Conveyancing

This guide explains the conveyancing process involved in buying a home.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing describes the process of legally transferring property title from one party to another. The conveyancing process starts with the acceptance of your offer and finishes once you receive the keys.

Who does the conveyancing?

It’s actually possible to do the conveyancing yourself as long as you are not taking out a mortgage. The process is complex and difficult and not advisable. Conveyancing is undertaken by a solicitor or conveyancer.

Initial stages

1. The first step is to find a solicitor or conveyancer and give them formal instruction to act on your behalf in the matter.
2. Your appointed conveyancer will then draw up a draft contract or terms of business with you and give you a scale of fees and charges.
3. Once the offer is accepted, your solicitor will write to your seller’s solicitor to confirm they are instructed and request a copy of the draft contract and any other details, such as the property’s title and the standard forms.

Legal Work

4. Your solicitor will the carefully examine the draft contract and all supporting documents and ‘raise enquiries’ with the seller’s solicitor. Be prepared because you will be expected to go through the forms the seller has completed and let the solicitor know if you have any queries or concerns.
Check very carefully that the property is as described and that the tenure is correct. The tenure describes how the property is held so is it Freehold, Leasehold or Commonhold?  If it’s leasehold, don’t rely on your solicitor to check for the length of the lease. Leases below 80 years can be a problem. They are sometimes costly to extend and you need to have owned the property for 2 years before you are eligible to do so.
5. Property searches. There are several types of property search. A search may reveal things that you may not know about the property simply from viewing it or from a professional survey. The conveyancer will conduct a set of legal searches to ensure there are no other factors of which you should be aware.

Some searches will be recommended by the solicitor for all purchases and others will be required by the mortgage lender to protect them from any liabilities that the property may have:

Local authority searches: These check that there are no plans for a new bypass to go through or across your property? How about radioactive gas? This costs between £70 and £400 depending on the Local Authority and usually takes 1-2 weeks, but can take up to 6 weeks. Sometimes it is possible to pay an additional fee to ‘fast track’ the search.
Checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry – these are the legal documents proving the seller’s ownership. The title register check costs £3 and the title plan check costs £3. Both checks are legally required in order to sell
Checking flood risk – this can also be done at the Land Registry. If you are already getting an environmental search (see below), you might not buy this one separately as the search will contain much more thorough flood information and maps
Water authority searches – This will establish how water is provided and if any public drains on the property might affect extensions or building works. The water authority search will cost between £50 and £75
Chancel repair search – This dates back to Medieval times before land was officially registered and the church were major land owners. The Chancel is part of the church and the church are were able to request that owners of property built on church land, contribute to the repair and upkeep of the the Chancel. This kind of search ensures there are no potential leftover medieval liabilities on the property to help pay for church repairs. The liabilities can run to tens of thousands of pounds so this is a necessity and costs £18. However, you may decide to take out Chancel repair insurance instead for £20 or so. The laws around Chancel repair changed in October 2013 so now the onus is on the Church to establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry
Environmental Search – this search is used on the vast majority of transactions and is provided by either Landmark or Groundsure.  Depending which product your solicitor usually uses, the report will give information about contaminated land at or around the property, landfill sites, mine workings, former and current industry, detailed flooding predictions, radon gas hazard, ground stability issues, and some other related information.  The cost should be around £50 to £60 including VAT
Optional and location specific searches – sometimes extra searches are required or recommended depending on the location or type of property or due to particular concerns raised by the buyer.  These could include:

  • Tin Mining searches in Cornwall
  • Mining searches in various parts of the UK and Cheshire Brine searches
  • Cleveland Shale Searches
  • Additional Local Authority Questions such as Public Paths, Pipelines, Noise Abatement Zones, Common Land, etc.
The Mortgage

6. If you are financing the purchase of the property, you will need to get your mortgage in place. This will include ensuring you have the funds available for a deposit. Your solicitor will receive a copy of the offer and go through the conditions.
7. The mortgage company will need to obtain a valuation to establish whether there is sufficient security for the loan. The cost of the survey is normally paid for by the buyer but some mortgage companies may offer this for free in order to attract your business.
8. In any event, it’s always a good idea to have a survey and valuation even if you are purchasing the property in cash.
9. Before exchange of contracts can take place it is a requirement that buildings insurance is in place. You are responsible for the property as soon as contracts have been exchanged so it is in your interests to do so.

Signing Contracts

10.  Since receiving the draft contract from the seller’s solicitor, your solicitor will have been in correspondence with you about what is covered. Before signing the contract your solicitor will need to ensure:

  • That all enquiries have been returned and are satisfactory
  • That fixtures and fittings included in the purchase are what you expected
  • A completion date has been agreed between the two parties, which is usually 1-4 weeks after exchange of contracts, though this can vary widely
  • That you have made arrangements to transfer the deposit into your solicitors account so that it is cleared in time for an exchange. You may want to negotiate on the size of the deposit, which is normally 10% of the value of the property. However, even if you agree to pay less than 10% you are still liable for 10% of the value of the property if you later pull out of the agreement. Therefore if you pay a 5% deposit and pull out of buying the property you will not only lose your deposit but also legally owe an additional 5% of the value of the property

11. Go to the property with the estate agent and the fixtures and fittings inventory list to ensure that everything you paid for is still there and the house has not been damaged in any way

Exchanging contracts

12. You and the seller will agree on a date and time to exchange contracts at any time on any given day
13. Your solicitor will exchange contracts for you. This is usually done by both solicitors/conveyancers reading out the contracts over the phone (which is recorded) to make sure the contracts are identical, and then immediately sending them to one another in the post.
14. If you are in a chain your solicitor/conveyancer will do the same thing, but will only release it if the other people in the chain are all happy to go ahead. This means if one person pulls out or delays, then everyone in the chain gets held up.
15. Once you have exchanged contracts you will be in a legally binding contract to buy the property with a fixed date for moving. This means that:

  • If you do not complete the purchase, you will lose your deposit and owe the seller more if the deposit was less than 10%
  • the seller has to sell or you can sue them
  • the seller can no longer accept another offer (you no longer need to worry about being gazumped)
Between exchange and completion

16. Your solicitor will lodge an interest in the property which will mean that the deeds to the property are frozen for 30 working days to allow you to pay the seller and lodge your application to the Land Registry to transfer the deeds into your name.
17. The seller will move out (although they may leave this to the day of completion)
18. You should get organised for your moving day. See our moving day checklist to help you prepare for moving day.  It is also worth considering the best day to move house to save money and ease the stress of moving.
19. The solicitor will send you a statement showing the final figure to pay, which will need to be cleared into your solicitor’s bank account at least one day before completion.

On completion day

20. Completion takes place when the seller’s solicitor confirms that they have received all the money that is due. Once this happens the agent will release keys to you and you can move in.

After completion

21. There are normally one or two loose ends for your solicitor to tie up which can include:

  • Pay Stamp Duty Land Tax on your behalf
  • Sending your legal documents about 20 days after completion after your solicitor has sent them to the Land Registry
  • Sending a copy of the title deeds to your mortgage lender, who will hold them until you pay your loan off
    Notify the freeholder if the property is leasehold
  • Give you a bill for their payment

22. You will want to keep your purchase paperwork together from the purchase of your new home, including the estate agent’s brochure, to file away and keep safe for when you move again.