The conveyancing process for home buyers
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring the legal ownership of a house or flat from a seller to the buyer. If you are buying property, you will need a conveyancing solicitor to carry out this legal work to complete your purchase.
We explain the conveyancing steps involved when buying a property.
In this article:
Instruct a solicitor
Once your offer has been accepted by the seller, you will need to instruct a conveyancing solicitor or licensed conveyancer.
Many buyers instruct a solicitor before they have found a property to buy. Although much of the pre-offer legal work needs to be completed by the seller, instructing a solicitor before you find a property can save time once your offer is accepted and help prevent mortgage-related delays.
Your solicitor will send you a starter pack containing their terms of engagement, a formal instruction form, a verification of ID form and a copy of their conveyancing quote. Complete and return these as soon as possible to avoid delays.
If you do decide to instruct a solicitor before you find a property, find one that works on a no sale, no fee basis.
Give the estate agent your solicitor’s details
Once your offer is accepted, promptly give your solicitor's contact information to the estate agent. This is crucial, as the agent can’t issue the memorandum of sale to your solicitor without these details.
Buyer's solicitor writes to the buyer’s solicitor
On receipt of the sales memorandum, your solicitor will write to the seller's solicitor and request the sale pack, which will include:
- Title documents
- Completed Property Information Form, Fittings and Contents Form and Leasehold Information Form (if leasehold)
- Draft contract
- A copy of the lease (if applicable)
Review the sales pack
Upon receipt of these documents, your solicitor will review the sales pack documents. Your solicitor will also ask you to read through them and raise any questions or concerns.
Once the sale documents have been reviewed, your solicitor will raise additional enquiries, which are further questions about the property a how the seller has used it. These might be further questions about issues mentioned in the property forms, for example, how a boundary dispute has been resolved. They might also relate to installations in the property, such as electrical works or warranties for building works.
Your solicitor will apply for property searches, which usually include:
- Local authority search, which checks local planning issues, local road and rail schemes, whether the road is adopted etc.
- Land Registry search, which confirms that the seller is the legal owner of the property
- Water authority search, which confirms that the property is on mains water, connected to drainage etc.
- Environmental search, which checks environmental factors such as local contaminated land
- Chancel repair search to confirm there is no obligation to contribute to local church repairs
- HS2 search to check if the property is impacted by the HS2 route
Depending on the results, further searches may be recommended, e.g. more detailed flood risk searches. Properties located in some areas may require area-specific searches, such as radon searches in Cornwall or mining searches in Nottinghamshire.
Searches usually take around 2 weeks, but can take much longer if there is a Local Authority backlog. Your solicitor may recommend personal searches which may be significantly faster.
If you are buying with the help of a mortgage, your solicitor must also complete the legal work for your lender and in order to do so, your solicitor must be an approved member of your lender's solicitor panel. If your solicitor is not on the lender’s panel, your purchase could take weeks longer to complete and increase your legal fees.
You should therefore check whether your solicitor can act for your lender before you instruct. You can check our panels mortgage lender status here:
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Mortgage administration is often the main reason for delays in the conveyancing process.
As a buyer, you can also help minimise mortgage related delays by:
- Decide on your preferred lender and mortgage product
- Obtain a Decision in Principle (DIP)
- If your deposit is a gift, e.g. from a parent, tell your solicitor and lender as early as possible. The lender will need to carry out various standard money laundering checks that can cause delays.
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If you are buying with the help of a mortgage, your lender will carry out a mortgage valuation survey. The lender's surveyor will visit the property and ensure that the property offers sufficient security to cover the loan.
Once your lender has confirmed the value of the property and that the property meets their lending criteria, they will send a copy of the formal mortgage offer to both you and your solicitor. (To avoid delays, don't assume your solicitor has received the offer just because you have - forward your copy to them as soon as you receive it.)
Your solicitor will review the terms of the offer and notify you of any issues or concerns.
Report on title
Once your solicitor has all the relevant information, they will send you a report on the property's title, containing all relevant information, including replies to enquiries, property information forms and searches. The report will notify you of any issues or problems and included advice on how best to proceed.
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Exchange of contracts
As you get closer to exchange, your solicitor will send you the sale contract to sign. It is advisable to sign and return these documents to your solicitor ASAP - even if you receive them weeks ahead of exchange. The contract will also be signed by the seller.
Agree exchange and completion dates
An exchange date and completion date will then be agreed and finalised between all parties in the property chain.
You will now pay the agreed deposit to the seller's solicitor. This is normally 10% of the sale price, although it is often possible to negotiate this down to 5%.
Buildings insurance must also be taken out before contracts can exchange, as the insurance of the property after exchange is the buyer's responsibility.
With your authority, your solicitor will exchange contracts on the date you have agreed with the seller, at which point you are both legally obliged to complete the transaction.
Contracts will be exchanged between all other parties in the chain (if there is one) at the same time.
Your solicitor will send you a completion statement, detailing how much you will have to pay to complete the purchase. The statement will also set out the solicitor's legal fees, disbursements, Stamp Duty and any other relevant costs.
Your solicitor will receive the mortgage funds from your lender, and you will need to transfer any additional purchase funds to the solicitor's account. The funds must have cleared in the solicitor’s bank account the day before completion.
Completion is the point when property ownership legally transfers from the seller to the buyer. On the day of completion, your solicitor will call you as soon as the sale completes.
Your estate agent will be notified by your solicitor and instructed to release the property keys to you.
The seller’s solicitor will forward the title documents to your solicitor, confirming your ownership of the property, and the seller will vacate the property, so you can now move in.
Although you are now the owner of the property, there are still various formalities that your solicitor will need to complete, including:
- Completing the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) Return and payment of any Stamp Duty to HMRC
- Registering you as the new owner at HM Land Registry
- Registering the mortgage lender's interest in the property
- Sending the title deeds to your lender
- Notifying the landlord or freeholder of the change of ownership (if leasehold)
- Sending you an invoice for the legal fees and disbursements.
How we can help you
If you are buying, selling, remortgaging or transferring equity in a property, our solicitor panel can help make the process as straightforward and stress-free as possible.
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Chris Salmon, Director
About the author
Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services. Chris has played key roles in the shaping and scaling of a number of legal services brands and is a regular commentator in the legal press.