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Legal advice: Buying a home by computer?

PUBLISHED: 11:58 09 June 2014

People are still very much at the heart of the housebuying process

People are still very much at the heart of the housebuying process

Archant

With digitalisation taking over many aspects of our lives, what part is it playing in buying a property, and are we close to a fully-computerised sale? Chris Pease of Longmores Solicitors in Hertford examines the process

The way in which conveyancing is carried out is increasingly computerised, but what stage are we at? The simple answer is a lot further down the road than we were just a few years ago. But a fully-computerised conveyancing transaction is still some way off. And it may never materialise.

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SOLICITORS>>

Nearly all solicitors now have websites of some description, but they vary enormously in how interactive they are. At Longmores, you can access the initial forms you need to get a transaction under way, and, particularly in the case of the sale of a property, the initial questionnaires that will need to be filled in about the property and the fixtures and fittings to be left behind or removed.

Some solicitors will let you obtain a quotation for their fees online and in some cases track the progress of your transaction. This has always seemed a mixed blessing to me. Case-tracking will be only in respect of key stages reached and will not give the full picture. It can raise as many questions as it answers.

Again, nearly every solicitor is used to dealing with clients and other solicitors by email in today’s market, and relying less and less on the slower and more cumbersome postal system.

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BANKS>>

Today’s banking system is, as we all know, highly focussed on the internet. Cheques are almost a thing of the past. They present solicitors with problems in the length of time they take to clear once paid in and therefore create a delay in the process of using the funds for an exchange of contracts or completion.

Internet banking is easy and cheap. The only problem can be a daily limit of anything from £10,000 on the amount that can be transferred from an account. The money is cleared from the moment it gets to a solicitor’s bank account, but in buying a property it can take quite a few days at a rate of £10,000 a day to transfer the full amount required for exchange of contracts or completion.

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LOCAL AUTHORITIES>>

The search that solicitors carry out with a local authority in respect of any property purchase still usually takes a substantial amount of time to carry out. Some local authorities are quick, others not so, largely depending on the resources available.

Equally, it is possible to get the planning history of properties online with some local councils, but not all.

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LAND REGISTRY>>
The Land Registry has advanced hugely in the scope of services it now offers online. Most solicitors now download copies of the Land Registry title for properties they are dealing with (a facility also available to the general public) and most of the documents associated with the title to those properties. Searches and checks on titles and properties can be carried out easily and quickly on-line.

More and more, the actual registration of the new owner of a property can be carried out online too, without the need to send documents physically to the Land Registry. Indeed, to encourage this process the Land Registry is about to reduce its fees for online applications for registration this month.

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As a final thought, you will never be able to remove people from a conveyancing transaction altogether. The individuals who are moving house, who actually want to talk to their solicitors and others involved in the process; the solicitor who can send and receive correspondence and documents electronically, but still has to read and check them personally; the people who work for the banks, local authorities and Land Registry all have to deal with elements of a conveyancing transaction.

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