What’s the difference between commercial & domestic conveyancing?

Whether you’re buying a house or a business, a flat or a shop, part of the process is invariably the conveyancing. Without this essential part of the puzzle, your best-laid plans will come to nothing. If you’re leasing or renting a commercial property too, you’ll need to make sure everything is checked before you sign the contract. So what are the differences between commercial and domestic conveyancing?

What is conveyancing?

Firstly, let’s define exactly what ‘conveyancing’ means. Whether you’re buying or long-term renting a domestic or commercial property, conveyancing is the legal process of buying and selling that property. It is possible to do it yourself without a legal representative, but as property law can be incredibly complicated and full of traps for the unwary or uninitiated, it’s best to trust your biggest lifetime purchase to the professionals. In the UK, conveyancing is regulated by the Law Society, so look for conveyancing specialists in the UK who are registered and licenced to carry out conveyancing on your behalf.

A conveyancer is there to check over the legal documentation to ensure both buyer and seller are meeting their legal obligations. They will also check deeds, and ensure that the financial transactions are carried out correctly.

Commercial conveyancing

While there are a lot of similarities between commercial and residential conveyancing, there are some differences too.

In general terms, commercial property is exempt from VAT unless it is less than 3 years old or the seller has elected to waive that exemption – known as an Option to Tax.   

In general, residential conveyancing happens at the end of a transaction. So when a sale has been agreed, the conveyancing expert then steps in to take over the process and make sure all the paperwork and agreements are in order, and that all financial transactions are processed correctly. In commercial conveyancing, the expert intervenes in the process much earlier. So you’ll find that commercial conveyancers deal with a wider range of processes, including:

  • The sale and purchase of premises
  • Re-contract or revisions of new leasing or long-term rental agreements
  • The revision of existing leases or change of use agreements
  • Drawing up and arranging permit plans
  • Dealing with all paperwork for rent reviews, including ground rent in leased premises
  • Association Agreements
  • Arranging and Licensing applications

Commercial conveyancing is far more likely to deal with leasing agreements than residential conveyancing (except in London, which has a much higher proportion of residential leaseholds). So often owners are in fact commercial tenants, rather than property owners. Much of a commercial conveyancing expert’s workload is negotiating new lease agreements between the leaseholder and the property owner. In some cases, that can mean public sector landlords such as councils, which can further complicate the process.

The purchase of derelict property (such as an old factory) for demolition and conversion into a new industrial site would also fall under commercial conveyancing categories, and can be fraught with complications. This is especially the case if there are unusual factors to take into consideration before the purchase can be completed, such as the treatment of contaminated land, EIAs (environmental impact assessments), and planning permission.

The client’s role

In residential conveyancing, the client has a big role to play in the process, and the conveyancing expert will take instruction from them at all stages. The same applies to commercial conveyancing (if not more so), as the client’s knowledge of the terms of the lease, any planning permission applications and main terms need to be considered.

The main lease terms will be agreed and summarised in a letter know as a Heads of Terms. This lists all the essential information such as names and addresses, terms and conditions of the lease, and rent review periods (including any rent-free periods). You will need to work closely with your conveyancer to provide them with the information they need, bearing in mind, too, that leases are also very time sensitive. So the advice is to talk to a commercial conveyance specialist sooner rather than later, especially if your lease is coming up for renewal.


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.