Thinking that conveyancing solicitors are only involved in the paperwork when buying a property isn't uncommon. In reality, conveyancers do far more than this. They transfer the title deeds, arrange searches and can offer 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. A good example of such legal matters includes drawing up your will. In England and Wales, all practising solicitors are registered with the Law Society. Conveyancing solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Note that solicitors in Scotland are overseen by the Law Society of Scotland. Their conveyancing process differs from the rest of the UK.
With the rise in home ownership in the 1980s, a law change meant that conveyancing could also be carried out by specialist lawyers. Conveyancers who are specialist lawyers are identified 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.
DIY conveyancing is not a route 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. Your rights as an owner could potentially be missed too.
With what's likely to be the biggest purchase of your life, it's not worth taking the risk, is it?
What does a conveyancing solicitor do?
Your conveyancing solicitor will carry out different tasks depending on whether you buy a house, sell one, or both.
Their main role is to ensure that the transaction goes through legally, and to deal with all the small details. A conveyancing solicitor will carry out local searches and confer with the seller/buyer's solicitors. But organising a completion date for you is 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. This way, 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 legally binding for either party until contracts are exchanged. 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. The form outlines everything that will be included in the draft contract.
The conveyancer will also liaise between the buyer’s solicitor and yourself. This will be with regard to any queries or concerns from the buyer’s end about the property. Such things could include things like any items to be involved in the sale.
As a buyer
Your conveyancing solicitor will help work with your mortgage lender. They'll support you on working out whether you have 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. The draft 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, the buyer's conveyancer will arrange the transfer of any outstanding money. This is when the property is legally transferred to the new owner and the money will go to the seller's solicitor. The completion date is also usually the date the seller needs to be out of the property. The keys will need to be given to the estate agent to hand on to the new owners.
You can learn more in our 'stages of the conveyancing process' guide
Choosing a conveyancer
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 conveyancing quotes and reviews on our site!
Article updated November 2023.