First we should be clear on what Conveyancing is.
It is the legal act of transferring ownership of property from one party to another.
Instruments of conveyance are things like contracts, leases, titles, deeds, or wills. People who specialize in this process are called conveyancers.
In theory you could deal with this yourself, but whatever you save is not worth the time and headaches. For what you pay them that is miniscule in proportion to the value of the property, getting things done properly is worth it all. Professionals not only solve the issue in front of you, but prevent future problems, which is why this is something you should never try to DIY just to save some quid.
However, choosing the wrong conveyancer can also lead to similar stress and much wasted time and money.
The difference between Conveyancer, Conveyance Solicitor, and Real Estate Agent
If you are looking to buy or sell property, you will often have to interact with at least one of these at some point. Which one do you really need? Should you be paying different people for redundant tasks?
A conveyancer is someone that specializes in assisting the transfer of property. As had previously been mentioned, the process of conveyancing is something that the owner could perform on their own as long as they were willing to spend the time and effort. However, actual licensed conveyancers do more than just file the forms. More organizations than just a buyer and seller are involved when selling a house or commercial property – banks, councils, local authorities, etc. They make sure that both sides have all their assets in order, all relevant regulations are followed, special permits and conditions are well explained, the registry is verified, all fines, taxes, and obligations are paid, and that there are no outstanding issues with the property. They are authorized to pay deposits and arrange financing on behalf of their employer.
A licensed conveyancer has all the legal powers of a solicitor when acting in a conveyancing transaction.
A conveyancer’s job is to complete the transfer to the satisfaction of both parties.
Conveyancers can also be solicitors, but not always. A conveyance solicitor has expert knowledge in the field of property exchange. They often deal with the aftermath of a case, like for example in divorce settlements or contested wills. If there is some legal obstacle that prevents the transfer, a conveyance solicitor is more able to resolve this issue. They can go to court on your behalf. They do of course cost more to retain.
A conveyance solicitor’s job is to make the transfer happen according to court orders or contracts.
Real Estate Agent
A real estate agent or realtor spends most of their time matching sellers to buyers. They do not work for you but for their own firm and the seller on commission. They often utilize their own in-house or preferred conveyancers for legal processes and present their option as an attractive single point of contact; vastly simplifying the process of buying property. At no point would the buyer ever need to interact with the seller. This comes with the drawback of very little control over the process and a relatively low priority on the conveyancer’s caseload. Cases carried by a realtor can only be expedited through cost.
A real estate agent’s job is to make the sale.
- A conveyancer is fine for most buying property questions.
- Conveyancing solicitors are necessary if there may be some legal concerns.
- A realtor can get things done for you all in one simple package as long as you’re willing to spend.
Bad conveyancers vs good conveyancers
As the above section shows, dealing with realtors’ recommendations without due scrutiny is a fool’s bargain. Conveyancers and conveyance solicitors work for their client’s sake and actively try to help them make good economic choices while still doing their best to expedite the process.
This also means that bad conveyancers are those who can’t meet those two reasons for engaging with a conveyancer in the first place.
- Will this save me time?
- Will this save me money?
If they can’t give you that, it is a waste of everyone’s time. Any issues in the transfer of property that lead to legal problems later fail those tests hard.
There are two things that may lead to a conveyancer doing an improper job.
- The conveyancer is just inept.
- The conveyancer has too large a caseload.
This is why cheapening out on the conveyancer is always a terrible idea. Even worse are Conveyancing DIY kits. Low costs usually mean making it up in terms of handling by volume.
Property is a hot button issue for fraud and cybercrime
There are also additional reasons why a conveyancing solicitor may be preferred.
Property is a field where there is a large potential for fraud, inadequate mortgages, illegal conveyancing in which properties are sold without their owner’s knowledge, and money laundering.
The ongoing digitalization of legal processes, including conveyancing, means that as it is made easier to complete transactions it is also much easier to conduct frauds and scams. Agencies themselves are also targeted by hackers.
Buyers can also be scammed by hackers intercepting and imitating their solicitor’s emails to send payments that have never been requested.
In fact, a recent report by the Solicitors Regulation Authority show that emails are a significant point of vulnerability for law firms, accounting for more than four out of five of all reported cybercrime incidents.
This is where the human element when it comes to conveyancing really stands out.
