Conveyancing: What You Need To Know
Our simple (but complete) guide to the conveyancing process. Find out everything you need to know about buying and selling a property from the experts.
By MyLegalAdviser - Last Updated April 2018
Our short guide to conveyancing has everything you need to know about the conveyancing process.
What is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring ownership of a property. A conveyancer is responsible for ensuring title to the property is transferred from seller to purchaser and advising on any legal issues with the property.
How does the conveyancing process work?
Although the exact process will differ from property to property (and deal to deal), it will usually look a little like this:
Step 1 - agreeing the deal
Once a seller decides to sell their property, they’ll need to put it on the market.
Buyers should be aware that the estate agent on the property will usually require:
- the buyer to be under offer on any property they need to sell; and
- to have their mortgage offer in place (if they’re getting one).
The estate agent may also ask the buyer if they’ve appointed a conveyancing solicitor.
In a “hot” market (where properties are selling quickly) it’s very important that you’re ready to proceed once you make an offer. Properties can, and frequently do, sell within a couple of days (or hours) of being listed.
Delays caused by waiting for mortgage applications and conveyancing solicitors to be instructed can lead to opportunities for other potential purchasers to gazump (come in with a better offer) and for the seller to get cold feet and re-list their property on the market.
Step 2 - Due diligence
Once an offer has been accepted, the estate agents will send the details of the deal to both parties’ conveyancing solicitors.
Whilst not all purchases/sales are the same, the due diligence part of the deal usually follows a process similar to this:
Usual conveyancing process:
- The seller’s conveyancer will draft the contract of sale and request any necessary information from their client (including the Property Information and Fittings and Contents forms).
- The buyer’s conveyancer will request the draft contract and any other necessary documentation. They will also raise enquiries regarding the property (helping ensure the buyer knows exactly what the purchase includes).
- The buyer’s conveyancer will conduct a number of searches against the property (which the buyer will need to pay for as disbursements). These include legal searches and searches regarding, for example, risk of flooding and requests for local planning permission that may affect the property.
- If they’re getting a mortgage, the buyer should arrange a mortgage valuation of the property and request the mortgage documentation from the lender.
- If the buyer wants one, they should instruct a surveyor to do a HomeBuyers Report or Building Survey to check the condition of the property.
- The buyer should get any Buildings Insurance ready for exchange (not completion), this will be required by the lender if a mortgage is being obtained.
- Both parties should make sure any linked sale or purchase is moving at a similar speed and, if not, should manage the buyer’s/seller’s expectations accordingly.
- The buyer’s conveyancer should provide their client with a Report on Title. This will detail everything the buyer will need to know about the property and will contain the results of the searches and enquiries. It’s important the buyer reads this thoroughly as their solicitor won’t always be able to point out things which are important to the client.
- The parties should negotiate the completion date.
Step 3 - Exchange
Once all the due diligence is done and the terms of the purchase have been fully agreed, the parties are ready to exchange.
Once both parties agree and everything is in readiness, their solicitors will go ahead and exchange contracts. The deposit will need to be paid over and buildings insurance should be put in place.
Buyers will generally need to ensure any property they’re selling has exchanged before exchanging on a linked purchase. Sellers will want to ensure any onward purchase exchanges shortly afterwards if possible.
The buyer should ensure their mortgage documentation is complete, including executing the mortgage deed, so that their funds will be ready to be drawn down by the completion date.
Step 4 - Completion
Before completion the seller’s and buyer’s conveyancers will prepare a completion statement detailing the transfer of funds at completion and any expenses to be met.
The seller’s and buyer’s solicitors will notify their clients they’ve completed and the seller’s conveyancer will confirm the seller’s estate agent can release the keys to the buyer.
The buyer can now get on with moving into their new property (and start unpacking!) and the seller will have their funds ready for their own purchase (or in their bank account if they’re not buying a new property).
