20 predictions for the future of the search industry

As consumer expectations and the evolving home buying and selling process demand ever more from the search industry, we spoke to property experts – including representatives from the Conveyancing Association, CoPSO and Shakespeare Martineau – to find out where they think the search industry is heading. Here’s what they said… 

1. Available search information will continue to evolve – maybe even to assessing flight paths for drone deliveries 

We all want different things from our homes and the areas we find them in – and how we live will inevitably change in the future.  Today, we are considering how to install electric car charging points or where to store wheelie bins. In 20 years, will we want to know where we can park our flying car?  

Property professionals are practical and searches will continue to adapt to our needs. Will searches involve flight paths for deliveries by drone? Or will all that be old hat? I’m looking forward to finding out!

2. Greater online connectivity will streamline the delivery of information

Technology will continue to drive massive changes in how we access information. In 20 years, it will be easier to find all relevant property information through greater digitisation and more interactive ways to view it. Greater online connectivity could also streamline the ordering and delivery of the information a buyer needs.  

3. Each property could be given a stamp of approval to reassure the buyer

As increased speed requires greater certainty about who pays for what, liability is an issue that will cause concern.

Will we see the trend towards professional opinions in search reports extend to multiple search reports, for example, an (insurance-backed?) stamp saying that the search results reveal nothing that need concern a buyer? This would of course have lots of small print and limitations, but may help. Could this also be available at the marketing stage like an EPC and mean the seller would order searches, and buyers could rely on them?

Megan Jenkins, Professional Support Lawyer at Shakespeare Martineau 

4. All search data feeds will be provided in real-time and refreshed to keep the homemover up to date

Upfront information is the key to improving the home mover experience and we are pushing the agenda to improve the customer journey – both from the seller’s perspective in completing information necessary for the sale of the property, and the buyer’s ability to digest that information in an accessible way.

How much better would it be if the seller’s information form is a combination of the CPR disclosure and conveyancing information and is pre-populated using the authority data, so that the seller is prompted to explain any anomalies between the physical and legal position – at the point of marketing?

The conveyancer could then advise the buyer on the true position and what it means for the buyer’s intended use and enjoyment. Whilst the seller’s conveyancer could advise on any resolution of breach of the law, contract or lender requirement, which will be necessary to satisfy the lender or enable the buyer to utilise the property as they wish and to be able to sell it for full value on the open market when they wish to move on.

All of the search data feeds could also be provided in real-time and refreshed, so that owners could continue to monitor what would impact their planned use or alteration of the property during their ownership, when they remortgage and when they come to sell.

Beth Rudolf, Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association

5. Estate agents will want access to searches information at the time the property is being listed for sale

There is currently a lot of discussion in Government and across the wider property market about bringing information provision to the beginning of the home buying and selling process. 

This implies that estate agents may increasingly want access to relevant information about a property at the time they are listing it for sale. Some conveyancers are already offering ‘exchange ready’ packs, which have demonstrably helped to speed up the process, reduce attrition and ultimately saved redundant cost.

6. The possibility of using insurance as a proxy for information will focus the search industry on speed, quality and sophistication

Search providers increasingly see themselves as PropTech companies moving beyond the traditional boundaries of the search industry and becoming broader information, process and technology businesses.

All this against a move in some quarters to use insurance as a proxy for information as an expediency for speeding up the home buying process – although research with homebuyers has always found overwhelmingly that they want information and not insurance. 

The potential use of insurance however acts as a further spur for the search industry to focus on speed, quality and sophistication in property information provision.

7. Steps will be taken to digitise the CON29 – following on from the digitisation of the LLC1

The centralisation of local land charges at the Land Registry will throw focus on the CON29, as it makes little sense to create a streamlined and efficient online service for half of the local authority search offering. 

Whilst the conclusions of a recent report on the future of the CON29 have not yet been made public, they are unlikely to recommend the status quo. That the report was commissioned by Government, and undertaken by an official from the Land Registry, suggests that there is an understanding that centralising local land charges in isolation will not deliver any benefits to homebuyers and sellers.

8. Lawyers will increasingly expect searches information to be served up electronically

With a number of conveyancers starting to ask for much more sophistication in how search information is served up to them, there is likely to be a sea change in how search companies operate. 

Lawyers simply want to know what issues may affect their client’s decision to buy any particular property and not to have to wade through pages and pages of search products. They want the information to be served up to them electronically and to be able to rely on it with recourse back to the provider.

James Sherwood-Rogers, Chairman of CoPSO

9. Clients will continue to behave cautiously and be ever-hungry for data

The complex home buying and selling process looks ugly from the outside but its Darwinian evolution is beautifully aligned to balance the rules, relationships and constraints that have shaped it – and which continue to shape it. Without changes to these levers, the equilibrium won’t change radically. 

The principal, immutable lever is the importance of the transaction to the client. Buying or selling property will remain up there amongst the most important transactions we as individuals ever make. 

These high stakes coupled with clients’ typical lack of expertise and their natural self-serving motivations mean clients will behave cautiously and tactically. They will be ever-hungry for data that better informs or gives them a competitive advantage. 

10. Savvy clients could become search providers’ new customers – instead of conveyancers

One major change we might see is a move away from the clients of search companies being conveyancers. Increasingly, savvy clients researching properties may self-serve; the portal community might see competitive advantage in enhancing listings data; lenders might front-load their lending due diligence, and new property log book style businesses may begin to ‘pre pack’ properties for sellers. 

The future is certainly more data and certainly supplied smarter, but probably to a range of new types of client.

11. The search industry will continue to morph into an integral risk management component of the conveyancing process

Looking back in order to look forward, the search world’s recent evolution has seen ever more data sources becoming available and ever smarter ways being devised to serve them up to the conveyancer. 

