Forcing Liquidity into Real Estate

The Investment Property Forum (IPF) have just launched the latest edition of their guide to best practice in real estate transactions. It is a worthy effort compiled by a committee composed of experienced and knowledgeable individuals. This is the third iteration since the idea of improving liquidity came to the property investment industry in 1996, some 10 years after most other investment markets underwent their “Big Bang”. For a 22-year-old concept it hasn’t moved on very much but those of us who have been a part of the industry during that period would probably have needed an extra dose of Phyllosan if it had.

Everybody knows that liquidity and real estate are effectively mutually exclusive. So, describing a route meandering through a typical timeframe of between 3 and 8 months (including 1 or 2 months getting the due diligence accepted by the buyer) actually feels a bit rushed. Where are the allowances for Christmas, Ski season, MIPIM, Easter, Spring half-term, Ascot and, of course, the 8-week summer hols? This reality has not recently become an anachronism, it has been one for longer than it wasn’t.

What will the next version of the guide look like? Does anybody think that the “Typical timeframe” will be shaved by a few weeks? Will the concept of readiness for sale catch on in the next 3 or 4 years? Is it even conceivable to squeeze the sale of a single sizeable asset into the period between the autumn half-term and the 1st December start of Christmas? That would be… erm, awesome. It may not have exactly the same definition as high-frequency trading but for the veterans this is like a car journey with Mr Toad.

We must do better, massively better. How could we do better? Like any recovery it can only start with accepting that there is a problem and that may only become apparent when the impact of HM Land Registry’s amble towards the data flood gate is felt. You won’t have to spend long researching this one as sites like Datscha and Nimbus Maps are already there to see and use. They want your business. Once that motive force is in place:

·         More compulsory registration of leases and associated documents. You might feel like you have wandered into the street without your trousers on, but transparency is good for the industry and those who understand why.

·         Widespread adoption of data exchange standards, including Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRN). Note: UPRN is currently covered by an Ordnance Survey policy, which needs to be addressed – see what I did there?

·         Use machine reading and other AI related technologies to turn documents into structured data (I declare an interest here – ask me about it),  giving access as necessary to purchasers, funders and valuers.

·         Spend more time on your Heads-of-Terms and your own investigations. You will spend less on lawyers’ fees and you don’t do that without spending less time too.

·         Don’t accept an offer without verifiable funding evidence from the purchaser. Obvious to you I know but someone is still doing it because it happens all the time when ££££s are offered.

·         Stop issuing pointless pre-contract enquiries, which are frequently rejected by the seller’s lawyer.

·         Restrict the number of searches (they go out-of-date to quickly anyway) and use insurance to cover the less likely negative results.

·         Don’t allow YOUR lawyer to make pointless alterations to the sale and purchase contract.

·         Make audit regulations such that readiness for sale is a basic requirement.

·         Get ready for Blockchain. Don’t panic, it isn’t really here yet but if you want to be on that wave when it arrives, you MUST have full, accurate, up-to-date and transferable data.

Remember that every minute that passes between agreeing terms and exchanging contracts increases the chances of your deal failing.

If you don’t know what counts as data …ask lots of people. Or me.

Trust me on this one: more liquidity = more transactions = more investors