What Is Conveyancing?

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As this is my first blog and it’s the beginning of a new year I thought I would start at the beginning and answer the question, ‘What is conveyancing?’

Well, put simply, conveyancing is the process of transferring legal ownership from one person to another.  It starts when a buyer has an offer accepted on a property and ends when the money is successfully transferred to the seller’s solicitors and the buyer moves in. Most of us prefer to call it, ‘buying and selling a house’.

In medieval times you needed witnesses, a public ceremony and a document called a ‘Feoffment’ to transfer land.  The Lord of the Manor would stand on the land and watch the ceremony and the feoffor (transferor) would give to the feoffee (transferee) an object such as dirt, turf, or a twig! I don’t think the Land Registry would appreciate that in this day and age!  

Nowadays, under English law, the transfer of ‘real property’ is still treated differently from the transfer of any other belongings or assets. If you want to sell a guitar or an iPad a verbal agreement will suffice but for the sale of real property; houses, flats, or land, for example, the contract must be in writing and the legal title must be created by Deed (which is a document that also must be in writing). A conveyancer has to check that these documents are legal and that there are no hidden problems with the property to make sure that what you think you are buying is actually what you are buying. 

If a conveyancer is acting for the seller they need to draft the contract, answer the buyer’s questions about the property and make sure that the sale progresses as smoothly as possible for the seller.

Take the following example: A couple with a growing family of Labradors want to upsize and see their perfect home in an online ad.  It has more bathrooms than their current home, is near some luxury kennels, and has a beautiful dog-friendly garden, designed by the famous pet landscaping company, ‘Dogscape Dreams Ltd’. It is their ideal home and they can’t wait to move in. 

Their conveyancer checks the title deeds and carries out some searches.  It turns out that the property is not in fact registered at the Land Registry and some important documents are missing from the bundle of deeds they have been sent by the seller’s solicitors.  As well as this, the current owner seems to have built a large extension over a drain without getting permission from the water authority and has admitted on the Property Information Form to having had a ‘slight disagreement’ with the neighbor; on further investigation, the conveyancer has found out that the neighbor is in fact threatening to sue the current owner over the boundary line at the front of the property.

The argument started last year when the fence gave way during local flooding. Suddenly it’s not looking like such an ideal home after all but more like a law student’s exam question.

I’m not suggesting this will happen to you but how can you best protect yourself against conveyancing issues that crop up? Well, it’s up to your conveyancer to check these things out and to report them to you so that you don’t get any nasty surprises and you can make an informed decision about what you buy.

If you are a seller you need a conveyancer who can make you aware of any questions or ‘enquiries’ that might be raised by the other side, to provide the buyer and their solicitor with the information they need and come up with solutions to any potential problems, such as insurance, for example.

So, while conveyancing is the branch of law relating to the transfer of property from one person to another, the conveyancer is the one who does the legal bit.  Buying and selling a house is not always stress-free but a good conveyancer can help make it a much easier, safer, and ultimately a more rewarding experience.

Anne-Marie Norman

Anne-Marie has worked for over twenty years in the legal profession and has a wealth of experience in all aspects of residential conveyancing. Anne-Marie did her first degree in English and Drama at Exeter University, followed by a degree in Law at London University. She is a graduate member of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and belongs to their Conveyancing Specialist Reference Group.
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