When the time comes to buy and/or sell a property, unless you have specific legal expertise in property transactions you will need a suitably qualified professional to arrange the official transfer of ownership between buyer and seller. If you are purchasing your new home with a mortgage, your mortgage lender is also likely to insist that you use professional legal representation as part of the mortgage requirements.
The role of the legal professional is to:
- Track down the title deeds and support the buyer in filling out the necessary paperwork.
- Undertake any local searches.
- Draft and distribute the sales contract.
- Seek a redemption figure for the seller’s mortgage, if required.
- Work alongside the legal professionals of the other party to agree a moving date.
- Receive the house deposit from the buyer.
- Prepare the final accounts and settlement.
- Formally approve the deed of transfer.
- Arrange the final payment of the mortgage on an existing property if required.
- Provide the buyer with the property deeds.
- Ensure the buyer has paid any outstanding balance and the seller has received it.
In England and Wales, both conveyancers and solicitors are regulated professionals who can act on your behalf to buy or sell your home, but their roles and expertise are not the same.
So, what are the differences between a conveyancer and a solicitor, and which one should you choose?
Below we provide the answer to these and other frequently asked conveyancing questions.
What is the difference between a solicitor and conveyancer?
A solicitor is a qualified lawyer and member of the Law Society in the UK with training in many different branches of the law. Therefore, they are able to provide a range of legal services.
Prior to 1986, only a qualified solicitor could be instructed to arrange the legal transfer of land. However, the Building Societies Act 1986 meant that conveyancers could also undertake this role in England and Wales. (In Scotland, your legal professional must be a solicitor regulated by the Law Society of Scotland).
Whilst conveyancers are specialists in the legal aspects of property sales and purchases, they are not normally qualified to practice any other areas of the law, although a small number are licenced to provide probate services and other legal expertise often associated with property transactions.
How much will conveyancing cost?
Conveyancing fees tend to range between around £800 – £1800 on average, although of course this figure will vary depending on the type of property and the complexity of the sale.
Given their wider range of knowledge around complex legal issues and extensive training, solicitors are generally more expensive to instruct than conveyancers.
Which one should you choose?
For a straightforward property purchase, a conveyancer is an excellent option since they only deal with land transfers and are therefore very familiar with the process.
If your sale is particularly complex and involves any of the following areas, you may prefer to seek the advice of a solicitor who will have expertise in a range of areas such as family law, probate, commercial and corporate law.
- You are buying or selling a leasehold property or a share of freehold.
- It is a probate sale.
- You are in the midst of an unresolved divorce.
- The sale is undertaken on behalf of someone else via power of attorney, a trust or similar.
- The sale relates to a commercial property.
- Your financial arrangements are complex.
Equally, you should ensure that any solicitor you choose to help you buy or sell your home has up to date knowledge in relation to conveyancing as, unlike conveyancers, not all solicitors will be undertaking conveyancing work day in day out. They may also have to prioritise other, more pressing, areas of work on their caseload or be uncontactable when in Court.
Can a solicitor or conveyancer work for both the vendor and the buyer?
Whilst you can use the same solicitor or conveyancer to sell your existing property and purchase a new one – and for continuity purposes we would generally recommend that you do – to avoid any conflicts of interests it is usually best for you to maintain separate legal counsel from the person you are buying a property from and/or selling a property to. Indeed, solicitors are not actually allowed to work for both the buyer and seller, although conveyancers can in some situations.
How do I find a solicitor or conveyancer?
To ensure that you are instructing a qualified legal representative to assist with your property purchase or sale, make sure they are registered with the regulatory body the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) in the case of conveyancers and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the case of solicitors. Both regulatory bodies maintain a register of qualified conveyancers and solicitors for you to choose from.
Word of mouth recommendations are always useful too, so ask local friends and family who they used to sell their homes and whether they would use them again. Your estate agent will also be able to recommend a conveyancer or solicitor, but since they are likely to receive a commission for the referral this may not always be the most objective recommendation!
If you are purchasing a property with a mortgage, you should also ensure that your mortgage provider is happy with the conveyancer or solicitor that you plan to use and that they appear on the lender’s panel (an approved list). If they do not, you may need to pay something called a representation fee, which is around £200.