In its literal form, conveyance means the transfer of something from one place to another – but in law, conveyancing means the transfer of actual ownership from one person (or a group of people or a company) to another. Although the transfer usually involves land and/or property, it can also apply to other commodities. The term would seem to imply a relatively simple process, but it is often conversely extremely complex and fraught with danger; which is why most property buyers, investors and sellers employ a conveyancing solicitor to undertake the work on their behalf.
Conveyancing solicitors are specialised in this avenue of law and often have access to useful service elements within their practice, such as e-conveyancing procedures, all of which help speed up the process for both buyer and seller. Hiring cheap conveyancing solicitors may seem cost-effective at the time, but if the end result is a more protracted transfer of ownership – or even worse, a mistake or omission being made – then it might prove extremely expensive in the long run.
Buyers and sellers commonly ask why they each need to hire a different conveyancer to complete the legal process of a property transaction. In fact, there is nothing in law to prevent both parties hiring the same conveyancer, but there are substantial advantages to having different solicitors for the task. One of the most important jobs a conveyancer will undertake is to verify title (otherwise known as property ownership). Clearly, it is absolutely essential to confirm the person selling the property has the legal right to do so, because if they haven’t, any subsequent transfer will not be legitimate.
By both the seller and buyer having different conveyancing solicitors, each one will check and verify the documentary evidence provided by the other. While fraud in this arena is rare, it has been known to occur – and it more commonly occurs when the same conveyancer has been used and where that conveyancer has acted in collaboration with a rogue buyer or seller.
While the conveyancing process is similar the world over, there are significant differences adopted by different countries. In England and Wales, the procedure has evolved over centuries to become one of the safest and most highly respected legal processes there is. It has been devised to help guarantee accuracy over property title and to ensure long-term security for both the seller and the buyer. In recent years the process has also been tweaked to promote speed and efficiency, particularly with the advent of e-conveyancing, which effectively links the Land Registry and local councils to the conveyancing lawyer or solicitor.
Conveyancing becomes somewhat more complicated when a property is subject to a lease, as is the case with many newly built developments – or when the property being bought or sold is subject to a mortgage. This is because there is no clear route to outright ownership in either of these cases. The leaseholder and/or the mortgage lender have legal rights to title (or at best, they can restrict or interfere with ownership being ultimately granted), despite the apparent transfer of ownership seeming otherwise to be between two people. As stated earlier, conveyancing is a very complex subject.
In England and Wales, for example, the sale and purchase of property as a process is split into three distinct phases: pre-contract, pre-completion and post-completion. Each phase checks and verifies information obtained from the seller and/or buyer. Unlike some other countries, the legal agreement is not binding until contracts have been exchanged, which unfortunately sometimes creates opportunities for gazumping or gazundering to occur, whereby the buyer withdraws from proceeding at the last minute (and asks for a further reduction on the previously agreed purchase price) or where the seller withdraws in favour of a better offer being received.
It takes on average about 12 weeks for the conveyancing process to reach completion and during this period there is the opportunity for either party to abandon the sale or purchase. In some areas of the country, the introduction of the Home Information Pack and e-conveyancing procedures has reduced the time to about 8 to 10 weeks.
Buyers and sellers can in fact undertake their own conveyancing, if they feel confident enough to do it, but it is not recommended. Conveyancing solicitors follow a strict procedure borne out of the Law Society’s National Protocol for domestic conveyancing, which helps ensure everything that should be checked is checked, before completion takes place. This area of legal service is highly competitive and many solicitors have now set all-inclusive prices for their conveyancing facilities. Obtaining a conveyancing quote from several solicitors is recommended, before favouring any particular one to undertake a property transaction on your behalf.