Conveyancing

Conveyancing – a comprehensive guide for England and Wales

Technically, conveyancing is the legal process of transferring ownership of a property from one party to another. However, it is also used as an over-arching term for all the legal and administrative work carried out by a solicitor during a house sale or purchase.

Our complete guide takes you through the whole process when being carried out in England and Wales, including the time it will take, the costs involved and a breakdown of what the solicitor will do at each step of the way.

Who undertakes conveyancing?

Conveyancing is nearly always carried out by a trained solicitor or conveyancer. Both are regulated , either by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, they are insured professionals and experts in the legal process of property transactions.

Occasionally, it is possible to conduct the conveyancing yourself, but the process can be complicated, especially in more complex scenarios that require specialist legal knowledge. You may also find that your mortgage provider will insist on the conveyancing being carried out by a trained professional.

Selecting the right solicitor or conveyancer is an essential part of your property purchase and could be the difference between a smooth, efficient transaction or a long drawn out one. Make sure you read through our guide on how to choose a conveyancer or solicitor, including what the difference is between the two, before you decide on who to go with.

How long should the whole process take?

The conveyancing process starts after an offer on a house is accepted and the solicitor has been instructed. It will usually take between eight and 12 weeks, however, not all transactions run smoothly and can be held up for all sorts of reasons, from issues with missing paperwork to problems with surveys.

If you are looking to sell your property, one way you can speed up the process is download and complete our Property Information Questionnaire. This will ensure that you have gathered all the relevant information early on and will give your solicitor a head-start in the conveyancing process.

How much should it cost?

The cost of conveyancing is split in to two categories, the legal fees, and the disbursements:

  • Legal fees - cover the work that is carried out by the solicitor themselves. These vary but are normally somewhere between £800 and £1,500.
  • Disbursements - are the costs of the checks and searches your solicitor will need to carry out on your behalf. Things like anti-money laundering checks, local authority searches and flood reports all incur a cost to obtain.

How many searches are carried out depends on the type of property, its age, location and value but in most cases, you can expect to pay anywhere between £250 and £1,500.

Before you instruct your solicitor, they will provide you with a quote for the conveyancing work which will include a breakdown of their legal fees and disbursements. You can always get a couple of quotes from different practices so you can make a direct comparison.

New home owners

Anti-money laundering

With over £4 billion of fraud in conveyancing each year, a crucial step of the conveyancing process is the anti-money laundering checks.

Solicitors are legally obligated to scrutinise their client’s funds and prove that it is above board. You can expect your solicitor to request proof of ID, bank statements and further information on how you have acquired the money you are using towards the property.

What do I need to do first?

Once you have had an offer accepted and you have instructed your solicitor or conveyancer, there are a number of things you should look to organise swiftly to help move along your house purchase:

  • Paperwork – very early on you will be asked to complete several forms about you and your finances. You will also need to provide documents proving your identity and the funds you have available. Pulling together everything early on will make things much easier further down the line.
  • Finances – your solicitor or conveyancer will provide you with a quote before you instruct them, the bulk of which will be paid on completion. However, they will ask for an initial fee to cover some of their early work, so make sure you have a pot set aside for this. A budget of around £300 is a sensible figure. If you are expecting to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax or Land Transaction Tax for this purchase, then you should have this set aside as well. Our ultimate guide on Stamp Duty will tell you exactly how much you need to pay.
  • Check the lease – double check the tenure of the property and if it is a leasehold, check the length of the lease. Our guide on leasehold properties explains the implications of having a leasehold property.
  • Mortgage – whether it’s through a broker or directly with the lender, have your mortgage approved and ready to go as your solicitor or conveyancer will ask for the details. Take a look at our mortgage guide for more advice.
  • Survey – arrange for a chartered surveyor to look over the property in plenty of time so that your solicitor can make any enquiries based on what they find. Our property survey guide sheds some light on this process.
  • Insurance – towards the latter end of the process, before you exchange contracts, you will need to take out buildings insurance on the property. Our insurance guide explains in more detail.

As the buyer, you will play a big part in the process and will be asked to provide a good chunk of information. The more prompt you are in responding, the quicker the process will be for everyone.

What does the conveyancing process involve?

Once you have had an offer accepted and you have instructed your solicitor, they will send you a contract for their services, including details on their fees. When this has been signed off and they have been formally instructed, they will get to work with the following.

