Conveyancing between Coronations

In light of the Coronation of King Charles III later this week, we have taken the opportunity to consider how much has changed in Conveyancing since the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

The modernising of the Conveyancing process and the commitment of the industry to reducing transaction timelines means that the conveyancing process today bears little resemblance to that in 1953, although there is still much work to be done. Land law and the law of property however, remain largely unchanged.

One of the main differences in conveyancing in 1953 would have been the absence of the Land Registry as we know it today and as a result the unregistered land. The Land Registry was established in 1862, but it wasn’t until the Land Registration Act 1925 that registration of land owners became compulsory; However, the system was not fully computerised until the 1990s so in 1953, conveyancers relied on manual searches of local archives and registers to establish ownership and any existing rights or restrictions on the property. Now it is estimated that 86% of all land in England and Wales has been registered and deeds can be downloaded from the Land Registry in seconds.

Interestingly, much of the land owned by the Crown, the Church and the aristocracy remains unregistered as it has not been sold and therefore a trigger event for registration has not occurred.

The process of exchanging contracts would have been very different. In 1953, this would have involved the buyer and seller physically signing the contract in the presence of their respective solicitors or conveyancers, rather than the more modern practice of exchanging contracts electronically. Documents and contract would have been exchanges in person or by post in 1953, which would have taken several days to arrive and be returned.

The time it took to complete a conveyancing transaction in 1953 would also have been affected by the availability of funds. Mortgages were not as readily available as they are today, and buyers would often have to arrange financing through their solicitor or bank. This could have added to the time it took to complete a transaction as there would have been delays in securing financing. Purchasers are now able to secure a mortgage within a matter of hours.

Property values in 1953 would have been much lower than they are today. In 1953 the average property price in the UK was around £2,000. One of the main reasons for this is that the economy was recovering from the Second World War and there was a shortage of housing, which meant that processes were kept artificially low.

It is estimated that in the early 1950s solicitors’ fees for conveyancing would have been around £10 to £20 for a simple transaction, rising to around £30 to £40 for a more complex transaction.

It is also worth noting that in 1953, there was no regulation of solicitors’ fees so solicitors were free to charge as they wished in contrast to firms who are now regulated and required to provide a clear breakdown of their fees and charges.

In 1953, clients were not able to contact their conveyancer continually by telephone or email. Purchasers of land in the 1950s accepted the process and the time it took to complete the transaction and were confident in their lawyer’s knowledge and experience. In the absence of social media, reviews, google, compliance, Conveyancers experienced a more complicated and laborious task but were very much trusted to complete it.

It is interesting that the technology and processes put in place to speed up, simplify and make the purchase transaction more efficient have meant that delays are now often a result of matters beyond the law.

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