Blockchain 'could double the speed of UK property sales'

Tom BelgerFinance and policy reporter
Yahoo Finance UK
The technology promises to speed up sales by better connecting buyers, sellers, estate agents, conveyancers, lenders, government officials and others involved in transactions. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The technology promises to speed up sales by better connecting buyers, sellers, estate agents, conveyancers, lenders, government officials and others involved in transactions. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A blockchain-style platform promises to double the speed of UK property sales, with the startup behind it announcing a new deal for its widespread use.

The deal with other software firms will give around half of UK estate agents access to new technology designed to tackle typical delays in property sales, according to ‘proptech’ firm Coadjute.

Speaking exclusively to Yahoo Finance UK, chief executive Dan Salmons said home sales typically take months because of a lack of joined-up thinking and data-sharing among many stakeholders involved.

Confusion over next steps in a sale is common. Salmons said estate agents need “large armies” of workers merely to check for and pass on updates among parties, while buyers and sellers often have to complete similar forms multiple times.

Some experts say the sector is “ripe for disruption,” and UK government officials are among those who believe blockchain and similar technology could help “revolutionise the buy-sell process.”

Real-time updates on property sales

Salmons acknowledges his firm is far from the first to promise to speed up sales by better connecting buyers, sellers, estate agents, conveyancers, lenders, government officials and others involved in transactions.

But he said previous efforts hit a wall as they sought to persuade all parties to use a single IT system. This can prove difficult to tailor to everyone’s needs, and poses privacy concerns with all data centralised. “People love new stuff, but they’re not good at giving up old stuff,” he added.

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Platforms using so-called ‘distributed ledger technology’ (DLT), of which blockchain is the best known example, offer an alternative. They promise to let users like estate agents keep using their existing software, and keep data stored locally.

But such platforms connect other IT systems to a common network, so all parties can easily add specific updates or documents onto a single shared record for each property. With Coadjute’s tools, everyone involved has access to the digital record and a tracker lets them see others’ real-time progress and who needs to act next.

Demand for digitisation as COVID-19 forces remote work

Dan Salmons, CEO of Coadjute. (Coadjute)
Dan Salmons, CEO of Coadjute. (Coadjute)

Britain’s Land Registry began exploring such technology in 2018, with trials held involving officials and conveyancers around the world who wished to tackle similar challenges.

The work sparked the launch of Coadjute, initially as Instant Property Network, as a participant in the trials. Salmons joined the startup after first getting involved in the experiments as Royal Bank of Scotland’s director of innovation for home buying.

It has since been working on its software and building interest, but Salmons said the pandemic had proved a turning point. The rise of remote working among estate agents, solicitors and others has sparked a “sudden demand for digitisation” in recent months, he said.

READ MORE: UK house prices drop for a third month but demand picks up

Now Yahoo Finance UK can reveal Coadjute has signed a deal with both major estate agent software providers dezrez, MRI and Reapit and conveyancing software providers Redbrick and Desrezlegal. The startup estimates it will give around half of UK estate agents access to its software later this year.

Salmons said Coadjute was currently raising cash through a “multi-million pound” funding round, but its earnings will come from taking a fee when its software is used.

‘Huge hype’ over blockchain

He acknowledged the “huge hype” around blockchain in recent years, however. The company is also likely to need to bring many more parties on board before it can completely overhaul the transparency and speed of sales.

But Salmons insisted the deal will ultimately prove a “milestone” in digitising the property market, and that such technology can deliver in property more than it has in some other sectors so far. He said conversations had begun about bringing major banks on board.

The CEO was involved in the early rollout of contactless cards in a previous job at Paypoint. He said he believed such platforms could eventually spark a bigger transformation than contactless payments. He expects other companies to even develop property transaction apps, using data via software like Coadjute’s.

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“Your home is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, but you’re presented with a process where you’re completely out of control, you’ve no clear idea who’s in charge and you can’t find out what’s going on,” he said. “The cause of that pain is that systems are not connected.”

He also acknowledged creating the right technology was only part of the challenge. “People think innovation is all about the tech, but it’s rarely the hardest bit.”

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