Conveyancing Services

Until you actually buy a property, conveyancing is one of those mysterious legal processes which happen to other people.

Conveyancing involves the process of obtaining and preparing documentation relating to a specific property and putting these in order ready for the transfer of ownership.

Conveyancing in England and Wales is slightly different from conveyancing in Scotland, although the end result is the same: a happy vendor and a happy buyer (always known as the seller and purchaser in Scotland).

To get the best conveyancing services, you need to know a bit about the conveyancing process in England and Wales or Scotland, where conveyancing services are slightly different.

Conveyancing services in England and Wales

In England and Wales estate agents or private vendors advertise a property for sale.

Conveyancing begins when an offer has been made either via the estate agent or directly to the vendor and this is accepted.

Conveyancing services are carried out by property solicitors or licensed conveyancers, who may also be lawyers but who have a specialised qualification in conveyancing.

Property solicitors specialising in conveyancing are regulated by the Law Society of England and Wales.

Licensed conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

In England and Wales the conveyancing process takes around eight weeks and begins once an offer on a property has been accepted by the vendor.

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The different stages of the conveyancing process are:

  • A buyer or vendor obtains a quote from a conveyancing firm or conveyancing solicitor and instructs them to act in the sale or purchase of a property
  • Once an offer on a property has been agreed between a buyer and a vendor, the vendor's conveyancing solicitor will then prepare a draft contract and send this to the buyer's conveyancing solicitor, together with a property information form (known as an SPIF), a copy of the deeds, and other information such as details of the fixtures and fittings included
  • The buyer's conveyancing solicitor will carry out the Land Registry search and will also search for local planning applications which might affect the property in some way in the future eg planning permission granted for new buildings near the property
  • The buyer will at this stage sign a Mortgage Deed confirming that any mortgage has been approved by its lender.
  • At this stage of conveyancing services, contracts can be exchanged and the deposit will be paid by the buyer to the vendor's conveyancer
  • After this, a completion date will be set, which involves the buyer arranging to transfer the monies for the sale to the vendor's conveyancing solicitor
  • After this has happened, the deeds and Land Registry documents will be sent to the buyer's lender
  • Any amount outstanding on a previous mortgage held by the vendor will be paid at this stage, as well as any disbursements (other costs relating to the sale, such as legal fees), before the balance monies is forwarded to the vendor's bank account
  • The buyer's conveyancer will arrange to pay disbursements like Stamp Duty
  • In the final stage of the conveyancing process, the buyer's conveyancing solicitor will register the property at the Land Registry in the new owner's name
  • The buyer's lender retains the Title Deeds as security against the mortgage.

Conveyancing fees for vendors are usually much cheaper than for buyers because their conveyancer has less work to do after drawing up the contract and property information pack.

The Law Society of England and Wales runs an accreditation scheme for firms of conveyancing solicitors, so look out for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) logo on a website or in a window. This guarantees excellent customer service and a gold standard level of conveyancing services.

Conveyancing Panels

The Law Society of England and Wales introduced conveyancing panels to offer consumers more choice in conveyancing services and more protection against conveyancing scams.

Lenders like high street banks and building societies may insist on their mortgage customers using a firm of conveyancing solicitors or a licensed conveyancing firm which is a member of their own conveyancing panels. This can help speed up the process of conveyancing, as it will be in the interests of the conveyancing firm to make sure the sale goes through to deadline.

Consumers can still choose their own conveyancing firm, but may end up having to pay for both their own conveyancing fees and those of their lender if they do.

Online conveyancing

In recent years the rise in online conveyancing services has driven down the cost of conveyancing, with some online conveyancing deals offered at just £98 plus VAT.

The benefits of online conveyancing include:

  • Faster conveyancing: no meetings or phone calls with your conveyancer are usually needed and documents can be obtained and searches performed online as these are now often stored electronically
  • 24/7 customer access: with online conveyancing you have an online customer account with the conveyancing firm which you can access 24/7 to check on the progress of your conveyancing
  • Cheaper conveyancing: no costly meetings or phone calls with your conveyancer.
  • Get multiple conveyancing quotes from conveyancing solicitors in seconds.

