What is a conveyancer? Their role in buying and selling your home

Last updated: April 2024 | 10 min read

A conveyancer assists in navigating the procedures involved in selling, purchasing, or mortgaging a property. They specialize in the legal facets of transferring property ownership from one party to another. A conveyancer may hold qualifications as a solicitor, licensed conveyancer, or chartered legal executive.

A conveyancer's role 

A conveyancer facilitates the legal transfer of property from a seller to a buyer. They address any legal issues that may arise during the buying or selling process.

The work that they carry out includes property searches, completing or replying to documentation, keeping a client updated on each step of the buying or selling process, exchanging contracts and finalisation, and arranging for stamp duty to be paid if required.

The conveyancer sorts out the details in the process of buying and selling to ensure there is no dispute or confusion over even minor details, for example, a parking space size on a driveway.

Conveyancing solicitor vs licensed conveyancer: what's the difference?

Conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers both oversee the conveyancing process. However, their professional backgrounds differ.

A conveyancing solicitor is an individual who is a fully qualified solicitor (as a member of the Law Society) and who specialises in conveyancing. A property solicitor will typically tend to have experience in other legal areas too.

They might be best to use if there are other legal issues that need considering or on which you need to seek advice at the same time, for example, an inherited estate or probate, or if you are involved in divorce proceedings.

Licensed Conveyancers are not solicitors, but qualified in conveyancing only. Their regulatory body, Council for Licensed Conveyancers, was created after a rise in home ownership during the '80s, when there was a monopoly of solicitors in conveyancing services, in order to be able to meet the demand for conveyancing services.

However, a licensed conveyancer will not be a qualified lawyer to assist you in other aspects of law, unlike solicitors.

Hence the difference between a solicitor and a licensed conveyancer, is the breadth of legal services each can provide.

The choice between the two often depends on the complexity of the property purchase and personal preference. Some individuals may opt for a conveyancing solicitor, while others might choose a licensed conveyancer for a straightforward property transaction.

Benefits of hiring a professional conveyancer

Professional conveyancers bring expertise to the process of buying or selling a property. Their knowledge of property law ensures all legal obligations are met. They liaise with various parties, including the estate agent, seller's conveyancer, and local authorities.

Hiring a professional can save both time and potential legal complications. Though it's feasible to undertake conveyancing work independently, many choose the safety of professional guidance.

Conveyancing: the first steps 

The conveyancing process begins once an offer on a property is accepted.

Initiating contact with estate agents and the seller's conveyancer

The buyer's conveyancer starts by contacting the estate agent. This initial contact helps them acquire basic details about the property and the seller's solicitor or conveyancer.

Opening a purchase file and verifying identity

The buyer's conveyancer opens a dedicated file for the property purchase. They request specific documents from the buyer to verify their identity. Commonly requested documents include a passport and a driving license. Verifying a buyer's identity is a legal requirement in property transactions.

Understanding the legal obligations

Mortgage lenders often require a conveyancer or solicitor for the legal aspects of a property purchase. The buyer's solicitor will ensure the buyer is informed about the paperwork and legal obligations.

This phase involves explaining the conveyancing costs and detailing the property information form.

Being informed can prevent unforeseen issues as the process unfolds.

Property searches and title deeds

Why are property searches necessary?

Property searches serve a purpose in the conveyancing process. The buyer's solicitor organises these checks to reveal potential issues with the property. These might include planning restrictions, flood risks, and local authority details.

Local authorities could provide insight into nearby future developments that might affect the property's value. Mortgage lenders often require specific searches before releasing a mortgage offer. While some searches might seem optional, omitting them could result in unexpected complications, for example an environmental search.

Understanding title deeds and their importance

A property's title deeds represent a historical record of its ownership. These legal documents confirm the property's rightful owner. They also contain specific details like boundaries and rights of way.

Reviewing title deeds ensures the seller genuinely owns the property or holds the rights to sell it. For leasehold properties, title deeds detail the lease's remaining duration and any conditions.

In the UK, the Land Registry holds most title deeds. A thorough review by your conveyancer ensures no disputes about ownership arise after the purchase.

The conveyancing process

Reviewing and preparing the draft contract

Once an offer is accepted, the seller's solicitor prepares a draft contract. This contract pack includes essential documents like the property information form, the leasehold information form, and the fittings and contents form.

The buyer's conveyancer examines these to ensure all the paperwork is consistent with expectations. At this stage, property law considerations arise, from shared access rights to what fixtures come with the property.

Handling inquiries and negotiations

Queries about the property might emerge after reviewing the draft contract. The buyer's solicitor raises these inquiries with the seller's solicitors.

Negotiations can also take place regarding purchase price adjustments or conditions. Engaging with a conveyancing solicitor ensures you get clear answers without legal complexities.

Exchanging contracts and securing the deposit

The exchange of contracts marks a legally binding commitment. The buyer pays a deposit, often around 10% of the property's value. If a buyer withdraws after this stage, they forfeit the deposit. Conversely, if the seller withdraws, they face penalties.

Setting the completion date

Both parties agree on a completion date following the exchange. On this day, the buyer pays the remaining balance, and the seller transfers the property keys. There's often a gap between exchange and completion for buyers to finalise details or make arrangements. This date signifies the end of the conveyancing process.

