The mountains of paperwork associated with buying a home could soon be a thing of the past, as the NSW government continues moves toward the introduction of electronic contracts.
Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Victor Dominello, has released an 18-page discussion paper, Removing barriers to electronic land contracts, outlining plans to further integrate digital signatures.
“Alongside being one of the most important life events for Australians, buying a home is also one of the most stressful experiences,” he said.
“In some cases a 28-day settlement feels more like 28 hours. There just isn’t enough time to get it all done.
“But imagine if you could do everything from paying your deposit to settling your home from your smart phone, PC or tablet.”
NSW has already taken steps toward a paperless system, and has stated that the property industry “is transitioning towards a 100% digital future.”
Conveyancing, the lodging and registration of land, has been the first part of the process to undergo significant change.
In July 2016, Dominello announced the Electronic Conveyancing Act in 2016, which states that eConveyancing will be mandatory by July 2019.
Phasing in of eConveyancing has been steady since the announcement, with around one third of lodgements in NSW already electronic.
But, while eConveyancing is already proving successful, it focuses purely on the completion of property transaction, while acquisition still requires some ‘wet’ signatures.
“Unfortunately the laws dealing with property acquisition phase are still stuck in the age of paper and ink,” Dominello said.
“This paper seeks to take the 20th century laws governing property acquisition and bring them in line with the expectations of a 21st century homebuyer.”
The 20th century laws referenced are the Conveyancing Act 1919 and the Real Property Act 1900, which state that interest in land can not be created or disposed of without a signed signature.
Electronic signatures are classified as any form of electronic communication that is intended to be a person’s signature, including signing a tablet or phone with a stylus, using a scanned image of a person’s signature or an encrypted ‘digital signature’.
This removes the need for travel or couriering, and prevents the possibility of documents being signed incorrectly.
While electronic contracts create a more efficient process for the parties involved, they are not without their complexities.
“Without the limitations of paper, vendors may be tempted to ‘over-disclose’ by including unnecessary documents in the electronic file,” says the report.
“The purchaser, faced with an enormous bundle of documents in a compressed file format, may find it difficult to determine the key issues.
“A more complicated disclosure is likely to increase the costs and delay the exchange of contracts.”
The report asks key questions around the types of electronic signatures that may be appropriate for land contracts and whether there is the need for witnesses in such agreements.
It calls for industry submissions, due 16 February 2018.