How to choose a Conveyancer
Introduction to conveyancing
Conveyancing is the legal process of ownership transfer which is behind all property transactions. It can be complicated, risky and challenging. And so it is normally carried out by legal professionals, known as conveyancers.
These experts have years of training and are covered by insurance to protect you in case anything goes wrong with the legalities of your property transaction.
You will need to hire, or “instruct” a conveyancer as soon as you receive or make an offer on a property.
A good conveyancer can help your property transaction go smoothly, keeping you informed and updated throughout the journey.
A bad conveyancer, on the other hand, can cause your property transaction serious problems by failing to keep you informed of progress. This could also include missing important details, and making mistakes, all of which can cause significant delays. A poor conveyancer could even lead to your transaction falling through.
This guide explains the steps necessary to ensure you instruct the best conveyancer you can.
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1. What is a conveyancer?
A conveyancer is a legal professional who deals with property law. You will need to employ a conveyancer in order to complete the legal process of buying or selling a property.
A conveyancer will help you with a whole list of things during your transaction and completes many important tasks.
They will include:
- Sound legal advice
- The writing up and handling of contracts
- Recommending and ordering your conveyancing searches
- Dealing with the land registry
- Managing and processing funds throughout your transaction
Additional negotiations may arise following a building survey or conveyancing searches. Your conveyancer is often one of the best-placed people to advise you on these negotiations and can help you secure a better deal. This could take place jointly with the estate agent.
It is also a good idea to employ a conveyancer when you are buying a freehold, extending a lease, or remortgaging your property.
What are the types of conveyancers?
Conveyancers in the UK can broadly be divided into two categories: Licensed conveyancers and solicitors.
Both of these are fully capable of handling a residential property transaction and operate along almost identical procedures. It is however worth examining the differences between their services.
- Licensed conveyancers are specialist property lawyers. They are only licensed to practice property law and focus largely on residential transactions. This means they are unable to help with complex legal issues that may also form part of a property sale such as divorce or inheritance.
- A solicitor, on the other hand, typically has extensive training in many aspects of law. While some solicitors largely focus on property law, many are more generalist and can offer a full legal practice including but not limited to family, criminal, employment and inheritance law.
What are the downsides to instructing a licensed conveyancer?
Licensed conveyancers can be great for property transactions but fall down when something more complicated arises.
For example, if the sellers are getting divorced, the property is in probate, there are squatters in a house, or there is a boundary dispute, a conveyancing firm will not be able to help you navigate this while a solicitors’ practice will.
However, these situations are quite uncommon, and most of the time a licensed conveyancer will be able to handle your transaction throughout the conveyancing process.
What are the downsides to instructing a conveyancing solicitor?
The main downside to instructing a solicitor is the price! A solicitors practice is most often more expensive than an equivalent licensed conveyancer, and will not normally offer you anything extra.
Many conveyancing solicitors are highly specialised and have wide experience in property law. But many generalist solicitors also offer conveyancing services too. Often, generalist solicitors’ conveyancing skills can be rusty, so you may want to consider only working with a conveyancing solicitor.
Another problem that generalist solicitor’s clients can face is their standard conveyancing work being deprioritised in favour of something more urgent. Lots of solicitor’s practices handle complex cases with tight deadlines that can understandably take priority over residential conveyancing.
A fourth issue is that many solicitors work in small practices, which can struggle to cover important work if staff become sick or go on holiday. Finally, solicitor’s practices will often want to meet you in person to verify who you are. This is less common among licensed conveyancers, who often offer their services across the whole country.
2. What factors do I need to consider when selecting my conveyancer?
There are a number of things to consider when deciding who offers the right conveyancing service.
From figuring out what services you actually need to deciding if you want extended opening hours and if you are willing to go online. There are a lot of things you need to make your mind up about before picking a conveyancing service.
What legal services do I require?
When hiring a conveyancer, you need to consider what services you require.
Generally, the more complicated a transaction, the more important the quality of your conveyancer is. If you are only selling a property, less is required of your conveyancer than when you are buying or buying and selling. On the other hand, if a property is a leasehold, has issues with the deed, or complicated covenants and easements, the quality of your conveyancer will be more important.
If the property you want to buy or sell is involved in a more complicated case, such as inheritance or a divorce, it is almost always worth hiring a solicitor over a licensed conveyancer.
Do I need extended opening hours?
Lots of conveyancers operate extended opening hours.
For most people, this is not essential, but if you are extremely busy during normal working hours, a conveyancer operating outside of these hours could be extremely helpful.
If you carry out an online search, you will find conveyancing firms that stay open as late as 8pm on weekdays and keep their phones manned most of the weekend.
