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More upfront information when buying a car vs buying a house! Is it time for things to change?

I look back on when my dad helped me buy my first car and shared his pearls of wisdom on what to look for and where to tap for signs of rust! I was more interested in the leather sports steering wheel, flared arches and alloy wheels, whereas his first area of attention was looking through the paperwork. Verifying the service history, the MOT and claimed mileage and repair receipts. If it all stacked up and appeared genuine then it was worth his time taking a closer look.

I spent a couple of thousand pounds on that Fiesta Supersport and it reliably served me well for a few years until it was replaced with a company car.

So fast forward (I won’t declare how long!), and the latest initiatives to help improve the home buying and selling process centres around more upfront information – not dissimilar to my car purchase but which has since matured to digital information.

When I bought my car, there was more information available to me during the viewing than when I purchased my first house and yet the value and financial importance of the two buying decisions cannot be compared. Ok, so I accept that it wasn’t digital, but it provided some material facts at the outset, without which we would have more than likely bought a different car with more provenance and reassurance.

So why can’t upfront information help the homebuying and selling process? I, along with many other respected individuals across the industry, believe it can and it’s not hard to see why. Yes, there will always be the naysayers, but from first-hand conversations I’ve had, the views largely reflect an often pre-programmed human disposition – reluctance to change, for a variety of reasons. However, we can’t keep moaning about a broken, archaic process that takes far too long and at great cost, to then reject positive steps to improve things for everyone involved. If you’re nervous or perhaps sceptical about the future, try not to be, because change is gathering momentum and the upfront information agenda has not been rushed and isn’t going away; tmgroup and mio have been part of different working groups within the Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG) for several years now and progress has been well thought through with lots of consultation.

It’s not dissimilar when I look back 20 years; there was an initial reluctance from conveyancers to move away from cheque requisitions to online searches and now it’s become the norm because of the associated benefits that it delivers to the home moving process.

HBSG has recently published version 3 of its BASPI form (Buyers and Sellers Property Information Form) which is split in to 2 parts. Part A getting “Market Ready” and Part B getting “Sale Ready”.

Part A discloses material facts about the property which help the agent to comply with Consumer Protection Regulations which covers the information that could materially affect the buying decision of the average consumer. I liken this to my car’s MOT certificate.

Part B covers additional information for the conveyancing process but the collective information from both parts helps the estate agent provide comprehensive information and answers to many questions during the viewing, saving time and building trust with the buyer and the seller. It will also save time during the conveyancing process because more information is readily available to the conveyancer at a far earlier stage.

Whether it will speed up overall transaction times is harder to answer, but Simon Wilkinson from Wilkinson Partnership has been road testing the BASPI for some time now and has witnessed the benefits first-hand. Whether it will speed up overall transaction times is harder to answer, but Simon Wilkinson from Wilkinson Partnership has been road testing the BASPI for some time now and has witnessed the benefits first-hand.

“We have been providing up front information over the last 3 years, for well over 1, 000 properties. Without question it has added transparency,  flagged up any issues very early on and then had them resolved. Thus, it has speeded up sales and made the firm and my staff more professional.”

This resonates with the findings from mio’s Home Movers Survey 2021 where 68% said that “trust in the agents’ ability to manage their sale” was ranked highest when choosing an Estate Agent.

Simon’s first-hand experience is refreshing to hear because speaking to numerous agents, both large and small, pipeline turnover is a real concern right now. Traditionally agents I’ve spoken with have turned their pipeline between 4 to 5 times annually, but current market conditions, with fewer properties coming to market impeded with slow transaction times, means those same agents are now predicting turnover closer to 2 to 3, which has a big financial impact.

So “Market Ready” could and should be seen as a positive step to building consumer confidence and taking more control of the pipeline at an earlier stage, to help drive sales through to completion, whilst also building bridges and improving relationships with conveyancers.

The recent ESTAS conference was entitled ‘Working Together – Better.’ With the underlying message that instead of blaming the conveyancing process, everyone should be doing their bit to make it better. Upfront information collected by the agent can flag up potential issues early which can then get resolved with the help of the conveyancer sooner. It will take time, and initiative, to help move the dial in the right direction, but the outcome will reap benefits for all involved.

We also shouldn’t underestimate or forget how the effects of 2021 have impacted on the businesses of conveyancers and estate agents; workload fatigue, increased costs, more complaints, staff stress, lack of staff and a lack of housing stock.

Change is often for the good but maybe it needs baby steps.  So how do we take account of this and tackle the human disposition I referenced earlier; change and a need to adapt and overcome hurdles?

Reflecting on tmgroup’s recent The New Normal Report, with nearly 800 responses from across the industry, it questioned what the single biggest ‘change you’d like to see across the property transaction’ was and ‘more collaboration, better communication and respect across the industry’ came top, closely followed by an ‘overhaul/simplification of the process’ and ‘quicker transactions’ rounded up with ‘better use of tech and Upfront data’ all ranking inside the top 6!

You could argue that with the right implementation, upfront Information could contribute towards achieving all of these desired changes. Something that the last few years, with Brexit and the pandemic, have evidenced is that the resilience of the UK property market is unquestionable.  So, maybe it’s not such a big deal after all? At the end of the day, it’s just data, information, right? The challenge is about making it easy for everyone who then needs to refer to that information (Consumers, Estate Agents, Solicitors, Conveyancers alike) and this is where technology can play its part.

We all know there is no single silver bullet to solving all property professionals’ transaction woes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage with technology providers offering viable solutions to help move the needle in the right direction.  As you might expect me to say, mio, from tmgroup, is a product which is well positioned to help estate agents deliver in this area. Originally developed to improve how agents manage sales progression through a shared view of the chain and consumer updates via an app, mio’s natural evolution is to also deliver upfront information to help agents meet the changing architecture of the home moving process.

With over 20 years’ experience of providing information and services to the property sector, I caught up with tmgroup’s COO, Paul Albone.

There appears to be a renewed energy in the industry at the moment which is nurturing a collaborative approach to information sharing and this is going to be a fundamental pillar to the success of the upfront information agenda.  Visible data provenance, and the trust associated with it, is key to a wide audience acceptance of this information as it gets transferred across the transaction from Homemover and Estate Agent to the Conveyancer.  The working parties that Jon alludes to are so important for the success and adoption of data standards in achieving this aim and the effort being expended by the Property Data Trust Framework Group is setting the cornerstones for others to build on.  It reminds me of the work I did helping form the PISCES data standards back in the early 2000s.  It’s an exciting time, and about time I hear you cry!

I’m very optimistic about the future, particularly when new research by the Conveyancing Association reports that 98% of consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of more upfront information. I also believe it’s the estate agent who truly owns the end-to-end customer journey; their point of contact and their skills to interact with both seller and buyer throughout the process mean they are well positioned to trigger the collection of information. Walk in to a car showroom or an estate agency branch and you’ll be warmly greeted by a salesperson who loves to please; there are some synergies here, so let’s take note from the automotive industry and put our foot on the accelerator.

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