Property Lawyer Claire Martin made history last year by completing Australia’s first fully electronic property sale. The exchange of contract and property settlement went fully online. Claire joins us to talk about that and what’s happening with electronic settlements generally.
Kevin: Property lawyer Claire Martin, who heads up the property department at Kreisson law firm, embraces PEXA technology, electronic settlements. We’ll talk about that because that is what the interview is all about. Claire made history last year, by completing Australia’s first fully electronic property sale. The exchange of contracts and property went fully online. Claire joins me to talk about that and what’s happening with electronic settlements generally.
Claire, welcome to the show, and thanks for your company.
Claire: Thank you for having me, Kevin.
Kevin: How did that settlement go? Tell me about how it went.
Claire: It was an arduous task. It was something that I had been trying to do as part of research for my masters, and I ended up having to sell one of my own properties. That way, I could dictate to the agent and dictate who they sold the property to and ensure that the purchaser’s conveyancer was onboard with PEXA.
Kevin: It’s pretty ground-breaking stuff, isn’t it? Let me just give a little bit of history here. E-settlements have been available in New South Wales since late 2014. The exchange of electronic contracts was made possible in 2015. Fast forward to today, 2017. Where are we with all of this, Claire?
Claire: It’s bounding ahead. We can now generate hundreds of contracts in under an hour. We can now settle hundreds of settlements just at a click of a button. Once the technology was perfected from, I think 2015, the first couple of contracts were exchanged electronically. Then, in June 2016, I managed to get the settlements and the exchange totally paperless and digital. And now, we can generate high volumes of contracts for off-the-plan purchases that can be exchanged and signed electronically.
And then PEXA has recently released PEXA Projects, which means that when acting for a developer as the vendor, we can just upload an Excel spreadsheet and say “This is the property we are selling. These are the people who are buying those lots. These are their solicitors. These are the prices,” and it just pre-generates hundreds of workspaces.
Kevin: I would imagine, just listening to what you are saying here, that the bottleneck probably is not with the consumer. Would it be more with real estate agents, with other lawyers who are resisting this type of move? Is that fair comment, Claire?
Claire: It is a fair comment. We’ve been actively educating fellow practitioners and different agents, whether they are project agents or just day-to-day suburban moms-and-dads sort of sales, and a lot of them have not even heard of PEXA. So, there are some who are ahead of the game, there are some who are… Especially with practitioners, I know of at least a dozen practitioners who have retired because they don’t want to learn a new trick.
Kevin: You’re on record as claiming that the legal profession is slow to embrace new technology. I guess this is a classic example. Why is that, do you think? Are they scared about this?
Claire: Well, the government keeps on putting more risk on the legal profession. So, things like we now have to verify the identity, so if a purchaser is not who they say they are and they’re committing fraud or forgery, those sort of things are put back on the legal profession. There’s also the foreign capital gains withholding tax. There’s a whole heap of things that are making conveyancing a lot more difficult.
I’m not sure whether the government sort of said “Oh well, if PEXA is going to be limited to conveyancers and property lawyers, let’s get them to do all our tax collecting and information checking,” because the job has got a whole lot harder in the past year, and people are not charging a lot more for hours more work.
Kevin: And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? A lot of these conveyances were done by conveyancers, not necessarily lawyers, and that is why they were able to keep those fees so low. So, if it is all of a sudden, becoming a lot more technical and you guys have to collect taxes, is there is a likelihood that settlements and conveyancing is going to become more expensive?
Claire: I doubt it is.
Kevin: You don’t think so?
Claire: By doing it electronically, you are saving a lot of time.
Kevin: That could be the answer, yes.
Claire: There is a lot more transparency between the parties, you are not sitting on hold to the bank for hours trying to book in a settlement. I think it was reported that 25% of settlements fell over because of human error.
Kevin: That’s right.
Claire: If these human errors are being eliminated before settlement even occurs, then you would think that the time saved is going to make things cheaper.
Kevin: State governments have mandated that electronic transactions need to be in place within the next two years. Is that realistic?
Claire: Yes. Western Australia is kicking it off. They’re going to be the test guinea pig for the country, and New South Wales and Victoria will follow shortly after. Queensland had a form of electronic conveyancing for many years, so it wouldn’t be too big of a change for them.
Kevin: I hear all the time that people are concerned about online transactions and security and so on. Is that a concern? Is that something we need to be concerned about, online fraud?
Claire: With PEXA, it is overseen by the Reserve Bank of Australia, so if a hacker is going to hack the Reserve Bank of Australia’s security, what chance do we have?
Claire: I’m pretty sure the majority of people who have superannuation hold some shares in some company. I have said to people, “Have you ever seen your share certificate? Have you ever held the paper document?” Even people who own houses, it is like “Have you actually held the paper document?” It doesn’t actually make much difference to the consumer. We’ve been living in a digital economy for many years now.
Kevin: Yes, we have just got to get used to it. Okay, great talking to you. Claire Martin is a property lawyer. She works with Kreisson.
Thank you very much. Congratulations on your ground-breaking work. Keep it up, Claire.
Claire: Thank you very much.