us, I do believe that the virtual side of things will stay.”
“It will weed out the time-wasters, the tyre kickers, and it will make our business more efficient.”
Conveyancing in the 21st Century
Of greater importance, though, is the use of technology within conveyancing. Simply put, property transactions would have stagnated over the past 12 months had digital platforms not enabled conveyancers to keep things moving.
Conveyancing has historically been blighted by inefficiencies in coordinating activities, providing updates to stakeholders (agents, buyers, sellers, mortgage lenders, and so forth) and securing all the necessary documentation.
However, the pandemic forced firms to change their practices, with digital platforms being used to dramatically streamline and automate much of the conveyancing process.
Of course, proptech businesses such as InfoTrack were already well established before the world had heard of COVID-19. Yet the past 12 months have undoubtedly resulted in an accelerated pace of digital transformation in the conveyancing space.
This is particularly evident when it comes to electronic signatures.
On 27 July 2020, soon after the UK property market had re-opened after the first lockdown, HM Land Registry started accepting witnessed eSignatures; just two days later, the first property deeds to be signed electronically were submitted by The Partnership, a leading property solicitor, using InfoTrack’s SignIT eSignature solution supported by DocuSign technology.
As stated above, the pandemic forced businesses’ hands and fast-tracked innovation. And conveyancing is certainly one of the most significant areas of change. The use of technology throughout the conveyancing process results in significant efficiency gains – from client onboarding and constant communication to eSignatures and payments.
This is a trend that will not be reversed, irrespective of Boris Johnson’s roadmap for exiting lockdown. Ultimately, property businesses and particularly conveyancing firms have found superior, faster, easier and more compliant ways of completing tasks by using technology over the last year. It is one of the undeniable benefits of this hugely challenging period.
The “new normal” is perhaps best thought of as another step towards digital interactions. As technology has woven itself deeper in people’s day-to-day lives, so have we realised the many benefits of digital transformation; this will be a defining legacy of COVID-19, not least in the property industry.
Author: Scott Bozinis, CEO, InfoTrack UK