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What is online conveyancing?
Conveyancing help and guides
10 March 2021

What is online conveyancing?

Rosie Hamilton
Writer & Researcher

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the part of the property transaction that comes after an offer has been accepted. During the conveyancing process all the legal elements of the sale are arranged - including contracts, and fraud checks - and ownership of the property officially transferred from the seller to the buyer.

But, what is 'online conveyancing' and how is it different?

In this article we look in-depth at online conveyancing: how it works, how much it should cost, and how to pick the right conveyancer for your sale.

How does online conveyancing work?

Online conveyancing follows the same legal process as standard conveyancing, but it's all done online and over the phone. The key difference is that you'll never visit an online conveyancer in person.

Generally, if you choose an online conveyancer:

  • They'll offer a slightly cheaper service

  • You won't have a single point of contact within the firm, rather your case will be handled by a 'team'

  • You'll post or email signed documents to the conveyancer, rather than signing them in person at their office

  • Many online conveyancers also offer online case tracking and an out of hours phone service

For more information on the conveyancing process itself, head here.

Is online conveyancing any good?

There are pros and cons to choosing an online conveyancer. Ultimately, the most important thing to consider is the quality and reputation of a company, along with whether they can provide the sort of service you are looking for - rather than whether they are an online or traditional conveyancing firm.

For example: one of the pros of choosing online conveyancing is the ability to track the process online in real time. However, this positive is quickly lost if you're working with a conveyancing firm that has a huge caseload and is slow to update the tracker.

Similarly being able to correspond by email and phone out of office hours can be incredibly convenient for those who work full time. However, if your transaction turns out to be more complex and you need to be in touch with your conveyancer frequently, it can be frustrating not being able to discuss the matter with a single person handling your case.

As a general rule, online conveyancers take on more cases than standard conveyancing firms. On the one hand this allows them to keep their prices down. On the other, it means that your case will be handled alongside a large number of others. And because you don't have a single point of contact or an office to visit, you may struggle to get prioritised when you need an urgent response.

Although online reviews aren't always trustworthy, checking out the reviews of the conveyancers you're considering is a good way to start whittling down your potential options. Look out for mentions of delays, poor communication, or large case loads in the reviews. These can be signs that you should look elsewhere.

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How to pick an online conveyancing firm

Ultimately, the choice over which conveyancer you use - whether online or local - is completely down to what sort of service you're after.

  • Think about how you're comfortable communicating

Some people like to talk face-to-face with their conveyancer, while others don't mind chatting to a range of people over the phone. You may be comfortable using online tools to track your sale's progress. Others might prefer updates over the phone or direct to their email. There are conveyancing firms that cater for all these preferences. We'd recommend talking to a few firms to see what sort of communication they can offer, and see which feels like the right fit for you.

  • How important are office hours

If you're working full time, you may want to consider a conveyancer that offers options for communicating outside of the usual 9 to 5. That could be a call centre style online conveyancer, or a local conveyancer that you can email out of office hours.

  • Don't feel pressured into using the conveyancing solicitors recommended by your estate agent

Often an estate agent will receive commission for referring home sellers to a particular conveyancing firm. There are two reasons why this might not be the best option for you. Firstly, this referral payment might be added onto your quote. Secondly, the estate agent might just be recommending a conveyancer based on the amount of commission they pay - rather than their quality.

This is a particular issue if you choose to work with a 'fixed-fee' or 'upfront fee' estate agent. Because they've already been paid, they have less stake in whether this part of your property sale goes well. We did a deep investigation into the performance of one online agent's preferred conveyancing provider - and the results weren't great. Read more here.

However, we're not suggesting all estate agents will only recommend the conveyancing firm offering the highest referral fee. High street estate agents are much more likely to recommend good conveyancers, because they only get paid once your home sale is successfully finalised. However, it's a good idea to check out all your options before committing, to make sure you're getting the best service for your money.

  • Compare firms

Not all conveyancers are the same. We'd recommend getting quotes from at least three different conveyancing firms, and then having a conversation with those you're interested in. This will give you the chance to get a sense of the service they'll provide, and whether you're comfortable they'll be able to offer the support you're after.

  • Think carefully before picking the cheapest option

According to research by The Advisory, the cheapest conveyancing option is often the busiest. This is because they have to take on more work in order to keep their fees low. This ends up making them the most difficult to contact, and ultimately the slowest to get through the process.

This does not mean that the most expensive conveyancer will automatically be the best. Rather you should carefully evaluate whether or not taking the cheapest option is really worth the saving.

