On 22 July 2021, the Conveyancing Association held its AGM/All Members Meeting via webinar. The meeting focused on the 14th Programme of Law Reform – the latest Law Commission project to make the law fair, modern, simple and cost-effective. At the time of the webinar, the project was at the consultation stage (subsequently closed 31 Jul 2021).
Keynote speaker – Professor Nicholas Hopkins
Kicking off the meeting, Professor Nicholas Hopkins (Law Commission) discussed the body’s statutory duty to keep the law of England & Wales under review and to make recommendations to parliament for reform. He explained that the Commission discharges this duty via separate projects that focus on specific areas of law. The 14th Programme of Reform – as in previous programmes – is consulting with the legal community to identify areas that require improvement and to establish what projects the Commission should focus on over the next few years.
Professor Hopkins discussed how the 14th Programme of Reform consultation period began informally at the start of the year with various meetings with key stakeholders, including the Conveyancing Association. The public consultation was then launched in March, with the legal industry, the public and wider business, invited to submit their ideas for potential reform projects. As part of the public consultation stage the Commission suggested some specific projects that it thought might have merit. Some of these ideas came from the initial stakeholder conversations. For example, the Conveyancing Association successfully lobbied to include Home Buying as a potential project.
Professor Hopkins went on to share the selection criteria against which proposed reforms are assessed. They are:
- Impact (economic, fairness, etc.)
- Suitability (whether the Law Commission as a non-political entity is best placed to take the reform forward)
- Opinion (the extent the reform is supported by ministers, the public and the judiciary).
- Urgency (whether there is a pressing reason for the reform)
- Balance (assessed against all the laws of England & Wales).
He highlighted four key projects that have been put forward that the Commission was specifically keen to receive feedback from Conveyancing Association members on. These were home buying, commercial leasehold, ownerless land, and electronic deeds and variations of contracts
Following Professor Hopkins, there was an interactive panel session led by Beth Rudolf (Conveyancing Association) with industry experts Nathan Emerson (NAEA), Rob Stevens (Nationwide), James Ginley (eSurv) and Scott Bozinis (Infotrack).
This section focused on what the Conveyancing Association should be suggesting to the Law Commission to improve the homebuying process. Ms Rudolf discussed how Vendor Disclosure is referenced in the consultation (again after successfully lobbying by the Conveyancing Association).
Scott Bozinis shared how the process of Vendor Disclosure is working very well in Australia and that, as a result, the process of home moving is not as stressful. He discussed how a property’s legal documents are shared with potential purchasers at the viewing stage to ensure complete transparency. He added that 42 days was the standard timeframe for buying a home in Australia, which gives buying and selling certainty.
Nathan Emerson agreed that any transparency brought forward would shorten the process and help to avoid complexities – which often arise at the last minute. He suggested that, while people are naturally resistant to change, we shouldn’t accept the current system just because that’s how we have always done things. He raised the importance of selling the benefits of change to all the critical stakeholders.
The panel then discussed the suggestion that searches should become the responsibility of sellers rather than buyers.
Rob Stevens said that while there was fear from some in the industry that this would put homeowners off, if someone is committed to selling, this wouldn’t be the case. He said it was vital that the country moves from a system that incentivises people not to tell the truth in the hope they don’t get found out. He wants a system where information on whether a property is mortgage worthy is instantly available to support mortgage lenders and consumers.
Ms Rudolf confirmed that a Conveyancing Association consumer survey confirmed that 98% of people want the information upfront, and those currently moving are more than happy to pay to get it, although the majority think the seller should pay.
James Ginley added that if property information is available quicker, it will also benefit valuers and surveyors. He raised the issue that consumers don’t always want to know if there is a problem. So the sooner information is available the better.
The panel agreed that a digital, secure, shared property log would be welcome. However, it was acknowledged that, regardless of the amount of data available, customers don’t always read and/or understand it, so the industry must learn how better to use, interpret, and share information. The panel discussed whether a new professional advisor/agent role could be created to help guide consumers through the process and leave conveyancers to focus on legal work.
The session finished with a Q&A. This reiterated the importance of vendor disclosure, transparency and reducing the timescale of the conveyancing period.
The Conveyancing Association has provided suggestions on Vendor Disclosure for the Law Commission to assess in its 14th Programme of Law Reform. Now that the consultation stage is closed, all submissions will be reviewed, and the most appropriate projects progressed.