Property transactions to go digital with likely law change

Both buyers and sellers will spend less time on paperwork and queueing with digitalisation

Private houses and HDB flats in Bukit Panjang. PHOTO: ST FILE

It may soon be possible to buy and sell properties purely electronically as the Government looks to change a key digital economy law.

In the same vein, Singaporeans may be able to apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney online, while cross-border trade documentation is also set to go electronic with the digitalisation of bills of lading, which are documents that acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.

These changes, which could make shipping much cheaper and property deals more convenient, could be ushered in with the review of the Electronic Transactions Act as Singapore seeks to amend its laws to grow its digital economy, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said yesterday.

"The review aims to facilitate electronic transactions to a greater degree by fostering a more trusted environment where businesses and consumers can transact electronically with greater peace of mind," he said at Innovfest Unbound, which is into its fifth year.

With these changes, the Republic will be among the first to tweak their laws in the face of new technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts that are opening up new ways of transacting digitally.

One key part of the review is to bring more transactions into the ambit of the law to provide legal certainty for these electronic transactions, said Mr Iswaran.

He noted that 70 per cent of residential property transaction documents are still in hard copy. By allowing such transactions to go digital, both buyers and sellers can enjoy a faster transaction process and spend less time on paperwork and queueing up, he said.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at the opening of technology conference Innovfest Unbound at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre on June 26, 2019. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Digital bills of lading will revolutionise the shipping sector, which now relies mainly on hard copies, Mr Iswaran told an audience of global technology industry players, investors and business leaders.

"This will reduce costs associated with printing, handling and transportation of hundreds of pages of paper documentation," he said. "And it is estimated that trade document processing and administration can add up to 20 per cent to the cost of shipping a single container."

The Government plans a framework for electronic transferable records that dovetails with the global electronic trade framework.

Such electronic records speed up cross-border electronic commerce and enhance its security, he said.

To seek views from the public and industry players on the proposed changes, the Infocomm Media Development Authority launched a public consultation yesterday which will go on until Aug 27. The review is targeted to be completed by next year.

"I want to encourage the industry to participate actively in this consultation and contribute your ideas and suggestions because that will inform our approach to the formulation of these regulations and legislation," Mr Iswaran said.

Ms Christine Li, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at Cushman & Wakefield, noted that the Government has been on a push to automate transaction-related processes in the real estate sector to make it more "smart". "And this is the part to make automation possible. It is to drive efficiency and reduce manpower," she said.

With changing buying habits and the availability of online marketplaces for real estate deals, Ms Li observed that many property buyers are already using such platforms to transact almost completely online.

They negotiate with the seller and pay an agent a very small fee for the paperwork as the contract still needs to be signed physically.

"They DIY (do-it-yourself) the whole buying process," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2019, with the headline Property transactions to go digital with likely law change. Subscribe