How much should online conveyancing cost?

Generally conveyancing fees are likely to be between £600 and £2,000.

Usually conveyancing fees for buying a property are more expensive than for selling - and of course, if you're buying and selling at the same time, the conveyancer's fee will reflect that. If you're buying a property, you'll also have to take into account the cost of Stamp Duty Land Tax.

When you receive quotes from conveyancers, you should expect to see two sections: the 'basic fee' and the 'disbursements'.

Disbursements are all the upfront costs that a conveyancer will pay on your behalf to get the conveyancing process going. These will be things like local authority searches, and Land Registry title checks. You should expect the price for 'disbursements' on each quote to be about the same for every conveyancer.

The basic fee is likely to differ from firm to firm. This will depend upon a range of things including: a firm's expertise, reputation, and the number of cases they take on at a time.

Some firms have tricks to make their prices look cheaper. For example, they might not include disbursements in their conveyancing quote, or they might suggest that some of their services are 'add-ons' that come with extra charges. Be wary of any firm that does this.

Read more about the cost of disbursements here.

When you request quotes for comparison, ask the conveyancer to detail all the potential costs that could come up - including these upfront disbursement costs. If a quote comes back significantly lower than all the others (or less than about £600) this should cause alarm bells to ring.

Top Tip: We'd always recommend going with a fixed-fee conveyancer (rather than a pay-per-hour conveyancing firm).

Why are online conveyancers cheaper than local conveyancers?

There are two main reasons why online conveyancing firms are cheaper than local ones. Firstly: they have different running costs. Secondly: online conveyancers take on more transactions to compensate for the lower price.

Local conveyancers are required to maintain an office presence - usually on the local high street. This will need to have enough capacity for face-to-face meetings, and there will be enough licensed conveyancers that each homemover they work with has a personal point of contact.

In contrast, online conveyancers don't need a local presence or meeting spaces. They're able to set up in areas where offices are cheaper. Online conveyancers also tend to hire more junior and administrative staff to take on the bulk of the leg work, so that it can be given a final check over by a licensed solicitor.

Things to consider when picking a conveyancer

  • Should I use a conveyancer or a solicitor?

You can use either a 'conveyancer' or a 'solicitor' as your legal representative during a property sale. A licensed conveyancer is a lawyer that only works on property law. A solicitor is a more general legal professional - they can be useful if your property transaction involves other legal elements, such as a divorce.

If you decide to use a solicitor, rather than a conveyancer, make sure that the firm has expertise in residential conveyancing, or at least has a specialist conveyancing department.

  • Are they regulated?

Before you decide to work with a conveyancing firm - online or local - make sure they are regulated by a proper authority. This could be the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), or the Law Society of Scotland (LSS). Working with a regulated conveyancer or solicitor ensures you're working with someone legitimately qualified, and committed to following particular rules of conduct. Regulatory authorities also provide you protection if anything goes wrong, by giving you a place to escalate complaints.

  • Do they have indemnity insurance?

Licensed conveyancers and solicitors are required to have professional negligence insurance in place. This covers the cost of legal action in the unlikely instance that anything goes wrong.

  • Are they on your lender's ‘approved’ panel?

Mortgage lenders usually have a list of 'approved' conveyancers that they work with. This is a precautionary measure, to reduce the risk to the lender, and ensures they get all the information they need about a property before committing to a loan. Unfortunately, if you choose to work with a conveyancing solicitor that's not on your lender's approved panel, they will instruct their own solicitor - which you will have to pay for. Not only will this be more expensive for you, the logistics of having another lawyer working on the transaction means it'll likely take longer too.

  • How important is local knowledge for a conveyancer?

In many straightforward cases, local knowledge is a useful but inessential asset. Most of the local information a conveyancer might need will be found in the local authority searches. However, if your case is a little more complex - for example there are specific border disputes or unusual local searches, a clued up local conveyancer will make the process much easier.

  • You’re not the only person who’ll have to deal with the conveyancer

Whether you're buying or selling, it's important to remember that there's another person involved in your property transaction. Your conveyancer is your representative, and if they are slow, disorganised, or need constant chasing, this will also impact the other side.

There are a number of buyers who have reported being frustrated by sellers using online solicitors for their lack of communication and speed. One user on MoneySavingExpert stated: ‘For us the experience was bad enough that if a vendor intended to use an online conveyancer, they would have to change as part of the deal.’

Bear this in mind when deciding between which conveyancer to work with.

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