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Posted 05 Apr 2024

Conveyancer Vs Solicitor / Lawyer: How To Choose The Right One When Buying A House

buy / house / property searches

What's the difference between conveyancers and solicitors? And who should you use when buying a house?

Out of everything you’ll think about when buying a property, you might think a ‘conveyancer vs solicitor’ debate should be low down your list of priorities. I’m here to tell you why it’s worth thinking about – and not at the last minute either!

Now while you know what a solicitor (or lawyer) is, you may not know what conveyancing is. If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone – HomeOwners Alliance reports that only 40% of UK adults know what conveyancing is!

If you’re currently going through the property buying process, my advice would be – don’t make your choice of conveyancer or solicitor an afterthought.

Don’t leave it too late to get quotes and appoint one, because there aren’t as many as there used to be.

According to analysis from Today’s Conveyancer, citing the IRN Legal UK Residential Conveyancing Market Report 2023. More than 450 law firms discontinued residential conveyancing between 2021 and 2023, plus there was a 13% decrease in the number of conveyancers during that time.

Therefore, it’s worth knowing not only the difference between a conveyancer and solicitor, but also, how to choose the right professional for your property purchase.

When do you need a solicitor or conveyancer ?

If you’re a first time buyer, you may be wondering at what stage in the process you typically use a solicitor or conveyancer.

At this point in your journey to owning your own property, usually you’ve completed these steps already:

  • Secured a mortgage agreement in principle (AIP)
  • Found your dream property and made an offer
  • Had your offer accepted
  • Applied for your mortgage formally

Your mortgage provider will send out a surveyor to check that the property valuation is fair, minimising their risk.

Around this time, you’ll also want to commission your own surveyor. Choose someone from either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

For more details on the entire process, check out my first time buyer checklist.

Why do you need a conveyancer or solicitor?

A conveyancer or solicitor acts as your legal support during the property buying process. Here’s what they do to ensure a smooth, secure transaction:

  • Conveyancing checks: These verify the property’s ownership history through official land registry records, ensuring there are no hidden claims on the property and the seller has the legal right to sell. They also include searches with local authorities to uncover planned developments nearby or potential flooding risks – more on these later.
  • Contract scrutiny: They should (as long as you choose a good one) meticulously examine the purchase contract, highlighting any potential issues or clauses that might disadvantage you. They can also negotiate terms on your behalf, such as the completion date.
  • Mortgage liaison: If you’re buying with a mortgage, they’ll communicate with the lender to transfer the funds upon completion.
  • Taxes and fees: They calculate and handle any stamp duty or other land transfer taxes you’re liable for. They’ll also ensure all fees associated with the purchase are paid correctly.
  • Completion day: They coordinate the exchange of contracts and ensure the property’s ownership is officially transferred to you on completion day.

That’s why you need one. But should you focus your attention on appointing a conveyancer or a solicitor – which is the right role for your needs?

What is a conveyancer?

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property from one owner to another. So, is a conveyancer a solicitor?

No. A conveyancer is a legal professional who specialises specifically in property law, particularly property transfers.

They don’t have the same broad legal qualifications as a solicitor. Conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), which sets and maintains standards for education, training and professional conduct.

If that’s the case, then what’s the difference in appointing a solicitor – in this scenario, a conveyancing solicitor, also known as a conveyancing lawyer?

What is a conveyancing solicitor?

Conveyancing solicitors are lawyers who specifically deal with the legal aspects of buying and selling property.

In other words, they are your solicitor for buying a house, or a solicitor for conveyancing. They act as your expert throughout the process, ensuring a smooth and secure transaction.

They combine a solicitor’s legal expertise with a conveyancer’s specialisation in property transfers, offering a comprehensive service for your property purchase.

Look for a property solicitor who is part of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. This is a quality assurance scheme introduced by the Law Society in 2010.

Its core aims are to improve the quality and consistency of services provided by residential conveyancing practices, and to help combat fraud and money laundering. Also check that your solicitor is registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Which one do I need – a conveyancer or solicitor?