The search industry feels as if it’s morphing into an integral risk management component of the conveyancing process, with case management integration on the one hand and interpretative layers added to the data on the other. 

All of this is helping to manage the risks presented by both the people and the properties involved in a transaction.

Richard Hinton, Pitsford Consulting Limited

12. We’ll see intelligent and personalised scorecard output for every transaction – returned in seconds

Predicting 20 years hence with any degree of certainty is always hazardous when you consider that in 1999 email was only really starting to emerge as a reasonably common method of communication and the internet was only just starting to be used commercially.  

There are some predictions I would be very confident in making, although I don’t think we will need to wait 20 years for them to come about. Within that time, all property search information will be returned as data in seconds, and that data will be directly inputted into client systems and interpreted by a set of business rules governed by either the client or an insured third party.  

This will create an intelligent and personalised scorecard output for every transaction, which all parties can see and ultimately rely upon in their decision-making. Much of the data already exists in a consumable format, and there are already examples of similar delivery systems, intelligent automated workflow and business rule engines being used within the lender community.

13. All data and documentation relating to transactions will be hosted in secure virtual data rooms

All data and documentation relating to transactions will be hosted in secure virtual data rooms, with access provided to each of the authorised parties involved in a transaction – including conveyancers, lenders, brokers, surveyors and estate agents, as well as the end consumer. 

This change will radically alter the way in which communication and process in the property transaction world is managed, and is the most exciting opportunity for the industry in the coming years – as a transaction could be completed in hours or even minutes.

These convictions are borne out from the work that is already going on within the industry, including the work we are doing today at tmgroup with products such as tmconnect and mio. I would anticipate much of this happening within the next 5 years, especially as we see the continued drive to digitisation within HM Land Registry and the Government in general.

Joe Pepper, CEO at tmgroup

14. Consumers will demand more data as well as a more efficient home buying and selling process

In the 1970s Roy Amara said, ‘We tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run’.  

That was before the advent of proper computing power and big data. At some point, it would seem sensible to assume that all property data will be available instantly and the price of that data will fall.  

Consumers will also seek more data, and they will demand it faster and cheaper to facilitate quicker, more efficient home sales and purchases. 

Chris Harris, Managing Director of Lawyer Checker and The Practical Vision Network

15. “Property passports” will save the need to repeat the same searches over and over again

The Government has already considered the possibility of introducing “Property Passports” whereby searches (amongst other documents) would be logged with the property. 

If implemented, this would save the need to repeat the same searches over and over again and could mean the conveyancer’s role will be solely advisory – reporting on searches without having to manually source them. This will also have the added benefit of saving costs. 

16. Artificial Intelligence will extract key information automatically and save conveyancers from having to read full search reports

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence could be another key advancement. At present, conveyancers are not only having to manually request searches, but then read through the various pages to select the issues worth highlighting and reporting on. 

In the future, Artificial Intelligence will provide the opportunity for the key information to be extracted automatically, hence saving valuable time and arguably, improving accuracy. 

17. Technological advancements will free conveyancers of admin and shift them purely into an advisory role

As we move towards the world of 2040, further technological advancements will be key. For example, technology could be used to reduce the preparatory work involved in ordering searches, such as selecting plans and specific searches. 

Consequently, we’ll see the conveyancer’s role move away from a mix between administrative and advisory, and instead towards purely advisory. This will inevitably help to speed up the process. 

18. The lack of standardisation will be addressed to make the home buying and selling process quicker, cheaper and less stressful

There is no doubt that there have already been changes with how property searches are obtained and responded to. This is especially apparent with Local Authority searches. 

Although we are already seeing time frames decrease and the digitisation of results occur, this still differs across the board. There is a lack of standardisation and it remains the case that whilst some authorities may respond in days, others may take weeks. 

This clearly needs addressing and indeed, the Government has recognised the need to “make the home buying and selling process quicker, cheaper and less stressful” (Improving the home buying and selling process, April 2018).  

Chloe Banks, Trainee Solicitor at Weightmans LLP

19. We may see a shift away from searches and due diligence – and instead towards transaction insurance

The big change, and I’m not saying it will be a smooth change, will be the way we use and trust data. It would be a big leap to trust the ‘single version of the truth’ that use of Blockchain in property transactions would require. 

However, it seems more likely that the other potentially transformative jump will be to doing less due diligence, and demanding fewer assurances, but covering the whole transaction using insurance. 

The ‘prop-tech’ pilot completed by law firm Mishcon de Reya and the Land Registry shows how some immediate changes can work – and this area is definitely worth watching. 

Eduardo Reyes, Commissioning and Features Editor at The Law Society Gazette

20. All property data will be held in one place – and it will become quicker and cheaper to obtain property information

20 years ago, I started at my firm as a newly qualified solicitor. At that time, most solicitors did not have computers on their desks and ordering searches involved completing numerous forms, hard copy and in duplicate. You had to check search fees using a directory and send cheques for each one. Let’s just say it was rather time-consuming! Fast forward 20 years… and we are now used to having a single search platform to order all searches in a few clicks.  

So what will we see in the next 20 years? 

There is always a drive to make the buying and selling process quicker and more straightforward. We are currently seeing the phased introduction of Council records – the Local Land Charges data – being transferred to the Land Registry. This will take a number of years to implement across the country, but could eventually lead to all property data being held in one place. This would make it quicker (and presumably cheaper) to obtain the sort of information that is required for a property sale and purchase.

Rebecca Swain, Partner, Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP, Residential Conveyancing

Want to share your thoughts on industry events, trends and predictions?

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