Whilst most customers want to be able to sign legal documents electronically, only a third are being offered the service by solicitors and estate agents. These companies are losing time – and increasingly business – as a result, says DocuSign’s Matt Gibbons, Regional Vice President, EMEA Commercial Sales.
There is no doubt that the government’s stamp duty holiday has revitalised the UK housing market. However, there is evidence that the outdated, manual practices used by some solicitors and estate agents are continuing to delay sales and surprise homebuyers who are seeking access to digital tools. The reality is that, while lockdowns and social distancing have encouraged many businesses to adopt dynamic online tools, elements of the property industry remain largely dependent on slower, traditional methods.
Mounting pressure from customers
In a recent DocuSign survey designed to reveal the impact of the stamp duty holiday on the UK property industry, as many as 81% of UK homebuyers called for wider adoption of digital documentation tools by estate agents and solicitors. More than eight out of 10 (84%) said they wanted to sign legal documents electronically, 76% wanted entirely electronic contracts, 60% wanted online payments and 51% wanted the option to use electronic witnessing. Crucially, according to our research, 78% of UK homebuyers who have used digital documentation solutions said it made the buying process significantly smoother.
Our findings indicate that estate agents are currently ahead of solicitors when it comes to adopting digital workflows, with 83% offering some form of electronic documentation service. Solicitors, meanwhile, lag some way behind with 51% only accepting documents that have been signed with pen and paper.
HM Land Registry onboard with electronic signatures
Of the solicitors we surveyed, 57% said the reason they only accept ‘wet’ signatures is because ‘it’s accepted by HM Land Registry’. The good news is that the HMLR has been accepting electronically signed deeds since last July.
Indeed, at DocuSign, we were honoured to execute the first ever HM Land Registry deed submitted electronically using our DocuSign eSignature platform. Following last year’s change in regulation, we have been working closely with HM Land Registry and leading UK law firms to adapt our eWitness capability and develop enhancements that meet the specific needs of conveyancers, including two-factor authentication for both the signer and the witness.
A digital revolution, accelerated by lockdown
Forward thinking companies have capitalised on the changes forced by lockdown to accelerate their digital transformation. Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD), for example, is a full-service transatlantic law firm that has long recognised the need for the legal sector to embrace innovation. Pre-pandemic, the firm had already been using DocuSign eSignature within its Corporate team. The shift to remote working meant quickly ramping up usage in other teams – from Real Estate, to Litigation to HR.
Having achieved the milestone of 4,000 envelopes sent since lockdown, DocuSign technology has been a critical business enabler. WBD has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both employees and clients—electronic signatures are reducing contract turnaround times, improving the customer and employee experience, and enabling lawyers to focus on important work rather than wasting time manually completing documents. 88% of contracts signed via DocuSign are now signed in less than 24 hours, and 66% of them signed in less than an hour.
The start of a new digital chapter
Increasingly, firms that choose not to adopt digital workflow tools risk losing business to those that do. House buyers today invariably expect digital documentation solutions as part of the overall service and progressive companies would do well to take full advantage of available technology. Particularly given how simple it is to implement the majority of these tools.
Offr, for example, is a fast-growing prop-tech business, 100% digital and conceived specifically to tackle many of the inefficiencies facing the property market. From the outset, Offr recognised that signing was a crucial part of their offering and wanted a simple solution that could be easily deployed and used by customers. DocuSign eSignature was integrated into the Offr platform for both auction and non-auction transactions, resulting in more efficient processes that are faster, less costly and less wasteful. Offr has been able to set new customers up with their software within 24 hours, successfully selling properties in under a week, using eSignature to execute the contracts.
Taking the first step is easier than you think
In our experience of working with clients – big and small – across the property sector, the transition to digital workflows is almost always quicker and smoother than expected. Indeed, if the past year has proven anything, it’s that the right technology can enable a firm’s very survival, allowing organisations to stay open and serve customers efficiently and securely, whatever obstacles come their way.
(1)Censuswide survey of 1,000 UK homebuyers, 150 estate agents and 150 solicitors responsible for processing residential property transactions, commissioned by DocuSign in May 2021.