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We live in an ever changing world: with the enhancement of technology changing the way that we live our lives, we can now bank on our mobiles and pay for goods with our watches. Last month has been the first time that a digital signature has been used to exchange contracts for a residential property in England.

Having only a few months ago bought and sold a new house, I have had to wait for contracts to come through the post, subsequently check them through, knock on the next-door neighbour’s and ask him to witness the signature before sending them back through Royal Mail.

In an article in the Law Gazette this week, it was noted that the first e-signature exchange happened on the 6th April. This - I can only feel - would have made our experience as a buyer and seller a lot smoother and less time consuming. If you were to look at the process of buying and selling a property, you can deal with the majority of it in the comfort of your own home as the advancement of technology means you are easily able to search for a house on your mobile or computer and find out local information before viewing the property.

This doesn’t mean that from the 6th April buying and selling of houses are going to change, more that it will be now possible to sign documentation via ‘e-signature’. The electronic signature does not have to be witnessed and the GOV.UK Verify system will take away the need for documents to be witnessed. This is due to the Verify system taking the place of Tom, Dick or Harry next door witnessing the signature you artistically designed at high school. It works by verifying your identity before the e-signature can be used.

So far, it is only my experience that can see the positives of E-Conveyancing. That being said, at what cost to the firm and customer? Implementing a system to support this, in reality, will be a substantial cost. I can assume that some firms may not be willing to pay or afford the cost. The change could possibly split the market in to conveyancing firms that can use an E-Conveyancing platform and those that will still use paper. In the long term, will we see the digital age wipe out smaller firms due to the likes of E-Conveyancing? How would it work if someone didn’t have access to the internet or a computer at home? Would the system be just as secure on a public computer and how would this system be protected?

There will be problems and concerns about security, but signing a document securely online isn’t a new technology. As long as it is implemented in the right way and the verify system can register any misuse of digital signatures, there is a level of security that is there to prevent any cyber-crime. There is a lot of risk for both Solicitors and the customer changing to an online platform, however the first E-Conveyancing exchange is evidence that the sector may have been slightly behind the times.
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