Should I consider online conveyancing?
Online conveyancing can be a very great idea.
This is because lots of online firms offer both fixed fee, and ‘no completion no fee’ services, which can help you keep costs under control.
While lots of online conveyancing firms are good, many function poorly and operate with overworked and underpaid staff.
Does my conveyancer’s location matter?
For the vast majority of cases, the location of the conveyancer is not important.
This is because most modern conveyancing is done via post, email and the telephone. In fact, during a typical property transaction, there should be no reason for you to meet your conveyancer face to face.
However, if your transaction requires changes to boundaries or rights of way, your conveyancer may have to visit the property. In these cases, it can be sensible to instruct someone who can travel quickly to the property.
3. Where can I find a good conveyancer?
Now that you have an idea about what kind of conveyancing service you need, the real work begins.
It is a good idea to shop around and compare a variety of conveyancing quotes.
There are a few places you can find recommendations for conveyancers including friends and family. While this kind of recommendation can be a good way of finding out the quality of customer service offered, and general experience, it can be limited. What suited someone else’s property transaction might not suit yours.
It is normally a bad idea to instruct the conveyancer or solicitor your estate agent recommends. Typically, they do not provide a great value service as a substantial chunk of the funds you pay for their services is paid to the estate agent as a commission. It is very rare that an estate agent will have your best interests at heart when recommending a conveyancer and while they might skulk the idea of using someone else, they are not allowed to force you to use their conveyancer and you should ignore any pressure you receive.
A better option for conveyancing recommendations is property experts.
ConveyQuote are highly recommended for simple freehold property transactions as offering great service at low prices. Compare and Convey are suitable for more complex cases, leveraging economies of scale to employ elite solicitors at affordable prices on a ‘no-sale no-fee’ basis.
Alternatively, you could try using the Home-Owners Alliance conveyancing quotes comparison tool. This allows you to enter the details of your property transaction into their website to see how much their panel of quality conveyancers will quote to do your conveyancing work. They promise all the conveyancers will complete the work on a ‘no-completion, no legal fee’ basis, with no hidden extra costs.
However, even if a conveyancing firm looks good on the surface, it pays to make some extra checks before you commit and instruct anyone.
4. What should I check about conveyancing firms?
When looking at a conveyancing expert you think fits the bill, there are a few things you should consider before you instruct them.
All of these considerations should be checked carefully, so you do not end up spending through the nose or hiring some poor overworked lawyer by accident.
Is the conveyancer on my mortgage lenders panel?
If you are buying a property with a mortgage, you will need to ensure any conveyancer you instruct is on your lender’s approved list.
This is because if a lender finds you have appointed an unapproved conveyancer, they will refuse to work with them and will hire their own at your expense. Having two conveyancers working on the same purchase can lead to additional delays and problems as communication between them can be patchy.
Mortgage lenders have lists of preferred legal professionals in order to ensure any conveyancer working on a property they are financing has the necessary experience and knowledge to handle the legal aspects of the mortgage and to help streamline the conveyancing process in general.
What is the conveyancer’s reputation like?
In the modern day, every business wears its reputation on its sleeve due to the widespread use of online reviews.
This is no different for conveyancers. If you type a conveyancing services name into Google their previous customer’s thoughts on their service will be available for you to peruse.
Sites like Trustpilot.com and Reviewsolicitors.co.uk offer users a chance to check for common problems like slow service, mistakes, and poor communication before you instruct a conveyancer or solicitor. Various property experts also offer lists of the companies which they think offer the best service.
Poor conveyancers can be spotted by looking for a high number of poor reviews. You may also find specific issues within these reviews that repeatedly pop up. Positive feedback is a lot easier to fake than negative feedback is to get rid of and any conveyancers with worrying trends in their reviews should be avoided.
What regulatory bodies should conveyancers be part of?
If someone is offering to do your conveyancing and is not regulated by one of these two bodies, you should not consider them.
These regulatory bodies exist to protect consumers from unlicensed cowboys and scammers. All good conveyancers and conveyancing solicitors will be regulated by one of these two bodies.
Does the conveyancer offer a fixed fee guarantee?
When looking to hire a conveyancer, it is worth trying to ensure they offer a ‘fixed fee’ guarantee.
This means that they will offer you a quote, and then stick to it, provided nothing particularly challenging comes up.
The alternative to this is a conveyancer, or more commonly a solicitor who charges on an hourly basis. If anything delays their progress, this could cost you an awful lot. For this reason, we would advise against using any conveyancing firm or practice which charges by an hourly rate.
Does the conveyancer offer a no move no fee service?
Given that one-third of property transactions fail in the UK, hiring a conveyancer who offers a ‘no move no fee’ service can be a very smart idea.