The disadvantages of online conveyancing are:

  • The estimate given may not cover all the stages of conveyancing, so check what is included before you sign up
  • If extra work is needed, this may be charged at an hourly rate which could be £200-£300 per hour, so set a fee for extra work before you agree to a deal (eg properties which are listed building may not have deeds which are stored electronically or there may be a query on a Local Authority planning application which affects the property and this can cost more)
  • Extras might also be added on eg photocopying, faxing, postage, conveyancer's professional indemnity fee, so check if extras will be added and how much they will cost
  • Conveyancing scams: some online conveyancing companies have been found to be scams, so make sure the company has a traceable address and phone number and is not a company operating outside the UK and UK law.

Conveyancing services for leasehold properties always cost more because the lease has to be checked, so make sure online conveyancing quotes or estimates cover this; and always opt for a quote rather than an estimate, as an estimate might turn out to be precisely that.

Conveyancing services in Scotland

The conveyancing process in Scotland begins much earlier in the sale, with property solicitors acting as estate agents in many cases.

As soon as a conveyancing solicitor in Scotland is handed a property to market, they are likely to begin the process of obtaining searches so that by the time a buyer for the property has been agreed, much of the conveyancing process is underway.

This makes conveyancing services in Scotland much quicker than in England and Wales, and also much safer as gazumping is not possible.

Conveyancing in Scotland also tends to be more expensive, however: the process is the same, but is carried out in a slightly different way.

The different stages of conveyancing services in Scotland are:

  • Purchasers should obtain a conveyancing quote from a property solicitor in Scotland early on in the process and should also have a mortgage agreement, as once a bid is accepted conveyancing in Scotland moves quickly even if the date of entry (moving in date) is delayed.
  • For the seller, once the property is advertised and a guide price has been set, a deadline is set for sealed bids by the seller's conveyancing solicitor. The seller's conveyancing solicitor then begins the local authority searches while bidding takes place.
  • The purchaser makes a conditional offer on a property with a proposed "date of entry" (moving in date): the date of entry is the completion deadline both the seller and purchaser's solicitors will agree to work towards. Once a bid has been accepted the purchaser's solicitor will negotiate a contract with the seller's solicitor: the contracts of sale and purchase are known as "missives" in Scotland.
  • Purchasers have the property surveyed. Some purchasers may obtain a survey before they make a sealed bid so they are certain about its condition if they win the bidding process. It is possible to make a conditional bid subject to survey but this may mean your bid is not accepted if there is heavy competition among purchasers for the property.
  • The usual searches are carried out by the purchaser's solicitor and the Title Deeds are obtained from the Land Registry.
  • The seller's solicitor prepares a Land Transaction Return for the purchaser to sign. The seller's solicitor also requests the monies from the purchaser's lender and monies for any other costs relating to the entry date from the purchaser's solicitor.
  • The transaction is completed with a transfer of the paperwork, and Stamp Duty and tax are paid, the property is registered in the new owner's name at the Land Registry/Sasine and the keys are handed over. If the new owner finds any defects in the property, these must be reported to the seller's solicitor immediately or as soon as possible.

Conveyancing solicitors in Scotland are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland.

Finding the best conveyancing services

When choosing a conveyancing company, there are a few things consumers should look for, whether buying or selling a property:

  • Choose a reputable firm which specialises in conveyancing and look for the CQS logo
  • Make sure your conveyancing services can be completed to the required deadline by the firm you choose
  • Make sure your quote is a quote not an estimate and that it will include all the stages of conveyancing
  • Negotiate a set fee for any extra work which might be needed and don't accept hourly rates
  • Make sure you know how extras like photocopying and postage will be charged
  • Make sure you can trace the name and address of any online conveyancing company, and that the office is based within UK jurisdiction
  • Beware of online conveyancing scams: check the company out with the Law Society of England and Wales or the Law Society of Scotland if you are unsure
  • Look for companies which will offer you a dedicated named member of staff to handle your conveyancing, just in case you need to speak to someone if there is a problem: some online conveyancing companies operate on a "call centre" format to keep costs down, which means several paralegals may handle your conveyancing rather than a dedicated staff member.

Word of mouth and recommendation is often the best way of finding a reputable local conveyancing firm.

The Law Society of England and Wales and Law Society of Scotland offer a search engine to help you find the right conveyancing firm for your needs.

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