HM Land Registry has announced it will soon accept e-signatures on deeds.
This is likely to see a significant shift to e-signature platforms for completion of real estate transactions.
In a move that will be welcomed by the real estate market, HM Land Registry (HMLR) has confirmed in a blog post that it will accept e-signed deeds for registrable dispositions in the near future. Although this type of execution has been widely accepted as valid (especially since support from the Law Commission), HMLR has required wet ink signed documents up until now. This meant that hard copy documents had to be circulated for registrable dispositions (primarily transfers, registrable leases and charges). HMLR also recently started accepting scanned copies of a wet ink signature in limited circumstances.
No particular signing platform is preferred as long as HMLR's requirements are met. Essentially these are:
- The parties have agreed to use electronic signatures
- All parties have a conveyancer acting for them
- A specific process is followed when setting up the document for signature (including witness details being entered before the document is circulated for signature and the witness being physically present to witness the electronic signature).
- Two factor authentication must be used when signing (through the use of a one-time password issued by the signature platform).
There will be some practical changes to get used to. It appears that the identity of signatories and witnesses will need to be agreed before documents are sent round for signature to meet HMLR's requirements (even though some platforms offer flexibility in this respect), and mobile phone numbers will need to be provided to receive the one-time password.
One option is to approach signing in this way as more like setting up a completion meeting (a concept less common in real estate completions than other sectors) where absolutely everything is finalised before documents are signed. This is not impractical given the efficiency of a well planned electronic execution.
HMLR's announcement also confirms future adoption of "qualified electronic signatures" - essentially signing without a witness, where the signatory's identity is verified electronically at the point of signing. This is considered more secure (particularly for individuals) but is likely to take longer to implement.
In the meantime, the announcement promises a positive change to facilitate modern transaction practice.