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In the UK, the home buying and selling process has long been a topic of discussion among industry professionals, the government and the public. Although we’ve seen significant advancements in recent years, there is still much to be done.

Despite home buying and selling being one of the most significant financial transactions for individuals and families, the process is often described as outdated, old-fashioned and riddled with inefficiencies – a view shared by property professionals and the public alike.

Recognising the pressing need for change, Propertymark, the leading membership body for property professionals in the UK, has released a comprehensive position paper aimed at analysing these issues and proposing a practical path forward.

The Future of Home Buying and Selling position paper, released in April of this year, dives deep into the numerous challenges which plague the current process as we know it, advocating for swift modernisation, regulatory reform and standardisation.

With nearly 18,000 members, Propertymark is well-placed to lead the charge for change, and it brings unmatched industry insight to the conversation, regularly bringing the experiences and needs of its members who navigate these waters daily to the conversation.

Homeownership remains the predominant housing tenure in the UK. It accounts for 63.8% of all households and there were over 1.2 million residential property transactions between 2022 and 2023.

However, the majority of these transactions, despite their volume, are managed through processes that have seen little by way of innovation over the past decades, according to Propertymark.

To that end, the position paper sets out a clear vision – to streamline processes, enhance transparency, and significantly improve the overall efficiency of buying and selling homes. Doing so can have such a profound impact on people all across the UK. As it rallies for reform, Propertymark looks to be a catalyst for some much-needed dialogue and action among stakeholders across the housing industry and the government.

Let’s look at some of the key challenges identified in the Propertymark position paper that underscore the need for changing how things are done.

Where are we now?

The UK's home buying and selling process is stuck in traditional methods that, despite some advancements, haven’t truly kept pace with the times. Despite the pivotal role high street estate agents have in facilitating nearly 83% of these transactions, the industry still relies quite heavily on outdated practices. As Propertymark suggests, these practices no longer meet the demands of a modern housing market, with people who are used to a digital-first, always-on experience in many other areas of their lives.

While it may not necessarily be a reluctance to innovate (more a perfect storm of inhibiting factors) the efficiency of transactions is severely hampered. This affects the overall experience of buyers, sellers, and property professionals at the coalface.

As the position paper outlines, there are a handful of systemic issues contributing to this:

Protracted transactions

On average, moving into a new home in the UK can take anywhere from 12 to 22 weeks if the process runs as expected—a stark contrast to other developed countries, where property transactions are completed in a fraction of the time.

High fall-through rates

A significant rate of transactions will fail to complete, falling through at one hurdle or another along the way. This stems from financial discrepancies, legal complications and buyer or seller withdrawal, among other causes, leading to significant financial and emotional strain for all parties.

Estimates concerning the rate of fall-throughs can vary, with some organisations reporting that up to 55.8% of transactions fell through in the first quarter of 2023. More recent data suggests the rate may be closer to 25%, up from Propertymark's 2019 estimate of 20%. Because each failed transaction can cost agents more than £4,000, this issue is worrisome for agents.

Consumer inexperience and frustration

Many consumers enter the property market with little understanding of the complexities involved. When coupled with an opaque process this can lead to heightened distrust and potential dissatisfaction, which mounts even more pressure on stakeholders to overcome hurdle after hurdle in quick succession.

Regulatory gaps

Estate agents in the UK are governed by a patchwork of regulations. However, these are often not sufficient enough to address the challenges of the modern marketplace, leaving a gap in standards, enforcement, and professional training.

Paper-based processes

Despite the digital revolution, the home buying and selling process in the UK has seen limited digitisation. A continued reliance on paper-based systems and fragmented communication leads to an inefficient workflow. Important information can be overlooked or lost quite easily.

What key challenges were identified in the paper?

Through extensive consultation with its members, Propertymark identified a handful of key challenges that complicate the home buying and selling process, each highlighting the need for change.

Different processes from sector to sector

One huge obstacle in the home buying and selling process is the lack of consistency across sectors. Whether it’s legal, finance, or property, things are very disjointed. There isn’t much by way of standardised procedure, which means that expectations about how each step of the process should be managed can differ depending on the stakeholder’s perspective. This causes confusion and leads to delays in transactions.

Issues with how information is stored and handled

This inconsistency with processes and standards can sometimes lead to critical information being overlooked. Although agents are advised to provide a Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ), there are reports of them being asked to resubmit the same information weeks later to solicitors and other parties involved, which is inefficient. This is an area where the Open Property Data Association is looking to drive change with upfront information.

Complexities brought about by many stakeholders

Home buying and selling is complicated by the many industry players involved throughout the process; estate agents, residential surveyors, solicitors, mortgage lenders and much more besides. Not every organisation is involved in each transaction, but the most common ones are crucial to most sales. Unfortunately, they all operate under their own regulations and processes, which makes collaboration tough.

How to modernise home buying and selling

In the digital age, integrating technology into traditional industries is more than an added benefit, it’s a necessary change. Although technology is finding its way, slowly but surely, into most corners of the industry, we still need widespread adoption to influence true change.

During discussions with property agents about the efficiency and speed of home buying and selling, Propertymark noted pessimism concerning the industry's slow adoption of modern technologies.

This hesitance to embrace new digital tools is a contributor to sluggish progress in the sector. Many agents believe that the reluctance to implement new technologies intensifies delays in the process.

Where do we go from here?

The Future of Home Buying and Selling position paper from Propertymark presents a compelling case for urgent reforms in the UK property market and paints a clear picture of the existing inefficiencies. The paper also suggests three key areas that should be addressed, based on discussions with property professionals:

  1. Increasing consistency and transparency
  2. Improving the speed and quality of the process
  3. Reducing fall throughs

Another abundantly clear message throughout is this – as the market evolves, integrating technology and standardising practices will be vital for reforming home buying and selling.

For industry professionals, taking these changes on board will improve their operational efficiency and enhance their service quality. And for consumers, the reforms detailed in the position paper ultimately promise a more reliable path to homeownership, helping to improve trust in the industry.

While the future hinges on embracing change and innovation, it all starts with a dialogue around these recommendations and committing to action, requiring collaboration from across the industry. If we get that right, we can finally transform the home buying and selling process for the better.