Looking back 20 years: Key events that have shaped the search industry

With nearly 2 decades of experience in the search industry, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at tmgroup, Paul Albone, looks back at some of the key events and challenges that have shaped the search industry. 


IT challenges were a common barrier to helping property professionals make the most of the technological advancements available 

For those of us “of a certain age”, we remember a time before the internet (and certainly the bandwidth of ADSL) and when a phone was just that – a phone! I have colleagues who used to visit client offices to perform user training and were met with a shared 56k dial up modem and the characteristic boing-boing when a connection to the internet had been established.

I say that to set some context as to the IT challenges that were faced when trying to deliver content rich mapping to conveyancers using the ‘new’ OS MasterMap™, which tmgroup launched back in 2004. This was some 6 months before Google Maps existed and 8 years before Apple launched their mapping product.  

Back then, tmgroup was operating as one of three NLIS channels, which, via the NLIS Hub, was trying to connect the 350+ Local Authorities and other data providers as the first steps towards e-Conveyancing. 

It wasn’t an easy ride. I particularly remember having to manage an increase in order rejection rates after launching our mapping, as Local Authorities complained that they were using up too much coloured ink on their printers when trying to process the orders – eventually resulting in us having to revert back to a black and white map with a ‘red line’ property boundary.


Bowing only to mandated change led to relatively slow levels of progress in the property search space – and prompted the creation of OSCRE

With 30 years of IT and Development experience behind me, I have been surprised by the relatively slow levels of progress in the property search space, which does rise to the challenges of mandated change – but otherwise accepts a status quo. 

Back in 2005, I got involved in the PISCES (now OSCRE) organisation, which was addressing the need to create standards so that property-related information could be exchanged between businesses. 

I was lucky enough to chair the working group, which was looking at property searches, and together we managed to create some standards for the messages needed to order, deliver, query and chase property searches. These are still in use today by many conveyancing and property search data providers.  


The advent of HIPS acted as a catalyst for change and created high levels of operational efficiency with integrated ordering

Forced change can often act as a catalyst for achieving IT projects quickly, and this was certainly the case with the advent of HIPS. Through a 48-hour session, a new standard was adopted by all the major organisations, which allowed the ‘new’ HIP providers to order bundles of searches via B2B integration and XML data.  

Of course, this created high levels of operational efficiency, but also had its own challenges. I remember one tmgroup client who performed a software release only for me to get a call the following morning.  The code they had released was not ‘listening’ to the return message correctly and so had got stuck in a loop and they had ordered over 3,000 LR OC1 orders in the space of 15 minutes. By the time they called me, these had all been ordered and returned at a cost of £3 per order! 


The cost of mortgage fraud was estimated at £1 billion – and many lenders reviewed their criteria for securing charges on a title  

In January 2011, the National Fraud Authority published its second annual fraud indicator, which estimated the cost of mortgage fraud in the UK to be £1 billion. A third of this was estimated to be conveyancer-led fraud! 

These facts led most lenders to review the criteria with which conveyancers could act for the lender on securing the charge on the title. During this time, tmgroup worked with lenders to understand their decision criteria and how this could be monitored and alerts created when criteria changed. We called this platform ‘TM Secure’. Not only did it look at the risk profiling of the law firm through datasets provided by people like Experian, but also looked to control the delivery of the mortgage offer and other steps of the process in a secure and robust fashion.


Breaking down silos and introducing collaboration saw the birth of the digital customer journey

Integrated ordering continues to be a focus within the search industry and is enabling the change from paper documents to PDF versions and now more recently to ‘data’ payloads. By providing the data, it is possible to develop systems that can make decisions on the search results and create alerts to users where investigation and follow up actions are needed.

Since 2015, there has been an increased focus on collaboration and the digital journey of the consumer. We are seeing the emergence of portals, which provide a window into the transaction for the homemover and aim to create higher levels of transparency. Our tmconnect platform does exactly that in order to join up the estate agent, conveyancer and consumer with a single view of the case.  

Add to that the ability to ‘message’ the professionals involved with a home purchase and fill in documents online, and we are finally beginning to break down the silos and increase the collaborative feel of the transaction.


Improving the home buying and selling process has been high on the industry’s agenda throughout my career 

There have been several attempts at home buying reform since the early 2000s, initially led by the Land Registry and their e-conveyancing programme.  This was followed by an industry-led group badged as the eHomebuyingForum, and then the Law Society-led Veyo project. Bringing us up to the present day, where we are currently in the grips of a Government-led programme to ‘Improve the home buying and selling process’.  

The quantity of attempts demonstrates that there is a reasonable understanding that the home moving experience in England and Wales is not what it might be. Yet it has not been possible to deliver on many of the goals of making the process, quicker, cheaper and more transparent – in other words, delivering high levels of efficiency leading to increased levels of certainty.

All too often, the failed attempts at achieving these lofty goals have been due to a siloed approach to single stakeholders and a lack of traction within their core market. However, change is beginning to happen – led by an increased appetite to invest in and adopt technology from multiple stakeholders across a transaction.


Estate agents and conveyancers are beginning to put the homemover at the heart of their digital customer journeys

We are beginning to see an almost joined up approach between estate agents and conveyancers, who are both putting the homemover at the heart of their own customer journeys – and digital ones at that. 

Upfront information (no, not HIPs) appears to be a focus for many estate agency groups too. This is very promising, because if we can break down some of the trust barriers between the estate agents and the conveyancers, then the sharing of this information is eminently achievable.

As we head towards 2020 and beyond, I am encouraged by the industry’s openness for change. In the property search space, this is leading to the delivery of property ‘data’ and refined data leading to decision informing actions. If we couple this ability and appetite with the innovative solutions being created, I really do feel we are finally in the advent of change.

We are no longer in the world of shared dial up modems, and we all embrace technology in our everyday lives. As a technologist at heart, and a software developer of the past, I am finally encouraged that change is happening and the last 20 years have not gone to waste!

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