British Conveyancing Awards Sponsor Spotlight: Terrafirma

In a series of Supporter in Focus pieces, we are thrilled to introduce our supporters of The British Conveyancing Awards 2021

Alongside headline sponsor Lawyer Checker, we look forward to recognising individuals, teams and companies who have gone above and beyond to support buyers and sellers to move home during the most challenging year the conveyancing industry has perhaps ever seen.

This week we profile ‘Innovation of the Year’ sponsors Terrafirma.

We’re delighted to have Terrafirma on board with us for the inaugural British Conveyancing Awards. First of all, tell us who you are and what you do

Now established in our sixth year, Terrafirma have grown into a leading provider of property searches in the UK, delivering over 10,000 professionally-interpreted mining and ground instability assessments monthly to the conveyancing sector. Largely made up of geologists, soil scientists and mining engineers (and fast expanding), it is our mission to translate complex ground risk into clear recommendations for all involved in the property transaction.

What have Terrafirma been doing over the past 12 months? I imagine it’s been a busy time working through a pandemic.

2020 started as an incredibly exciting year for Terrafirma as renowned Geospatial Data Scientist, Dr Tim Farewell joined our in-house team of geologists and GIS specialists to improve our services to the conveyancing sector and oversee a brand-new climate related UK ground risk model for lenders and insurers to better understand ground risk.

We are proud to say, even after a challenging year juggling working remotely, that in September 2020 the Terrafirma Ground Report became the first conveyancing search report to include property-specific risk assessment, opinion, and advice on coastal hazards, removing the liability of reporting on ground and coastal hazards from property professionals.

These additional tools were released at a pivotal time as our changing climate is expected to disrupt the magnitude and distribution of ground instability hazards like soil subsidence, landslides and erosion of the coast and rivers, while also impacting sinkholes, and collapse from man-made hazards like mining.

What do you think is the biggest challenge the sector has faced over the last 12 months?

The biggest challenge for conveyancers has undoubtably been the increase in demand. At Terrafirma we’ve seen almost 40% increase in report volumes against the backdrop of homeowners re-evaluating their living situations as the world continues to shift in response to the pandemic. The extended SDLT holiday has put huge pressure on conveyancers to deal with a seemingly never-ending backlog, resulting in long weekdays and short weekends for most in the industry.

The increased demand to move came at a time when solicitors had to rapidly adapt to working from home (or perhaps living from the office as it may be for some), dealing with remote security and client contact issues and living in a strange, socially-distanced world. But with disruption comes opportunity and, for now we can be grateful that the housing market seems to be heading in the right direction – albeit shrouded with a great deal of uncertainty.

And what innovations were you seeing in the market?

If there were any doubts about the speed in which LawTech and LegalTech solutions would begin to filter throughout the conveyancing sector before the pandemic, there are surely none now. The demand for technology products that enable conveyancers to work productively, safely and securely in a remote environment have thrived, and enabled conveyancers to deal with some quite unprecedented circumstances.

Conveyancing will continue on the road to digitisation and information up front. In just the last couple of months, we’ve seen a Conveyancing Task Force set up by industry bodies to manage the digital transition, the Land Registry unveil a ‘gold standard’ digital ID for property purchase and the Law Society – who licence Terrafirma’s CON29M coal mining report – begin an early-stage home information pilot.

The movement towards digital transformation in conveyancing since the pandemic hit has gained significant pace and could be the step change so many in the industry have been crying out for.

What are your predictions for the sector in 2022 and beyond?

Beyond 2022, the other great disruptor coming to an industry near you is climate change. As consumer attitudes change and regulation focuses in on the UK’s Net Zero ambitions, all businesses will be challenged to do more about climate change.

As geologists, scientists and engineers who understand and model ground hazards and climate, we are acutely aware of the projected impacts, and understand the need to support the transition. If you’ve ever been to one of our virtual ‘ground hazard and climate change’ events, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Action on climate change will speak louder than words, so earlier this year we pledged to make Terrafirma carbon neutral by the end of this year. Our first step has been to partner with Ecologi, who offset both the companies and employees carbon emissions by supporting responsible tree planting and carbon reduction projects. Exploring carbon-offsetting initiatives like this would be a great way for firms to join businesses across all industries on the path to positive action on carbon emissions.

Have you got any messages for the sector and our shortlisters?

Best of luck to those who are shortlisted. We hope to see more in the sector challenge, disrupt and promote new ideas and innovation, with a particular focus on addressing the inevitable impact of a changing climate on property, homeowners and the homebuying and selling process. Innovation is at the core of Terrafirma, and it is why we are delighted to sponsor the ‘Innovation of the Year’ award to recognise achievements and the immense work accomplished throughout a difficult year. We look forward to celebrating with everyone at the virtual awards on the 25th May!

Thank you to Terrafirma for their support for The British Conveyancing Awards 2021.

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