Completion and post-completion tasks

The final stages of buying or selling property include tasks that finalise the transaction.

What happens on the completion date?

On the completion date, the purchase price balances transfer from the buyer to the seller. The buyer's conveyancer sends the sum to the seller's solicitor. Once funds get through, the seller's conveyancers release the keys. These are typically given via the estate agent, giving access to the new owner. Here's a more detailed article on what to expect on the completion date.

Transferring ownership and liaising with the Land Registry

After completion, the buyer's solicitor transfers ownership. This involves sending a transfer deed to the Land Registry. It ensures the buyer's name is registered as the new owner. Liaising with the Land Registry, a government department, updates the public record with the property's most recent owner.

Handling stamp duty land tax

The buyer's solicitor handles the stamp duty land tax after ownership transfer. This tax is paid on properties over a certain price. It's payable to HM Revenue & Customs. Buyers need to pay this promptly, usually within 14 days of completion, to avoid penalties.

Costs associated with conveyancing

Property purchases come with fees, and conveyancing is no exception.

Understanding conveyancing fees

Conveyancing fees cover two main areas: the conveyancer's fee and disbursements. The conveyancer's fee is for the legal work of transferring property. Disbursements cover costs like search fees and land registry fees.

Fixed fee conveyancing vs No Sale No Fee conveyancing

Fixed fee conveyancing charges a set price for conveyancing work. It's a standard price regardless of the work's complexity. No Sale No Fee conveyancing ('NSNF') charges only if the transaction is successful. This option might come with higher fees to offset risks.

Comparing prices and getting the right quote

It's recommended to get multiple quotes from conveyancing solicitors. Examine both professional fees and disbursements. Ensure no hidden charges are included. Comparing these quotes helps in making an informed decision.

Finding the right conveyancer

Choosing a professional is key to a smooth property purchase.

Where to look for a reliable conveyancer?

For a conveyancer search, ask friends or family who've bought property. Their experience can guide you. Estate agents may also recommend conveyancers. However, ensure that such recommendations aren't only for commission. The Council for Licensed Conveyancers lists licensed practitioners.

While both conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers are more than capable of dealing with the entire buying and selling process, if there are any other legal factors that should be addressed during the transaction (such as how you leave property in your will), a conveyancing solicitor may be a more suitable choice.

Further, consider choosing a 'no sale no fee' conveyancing firm. This will give the conveyancing solicitor an incentive to ensure that the sale or purchase happens quickly and save you the legal fees if the sale falls through.

If your conveyancer doesn't seem to be performing as you expect, you can switch solicitors during the conveyancing process. However, its best to find a good solicitor from the start, rather than dealing with the issues that arise if you don't.

Should you go with the estate agents's recommended conveyancer?

Your estate agent may also refer a conveyancer to you. However, you should know that almost always conveyancers pay referral fees to the agents for introduction of a new client.

Given that the estate agent gets a financial benefit if you choose their conveyancer, you should consider all of your options and visit multiple conveyancers and compare their fees and reviews.

Questions to ask before hiring

Before hiring, gather key information. Ask about their local property experience, fees, and the expected conveyancing timeline. Also, confirm their contact details for easy communication.

Self-conveyancing: is it a viable option?

You may have heard the term 'self-conveyancing'. While technically possible, the process carries risks and challenges.

It is possible to do your own conveyancing. Nothing legally prohibits buyers and sellers from acting as their own conveyancers. So you can choose to save on solicitors fees.

Risks associated with acting as your own conveyancer

However, conveyancing involves many legal terms and intricate processes. Taking this on without professional training exposes you to potential pitfalls. One oversight can jeopardise your property rights.

  • Failing to spot an issue in the title deeds can result in a loss of ownership.
  • Errors in the documentation could cause disputes with your mortgage provider or delay your move.
  • Missing deadlines, especially when part of a property chain, can break the sale and potentially cost you more.

When to seriously consider hiring a professional

While self-conveyancing may seem cost-effective, the potential time and money saved might be outweighed by unforeseen issues. Here are scenarios when professional expertise becomes invaluable:

  • Leasehold property complications can arise, and missing a detail can have long-term consequences.
  • Dealing with local authority disputes can be tedious.
  • If a mortgage lender is involved, they often require a professional conveyancer.
  • If you're not buying the property outright, or there are shared ownership details, a conveyancer can simplify the process.

A conveyancer has the knowledge to handle complexities, ensuring a smoother process.

Conveyancer's role when selling property

A conveyancer also assists when you're selling.

Preparation of legal documents and contract

A conveyancer assists in the preparation of legal documents necessary for the property sale.

These documents include the title deeds, property information forms, fixtures and fittings lists, and the sale contract outlining terms of sale, property price, boundaries, and rights of way.

Liaising with buyer's conveyancer and answering queries

Communication is vital. Once the buyer's conveyancer reviews the contract and documentation, questions may arise. Your conveyancer addresses these queries. Whether it's about boundaries, property chain details, or completion dates, your conveyancer offers clarity, making the selling process transparent and straightforward.

Dealing with more than just the paperwork, they help keep the property transaction moving smoothly.

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