Following completion, the parties’ conveyancers will complete all the post-completion steps. These include:
- registering the transfer of ownership of the property
- the buyer’s solicitor paying any Stamp Duty Land Tax
- registering a charge over the property (if a mortgage was taken)
- settling all outstanding fees (including lawyers’ fees)
Things to watch out for
There's a few things both parties should be aware of when buying and selling property.
- The seller is under no obligation to sell the property to the buyer until exchange of contracts has taken place. An offer being accepted does not give the buyer any rights to force the seller to sell if they change their mind, find a new buyer or try to increase the price.
- Any money the buyer spends prior to exchange (e.g. on a survey or lawyer’s fees) will not be refunded by the seller in the event the deal falls through.
- Once contracts have been exchanged the seller is under an obligation to sell, and the buyer is under an obligation to buy, the property. This means buyers can force a sale and sellers can sell the property elsewhere and keep the deposit if the other party fails to complete!
What do conveyancing solicitors do?
Conveyancing is the process of transferring the title of a property from one person to another.
Conveyancing solicitors, Legal Executives and Licensed Conveyancers, are qualified and trained property lawyers who specialise in handling the conveyancing process.
In a typical conveyance, you solicitor will generally: do due diligence on the property, advise on any issues, negotiate the terms of the conveyance and deal with the registration of the property after the transfer.
Do you need a qualified conveyancer?
Whilst some bits of conveyancing can be done without using conveyancing solicitors, it’s highly recommended you use qualified property solicitors, Legal Executives or Licensed Conveyancers for your conveyancing.
A property lawyer has all the training needed to advise you on any serious legal issues which you might not otherwise be aware of. Also, should the worst happen, they have professional indemnity insurance which will compensate you for their mistake.
For most people, their property is the most expensive thing they own. Do you really want to entrust the most expensive thing you own to any old person just to save a few quid?
Conveyancing fees – what can you expect to pay?
Conveyancing fees depend on the size and complexity of the deal. That being said we’ve found that fees tend to range from £400 to £1,200 + VAT on MyLegalAdviser.
The more complex the transaction, the higher the fees will be. Conveyancing fees for the transfer of a small house with no mortgage are going to be lower than those for transferring an expensive share-of-freehold flat in London with a complex mortgage.
How much should you expect to pay?
If you want really cheap conveyancing fees you can find bargain basement conveyancers with a quick google search. Beware though! You get what you pay for, so expect your deal to be managed by a non-lawyer who can only turn a profit by doing as little as possible. So if something goes wrong and/or you receive a poor service...don't say we didn't tell you so!
If you want to ensure your property purchase or sale is treated with the attention it deserves (given it's probably one of your most expensive assets), it's well worth hiring a qualified solicitor, legal executive or licensed conveyancer who will go the extra mile.
What other conveyancing costs are there for buyers?
Conveyancing costs don’t stop at legal fees. Buyers will also need to pay:
- Stamp Duty Land Tax on purchases over £125,000 (SDLT calculator)
- for a surveyor’s report (usually between £250 and £600)
- for searches their conveyancer will perform (usually around £300)
- a mortgage valuation fee (£150 - £1,500, depending on the size of the mortgage)
- a registration fee (around £50).
You’ll get the details of any costs associated with your transfer in the conveyancing quotes you’ll receive from our conveyancing solicitors (this won't include things like surveyor's reports and mortgage valuation fee though as these will depend on which providers you use).
What other conveyancing costs are there for sellers?
If the seller agreed to pay commission to the estate agent for selling their property, this will be payable on completion. Estate agent’s commission is usually between 1-3% plus VAT and is payable in reference to the sale price.
Where the property is the seller’s principal residence, they usually won’t pay any tax on any capital gain they make. However, if the property hasn’t always been used as a residence (or isn’t the only property the seller owns) there could be capital gains tax to pay.
If the seller is repaying their mortgage early, there may also be an early repayment charge.
Here's some of the most common legal terms you'll come across in conveyancing:
- Completion - the point at which the buyer becomes the owner of the new property and the seller ceases to own the property. At the point of completion the buyer will transfer the remaining purchase funds and the seller will hand over the keys to the property.
- Completion date - the date completion takes place.