Both property solicitors and conveyancers are well trained in conveyancing, so both will be more than capable to help you through your purchase. But here are a few differences:

  • More straightforward purchases: Conveyancers typically handle the relatively simpler property purchases. They are experts in the conveyancing process and can efficiently navigate the standard legal procedures.
  • Difficult purchases: A fully qualified property solicitor may be the best choice if you are dealing with tricky transactions. For example, if there’s a boundary dispute, using a solicitor with knowledge beyond property conveyancing law is beneficial.
  • Fees: Solicitors often charge more than conveyancers due to their wider range of qualifications and legal expertise. In contrast, since they specialise in a specific area, conveyancers can sometimes offer more competitive fees for standard property purchases.

For a straightforward property purchase, a well reviewed and experienced conveyancer is a good choice, theoretically offering efficient services for potentially lower costs.

If the property transaction is complex, involves potential legal issues, or you need broader legal advice, a solicitor might be a better option due to their wider legal expertise.

What are the different conveyancing searches?

The main checks include:

  • Water and drainage search: This is conducted to confirm that the property is connected to the municipal water supply and drainage system.
  • Environmental search: This checks for things like flood risks, soil contamination, landslide risks, gas hazards or nearby landfill sites.
  • Local authority search: As explored earlier – and this also covers other potential issues, looking for any financial charges registered against the property, conservation areas, smoke control areas, tree preservation orders and so on.

Other searches can include:

  • Land registry search: This consists of the property summary, title register and title plan.
  • Commons search: If some of the property is on common land, there may be a few restrictions on developments.
  • Energy and infrastructure search: The conveyancer looks for nearby developments such as wind farms, sewage works or high-speed rail developments.
  • Mining search: This is only necessary if the property is in a former mining area, to check if the ground could be unstable.

How long the conveyancing searches take often relies on the local authority search – that can last several weeks. The environmental searches and water and drainage searches are usually much quicker though, so the process could take anywhere from two to six weeks.

However, answering any outstanding questions from the searches could take as long as 10 weeks, according to HomeOwners Alliance.

For more information, here’s our full guide on property searches and how long they take.

How long is there between the conveyancing searches and exchange of contracts?

The time it takes from submitting enquiries to the exchange of contracts can vary greatly depending on a number of factors.

In an ideal world, your conveyancer or solicitor will start the enquiries the moment you ask them to. That helps make sure that the various reports from the respective authorities arrive at a similar time as your mortgage offer, so the purchase can go ahead swiftly.

However, bear in mind that a solicitor may have more clients or higher-profile cases to work on than a conveyancer.

That’s just one of the reasons why I recommend spending a little time choosing the right conveyancer or solicitor. To learn more about what happens after the conveyancing searches, we’ve previously written about what can hold up the exchange of contracts.

How do I choose the right conveyancer or solicitor?

Choosing the right conveyancer can make a big difference to your property purchase process, without doubt.

To increase your chances of finding a reliable, helpful conveyancer who will help make your property purchase a smooth and successful experience, here are some key factors to consider:

  • Qualifications: Ensure the solicitor or conveyancer is registered with the SRA or CLC, as covered earlier.
  • Experience: Look for someone with a strong track record in property transactions, especially those familiar with your area.
  • Compare quotes: Get quotes from at least three different professionals and compare the total cost of their services.
  • Breakdown of fees: Make sure the quotes include all charges, including VAT, searches, bank transfers, and Land Registry fees.
  • Pricing structure: Choose a fixed-fee conveyancing service to avoid unexpected costs.
  • Location: Use a local conveyancer or solicitor where possible– this can be beneficial for their knowledge of the area, or in case you need to visit them in person.
  • Responsiveness: When asking for a quote, you can get a sense for how responsive the conveyancer or solicitor will be by how quickly they reply. Choose one who is easy to reach and responsive to your questions.

Ask people you trust who have recently bought a property for recommendations. Your lender, mortgage broker, or an experienced estate agent might have recommendations for good solicitors or conveyancers.

Final thoughts: Solicitors and conveyancers

There is such a thing as ‘DIY conveyancing’ – but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Buying a property is often one of the most important – and rewarding – decisions of your life, so getting an experienced professional to do the conveyancing checks is worth the cost.

Besides, your mortgage provider will usually want to see that you have appointed a qualified solicitor or conveyancer – they’ll liaise with each other before completion.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and there are plenty of other helpful guides on our blog.

Recent additions include articles on property in need of renovation, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) – and an explainer on what a tenant in situ is!

If you’re thinking about buying a property, or you’d like to ask about something in our portfolio, we are here for you! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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