Conveyancers and solicitors do the legal part of transferring a property from an old owner to a new one. There are some small differences, such as their cost or level of training, but for you, they’ll do a very similar job. Here’s what you need to know.

You’ve found a home, made an offer, and got a mortgage. Now it’s time to do the legal business of transferring the property – also known as conveyancing.

Conveyancing is done either by a conveyancer or a solicitor. You may also see them referred to as a “licensed conveyancer” or a “conveyancing solicitor.”

No matter how they brand themselves, they play very similar roles, guiding you through the legal stuff, preparing contracts, and advising on any problems that might crop up. 

Between the two, there’s really not much difference at all. Just be aware that many mortgage lenders won’t lend to you if you don’t use a solicitor or conveyancer, and you’ll usually need one if you’re buying with cash, too.

So, conveyancer or solicitor, which should you choose? Let’s find out.

Firstly, what is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property from one owner to another. 

Your conveyancer (or solicitor) will handle the whole process to make sure everything happens as it should. So, once you’ve found the professional you trust, there’s not much you’ll need to do other than stay in touch with them for updates on progress.

In the meantime, your conveyancer or solicitor will be doing some of the following:

  • Preparing contracts to formally transfer ownership
  • Checking with the Land Registry to see what’s included in the sale
  • Make sure you have all the access and permissions that you’ll need to use and enjoy your new home
  • Making sure you know what you’re buying and what your commitments are (meaning, what you can or can’t do)
  • Talking to your local authorities to see if your building is listed or protected in some way (amongst a host of other checks)
  • Preparing for the transfer of money from the buyer to the seller

Importantly, both a solicitor and a conveyancer can do all of these things, and lenders are equally happy to work with both. So, it’s not like you can choose the wrong one, but there are some differences worth knowing. 

Conveyancer vs solicitor: some definitions

What is a conveyancing solicitor? And what is a licensed conveyancer? Let’s start with the basics:

  • A conveyancing solicitor is a trained solicitor who specialises in conveyancing. They have full legal training, and they probably work in a solicitor’s office. They’ll be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which sets rules on how they relate to clients.
  • A licenced conveyancer is legally trained as a conveyancing specialist. They’re regulated by the Council for Licenced Conveyancers (CLC), which has slightly different rules to the SRA (more on those below but you don’t need to worry about this, you’re protected either way).

What’s the difference between a conveyancer and a solicitor?

Let's go through some areas in more detail, to uncover if there are any differences between the two. Spoiler alert: there are hardly any. 

  • Capabilities: Both solicitors and conveyancers are well trained in conveyancing, – property law – and either will be more than capable to help you through your purchase, sale, or both. The only difference is that a solicitor may also have legal training in some other areas of the law (like family law) but this isn’t going to be relevant to you as their property law customer!
  • Cost: This tends to be around the same, whether you go with a solicitor or a conveyancer.

Total fees can range from around £1,000 to £2,000, plus VAT, but this is more on the lower end and they’ll differ depending on the value of the property, its location, and whether it’s freehold or leasehold. For some huge or very high value properties, you might be looking at £5,000 plus VAT.

What you’ll pay is usually split between legal fees (how much your conveyancer charges for their work) and the disbursements (the charges from a third party, like the local authority or Land Registry). The disbursements will be the same whether you choose a solicitor or conveyancer, but it’s those legal fees that can vary. 

  • Referral fees: Both solicitors and conveyancers take referral fees from estate agents and mortgage brokers. 

Do you need a conveyancer or solicitor?

By law, you don’t need to have a solicitor or conveyancer involved in the exchange of property. But if you ‘re buying with a mortgage then you’ll have to have a professional handle the legal work.  To be honest, even if you’re buying in cash you should still have a professional acting for you, as the process is complex and there are loads of legal considerations, like anti money laundering regulations, that you’ll need to be on top of. 

This minimises the risk for the lender as there’s someone involved who can help them avoid any legal problems with the sale.

Should I choose a solicitor or a conveyancer?

Ultimately, that’s up to you. There’s no hard and fast rule about which one is better. 

The most important thing is to choose someone you can trust, whether that’s a solicitor or a conveyancer. When you’re making probably the biggest purchase of your life, you need to know you’re getting a high quality service. 

Here are some things you can look out for when searching for the right person:

What to look for in a conveyancer or solicitor

  • Availability: You don’t want a solicitor or conveyancer who can’t guarantee they’ll be there for you when you need them – or one who might slow the process down. Making sure they have a track record of availability is an essential first step.
  • Communication: Similarly, if you have any questions, you want to be able to ask. How much contact you want will be up to you, but it can help to outline your expectations before you agree to work together.
  • They can work with your mortgage lender: This can be a tricky one. Often, mortgage lenders will only work with solicitors and conveyancers who they have on a recognised list known as a ‘panel’. It’s worth knowing this beforehand. If your conveyancer isn’t on your lender’s panel, it’s not the end of the world. Your solicitor can apply to be on the panel, or you can instruct a different solicitor. But as your lender may contact a solicitor to mediate between them and your conveyancer, it can slow things down.
  • Cost: Some solicitors and conveyancers are more expensive than others. Expect to pay somewhere at least £1,000 plus VAT, though for very high value properties this could go up to £5,000 plus VAT. Shopping around and getting some quotes can be a good idea before you seal the deal.
  • A breakdown of fees can be reassuring so that you know exactly what you are paying for. It’s okay to ask for this upfront.
  • No sale, no fee: Sometimes, a property sale can fall through during the conveyancing process (if the home survey reveals something unexpected, for example). In this instance, you won’t want to pay your conveyancer if you don’t move in. A few conveyancers and solicitors have a “no sale, no fee” policy for this reason.
  • Local knowledge: Different areas can have different rules and things to know. For example, buying a home in Scotland works slightly differently to buying in England. Using a local conveyancer is the best way to avoid any mishaps or delays.
  • Credentials: Finally, conveyancers and solicitors should be able to prove they have the training they claim. It’s always worth double checking.

Need a hand with the legal work? Try Habito Plus

When buying a new house, there’s enough to think about without also having to worry about the legal work. We can reduce the hassle by setting you up with a conveyancer you can trust, as part of our complete home-buying service. 

Get started with Habito Plus