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Yes, you can sign property documents electronically!

The pandemic has fast-tracked advances in technology and one particularly welcome development is the embracing of electronic signatures in legal documents.

HM Land Registry announced last July that, where certain requirements were met, it would accept documents for registration that have been signed electronically. Since then, e-signature platform providers have been valiantly rising to the challenge, whilst property lawyers get to grips with the practicalities and legal niceties.

HM Land Registry has strict requirements

Most registrable documents can now be signed electronically using a suitable platform, although there are a few exceptions. Several e-signing platforms are available; at Ashfords we use DocuSign. In order to satisfy HM Land Registry, the platform must have particular functionality, such as the ability to produce one-time passwords to confirm identity.

To register a “registrable disposition”, HM Land Registry will only accept documents that comply with its strict requirements. It is crucial, therefore, to check whether these need to be met before committing to or relying on using electronic signatures for a property deal. Otherwise, there is a risk that the transaction cannot be duly registered - cue the messy fallout that often comes with lack of timely registration.

Notably, HM Land Registry requires that all parties must agree to the use of electronic signatures. This doesn’t mean that all parties must sign electronically; counterparts can be signed by different means. However, it is usually easier if all counterparts are signed in the same way, if possible.

Furthermore, all parties must have a conveyancer (defined in HMLR guidance) acting for them. Otherwise, none of the signatories can use electronic signing. 

The full list of HM Land Registry requirements is set out in section 13 of HM Land Registry’s Practice Guide 8.

Witnesses can sign electronically

Where the e-signature platform supports it, witnesses can sign electronically. However, a witness must still be physically present when the signatory signs; remote or video witnessing is not valid. This means that a witness must actually see the signatory apply their electronic signature and then log on separately to sign as witness. It is important, therefore, that each signatory and witness has their own email address and access to a device to go through the motions.

Fine-tuning for the future

E-signatures have come a long way in a year and can be used very effectively in most cases, but there is still some fine-tuning to be done. However, e-signature platform providers are rapidly tweaking their products in response to feedback and the future looks decidedly more “electronic” than “wet ink”.

For more information on the article above please contact Tamara Paul.

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