You'd be forgiven for thinking that conveyancing solicitors are only involved in the paperwork when it comes to buying a home. In fact, they do a whole lot more. They transfer the title deeds, arrange searches and can offer really helpful legal advice when issues come up in a survey.
Here we break down the different types of conveyancing professional and what they do. So you have everything you need to choose a great conveyancer and fully understand what you need them to do for your property purchase.
A conveyancing solicitor is a fully qualified practising solicitor who can undertake the conveyancing process on your behalf. They'll generally have wider training in other areas of the law.
This extra knowledge might be useful if you're dealing with other legal matters at the same time as buying a home, for example drawing up your will. In England and Wales all practising solicitors are registered with the Law Society and the profession is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Note that solicitors in Scotland are overseen by the Law Society of Scotland, and that the conveyancing process differs from the rest of the UK.
With the rise in home ownership in the 1980s, a change in the law meant that conveyancing could also be carried out by specialist lawyers known as “licensed conveyancers”.
Licensed conveyancers do not have the same experience in other aspects of law like solicitors. They are qualified lawyers who deal exclusively with property law.
They operate under a different regulatory framework from conveyancing solicitors, called the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. They are responsible for setting and maintaining professional standards in the industry.
You might be surprised to learn that anyone can act as a conveyancer. Legally, nothing prevents homebuyers carrying out the legal process themselves.
The DIY conveyancing route isn’t one we would recommend – the process is complicated and the risk of getting something wrong is incredibly high. Missing certain elements in a contract, or following up on a property search could mean issues with the property, or your rights as an owner, are missed.
With what's likely to be the biggest purchase of your life, it's not really worth taking the risk, is it?
What does a conveyancing solicitor do?
Your conveyancing solicitor will carry out different tasks depending on whether you’re buying, selling or both.
Their main role is to ensure that the transaction goes through legally, and to deal with all the small details. Things like working out what is included in buying the property, carrying out local searches and conferring with the seller/buyer’s solicitors to choose a completion date are just the start. They keep the process going, update you on next steps and are there to answer your questions and concerns.
It makes sense to use the same conveyancing solicitor for both buying and selling, so they can help co-ordinate the timeline of your move.
The initial stages
The ball starts rolling once you have agreed a purchase price and the buyer’s offer has been accepted. Remember that accepting an offer isn’t in itself legally binding for either party until contracts are exchanged, and that overall the conveyancing process often takes 8-12 weeks.
As a seller
Once you have found and instructed a conveyancer, they will request the property’s title deeds. If you own your property outright, you may hold these yourself or have them lodged with a solicitor.
If you have a mortgage, then the deeds will be held by the lender and your conveyancer will request them from the lender directly.
Your conveyancer will also ask you to check and approve the property information form which outlines everything that will be included in the draft contract.
The conveyancer will also liaise between the buyer’s solicitor and yourself with regard to any queries or concerns from the buyer’s end about the property, and any items to be included in the sale etc.
As a buyer
Your conveyancing solicitor will help work with your mortgage lender, work out if you need to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax, and will carry out searches on the property. These will tell you certain things about the area and confirm your purchase is as expected.
From drafting contracts to completion
The exchange of contracts makes the sale legally binding; however, there are a number of stages to this process.
Your conveyancer will first provide a draft contract for you to agree and sign, which will outline the Particulars of Sale, Conditions of Sale and the agreed date of completion. The completed draft contract is then sent to the buyer’s conveyancer. Once this has been approved by everyone, the contract will be drawn up for you to sign.
Once signed, the conveyancers will exchange contracts. This is also the stage at which the buyer’s deposit will be transferred.
On the date of completion – when the property is legally transferred to the new owner – the buyer’s conveyancer will arrange to transfer the outstanding money to the seller's solicitor. The completion date is also usually the date the seller needs to be out of the property, and the keys need to be given to the estate agent to hand on to the new owners.
You can find out more in our 'stages of the conveyancing process' guide
Choosing a conveyancer
Both conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers are capable of dealing with the conveyancing process when you purchase a new property. If you're going to seek legal advice on other topics as well as the property transaction, then a conveyancing solicitor may be a better choice for you.
We've made it easy to help you find the perfect conveyancer for you. Have a look at our guide to 'choosing an excellent conveyancer' and our 'top questions to ask your conveyancer'.
Then, when you're ready, you can easily compare prices and reviews on our site!
Article updated January 2019.