Government urged to digitise entire homebuying journey in just three years

Government urged to digitise entire homebuying journey in just three years

The process of buying and selling property should be digitised from back to front, according to Maria Harris, chair of the Open Property Data Association.

Harris gave evidence at the Commons Select Committee on Monday, run by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

She said that, for companies using OPDA’s data standard for digital property packs, time is being reduced to 15 days from the offer being accepted on a house and a mortgage to the exchange of contracts. She added that this was with “zero fall throughs, zero fraud, a much better customer experience and more certainty around the moving date.”

Harris said: “It is also taking hundreds of hours out of the process as that waste of time is not there.

“So if we had widespread adoption of standards and we digitised the data at source we would reform the [home moving] process dramatically.”

She also called for home sellers to instruct a conveyancer right at the start of the process even before a property is listed.

The Open Property Data Association is an industry body for companies looking to promote data collaboration.

Harris was providing evidence alongside Kate Faulkner, chair of the Home Buying and Selling Group and Paula Higgins, chief executive of HomeOwners Alliance.

The Home Buying and Selling Group gave evidence on the complexity of the current process.

Faulkner stated that there is a list of 300 things that the buyer, lender or removal company may need to know before they actually say yes to a house purchase offer, while there are potentially 15 companies involved in even a simple purchase.

She said: “You don’t know if you’ve bought into the wrong services, you won’t know until it’s too late. We have fantastic runners in each sector, but we’re not good at passing that baton to each other.

“Sometimes you need to pass it forwards and sometimes backwards, but you only need one or two poor quality services in the middle, or a buyer or seller who doesn’t do something they need to, and suddenly the whole thing collapses.”

Harris added: “It’s not helpful that all these batons are based on paper or forms, and they are all slightly different and need slightly different things. And none of them actually talk to one other. The entire process is siloed and fragmented.

“It is based on pushing bits of paper and documents about and manually checking identity, property details or validating information between different systems that don’t speak to each other. There’s nothing that underpins it, so it is really difficult to get the process from point A to point B, for anyone in the industry.”

As it stands, less than 1% of property information is available digitally.

Harris said that there is a precedent across other industries from the use of three-pin plugs to the travel industry, where no matter which airline you use in whichever country, every airport uses the same three-letter code, you have the same scanning system for your bags; tickets and information are in the exact same standard and structure and everybody has to connect to Air Traffic Control and use the same identifiers.

She added: “It’s just normal – but we don’t have that for the property industry. It’s actually quite staggering that for such an important purchase and for something that is so complicated, that we don’t have that infrastructure when we have it in so many other things that we just take for granted.”

Lloyds Bank joined the OPDA last month. The industry body appealed for new members to join, from lenders and mortgage brokers to estate agents and conveyancers.