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What is Conveyancing?

At it's most simple, Conveyancing is the legal process behind moving house. Traditionally in ages past, this was done writing a "deed of conveyance" to transfer (or convey) the ownership to the new owner. This process was called Conveyancing, and the Solicitors who did the work were called Conveyancers.

Originally in ages past, you had to have a title plan showing the extent of your property, and a sizable collection of deeds of conveyance showing an unbroken chain of transfers from you back to the original grant of land by the crown (via the local feudal lord). The combination of a Title plan & Deeds of conveyance is the origin of the familiar term Title deeds. Meddling modernisers struck in 1862 with the introduction of Her Majesties Land Registry, which allowed people to voluntarily register their property centrally with the Land Registry and do away with keeping several centuries worth of title documents & deeds (of conveyance). The initial attempt saw little uptake of the newfangled idea. However, major overhauls in 1875, 1897, 1925 and 1972 and 2002 increased uptake of the Land Registry (largely by making usage compulsory) and today a bit over three quarters of the land in the country is registered.

Today property ownership is simply registered at the Land Registry and updated online. The Land Registry has a plan of the property, and you are registered as the owner along with any restrictions on what you can do with your property. This system means for most practical purposes paper title documents and deeds of conveyance are only required to register a property for the first time. Once registered the Land Registry electronic records supercede any paper documents, though your conveyancer will probably send you a printed copy of the Land Registry Office Copy Entries for your property once they have registered it if your buying. This is basically because people always ask for the "deeds" and the cost of a stamp is worth far less than the time spent explaining the print out isin't actually worth the paper it's printed on.

The realisation that anybody can register a transfer with the Land Registry has lead to some people deciding that filling in the Land Registry forms is the entirety of the process, and that they can dispense with legal advice and just hand over the money to the seller and fill in the Land Registry forms without legal advice. It is legal to do this without any legal representation, and you can people advocating this, and other similary dangerous courses of action on some websites. Just because you can do something however, does not make it even slightly advisable. Over the last half milleneia or so, Conveyancers have ended up picking up extra bits of work that need doing here and there, and today do far more than simply transferring the land. The skilled part of conveyancing today is essentially recognising, reporting and quietly evading or resolving all of the near arcane and incomprehensible pitfalls that can befall the uninformed or unwary.

The familiar term Caveat Emptor applies in full force when spending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds on a house. Conveyancers work to protect you against myriad problems that may exist with the property, and make you aware of any issues while you have the opportunity to back out of the transaction. They really don't take a long time going through the process simply to annoy us, they are systematically checking every conceivable issue that might arise in the future and doing their level best to ensure that even if an issue does arise that somebody else ends up stuck with the bill for fixing the problem, not you. At worst, if the conveyancer misses something then their insurer foots the bill, and not you. The number 1 cause of claims against a law firms professional indemnity insurance in the UK is mistakes in conveyancing, so this is far from a hypothetical point!