If you instruct a company offering a no move no fee service, they will only charge you their full fees if your move is successful. If your transaction falls through, the no move, no fee conveyancer will only charge you for any money they have paid out to an outside party, This could include a local authority search or other external searches.
This can save you a substantial amount of money if things go wrong. It also gives your conveyancer an added incentive to do all they can to ensure your property transaction succeeds.
5. What should I ask a conveyancing firm before I instruct them?
After you have a good idea of which conveyancing company you wish to instruct, you should contact them, and ask them the following questions.
The answers they give to these questions can be very illuminating as to the quality of service you will receive.
Has the conveyancing firm handled a property like yours recently?
Every home sale is slightly different.
If your transaction has anything complicated about it, such as it being a leasehold, new build, or historic property, you should ask the conveyancer if they have dealt with anything similar recently.
A certain level of experience can speed up more complicated property transactions dramatically. A knowledgeable conveyancer can avoid potential snags someone with less experience may miss.
How often will the conveyancing firm contact me?
It can be extremely frustrating to be left out of the loop. At the same time, checking in on a conveyancer daily will disrupt their progress, and probably annoy them.
To avoid either of these things happening, you should establish reasonable expectations with your conveyancing company about the frequency of communication you can expect from them.
You should also ensure that your conveyancing firm operates an online case-tracking system. This means that you can check on its status at any time, and ensure you have everything you need for the transaction ready before it is required. Online case-tracking systems are now fairly typical in conveyancing.
Who will be handling my case?
You should ask your conveyancer who will be handling your case.
More often than not, a senior conveyancer provides the quote and then passes on much of the conveyancing work to a junior team member. This is not normally a big concern, as typically they will be more than competent enough for a simple property transaction. If you have a particularly complex case, such as a leasehold purchase, it can be a good idea to have a more experienced solicitor handle it directly. You may want to insist on a senior member of the team working on your case.
It can be very useful to be able to contact a specific conveyancer expert, junior or senior, who is working on your project to build a relationship with them. This means they will be more likely to keep you in the loop, and you will have an easy point of contact for day to day contact.
You should be provided with a contact number and email address for this person. Additionally, if your conveyancer is taking time off over your transaction, you should be told who will be taking it over when they are away.
What is the procedure for dispute resolution?
While dispute resolution is something you hope you will not encounter, it is a good idea to ensure that you are prepared for the worst case scenario.
Asking how a conveyancing firm deals with disputes is important. This will give you a feel for their customer service and let you know what to do if you need to raise an issue.
If the conveyancer seems unclear or vague when speaking about how their company resolves disputes, it is probably a sign you should look elsewhere.
How much will the service cost?
Finally, and most importantly, you should ask the conveyancing firm how much their service will cost.
Quote should include all of the conveyancing company’s fees, as well as the costs for any third-party searches.
If a quote is absurdly low, consider it likely they are not including the third-party costs. If this is the case, you should ask them to detail all fees to ensure you are comparing costs like with like.
6. How much are conveyancing fees?
The amount charged for conveyancing can vary dramatically depending on the property in question and the company providing the services.
Conveyancers typically charge more to do the legal work for more expensive properties, and more when buying a property than when selling. This is because when you are buying a property your conveyancer has substantially more work to do as well as more third parties to pay.
Research by the website Conveyancingcalculator.co.uk indicates that the average amount paid for conveyancing ranges from about £500 to more than £1,600. This range depends on whether you are selling or buying and on the value of the property in question.
How are conveyancing fees split up?
Conveyancing fees can broadly be split into two categories.
These are the legal fees, which are the money the conveyancer charges for doing the work, and the disbursements. Disbursements are items where money is paid out by the conveyancer to a third party in exchange for a service, like a search.
Buyers and sellers need to pay for different things, but both will have disbursements and a legal fee.
How much are legal fees?
Legal fees, which cover the work done by a conveyancing company itself, can vary dramatically.
A good online conveyancing house will typically charge legal fees of around £500 for either buying or selling. A top-flight conveyancing solicitor could charge as much as £2000 in conveyancing fees!
Some conveyancing experts operate on the basis of charging more for higher value properties. This is not always the case, however, and some companies offer a fixed fee structure.
Be extremely careful if anyone offers conveyancing services with a legal fee of less than £500. Their staff will likely be overworked and slow, and there are likely to be many hidden fees.
How much are the common disbursements?
When buying or selling your property, your conveyancer will need to send out a number of payments, known as disbursements, to third parties.
Some of these disbursements always have fixed prices, while some can vary depending on a variety of factors.
