What is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal work that’s done when you buy or sell a home.
It’s done by solicitors who specialise in property or conveyancers.
Solicitors are fully trained lawyers while conveyancers are only trained in conveyancing.
These are the steps that you and your solicitor or conveyancer will go through.
Step 1. Get your details
Your solicitor asks for your details, as well as proof of ID.
They also need to know:
who your estate agent is
whether you need a mortgage
who your lender is
details about your deposit
They confirm their fees and may ask you for some money upfront.
The estate agent sends everyone a notification of sale, or memorandum of sale, which includes the details of the solicitors in the chain.
Your solicitor lets the seller’s solicitor know that they’re acting for you.
Step 2. Local authority searches
Your solicitor carries out local authority searches to see if there are any problems with the property you’re buying or the local area.
These searches are really important and might reveal things that make you decide to pull out of buying the property.
These could include:
Your solicitor reviews all the information they receive and passes on the information to you.
Step 3. Review all information
Your solicitor chases all the information they need from the seller’s solicitor, reviews it and sends you the bits you need to see.
The information includes:
property information form
fittings and contents form
leasehold information form if you’re buying a leasehold property
The draft contract includes important details such as the purchase price, your and the seller’s names and any special conditions of the sale.
Deeds are documents showing the chain of ownership for the property.
Property information form
The seller fills this in. It asks lots of information about the property, such as all the building works that have been done and whether any of the windows have been replaced.
Fittings and contents form
The seller fills this in. It asks what they’ll be taking with them and leaving in the property, such as the curtains and curtain poles.
Leasehold information form
The seller fills this in and it’s for leasehold properties only. It asks questions about the lease, the management company and maintenance charges.
Step 3. Ask questions
Your solicitor asks the seller’s solicitor all the questions they have.
This could be about the building insurance or something they find in the local authority searches, for example.
Step 4. Sign the documents
Once you and your solicitor are happy with the answers you’ve received, it’s time for you to sign the documents.
Step 5. Organise the exchange deposit
The exchange deposit is usually 10% of the property’s value unless you and the seller agree a lower amount.
Your solicitor pays it to the seller’s solicitor when you exchange contracts, making the purchase legally binding.
You must put a plan in place to send your deposit to your solicitor before you exchange contracts.
If you pull out of buying the home after you’ve exchanged contracts, you won’t be able to get your exchange deposit back.
And if you’ve paid less than 10% of the property’s value for your deposit, you’re still liable to forfeit 10% of the purchase price.
This means the seller can take you to court for the balance of what you paid and the full 10%, as well as for damages.
Step 6. Agree a completion date
The completion date is when you finally get the keys to your new home.
You and the seller decide on the completion date and it’s done through your solicitors.
If there are other people in the chain their solicitors are also involved in finding a date that suits everyone.
Step 7. Exchange contracts
The solicitors exchange the signed contracts. Those at the top of the chain do it first.
Your deposit is paid to the seller.
Step 8. Completion
This is the day when you legally own the property.
If you got a mortgage to buy the property your lender will transfer the money directly to your solicitor.
Your solicitor arranges for your balance to be paid, along with any other fees.
Once the seller’s solicitor has the money, you can collect the keys from the estate agent.
Step 9. Register change of ownership
The seller’s solicitor sends the signed deed to your solicitor.
It shows that the property is now in your name.
Your solicitor will then send it to the Land Registry, along with a mortgage deed.
How long does conveyancing take?
Conveyancing can take about 8 to 12 weeks on average.
This isn’t all down to the legal work.
There are lots of things that can slow down the process of buying or selling a property.
A problem might come up in your survey, for example, such as damp, and you might want an expert to inspect it and write a report.
You might want to reduce your offer, which could mean more delays if the seller digs in their heels.
Conveyancing can take much longer than 12 weeks if there’s a big chain.
Again, this might not be down to everyone’s solicitors being slow, which is a common complaint when you’re buying or selling a property.
The chain may break at some point, which means someone pulls out of their sale or purchase. Someone then has to look for a new buyer, who might also be in a chain, or a new property.
It can get to the point where the process has taken more than six months, at which point you may want to do your local authority searches again.
How much does conveyancing cost?
Conveyancing fees vary hugely but are often between £850-£1500, plus charges payable to other parties.
These are called disbursements and should be in the solicitor’s estimate of costs.
Conveyancing costs can vary widely as solicitors set their own fees.
They also depend on the value of the property and how smoothly the purchase goes.
The cost might increase if something happens during the purchase that no one was expecting.
Some solicitors offer ‘no move no fee’ deals, which mean if your transaction falls through, you won’t pay.
This could be a sensible option as almost a quarter of house sales in England and Wales fell through before completion in 2019.¹
The most common reason was that the buyer changed their mind.
The second most common reason was that the buyer had trouble getting a mortgage.
Where can I get conveyancing quotes?
Before getting conveyancing quotes it’s a good idea to ask friends, family or colleagues whether they can recommend a good solicitor.
Like any profession, some solicitors are better than others.
Once you’ve got a few recommendations, call the solicitor and ask them for a quote.
They’ll take down some details, such as:
price of the property
whether it’s leasehold or freehold
if you need a mortgage
They’ll then email you a quote.
Speaking to them in person may give you a better sense of what they’ll be like to deal with.
It’s good to know because:
they’ll be handling what’s probably the biggest purchase of your life
the process can be stressful
You can also get conveyancing quotes online by filling out a form. There are also a number of websites where you can compare conveyancing quotes.
Some conveyancing solicitors only work online and they may be cheaper.
Your estate agent may suggest a solicitor and they might receive a commission if you use them.
But you don’t have to.
Should I use free legals offered by my lender or my own solicitor?
Lenders sometimes offer what’s known as 'free legals' as an incentive with their products.
This means the lender arranges for a solicitor to do the legal work for your purchase and you don’t have to pay for it.
It can be tempting as you’d save a lot of money and wouldn’t have the trouble of having to find a solicitor.
The problem is that these solicitors work for the lender, not you, so you have no control of a very important part of your purchase.
Using a lender's solicitor can also lead to long delays, which sometimes means that the lender has to extend the period of their mortgage offer.
More than 80% of brokers found the service standards of free legals was worse than those of solicitors and conveyancers that customers had appointed, a survey by the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries found.²
More than half of brokers described these standards as “significantly worse”.
So if you don’t want to risk your purchase being held up, and you want to have more control, consider paying for your own solicitor.
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¹ Mortgage Finance Gazette: A quarter of house sales fell through in 2019
² Mortgage Strategy: Majority of brokers experience problems with free legals: AMI
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