Navigating through the whole process of buying a house, from offer to completion, can be time-consuming and complicated, but finding a good conveyancer takes a lot of pain out of the process.
Conveyancing is the legal processes that needs to take place when buying and selling property and transferring ownership from one person to another.
Once an offer you’ve made on a property has been accepted, you need to begin the legal process of conveyancing.
You could choose to do your own conveyancing, but you can’t afford to get anything wrong.
The vast majority of people instruct a solicitor specialising in conveyancing or a licensed conveyancer to take care of all legalities.
When you’ve instructed a conveyancer, they will draw up a terms of engagement letter detailing their fees plus the up-front money they need you to pay for disbursements.
Disbursements are fees they pay to third parties while conducting your purchase, such as search and Land Registry fees.
They will also inform the buyers’ solicitor that they are acting on your behalf.
The conveyancing process then continues like this:
Your sellers’ solicitor will prepare a draft contract outlining the conditions of sale, what exactly is included in the selling price (including carpets, fixtures and fittings etc) as well as other information such as details on boundaries, rights of way and so on. The seller’s title deeds (proof of ownership) will also be included in this contract pack.
This will be sent to your conveyancer who will examine it with you, then deal with any issues or concerns that arise from it.
Your solicitor will arrange a set of searches to ensure there are no factors affecting the property that you were unaware of. These will include:
Local authority searches
These check for restrictions relating to the property or land, such as if it’s in a conservation area or subject to a tree protection order.
The searches also show up any proposals for new roads or planning decisions that could affect your property in the future.
An Environmental Search will look for issues such as contaminated land and ground stability problems. It also checks for flood risk and the presence of radon gas for example.
Water and drainage searches which confirm the source of a property’s water supply, sewer connections and so on.
A Chancel Search checks if the property is in a parish where you will be liable for potential chancel repair of a parish church (the part of the church around the altar).
Your solicitor will deal with the sellers’ solicitors over any queries or problems that arise from the searches.
This is to satisfy it that the property is worth the amount they’re lending you.
You might also want to organise a full survey or homebuyer report for yourself, though, to get a more detailed inspection of the property. A survey will pick up any structural problems or any major repairs that might be needed.
When your formal mortgage offer arrives, your conveyancer will check the terms and go through them with you. They will then ask you to sign the mortgage deed and hold on to it until it’s required for completion.
When you and your solicitor are happy with all the information provided by the seller as well as the searches, your solicitor will ask you to sign the Transfer Deed (known as a ‘TR1’ form) along with the final contract.
You will need to send your conveyancer the property deposit at this stage to ensure it’s cleared in time for exchange.
When the seller is also happy with all documentation, the exchange of contracts can take place.
This is the point at which you and the seller legally commit to the transaction and cannot pull out without financial penalty. It usually takes place in a recorded telephone call between the buyer’s and seller’s solicitors.
You must arrange buildings insurance to start on the date you exchange contracts.
Solicitors will negotiate on a completion date.
On completion day, your solicitor will arrange for your mortgage funds to be sent to the seller. Then the property keys are handed over and you can move in.
Your solicitor pays any stamp duty owed and registers ownership of the property with the Land Registry.
Your estate agent may recommend a conveyancing solicitor but you’re under no obligation to use them and they may be more expensive.
It’s advisable to get quotes from a few firms to compare prices. And always be sure to check whether or not quotes include the cost of disbursements.
As with anything, personal recommendations are a good place to start.
Also make sure whoever you choose is regulated by their relevant body. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and conveyancers by the Council for Licenced Conveyancers.
There are more tips on our ‘how to find and choose a conveyancer’ page.
The process of homebuying and the contracts system is slightly different in Scotland.
It’s not unusual for conveyancing solicitor firms to also act as estate agents, so they’re much more involved in the process than in the rest of the UK.
Sellers are required to provide full ‘Home Reports’ which include a survey and detailed information on the property.
In England and Wales a sale becomes legally binding only when contracts are exchanged, meaning any party can pull out before this stage without penalty.
But in Scotland the sale is legally binding after a series of letters (known as missives) are exchanged and the process can take as little as a few weeks.
You can find out more about the process on the Law Society of Scotland’s website.
You can expect to pay anything from around £800 to £1,500 upwards in conveyancing costs.
These include your solicitor’s legal fees as well as the cost of disbursements (things your solicitor will pay on your behalf for things like local searches, Title Deeds and the Land Registry fee).
The cost of conveyancing on a leasehold property is higher as there will be additional work required to confirm the terms of the lease.
If you’re buying through the Help to Buy ISA, a Help to Buy Equity Loan or Shared Ownership there are usually extra conveyancing fees as they all require more than the standard amount of legal work.
Buying a new build also involves more work and therefore more costs.
All of these costs should be listed in your conveyancer’s quote.
Most conveyancers will work on a fixed fee basis – a pre-agreed price which shouldn’t change as the work progresses. This can help you budget better for your house-buying and moving costs. Just be sure that the fixed fee includes both legal fees and costs of disbursements.
One in three house purchases fall through, so you may want to explore using a conveyancing solicitor who offers a ‘no completion, no fee’ guarantee. This means you won’t have to pay legal fees, should the purchase fail, though you’ll still have to cover the costs of disbursements.
You could also take out a homebuyers insurance policy which allows you to claim back on costs you’ve paid out for searches and surveys if the purchase falls through.
If it’s a straightforward purchase, conveyancing on a freehold property – from offer to completion – takes around eight-10 weeks and on a leasehold property about 10-12 weeks.
If it’s a complicated move involving several chains, things can take a lot longer.
Typically, these take about two to three weeks to complete but if a local authority has a heavy workload, the process can take up to six weeks.
There can be a lot of people involved in a house sale. As well as you (the buyer), there’s your solicitor, the seller and their solicitor, estate agents, mortgage lenders and local council officials.
If you’re in a chain of sales, there are even more people in the loop. It takes only one person in this loop to be slow at responding to a query, to provide necessary documentation or even to take a holiday, and things can sometimes feel like they’re grinding to a halt.
A good solicitor will aim to keep the process moving as smoothly and quickly as possible.
But it’s also important you are as proactive as possible and keep communication channels open with your conveyancing firm.
You can help speed things up by signing and returning documents as swiftly as you can. Scan or email these to your solicitor. And ask that they communicate in that way to you – rather than by post.
In some instances, you’ll need to sign original documents (such as the Transfer Deed) so that will have to be posted, or you could take the signed form into your solicitor’s office yourself if that's quicker.
It’s also a good idea to follow up with your solicitor to make sure they have received your documents.