How technology impacts commercial property
As a self-professed tech-savvy millennial, I find it hard to imagine life without the technology we now take for granted, including Google, smartphones and Facetime or Skype for catching up with loved ones.
And throughout my career, I’ve seen this persistent march of tech reflected too in the property sector, from surveyors deploying drones for aerial surveys to 3D mapping technology and online tools that help developers and estate agents identify and analyse potential development sites.
I’ve seen the legal industry embracing technology too, ranging from electronic filing systems to submitting land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT) return forms online.
Here are just a few examples of the technology that’s become a part of my day-to-day working life —
The Registers of Scotland’s ScotLIS system
The new, map-based Land Register of Scotland (which replaced the old deed-based General Register of Sasines) has a target for all of Scotland’s land to be transferred to the digital map system by 2024 and, to date, around 63% of property in Scotland has been digitally mapped.
ScotLIS is a search tool that allows both professionals and the public to access available data about land from the Land Register including when property was sold, the price, and the title’s boundaries. And importantly this is a step forward in ensuring information about land is more accessible, visible and less expensive to access for everyone.
It’s also an invaluable tool for solicitors who have access to an extended version to assist with, for example, searching specific registers for the purposes of title investigations.
This is a simple, but effective, tool for solicitors. With the majority of us working remotely and dealing with properties hundreds of miles away, the ability to use Google Maps to see the property that’s being bought or sold, as well as to see how the property is accessed and any surrounding features is very helpful.
Local authority resources
Councils are moving towards providing more online resources for both public and professional use. The Scottish Government is looking for all local authorities to provide accessible information regarding land ownership including maintaining a common good register of property. This means it’ll be easier for communities to identify publicly-owned land and buildings and make requests for community asset transfers.
Most local authorities now also have online maps or registers of adopted roads and footpaths. And I think we’ll see more of these online resources develop and improve as councils look to meet the needs of the communities and residents they serve.
For instance, The Highland Council has recently announced the release of a new mapping tool called the Business and Industrial Land Audit (BILA) to show available business and industrial land across its area.
Designed to support investment in the Highlands, the information in the BILA will be of interest to developers and others with an interest in business and industrial land.
Of course, all of these tools are designed to complement and support the work we do.
And naturally, not everything can be done online. Often, for example, we need to visit a site, as opposed to relying on Google Maps; sometimes we need to obtain hard copy title deeds if the property hasn’t been digitally mapped on the Land Register.
Generally though, online resources make a huge difference to how we service clients all over Scotland.
And for the future, it’s important we continue to invest in technology — and as solicitors we contribute to adapting these new systems and provide feedback while we use them.
Some people will always prefer the physicality of a paper file, or examining hard copy title deeds, but as we make a conscious effort to reduce paper waste, avoid incurring unnecessary expenses and save time, embracing these technological advances looks very much like the best way forward.
This article appeared in the Press and Journal's Leader supplement in May, 2019.