How technology can lead the way in accelerating home buying…

I’m somewhat saddened, but not surprised, to see headlines ‘blaming’ various parts of the property market as the reason behind the ever-increasing number of weeks it takes to complete a home purchase.

Now of course there are many ‘people’ involved and it’s easy to blame each other, but as a technologist I have to look at the process and challenge the approach. If we start today with a clean sheet of paper – will we end up with the current process? Probably not.

It reminded me of the time when I got lost in Dublin on my way to Rugby and stopped to ask for directions, only to be told that if I wanted to get there I wouldn’t start from there! That was of course a joke, but I think his sentiments must be true for how we proceed with the housing market. In my mind, there’s a ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality and a real resistance to change.

There have been several market disruptions during that time – has the process really changed?

I’ve been around the property market for almost 20 years, and while there have been several market disruptions in that time – has the process really changed? It’s certainly not easy as there is more regulation than ever and it’s not getting any faster, so what are we doing?

One of my observations is that instead of working backwards, we seem to look forward and wait for each step to be completed before starting the next step. It’s like having a whole team of developers but only using one at a time – let’s think about some parallel processes to speed things up and start the biggest or slowest one first. There are many lessons we can take from production lines such as car manufacturing and perhaps consider the JIT (just-in-time) controls employed in these agile assembly plants.

Current focus on primary data is important.

The points I made above are now an important theme that needs some attention. If we understand in the first place what ‘car’ we are trying to deliver, then we will know in the first place what parts manufacturers need to be ready.

Over the years, we can throw a lot of technology and gadgets at the problem, but this in itself is not a perfect solution and can lead to more complications.

The sense of ‘portal hell’ is increasingly similar, if not identical, if information is necessary to use one of the widgets (parts) needed to create that complete picture. Depending on who you are, there are many: estate agent portals, listing portals, lender portals, ID/AML services (multiple times!), cite portals (digital onboarding), transfer of transactions portals, land registration services, HMRC services – and this includes switching utilities and Ignores any services that have insurance.

Now, not all of the above is done by the same stakeholder in the transaction, but there are times when the effort is duplicated and hence time is lost. All of this leads me to one of my key messages and my personal focus – integration.

We need to make the transition between widgets seamless – after all – a common client

Usually a new gadget adds value to a transaction – and I don’t mean cost, although that’s certainly true and I have in mind one of the drawbacks I’ll mention later. There is value in making information available earlier so we can create efficiencies, reduce risk to simplify compliance, and often save time.

But all of this comes at the cost and multiples of projected additional cost and effort, while adoption has generally been slow and some of the new technology industry drivers have failed. This is where, I believe, the focus needs to be on open APIs – and collaboration between vendors to ‘join the flow’ and make the transition between gadgets seamless, with a common client for that matter.

Technology vendors need to recognize that they must compete on the price of their device and the service and support they provide around it – rather than an artificial hedge that ‘protects’ their offering from competitors. Going back to my car manufacturing analogy, all technology providers want their latest offerings in new model vehicles, which means making sure their latest gadgets are always available when needed by manufacturers and integrate seamlessly with other parts. Vehicle – at the right price point, of course.

I am inspired by the Property Data Trust Framework (PDTF).

I spent the first few years in the property industry creating OSCRE (then PISCES) data models, but these were really focused on how to order property searches. I encourage efforts by multiple tool vendors to create a Property Data Trust Framework (PDTF) that not only looks at the data required in a transaction, but how we go about finding it, automating it, and sharing it. Through open APIs.

I certainly support all of you in this approach and I hope that many of you reading this article will join me in the effort to digitize the transaction and remove those collaboration barriers. Let’s not make our car to the end of the production line and find out who ordered the key!

*Paul Albon is COO at tmgroup.

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