Lettings agents have long been slaves to the paper chase.
From getting a landlord’s signature, to chasing tenant references and completing a tenancy agreement, the lettings and property industry is traditionally very paper-heavy.
All lettings agents face the same issue: a vast amount of paperwork involved in getting a new tenant into a property.
This directly impacts the bottom line for agents and landlords: the longer the contract process takes, the longer the property is empty – affecting income for both the letting agency and the landlord.
The key for lettings agents is to find solutions that create a better customer experience, speed up processes and save time, not only for the agency but also for the tenant and the landlord. Moving towards a paperless office is a significant step towards this.
Simply speeding up a transaction can have a great impact within the business. Management of paper-based processes is not only costly due to the resources required (paper, printer, scanner, fax, stamps, etc), but also because it consumes time that could be spent on revenue-generating activities. One of the greatest barriers to this is the signature and the process of printing, signing, faxing, scanning and sending to sign and return documents. Adopting a cloud-based solution where documents can be legally signed removes the requirement for the slower, paper-reliant process.
Dixon Estates in Stafford recently implemented eSignature technology DocuSign and as a result have been able to turn a property viewing into a move within 24 hours. Amy Dixon, managing director of Dixon Estates, said: “This kind of service was unthinkable previously due to the volume of paperwork required.”
Pace Property in Southend-on-Sea has also benefited with an increase in the pace of the business. “We have increased the speed at which we do business and reduced our overhead costs. Plus the sales team is more productive,” says managing director Crystal Horwood.
For lettings agents, delivering an efficient and fast contract and signature process also creates a positive customer experience, making the process more convenient as the whole process can be managed online, which is in line with consumer expectations today.
eSignature services are compliant with the UK Electronic Communications Act of 2000, which gives equal weight to an electronic signature as a traditional wet signature. The additional evidence gathered during the signing process means there can be even more confidence that the signature is from the intended signatory.
As UK businesses face changing data protection and privacy laws as part of EU proposals, they may be asked to meet demands from the Information Commissioner’s Office to provide evidence of processes in place for data protection within 24 hours. Improving the storage and discoverability of important documents like contracts and agreements is therefore key for the lettings industry.
Compliance with industry-specific standards is also important. Pace Property chose an electronic signature solution to improve business processes and reduce overhead costs, but also required reassurance from within the industry that it is compliant with standards. Crystal Horwood explains: “The experience they have as the Official eSignature provider to the 1.1 million member National Association of Realtors in the US allayed any concerns we may have had regarding the product or its legality.”
By moving paperwork to the cloud, businesses become more flexible in nature due to the elimination of restrictions of needing to be present to sign or the logistics of delivering important documents. Tenants or landlords do not need to be physically present to sign or deliver documents such as tenancy agreements, referencing documents, inventories or contracts.
London Relocation, a property search company specialising in overseas professionals relocating to London, implemented an electronic signature solution to help with the volume of paperwork generated for each client, most of whom are based overseas. Mat Paramor, Head of Corporate Services at London Relocation, said: “Assisting people moving to London from overseas is a very document-heavy job.” By implementing signatures, London Relocation were able to reduce to a quarter the time it had taken to get important documents signed quickly and securely.
Martin & Co in Aberdeen were one of the first UK letting agents to implement electronic signatures and are utilising it for the majority of their paperwork, and can now do so remotely. “It allows us to offer a completely remote service to landlords and near remote service for tenants. They now only need to visit us to pick up the keys,” says director Eduardo Prato.
Of course, the priority for any business is bottom-line figures. Whilst time saving and convenience for clients is important, any technology that businesses adopt must deliver cost efficiencies.
Dixon Estates is expecting to save more than £5,000 in the first year following the implementation of eSignatures. Amy Dixon confirmed: “I calculate that I am saving £5,000. That doesn’t include the time it is freeing up or the additional revenue from getting tenants into properties faster.”
Eduardo Prato, from Martin and Co in Aberdeen, agreed: “We calculate we are saving £300 per month just on ink and paper costs. In addition, we can now process 12 tenancies per day as opposed to the traditional six. This has halved the workload and therefore allowed us to reduce the staff dedicated to this by 50%.”
eSignature technology is changing how the UK lettings market operates. Against a backdrop of an increasingly competitive and busy market, driving cost efficiencies and time savings is not only a priority but also achievable by removing the barriers presented by the paperchain.
Bob Desantis is managing director of DocuSign Europe