As far as most buyers or sellers of property are concerned, there isn't an important difference between a licensed conveyancer and a conveyancing solicitor.
It is easiest to start by looking at what is the same.
Not so different
Both are qualified lawyers who work in conveyancing - that is the legal process for the transfer of ownership of property.
A licensed conveyancer is a member of an organisation called the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (abbreviated to the CLC).
A solicitor is a member of the Law Society. The organisation that oversees the work of firms of solicitors is the Solicitors Regulation Authority (abbreviated to the SRA).
Conveyancing is a regulated service. That means that while you can do it on your own behalf, only firms overseen by the SRA or the CLC can offer the service as part of their business.
To become a member of either organisation, you must pass exams, gain relevant experience and continued to develop your professional skills. Member firms must follow certain rules about procedures.
Whether your conveyancer is a member of the Law Society or a member of the CLC doesn't make much difference. Both bodies ensure their members uphold the law, even if they have different training requirements and oversight mechanisms.
Key differences between a solicitor and a conveyancer
Conveyancing is just one legal service. But it is likely to be the only one that a licensed conveyancer carries out because, unlike a solicitor, they aren't qualified in other areas of the law. They just specialise in property law.
While the conveyancing process of the average residential home is straightforward, there can be many situations that complicate it. As examples, the property might be leasehold, you might be buying buy-to-let property, there may be tenants, or other people might have rights over the land.
While there are many solicitors who specialise in conveyancing, all licensed conveyancers do so.
Solicitors have to know about more areas of the law. For example, a solicitor who carries out your conveyancing may also have better knowledge of wills and probate than a licensed conveyancer. A firm of solicitors is likely to offer a full range of legal services, with residential conveyancing being just one. As a result, a firm of solicitors may be better placed to deal with more complex legal issues.
It is important to bear in mind that many legal professionals, regardless of their qualifications, amass knowledge over time of subjects that border their specialism. Additionally, having sat an exam about immigration law 20 years earlier doesn't make a solicitor a current expert on that topic.
Responsibilities of a conveyancer
Preparing and handling contracts
One of the tasks of your conveyancer is to prepare or review property sale contracts. Conveyancers usually handle contracts that use the standard terms of sale prepared by the Law Society, but these default terms may need to be amended. Key information such as the property price and any inclusions or exclusions in the sale will need to be be added to the contract. Other legal documents relating to the sale will form part of the sale as well, and a conveyancer will ensure these are included and reviewed.
Conducting property searches
Before any property transaction, conveyancers run specific searches to identify potential issues. They should evaluate environmental issues such as drainage, pollution and flood risks, and check property boundary details. Additionally, they might consider any planning restrictions highlighted by local authority searches.
Land Registry checks
Obvious as it sounds, the seller needs to own the property in order to sell it. Mortgage lenders require confirmation that the seller may sell. Conveyancers make sure that the seller owns the property and that there are no other claims on it by looking at ownership records at the Land Registry.
Coordinating with other parties in property transactions
Communication is important in property sales.
Your conveyancer will liaise with the seller's solicitor, ensuring that all paperwork aligns.
They might also correspond with estate agents and mortgage lenders to ensure all parties stay informed throughout the whole process.
Paying stamp duty
If you're buying a property, then at the completion stage of the selling process, your conveyancer will organise the payment of land transaction tax on your behalf.
Factors to consider when selecting a solicitor or licensed conveyancer
Experience and expertise
It's prudent to seek a property lawyer with a history of successful transactions in your specific property type. An experienced team can foresee potential hurdles, provide advice and proactively manage risks.
Reputation and client reviews
Listening to the voices of past clients can offer insights into a firm's efficiency, professionalism, and customer care. For this reason, always examine reviews and possibly request contact details of previous clients.
Look for reviews that match your transaction. For example, if you're selling property, look for reviews from sellers.
Bear in mind that reviews are often polarised - some reviews might be glowing while others complain of poor customer service.
Costs and fees structure
Conveyancing can vary in price. Solicitors often present their fees as a percentage of the property price, while licenced conveyancers might offer fixed rates. Remember to factor in other costs like postage and courier services or additional work.
Local knowledge and connections
Having a representative familiar with local procedures and personnel can expedite your transaction. They might have established relationships with estate agents and mortgage lenders in the area, aiding in smoother communication and fewer delays.
However, also bear in mind that you don't need to use a local conveyancer. Much of the conveyancing work is carried out online and uses extensive databases, and so if the other factors are stronger, local area knowledge might not be as important.
Questions to ask your potential solicitor or conveyancer
We have a longer article about the questions to ask your prospective conveyancer, but the following are often the most important.
How do they charge? Fixed fee or hourly rate?
Understanding the legal fees structure is key to budgeting for your property transaction. Some charge a fixed fee, while others might bill hourly.
Are there any hidden costs?
Clarify all expenses from the outset. Query items like courier services, search costs, additional legal work, and any unforeseen costs that might arise during the transaction.
What's their track record in successful transactions?
The expertise of conveyancers can be gauged by their past successes. Ask about previous transactions like yours, the challenges faced, and how they were resolved.
How will they keep you updated during the process?
Transparent communication makes any transaction more likely to succeed. Your representative should keep you apprised of developments in a timely manner.
Discuss preferred communication methods, be it email, phone, or face-to-face meetings.
Final thoughts: making an informed decision
Understanding your own needs in the property transaction
Every property transaction is unique. Factors such as the type of property, location, and specific circumstances of the buyer or seller can shape the complexity of the deal. Determining your needs is the first step in making an informed decision about the right legal representative to hire.
For instance, if you're simply buying a new build from a developer, the legalities might be straightforward, and a licensed conveyancer might suffice.
However, if the transaction involves a listed building or a property with potential boundary disputes, you might benefit from the wider legal knowledge of a qualified solicitor.
When considering mortgage lender requirements, some lenders insist you choose a solicitor from their approved panel. Yet, remember, you always have the right to choose your own lawyer, even if it means paying a little extra for their legal work.
If your property deal involves other legal complications such as inheritance issues or tax considerations, a solicitor, with their broader legal training, might be better equipped to assist.
Fees are important, but when choosing legal services, price isn't the only factor
Undeniably, regardless of whether you opt for a conveyancing solicitor or a licensed conveyancer, clarity on fees is likely to be important to you. It's always wise to compare prices.
But remember, when buying or selling a property, the cheapest service isn’t always the best. A legal professional that charges more might offer a more comprehensive service or have a better track record in ensuring a successful transaction.
Keep in mind that the same person might not always be your point of contact throughout the process, so ensure clear communication lines with the law firms you're considering. Make sure you know who is on the team. You might just find that it comprises of both conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers.
Engage with your estate agent for recommendations, but be wary. Some agents receive commission for referrals. Always research and pick professionals based on their merit, reviews, and your own research.