Conveyancing Law: Residential and Commercial Transactions Best Left to Experts

Introduction

Are you planning to buy or sell a piece of residential or commercial property? If so, you are likely to need the help of a qualified solicitor or licensed conveyancer. In the UK, the average conveyancing transaction takes between 10 and 12 weeks because all of the paperwork and research required.

Fortunately for UK consumers, hiring a conveyancing solicitor is easy and relatively inexpensive. Most general law firms in major cities offer conveyancing services, as do some specialised firms and some retail outlets. In addition, there are literally dozens of websites you can use to locate a solicitor in your area.

The History of Conveyancing Law in the UK

Back during the late 19th century, conveyancing regulations were few and far between. Yet the industrial age was ushering in new levels of property transactions, which required some sort of standardisation. According to TheAdvisory.co.uk, that standardisation came about thanks to the implementation of new regulations in 1925.

The Law of Property Act 1925 took all of the existing types of land ownership and consolidated them into just two: freehold and leasehold. The act, which is still the law of the land today, simplified what was a convoluted system of property transfers and ownership that was too often left up to individual interpretation.

Making matters worse is the fact that in the UK, the Crown technically owns all land. Individual residents are purchasing or leasing the right to use that land without restriction for a set period of time as follows:

  • Freehold – A freehold transaction is what we commonly refer to as a purchase. In this transaction, the consumer purchases a plot of land with, or without, an already existing structure. As long as the consumer “owns” that land, he or she has the right to use it without restriction, in perpetuity.
  • Leasehold – A Leasehold transaction is commonly known as a rental. Under this arrangement, the consumer leases property for a specified amount of time as agreed to in the lease contract. During that term, he or she has the right to use the property in accordance with the restrictions and terms of the lease.

The fact that technical ownership of land belongs to the Crown means that both freehold and leasehold agreements must be structured in a very specific way. That is why it is nearly impossible for most people to complete a conveyancing transaction without the help of a qualified solicitor or licensed conveyancer.

A Typical Conveyancing Transaction

A typical conveyancing transaction in the UK has three stages: pre-contract, pre-completion, and post-completion. In the first stage, buyers and sellers work out the various parts of the agreement needed to complete the transaction. They will be negotiating things like price, contingencies, and various types of guarantees.

During the second stage, solicitors take those agreements and put them into writing, followed up by the process of verifying current ownership and title status. If everything checks out, the actual sale contracts are drawn up in preparation for both parties signing.

The third stage concludes the transaction by formally transferring title from the previous owner to the new owner. Any follow-up contingencies that need to be met post-completion are taken care of at this point. When all is said and done, the title is transferred and new ownership is recognised.

Contract completion is different depending on the jurisdiction:

  • England and Wales – In England and Wales, contract completion is not official until signed agreements have been exchanged between both parties. This dictates the contract could be drawn up and signed, then filed away in a cabinet for months with no official transaction taking place. This rarely happens, but it is possible.
  • Scotland – Under Scottish law, contract completion occurs much earlier. When the two parties agree to a property transaction through an initial purchase offer, the sale is considered legally binding as long as the two parties can agree on contract terms. Once contract terms are settled, the sale is considered official even while title transfer paperwork is being filed. The only thing that can interrupt the transaction from that point forward would be one of the two parties not meeting contractual obligations.

Law Society Quality Conveyancing Scheme

Consumers who want to make sure their solicitor is well qualified to handle a residential transaction can contact the Law Society. The Law Society is the UK’s leading professional organisation for law firms and individual solicitors. They have developed what is called the Quality Conveyancing Scheme to ensure both standardisation and excellent quality for residential conveyancing transactions.

In order for a solicitor to be able to claim certification under the scheme, certain conditions must be met:

  • the integrity of the Senior Responsible Officer and the conveyancing staff must be demonstrated
  • adherence to good practice management standards must be demonstrated
  • adherence to scheme procedures of efficiency and prudence must be demonstrated

The Law Society has developed the scheme as a means of preventing fraud and other poor practices among residential conveyancing solicitors. According to their website, they raise the quality of standards year on year to ensure residential real estate consumers are fully protected.

An accredited solicitor can be found by visiting the Society’s accreditation search website (we have included the link below). On this site, you can search for solicitors across a wide range of disciplines depending on your needs.

Why You Need a Solicitor or Conveyancer

It goes without saying that some consumers would prefer to handle conveyancing on their own without the help of a solicitor or licensed conveyancer. According to the law that is completely acceptable. However, it is not really advisable. There are too many things that could lead to trouble if done incorrectly.

To begin with, even if you decide to handle conveyancing yourself most banks and mortgage lenders will insist on a solicitor somewhere in the process making sure their interests are protected. That means the bank’s solicitor will be trying to gain as much advantage for his client as possible; you are left to fend for yourself against an industry expert

Second, if contracts are not drawn up and executed properly you could be left in a position where you are faced with significant financial consequences. If the consequences are severe enough, you may even have to hire a solicitor to clean up the mess. Conveyancing solicitors are so affordable these days it does not make sense to do your own conveyancing unless you are sure you know what you are doing.

