Zara Liedl Carroll, Sector Representative for the Women in Residential Property Group and Senior Associate Solicitor at Blaser Mills Law, discusses the role of a Conveyancer, current challenges faced within the Conveyancing industry and how the property sector may seek to collaborate to achieve positive changes to the Conveyancing process.

What is conveyancing?

Many consider Conveyancing to be an archaic and outdated system, involving historic covenants and dusty old deeds. This is true to an extent. However, there is never a dull day involved in a fast paced Conveyancing role. Conveyancing, in its simplest form, is the term used to describe the legal process involved when legal ownership of a property is transferred from one party to another.  This can include the transfer of a property from seller to buyer or the transfer of a gifted property from one spouse to another or from parent to a child, for example. Conveyancing also includes transactions such as first registrations at HM Land Registry, reconstruction of title, Lease extensions, re-mortgages, bridging loans, equity release, plot sales, the granting of new leases and/or the transfer of development sites.

Successful Conveyancing involves various technical elements as well as input from a broad range of professionals, including (but not limited to), estate agents/valuers, mortgage brokers, surveyors, tax advisors, the Probate Registry, Court of Protection,  Managing Agents, HM Revenue and Customs and HM Land Registry.

A Conveyancer’s role, in a nutshell,  includes: identifying our client and complying with money laundering legislation,  investigating legal title to a property, reviewing planning permissions and buildings regulations against the legal enforcement periods, dealing with pre-contract enquiries and searches, agreeing the form of contract and transfer deed, reviewing mortgage lenders’ requirements, reviewing the legal aspects of a survey, pre-exchange Land Registry searches, drafting completion statements and stamp duty land tax returns, verifying source of funding and wealth, effecting exchange of contracts and completion of a transaction, giving Undertakings, dealing with the redemption of mortgages/registration of new Charges and the registration of ownership at the Land Registry.

Whilst a number of properties do still remain unregistered at HM Land Registry (and therefore dusty old deeds may still land on our desks), the majority of properties are now registered with HM Land Registry under their digital registration system.

We are constantly learning and adapting to both our clients and ever evolving policy/legislative changes.

What are the Challenges currently faced in the Conveyancing Sector?

Conveyancing can be a very rewarding job. Bringing a matter to exchange and completion is always an experience that makes the job worth-while, but the nature of our role is often met by barriers. Navigating the changes to the Conveyancing system can be a minefield for buyers, sellers, Conveyancers, Agents and Mortgage Brokers alike. If you have not bought or sold a Property in the last 5-10 years, you may be surprised at how much additional work is now involved in the process that can negatively impact on timescales.

Our role is constantly changing with increasingly heavier burdens placed on us to be the ‘gatekeepers’ of the home buying and selling process. Conveyancers aim to provide a positive home moving process for our clients’ but this aim does come with many challenges. For example, Conveyancers must keep abreast of ever evolving legislation such as sanctions, leasehold reforms including ground rents, enfranchisement, building safety and fire safety legislation to name a few.

In addition, cyber security issues involving heavy reliance on IT systems, transaction time pressures, compliance issues involving  money laundering requirements and identifying funds,  complex stamp duty changes and a volatile market to contend with. Unfortunately, the average leasehold transaction now takes 22 weeks to reach the point of completion. The length of a chain may also impact timescales for achieving completion.  If there is a lengthier chain involved and a mortgage offer is awaited within the chain or a price negotiation is taking place, these factors will also impact the length of time is takes in exchanging and completing the transaction.

Conveyancers also face the challenges of catering to different types of clients in the evolving modern, digitised post – Covid era.  Home buying and selling often comes with significant emotional investment such as death, divorce, downsizing, relocation, business pressures and/or insolvency. Additionally, some clients prefer to deal with paperwork online and others prefer to meet their Conveyancer in person and deal with paperwork by hard copy. Some clients, particularly those more vulnerable, prefer to have a single point of contact throughout their transaction. Paralegals, administrative assistants and support staff all play a vital role in the smooth-running of the Conveyancing process. Appointing a suitable estate agent, mortgage advisor and conveyancer can significantly assist clients during this stressful process. From experience, a strong Conveyancer/Agent relationship is vital to ensuring the smooth running of a transaction. 

How can we improve the conveyancing system?

It is clear that there is a complex and lengthy home moving process involved in England and Wales. It may be worth exploring and honing in on how other Jurisdictions effectively approach their system of Conveyancing.

I am of the opinion that we should look to utilising the wealth of technology and compliance resources available to us in a more proactive way. This could include electronic identity verification to assist with client due diligence, online client on-boarding portals, good case management software and HM Land Registry digital registration to name a few. However, a balance would need to be struck between automation and effective client care in order to act in the best interests of our clients and adhere to the Solicitors Regulation Authority or our relevant body’s Code of Conduct Principles.  We must recognise that the profession cannot wholly rely on IT systems in the event those systems fail us (as has been seen recently demonstrated in our sector in terms of IT system failures).

In addition, a more upfront and transparent home buying process from the outset of a matter may assist buyers. The National Trading Standards Agency recently issued guidance to assist in making the home selling and buying process easier to follow for buyers.  The general idea behind this guidance is for agents to collate as much material documentation as possible upfront to assist buyers when placing an offer for a purchase.  A Conveyancer then reviews the legal pack and drafts the legal documents with the objective of holding an ‘exchange ready’ pack when offers are being considered by a seller.  The above is likely to be a gradual process to help improve and streamline conveyancing but some agents may hesitate to launch this initiative, and understandably, as it potentially blurs the lines between the role of agent and conveyancer.  In principle, bringing back the ‘home buyers pack’  (or similar ideology) may assist  a buyer in being well equipped with the relevant documentation in place in order to place a well-informed offer in on a potential purchase. Some agents currently request a reservation fee from a  buyer at the outset to ensure that there is a degree of commitment to a purchase. My personal view is that reservation fees are best placed to be demanded where there is transparency in terms of a ‘home information pack’ being available to prospective buyers.

In terms of conveyancing, as things currently stand, reducing the number of irrelevant  pre-printed pre-contract enquiries should also be addressed more rigorously, with more firms joining the CQS Protocol.  Restricting enquiries to those based solely on legal paperwork, searches and title would assist in streamlining  the process.

Who to contact?

Please contact Zara Liedl Carroll if you have any enquiries or wish to discuss the contents of this article further.