One practitioner's quest to see how far she could push to make a paperless transaction a reality
When Solicitor Claire Martin recently made history by completing Australia’s first fully digital home sale* the news travelled fast.
Refusing to pay by cheque
Less well known is her resilience and determination to overcome any hurdles put in her way to finish an end-to-end paperless property transaction. This included flatly refusing to pay by cheque and seeking assurance from her outgoing bank and the other lenders that the transaction must go online.
“I wanted to see how far I could push to make a paperless transaction a reality,” she said. “That included my experience with the section 109 strata certificate fees. I was told that only cheque payments were allowed. I told them ‘don’t be ridiculous – this is 2016! Find a way to make it work with B-Pay’.
From that point onwards it was plain sailing.
Compiling a contract in less than one hour - saving one week’s worth of work
“I compiled the contract in less than one hour and was able to email it out that day – saving one week’s worth of work,” adds Claire. “I’m on the Board of directors for Manly Rugby and I was down at the oval setting up for the day’s game when I signed the e-contract on my iPad.
“I invited NAB to the transaction explaining to my banker that this transaction must go online. I was that passionate. St. George said it couldn’t proceed initially because they were not taking PEXA bookings until 6 June 2016 - this matter was settling on 9 June 2016. Once we discussed this would be the first fully digital conveyance, it agreed this would be its first booking.
I made sure it happened online
“As we got closer to settlement I learned that the purchaser was taking out a second mortgage. To avoid any last minute hitches I contacted a senior manager at one of the banks to make sure it all happened online.
“I contacted Westpac and asked them to make St George separate the purchase and second mortgage so the purchase could proceed via PEXA. I reinvited them to the workspace and they had FMS lodge the second mortgage in a separate transaction. Everyone had visibility of what was happening. The morning of settlement NAB uploaded the payout figure. It was great.
“For the real estate part of the transaction I used DocuSign - electronic signature technology. The Exclusive Agency Agreement was e-Signed and emailed back to the agent.
Avoiding sitting on the phone with the banks listening to that horrible music-on-hold
“The best part of the entire process was avoiding sitting on hold with the banks listening to that horrible music-on-hold for up to an hour.
“I figured out how to use PEXA myself. It’s pretty straightforward. I started by watching a video on how to lodge caveats. It wasn’t difficult.
I have a file for this transaction and it’s totally empty. There’s not one scrap of paper in it
“For the record, I have a file for this transaction and it’s totally empty. There’s not one scrap of paper in it.
“With paper settlements I would usually book a settlement agent and expect to be sitting on hold with the bank for up to two hours. Then I’d need to book the time and settlement place, get the cheques ready and make sure that everything balances.
“The resistance to change is coming from practitioners close to retirement who don’t want to learn the new technology. My mum is a licensed conveyancer and I know that some of her peers are only now – somewhat reluctantly - getting their heads around how to use to a smartphone.
Just one hour’s work online can boost productivity
“I’m the vice chair of a young lawyers committee. I’ve been telling them about the quantity of work that can be done from doing just one hour’s work online. The benefits include working from home with flexible working arrangements to help practitioners transition back to work from parental leave.
“With PEXA all the tasks are in one online workspace saving time. And there’s complete visibility of what’s happening.
PEXA is the only way forward when selling 300 units to prevent burn-out
“I tell everyone about PEXA – our real estate agents, brokers and developer clients. I tell them this is the only way forward when selling 300 units to prevent the burn-out that comes from tyring to lodge all the necessary paper documents. With PEXA you can set up all the steps online before settlement.”
There was one other major motivation to go paperless that will appeal to tech-savvy property lawyers and conveyancers alike. Claire is currently writing a College of Law thesis – online of course – about the impact of technology on conveyancing.
* E-settlements have been available in NSW since late 2014. The exchange of electronic contracts was made possible in 2015. However, this was the first sale where every step was conducted online including the digital signature on the electronic Contract. The first e-settlement through PEXA involved CBA and Land Victoria in June 2013. Fast forward to today and 72 financial institutions are now signed up to transact property online through PEXA, helping practitioners to remove paper and simplify their processes with electronic contracts.