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What is Conveyancing Law?

By John Markley
Updated May 16, 2024
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Conveyancing law is the body of law concerning the transfer of ownership of real property, also known as conveyancing. Real property, also called immovable property, realty, or real estate, refers to land and any permanent structures or human improvements on it. It governs issues such as the legal requirements for transferring the property, contracts for the sale of land, and the legal resolution of conveyancing disputes. The specifics of conveyancing law depend on the jurisdiction where the transfer takes place.

The seller is responsible for demonstrating that he or she is the legitimate owner of the land. Most jurisdictions maintain a registry of landowners that records who has a title to a piece of land. The seller must also inform the buyer in advance of any restrictions or limitations on the property title, called encumbrances. Encumbrances include such things as mortgages, liens, and easements. The conveyancing process is usually carried out by the attorneys of the buyer and seller, though in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth of Nations member countries it can also be done by a specialist in property law called a licensed conveyancer.

Conveyancing law usually recognizes the transfer of two types of property titles in the course of a transaction, equitable title and legal title. Equitable title usually transfers to the buyer after an agreement has been reached, while legal title does not transfer until the conveyance is complete, though the specific point at which equitable title is transferred varies according to jurisdiction. Once equitable title is transferred to the buyer, he or she has the legal right to demand legal title once the contractually agreed upon price has been paid to the seller. Any increases in the value of the property after equitable title has been transferred, such as a rise in land prices or the discovery of natural resources, are enjoyed by the buyer.

If the seller subsequently refuses to transfer legal title, he or she can be sued by the buyer and legally compelled to do so. This makes conveyancing law somewhat unusual in jurisdictions based on British common law, such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Under common law, most breaches of contract only allow the damaged party to sue for damages and not for specific performance, a court order requiring the contract breaker to fulfill the terms of the original contract. Agreements to sell land are the chief exception to this in common law jurisdictions and often the only area of contract law where specific performance is routinely ordered. In civil law jurisdictions, such as the countries of continental Europe and most of Latin America, specific performance is a much more commonly used legal remedy, and so contracts for the sale of land are not unusual in that regard.

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