Our government is under pressure from the Real Estate industry to remove the need for agents to be present when digital contracts for buying houses are being signed electronically. This latest push for change is covered in an In Daily article, Real estate agents push for more reform.
From my perspective, as a conveyancer, there are some pros and cons to be considered before we head down this pathway, but they might not be as hard to deal with as it seems.
What real estate agents want
Real estate agents are arguing that needing to have an agent present when the signing of digital contracts take place is archaic and forces some regional purchasers or vendors to travel hundreds of kilometres just to do a signature.
I can understand their argument and can foresee some great efficiencies to be gained if we can find a way to keep up with the rest of the world. Furthermore, digital documents might even lead to less disputes in some cases. We have seen existing handwritten contracts where there have been disputes as to the exact detail on the documentation because of the difficulty of reading the detail as it had faxed and scanned so many times.
There is no doubt that typed wording is clear and unambiguous and might well justify this proposed change.
Legal concerns about electronic signatures
On the other hand, the Law Society has expressed concerns about the integrity of the electronic signing process and whether or not documents can be locked upon signing.
So, while the contract content might be clear to read, lawyers are worried that we might find it hard to know whether contracts have been tampered with AFTER signing has taken place, potentially leading to increased disputes.
I think if we can be confident that the contracts can’t be amended after the parties have signed and that the vendor and purchaser can confirm that they’ve read and understood the full details included then I’m happy to cautiously agree to these changes.
For those of us in the industry, it is now a case of waiting for Attorney-General John Rau to deliberate over the different opinions and make his decision.