Expert Discusses The Role Of Digital Logbooks In Property Sector
The Government have been long term vocal advocates of property log books in the UK and plan to improve the way they are perceived by consumers and the wider property market by creating a standard definition.
Numerous representatives of the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have condemned aspects of the current property market for being wasteful with the information that is collected during a property move.
Estate agents collate compulsory information prior to a residential property sale through their sales packs only for it to be forgotten once the transaction completes; something that would be eradicated with an up to date logbook.
The Government have argued that it makes sense to have information that accumulates as the property ownership changes and has found the idea of a digital logbook to be the answer.
Currently, the Government are wary of the effectiveness of logbooks because of the myriad of definitions confusing the market. Hoping to change this, they are working alongside industry experts to create a sector definition and data standard as to what constitutes a property logbook.
By the end of the collaborative working group process, it is hoped that an agreed consensus will enlighten the market on the information a logbook must contain, agreeing their purpose, their core content, their regulatory status and some rules by which someone can offer one.
Nigel Walley, Founder of Chimni.com and member of the logbook working group, has taken the time to discuss property logbooks, the various pitfalls in the short term and the innate benefits to the property market if they are executed properly.
Why are property log books important documents for the property sector?
I am not sure that Chimni would use the word ‘document’ around digital log-books. The direction of travel in the tech world suggests that the ‘PDF’ era will be as short lived as the floppy-disk era and that most of the info in them won’t be recognisable as ‘documents’ within a short time. With the Land Registry looking at ‘tokenisation of property ownership via blockchain and many data providers rapidly moving to ‘structured web data’ and APIs, we need to think about digital log-books as digital IDs or passports.
How could property log books improve the home buying process?
The dramatic improvements should be in ‘speed to market’ and ‘time to complete’ through the transaction. One of our key objectives therefore is ensuring that the homeowner is ‘sale ready’ before they encounter an estate agent. This could include photos, floorplans and EPC information. We want our users to click on the icon of their chosen agent and immediately share all information used in the sales pack and pre-completed money laundering checks.
Also, more and more of the data that is brought together during the conveyancing process is being made available online, in publicly accessible data sets. It is not unrealistic to envisage a situation where a homeowner clicks a button in a Chimni log that says ‘Create A Sales Pack’ and for our system to instantaneously do something which currently takes ten weeks.
Some have claimed that digital logbooks could add to the threats of fraud already bombarding homeowners. How can the government and log book creators nullify this threat?
We think this is a hugely important issue, particularly as so much of the data that will be included in digital logbooks is being made available on the web as open data sets. We want the system to be simple to use and for homeowners to be encouraged to have them ready long before a sale is considered.
However, if anyone is allowed to set up a digital property log-book for any home, there is the potential for fraudsters using them to boost their claim of ownership of a property (‘I have the digital log-book therefore I must be the owner’).
To nullify this Chimni is advocating a system whereby anyone setting up a digital log-book must be able to prove their identity and also establish their ownership status around the target property. This may be hard to do without the involvement of the Land Registry.
We also believe that there should only be one property logbook allowed per property and for as much of the data they contain to be validated somehow by a third party. This may mean a central register of logbooks and even a register of certified providers.
We don’t believe that the government should be the provider of logbooks as we want the market to innovate around their use and application. But it may require government regulation and licencing to ensure they aren’t abused. And if competition is to be encouraged, people will also need to be able to easily transfer content and rights between log-book companies to promote competition. The onus will be on log-book providers to make sure our services inter-operable.
What are the main concerns surrounding personal data and information ownership? How can the sector overcome this?
Trust is a huge issue. In the old days of HIPS, the concerns were mainly about accuracy, recency and reliability of the data they contained. That issue hasn’t gone away but we now also have the added difficulty of convincing people that cloud storage and web data exchanges can be safe for information on their most important asset. We have encountered huge concern and confusion about this among the Chimni trial users. Many less digitally-literate homeowners don’t understand that ‘web’ doesn’t mean ‘public’ and those of us trying to develop these kinds of services suffer every time there is a high profile data breach so we need support and education from every player in the property chain. Estate agents and lawyers may not be renowned for their technical innovation but we need them to play their part.
How do you envision property log books will be used in the future?
We need to think about property log-books as being more than just a one-off event just data to help sell a home. Digital log-books can be a platform to support so much more through the home ownership lifecycle, whether it’s navigating the new digital planning systems, keeping project records or managing utility and other online accounts. We do recognise though, that homeowners aren’t intuitively interested in digital data storage so we are focussing on ways to capture the homeowners imagination and encourage them to play with their home data. For younger homeowners, their Chimni logbooks can support their experimentation with smart home and IOT devices. For families, we are showing them how to use their Chimni logs to engage their kids with educational software like Minecraft, and older homeowners are using their logbooks to investigate their ‘house histories’ – encouraged by TV programmes like ‘A House Through Time’.
How could logbooks improve the conveyancing sector?