Here are some important things you need to know about conveyancing services:

  • Cost – The cost for conveyancing fees depends on whether you are using a licensed conveyancer or a solicitor. On the low-end, you can probably get away with £300-£400. High-end solicitors offering extra services can be as much as £1,500. Just be sure you know what you are getting with each quote.
  • Time – A residential property transaction (freehold) with no surprises usually takes between 8 and 12 weeks. Leasehold transactions or sales with complications could take longer. Experts recommend you give yourself and your solicitor plenty of time to complete the transaction in case there are delays.
  • Dissatisfaction – If you are dissatisfied with the service your solicitor or conveyancer is providing do not automatically assume your best option is to pull out. Doing so could leave you with more problems than you currently have. First, contact a senior partner or manager and see if you can work something out. Should you decide to end your relationship with your solicitor or conveyancer you will likely still be required to pay for time already spent.
  • Changing Your Mind – Once the process of the transaction is under way, you have entered a legally binding agreement to sell or purchase the property. And although what constitutes contract completion may be different from one jurisdiction to another, there will still be some sort of financial penalty for pulling out. Make sure you really want to buy or sell before making your initial offer.

Choosing a Solicitor or Conveyancer

Some years ago, the government streamlined the conveyancing law to allow specialist conveyancing firms to be set up. They even allowed “retail” conveyancing in order to give consumers maximum access at the best possible price. And while this has certainly opened up the market, it requires consumers to be especially diligent when choosing a solicitor or conveyancer.

Should you prefer to use a solicitor, you have an advantage in as much as solicitors must be properly educated and licensed. Most solicitors also belong to professional organisations requiring certain quality standards to be met and maintained. With a solicitor, you tend to get service that is more thorough and much more reliable.

When using a conveyancer just be sure to research before you engage for services. You can look up the names of specific conveyancers online to see what others have said about them. Above all, make sure your conveyancer provides you with written details of what he or she will include in your service.

Conclusion

Now is a great time to purchase residential and commercial property in the UK. Whether you are looking to purchase or lease, be sure to use the services of a solicitor or licensed conveyancer for your own protection. Within just a few months of your initial purchase offer, you will be ready to take possession of your new property. Good luck!

If you are ready to start searching for a conveyancing solicitor in your area, you will find the following links helpful. Keep in mind that some of the firms you find will be dedicated solely to conveyancing, while others will offer services covering a wide spectrum of disciplines. Also, be sure to vet any solicitors you are considering using.

Law Society’s Accreditation Website – Here you will be able to search for solicitors certified to conduct conveyancing according to the Society’s Quality Conveyancing Scheme.

Contact Law – A site that lets you get in touch with conveyancing solicitors by filling out an online form and submitting it. Your information will be forwarded to solicitors who will contact you with a quote.

Solicitors Regulation Authority – This site lets you search for conveyancing solicitor as well as search through an impressive database of legal information. It is a very helpful site, indeed.

Search 4 Solicitors – A website offering a search tool to locate solicitors by practice areas or geographic location. They also offer a library of helpful articles regarding various types of legal matters.

Solicitors.co.uk – A site that lets you search for solicitors all across the UK by postcode. Their database includes solicitors specialising in conveyancing as well as all other areas of legal practice.

AccessSolicitor.com – This site is the largest online directory aimed exclusively at allowing individual solicitors and law firms to showcase themselves. You can find a conveyancing solicitor by location, postcode, or law firm name.

If you would rather work with the conveyancer, there are online directories that makes searching for one easy. Here are some links to point you in the right direction. As with solicitor, be sure to vet any conveyancer properly before choosing one. Also, beware of low-ball pricing designed to lure you in the door only to hit you with extra fees later.

Council of License Conveyancers – This website belongs to the leading licensing and professional organisation for conveyancers in the UK. At the bottom of the main page, you can search for a conveyancer by postcode or by entering an individual name or firm name.

Agent Quote – Here you can get multiple quotes from conveyancers by entering your information into a simple, online form. You will get it instant quotes with a guarantee of no hidden fees.

Money Supermarket – This comparison website is one of the most well known in the UK. Submit your information here and a qualified conveyancer will contact you with a quote.

Conveyancing Marketing Services – Here you will find important and helpful information about, licensed conveyancer sin the UK. One of the directors of the site is a conveyancer himself. You can get a quote by entering your information and submitting it online.

Compare UK Conveyancing – When you submit your information to this site, you will get access to more than 50 quotes. You will be able to compare quotes online and receive them in your e-mail as well.

Conveyancing Expert – This site is helpful to both residential and commercial customers because it offers not only quotes, but also an online conveyancing calculator to help you determine what you can expect to pay.