Conveyancing is the legal process of buying and selling property, which could be a simple residence to live in, the premises of a business, or a large development or estate. The legal aspects of the conveyancing process are usually handled by conveyancing solicitors, and increasingly, by specially trained conveyancers. A conveyance is the document that shows that a property has passed from one owner to another, also known as the purchase deed.
There are two systems of conveyancing, unregistered and registered, and the difference is how the seller proves their ownership of (or title to) the property being sold and are therefore allowed to sell it.
With unregistered land, the seller proves their title with conveyances or other documents (title deeds) going back 15 years which demonstrate that every seller at the time was allowed to sell to their buyer. This is known as a chain of ownership. In other words, if Kumar is selling unregistered land in 2012, he has to show that he bought it from the previous owner who also bought it from the then previous owner and so on, going back 15 years. Of course, whilst it makes sense, this process is unwieldy and expensive because all title deeds have to be carefully stored and produced each time the property is showed. As a result, the Government brought in a system of registering land so that it maintains a database of who owns what.
If the property is registered with the Land Registry with the seller listed as owner, then you can be reasonably sure that the seller is allowed to sell the property. If there is a difference between the name of the seller and the name of the registered owner, say because of marriage, death or some other reason, it is relatively easy to check whether the seller is allowed to sell.
However, it has been made compulsory to register unregistered land whenever the owner changed, only since 1998. So if it turns out that the property is not registered with the Land Registry yet, then the seller will have to demonstrate their title as outlined above.
The conveyancing process starts once the buyer’s offer on a property has been accepted by the seller. It can be divided into five sections. The first, and usually the longest, is the pre-contract stage, followed by exchange of contracts and then pre-completion. At the end of pre-completion, the transaction is completed and the property changes ownership from seller to buyer. The fifth stage is post-completion, which is very much legal tidying up, such as registering the buyer’s purchase with the Land Registry; it does not prevent the buyer from moving into the property. From offer to completion should take on an average eight to 12 weeks, but sometimes it can take longer.
Of course, because of the legal nature of the process, it is usual for the buyer and the seller to instruct their own solicitors (though there is nothing stopping you from acting for yourself). It is possible that the estate agent dealing with the property may suggest a conveyancing solicitor, but it is your decision, and it is recommended that you request conveyancing quotations from two or three solicitors before you decide.