- Is your conveyancer legitimately keeping in contact and letting you know about the process?
- Do they communicate personally in a way that verifies their identity?
- Can you trust that the conveyancer is exercising due diligence to protect themselves and your communications from malicious interlopers?
- Are they able to protect you from harassment by the other party?
- Can they identify suspicious behaviors in the property exchange?
Qualified conveyancers who are not licensed solicitors should still also be aware of the signs of fraud and scams, because while they may not have any direct legal powers they can still prevent these attempts against their client and ‘kick upstairs’ any legal action to lawyers. They do their utmost to protect their client.
According to Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive,
“Protection isn’t just about software. Having the right systems in place, such as anti-virus software or multi-factor identification, really matters. But good training and a culture in relation to managing risks is just as important.”
Jon Shilland, the fraud threat lead at the National Economic Crime Centre, states:
“Whenever a client is making a payment to their solicitor for a house purchase, they should be highly suspicious of any change in account details or new instructions. Remind them to always check with a trusted known contact, and if they have any doubt not to transfer the money.”
A good conveyancer is not going to be offended by this. The client exercising their own due diligence is something to be appreciated.
So where do you find these qualified conveyancing solicitors? What makes any one conveyancer any better than the other?
This doesn’t refer to the age of the professional themselves but for how long they have been operating and the amount of cases their agency previously handled. Newer does not necessarily mean less reliable, as a newer agency filled with younger conveyancers may also be more adept using digital tools for accomplishing their job. Agencies that have the benefit of long experience also have the advantage of personal contacts that may help ease the process.
This means that one should not be too biased between one or the other extreme.
Is the proven case load of the agency or conveyancer biased towards the purchase of homes? Then they may be more helpful when you are looking for buying a home under mortgage? Commercial properties? Then you are better off looking at a conveyance solicitor that handles those matters in good number. You can always ask about what they tend to handle and what potential problems they anticipate in your case.
While there may be some bias against online agencies and conveyancers make it a point of note how as a local they may have an advantage due to homegrown knowledge, engaging with a non-local conveyancer is not apt to be any worse than another. Supposed local advantages peter off quite quickly as most conveyancers tend to use the same resources for finding and handling property exchanges.
There is some truth to the idea that agencies that market themselves online more aggressively may get more clients, but with more clients means a heavier case load, and then it gets more difficult to give all those cases each with all due care and attention.
What is an advantage for conveyancers with an online presence is getting a background of their activities. Good reviews by sheer number speak well to being legitimate. Conveyancers that are not afraid to allow potential clients to speak to previous clients to verify their reviews are more likely to be more competent.
Ability to answer
Going back to the human element from before, your conveyancer is more than just a paper-pusher. That is not all they can do, and that is not all they should tell you that they can do. As a conveyancer will be authorized to make payments and finalize registrations on your behalf, it is most important that you deal with someone that is personable and easy to get along with.
This is a good hint not only for ease of cooperating with you, but how they will be able to deal with sellers and other relevant persons in the purchase and transfer of property. People handling is in itself a skill and you are best being represented by someone personable.
Someone who is overloaded with cases would have signs of only perfunctory concern. Words promoting ‘fast’ or ‘cheap’ are warning signs compared to ‘properly’.
As noted in the section above about fraud and cybercrime – just how aware is the conveyancer about these things and what are they doing to protect themselves and you from both physical and computer crime?
The willingness to say No
Conveyancers are there to facilitate the transfer of property. Their greatest value however is the ability to offer advice in the vein of their expertise. If there are problems with the property you seek to purchase or sell, they really out to be able to promptly say “You should not do this”.
Stopping a purchase can be just as good as long as it prevents bigger problems down the line. Or as a seller, preventing you from actions that would endanger getting your property sold even if it may make you feel more emotionally validated. You are saved from a horrendous expense. Agents that are intent on just getting the sale done for their commission would not do this.
The help of a conveyancer is one of those things that are more than well worth the money you spend. One might even say that not using one is foolish. For the most part, conveyancing is a straightforward process. With so much pain, effort, and pointless expense removed from your end, your responsibility is merely to not make it any harder than necessary with the wrong choice of conveyancers.
You should look for more than what it costs to hire them, or how quickly they can get things done, but also and perhaps most importantly – how they can prevent future problems.
You don’t need that heartache.