- Completion statement – a statement of all the payments due and expenses payable at completion. This includes items such as: solicitor’s fees, estate agent’s fees, disbursements and Stamp Duty Land Tax.
- Contract – the document which contains the terms of the conveyance and which, when exchanged, legally binds the seller to sell the property and the buyer to buy the property (subject to the terms of the contract).
- Conveyancer - the lawyer that deals with the conveyancing process. This will usually be a qualified solicitor, Legal Executive or Licensed Conveyancer.
- Conveyancing - the legal process of transferring the title of a property from one person to another.
- Declaration of Trust - a document, usually prepared by a solicitor to ensure it will be valid, which co-owners of property enter into to establish the shares in which they own the property as Tenants in Common.
- Deeds - the official documents confirming who owns a property. Many properties are now electronically registered and so no longer have paper deeds.
- Deposit - the amount payable by the buyer to the seller under the terms of the contract when the contract is signed. This is usually 10% and non-refundable in the event the buyer fails to complete on the deal.
- Disbursements - third party expenses paid on your behalf by your conveyancer. These can include, for example: search fees and registration fees. Your conveyancer will generally ask for these upfront.
- Enquiries - questions the buyer’s conveyancer will ask the seller’s conveyancer prior to exchange of contracts to ensure there are no issues the buyer isn’t aware of before purchasing the property.
- Exchange of contracts - the formal exchange of signed contracts by the buyer’s and seller’s respective conveyancers and the point at which both parties become legally obliged to complete on the deal.
- Freehold - a type of title over property in England & Wales. Freehold means the owner has title to the property indefinitely and can, subject to legal and planning restrictions, do as they wish with the property.
- Fixture, Fittings & Contents Form - a form which the seller completes and shares with the buyer detailing what items are included in the sale of the property (e.g. curtains, light fittings, etc.).
- Gazumping - when a seller accepts an offer from a buyer, but then accepts a higher offer from a different buyer.
- Joint Tenants - a type of co-ownership of property where the property automatically passes to any surviving joint tenants on death. See Tenants in Common for the alternative form of co-ownership.
- Leasehold - a type of title over property in England & Wales. The owner of the leasehold (the tenant) has the right to occupy, use and (subject to the terms of the lease) sub-let the property. At the end of the lease the title reverts to the freeholder (although it is possible in some circumstances to extend a leasehold term).
- Mortgage - funds lent to the buyer by a mortgage provider (often a bank or building society) to purchase a property and which are secured by way of registration of a charge over the property.
- Property Information Form - a form which the seller completes and shares with the buyer prior to exchange. The form details key information about the property, such as: boundary information, legal rights and restrictions, any ongoing or potential disputes and details of the services the property enjoys (e.g. utilities).
- Report on Title - a report the buyer’s conveyancer will prepare for their client prior to exchange of contracts. The report details everything the buyer needs to know about the purchase of the property and should be read carefully by the buyer.
- Sales Memo - a short memo, usually prepared by the seller’s estate agent, which includes: the agreed price, the buyer’s and seller’s contact information and the details of the parties’ solicitors.
- Searches - a number of searches the buyer’s conveyancer will perform against the property to advise their client of any issues prior to exchange of contracts. Typical searches include: a local authority search (which advises of any planning applications, contaminated land, etc.) and a water and drainage search (to ensure the property is connected to the sewerage system).
- Share of freehold - share of freehold occurs where a property (often a flat) is held as a leasehold interest, but the owner also holds a share of the company which owns the freehold (hence, share of freehold).
- Stamp Duty Land Tax - a tax paid by the buyer on the purchase of the property based on the purchase price.
- Solicitor - a qualified lawyer who is authorised to practice conveyancing.
- Tenants in Common - a type of co-ownership of property where the property can be owned in separate shares (e.g. 50/50) and will pass by the deceased’s Will. See Joint Tenants for the alternative form of co-ownership.
- Transfer Deed - the document which transfers the ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer and is sent to the Land Registry following completion in order to effect the registration of the property into the buyer’s name.