The most common disbursements are:
- Anti-money laundering checks: These legal checks ensure you are who you say you are, and that your money is legitimate. These will typically cost between £6 – £20, though foreign nationals or people living abroad are likely to have to pay more. Both buyers and sellers have to pay for anti-money laundering checks.
- Title Deeds: When selling a house or flat you will need to order official copies of the title deeds, which are normally held with the land registry. These cost £6 but can be more expensive if the property is a leasehold.
- Conveyancing searches: When buying, you will need to have your conveyancer order property, or conveyancing, searches. These are essential if you are buying with a mortgage, and include the local authority search, as well as potentially drainage, planning and environmental searches. Local authority searches can range from less than £100 to more than £250, while other searches are typically between £20 and £100.
- Property fraud checks: When you are sending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to a company to buy a house you should double check they are a legitimate conveyancing firm and not a bunch of fraudsters. This check only costs £10, so it is always worth doing.
- Ownership transfer: After you have paid for a property you will need to register the change in ownership with HM Land Registry. This normally costs £200 to £300.
- Bank transfer fee: Also known as a telegraphic transfer fee, this is to ensure your funds reach your account quickly i.e. the same day. This fee is typically charged at £20 – £30.
In addition to disbursements, conveyancers may sometimes increase their legal fees due to particular matters affecting a property transaction.
Most conveyancers will increase their fees if one or more of the following factors apply to your case:
- When you are buying using a help-to-buy scheme you are likely to be charged an additional £200 – £300 in legal fees. This is because these schemes generate a lot of extra work for your conveyancer.
- If your deposit was gifted to you by your partner, or by a close family member you will need to pay another £100 or so to prove that the money is provided from a legitimate source.
- If the property you intend to buy is unregistered, your conveyancer will need to file a first registration with HM Land Registry. The Land Registry charge more for this than simply transferring the ownership of a registered property.
- If you are redeeming a Lifetime or Help to Buy ISA, your conveyancer will have extra work to do. Fortunately, the maximum amount they can legally charge for this additional labour is £50, plus VAT.
Why is leasehold conveyancing more expensive?
There are several reasons leasehold property conveyancing is more expensive than for freehold properties.
For a leasehold property your legal representative will have additional work to do. This will translate into an additional £300 or so of legal fees. This is because there are several variable costs which people buying leasehold property might face including their conveyancer having to spend time investigating the length of the lease, and liaising with the landlord and or managing agent.
You may also need to pay for your conveyancer to write up a deed of covenant. This is a legal agreement between the landlord and the lessee which indicates who is responsible for which aspects of looking after the property. This can cost an additional £200 to draft and execute.
In addition, some letting agents require buyers to pay for a document called a notice of assignment, which legally informs the landlord you are now the owner of the lease. While some agents do not charge for this, it can cost up to £300.
When selling a leasehold property, you will need a copy of a document called the managing agent’s pack or sometimes a leasehold management pack. To get this, you will have to pay your landlord or managing agent. This can be very expensive and typically range between £350 to £700 or even more.
When do I pay my conveyancer?
Normally you pay a deposit on account when you instruct your conveyancer. This is typically around 10% of the overall planned fees to be paid.
Sometimes, conveyancers will ask for payments to make disbursements as they come up too. This is not universal. Some firms will charge for the disbursements along with everything else at the end of the transaction.
The rest of the conveyancer’s payment normally happens after you have exchanged contracts and the property transaction completes.
Can I change conveyancers?
If you feel your conveyancer is not doing a good enough job for you, you can terminate their instructions, pay whatever costs they have accrued, and instruct someone else.
The amount you will owe your former conveyancer will be stipulated in the terms of the agreement you made with them when you instructed them. If they have already ordered searches or they have written up legal documents, they will charge you for these.
Changing solicitor or conveyancer is not an easy decision and it may lead to substantial additional costs and delays. It is strongly recommended not to change conveyancer after you have exchanged contracts. Any delays could cause you to miss completion, for which you can incur substantial financial penalties.
When buying and selling property, you will need to enlist the help of a good licensed conveyancer or conveyancing solicitor.
These professionals are experts in property law and will help with all of the vital stages in your transaction. Hiring, or instructing, a skilled and efficient conveyancer is vitally important as they can provide legal advice which can reduce the chance of your transaction being afflicted by problems and delays.
Typically, the costs of hiring a good professional conveyancer range from around £500 for a simple sale, to more than £1800 when buying a leasehold property.
To pick a good conveyancer, you should ensure that they have a strong reputation for professionalism and efficiency. They should also be able to demonstrate they are honest and open about costs. Finally, communication with your conveyancing firm will be key to success, as will be using an online case-tracking system to monitor progress.