Contract, initial paperwork, and sellers’ documents

Right at the start of the conveyancing process, your solicitor will receive the contract prepared by the sellers’ solicitor along with their supporting documents. These supporting documents should include:

  • Property Information Questionnaire – this document precisely details a thorough overview of the property. If you spot anything in this document that concerns you, make sure you ask your solicitor to make further enquiries.
  • Fittings and contents form – this form will outline exactly what is included with the property, for example, light fittings, window fittings, kitchen units and appliances that are built into the house. It will also detail any freestanding appliances and whether they are included and at what price.
  • Gas safety record and Electrical safety report – this confirms the safety of your boiler and heating system and the electrics in your home. If you find that the boiler or electrics are inadequate, either through the supporting documents or through your survey, you may be able to renegotiate your offer to help cover the cost of replacing them.
  • Certificates and warranties – this could include things like a damp proofing warranty, or warranties for any appliances, like your boiler. Make sure you keep a hold of these in case you need them once you have purchased the property.
  • Records of any building works and insurance claims – you should be notified of any building works carried out and any insurance claims. This information may affect your insurance premiums when you take out buildings insurance, so make sure you carefully look through anything you receive.

Your solicitor will also look through the supporting documents along with the contract and will draft their own set of enquiries for the seller. Combined with your own questions, along with anything you need clarity on from the property survey, the responses should give you reassurance that the property is the correct value and that you have a clear picture of exactly what you are purchasing.

Legal searches

In addition to the information the seller has provided, your solicitor will do a set of legal searches to gain as much detail about the property and its local area as possible. These searches will reveal any factors that may have an impact on the property value, your ability to insure it or, worst case scenario, your desire to go through with the purchase. The searches may include:

  • Bankruptcy search – this is a requirement from mortgage lenders and will confirm that you have not been declared bankrupt.
  • Local authority – this will reveal any public rights of way across the property and any council plans nearby, for example a new road running behind your garden.
  • Land registry – obtaining the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ from the Land Registry database to confirm the general boundaries and current owner details.
  • Flood risk and environmental – this is a detailed report that shows historical flood data within 400 metres of the property. The environmental search looks at ground contamination around the property.
  • Water board – to check where the water supply to the property is from and information on the draining and sewage, including any public drainage on the property.
  • Optional searches – depending on where you are in the country, there are other searches that may be carried out for your property, for example mining searches in areas with a mining industry, past or present.

Mortgage conveyancing

At this stage of the process you should have your mortgage in place and your solicitor will have a copy of the mortgage offer and the terms and conditions.

Signing contracts

contract

Once your solicitor is satisfied with all the searches and enquiries, they will produce and send to you their final report along with a copy of the contract to be signed. The final report will be a summary of the results on their checks and searches, giving you one last opportunity to review all the information.

Before you sign make sure that you are satisfied with all the responses to your own enquiries and if you can, take the opportunity to visit the property and check the fixtures and fittings match up to your expectations.

It is at this stage that your solicitor will also ask for your deposit. This isn’t the same as your mortgage deposit, rather a deposit to the seller in case you drop out of the purchase after the contracts have been exchanged. This is called an exchange deposit, which is typically set at 10 per cent of the purchase price, however, you may be able to negotiate this down.

Remember, you will be required to take out buildings insurance before you exchange contracts, so if you haven’t at this stage, make sure you do it now.

Exchanging contracts

After signing the contract and returning it to your solicitor, a date and time to exchange contracts will be arranged as well as the date for completion further down the line.

If you are in a property chain, the solicitors will wait until every party in the chain are ready to exchange before they proceed. This can sometimes cause a delay on your purchase and becomes more common the larger the chain is.

The process of exchanging contracts often takes place over the phone, with both solicitors reading out the contracts to ensure they are identical. The contracts are then immediately posted to one another after the call.

Once contracts have been exchanged, the property transaction is legally binding and if you pull out for any reason, you will lose your exchange deposit and will still be accountable for any outstanding legal fees.

Completion

With the exchange done and dusted, you can now look ahead to completion day. The date that has been negotiated will largely depend on the circumstances the seller is in, whether they are living at the property, if they are in a chain and if they have a completion date in mind for the property they are moving to.

Generally speaking, the completion date normally falls between a week and four weeks after exchanging contracts. When the day arrives, your role as the buyer is straightforward. You will receive a call from your solicitor once the money has been transferred to the seller, the legal documents have been updated with you as the owner and the seller has handed over the keys for collection.

Depending on your own circumstances, you may want to move in as soon as you’re given the green light that the keys are available, or you may want to leave the property empty while you give it a lick of paint.

Final tasks

Once completion day has passed, your solicitor has a few final tasks to bring the whole process to an end:

  • Stamp duty – your solicitor will pay this on your behalf with the funds you have transferred to them.
  • Legal documents – these will be sent to the Land Registry by your solicitor and you will receive a copy of them around 20 days after completion.
  • Title deeds – a copy of the deeds will be sent to your mortgage lender and will be held until you pay off your loan.
  • Notify the freeholder – if the property is a leasehold.

Make sure you gather up all the paperwork from your property purchase and file it safely, ready for your next move.

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