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.

Steps of conveyancing

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 or memorandum of sale. This includes the details of the solicitors in the chain.

Your solicitor lets the seller’s solicitor know that they’re acting for you.

Your solicitor carries out local authority searches. This is to see if there are any problems with the property you’re buying or the local area.

These searches are important. They might show things that make you decide to pull out of buying the property.

These could include:

  • subsidence

  • future developments

  • public footpaths

  • contaminated land

Your solicitor reviews all the information they get and pass it on to you.

Your solicitor chases all the information they need from the seller’s solicitor. They then review it and sends you the bits you need to see. 

The information includes:

  • draft contract

  • deeds

  • property information form

  • fittings and contents form

  • leasehold information form if you’re buying a leasehold property

Draft contract

The draft contract includes important details such as:

  • the purchase price

  • names of yourself and the seller

  • any special conditions of the sale

Deeds

Deeds are documents that show 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. As well as if 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.

Your solicitor asks the seller’s solicitor all the questions they have.

They may ask about building insurance or something they find in the local authority searches.

Once you and your solicitor are happy with the answers you’ve had back, it’s time for you to sign the documents.

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. This makes 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 may not get your exchange deposit back.

If you’ve paid less than a 10% deposit, you’re still liable to give up 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.

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 will also help to find a date that suits everyone.

The solicitors exchange the signed contracts. Those at the top of the chain do it first.

Your deposit is paid to the seller.

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 to your solicitor.

Your solicitor arranges for you to pay your balance and any other fees.

Once the seller’s solicitor has the money, you can collect the keys from the estate agent.

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 is not all down to the legal work.

There are lots of things that can slow down the process of buying or selling a property.

Delays might not be down to everyone’s solicitors being slow. This is a common complaint when you’re buying or selling a property.

It may take longer if:

  • a problem like damp comes up in your survey. You might want an expert to inspect it and write a report

  • you want to reduce your offer, as the seller may dig in their heels

  • there's a big chain. This could mean conveyancing takes much longer than 12 weeks

  • the chain breaks as someone pulls out of their sale or purchase. They'd then need to find a new buyer, who might also be in a chain, or a new property.

If the process takes over 6 months, you may want to do your local authority searches again.

How much does conveyancing cost?

Conveyancing fees vary. They're often between £850 to £1500, plus charges from other parties.

These are disbursements and should be in the solicitor’s estimate of costs.

Conveyancing costs can vary because:

  • solicitors set their own fees

  • costs depend on the value of the property and how the purchase goes

  • the cost might go up if something unexpected happens during the purchase

Some solicitors offer ‘no move no fee’ deals. This means if your transaction falls through, you will not pay.

This could be a sensible option. Almost 1/4 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 you get conveyancing quotes, ask people you know to see if 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

  • postcode

  • 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 often the biggest purchase of your life

  • the process can be stressful

  • they’re expensive

You can also get conveyancing quotes online by filling out a form. There are also many 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 get a commission if you use them. But you do not 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 do not have to pay for it.

It can be tempting as you’d save a lot of money and would not have the trouble of having to find a solicitor.

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. This sometimes means that the lender has to extend the period of their mortgage offer.

Over 80% of brokers found the service standards of free legals was worse than those of solicitors and conveyancers that customers chose. This data is from a survey by the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries.²

More than half of brokers described these standards as “significantly worse”.

Think about paying for your own solicitor if you want to avoid delays on your purchase. It'll also give you more control.

Sources

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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