COAG met on Saturday and decided to invest to implement a national approach to conveyancing – the National Electronic Conveyancing System (NECS). Currently each of Australia’s eight states and territories has its own different system for dealing with the transfer of real estate. You might not think that’s a big deal – after all, wherever you are, the house you buy is only going to be in one state! Why does it matter to have a uniform national system?
At an abstract level from the public’s point of view, when you buy a house, there’s just a buyer, a seller, and a central land registry that maintains the “golden truth” about ownership under the standard Torrens system of title. It’s a little more complicated than that because mortgages for housing loans are also registered with land registries. So banks and non-bank lenders are normally involved too. It’s more complicated than that, because there’s a whole raft of other auxiliary entities involved in title exchange, such as title search companies, lawyers, property valuers, and insurers providing related services. The whole industry (banks, non-bank lenders, and the auxiliary service organisations) operate nationally. Currently they need to implement and maintain systems to deal with the land registry systems in each of the eight states and territories. In the past conveyancing has been a manual process, and human processors have been able to deal with the inefficiencies of working with multiple interfaces.
However, access to land registries is starting to move online, to reduce the cost and time of buying real-estate. When conveyancing becomes automated, there’s a large initial cost borne by everyone in the industry to integrate with the new system(s). Companies would prefer to pay this initial overhead cost once, not eight times!
NECS is intended to address this problem. The goal is not to create a single national land registry, but instead to create a single national interface to all of the state and territory land registries. Organisations will be able to integrate with the national interface, and gain access to the land registries in every state.
Our group at NICTA has been working with NECS, looking at issues in the definition and management of business vocabularies, business rules, and business processes. NICTA’s research philosophy is “use-inspired research” – working on fundamental scientific advances and technology innovations in the context of, and with an understanding of, real-world problems. The goal is to do research that has more impact, and benefits Australia. Our work with NECS is an example of all of this. It’s still early days, but having a deep engagement with conveyancing and e-government has already been important to motivate and direct the research we’re doing.