Conveyancing is the term used to describe the legal and administrative process of transferring ownership of a property from one party to another.
If you’re buying a property, it helps to understand the different stages of the conveyancing process. By knowing what should happen by when, and who is responsible for what, you can do your best to keep the process on track for a smoother transaction.
In this guide, we outline the various steps in the conveyancing process, from making an offer to receiving the title deed for your new home.
Before you buy a property
Before you make an offer on a property and begin the conveyancing process, you will need to be clear about your financial status and ensure you have sufficient funds for the purchase, whether that be the deposit for buying a house with a mortgage, or the full sum for a cash purchase. You should also take account of the related costs of buying a property – such as stamp duty, property survey and legal fees – as these can quickly add up.
Once you have found the property you want to buy and you are confident about the financials, you can make an offer to the seller. If the seller accepts your offer, the conveyancing process begins.
Conveyancing process steps
Stage 1: Instructing a solicitor
The first stage of the conveyancing process is to instruct a legal adviser to act on your behalf through the conveyancing process.
Buyers and sellers instruct their own legal adviser to handle the conveyancing process on their behalf and to protect their legal interests through the transaction. You can opt to instruct a solicitor, a licensed conveyancer or a legal executive, depending on your circumstances and budget.
It is important that you understand everything involved with the transaction. If you are unsure about any aspect of the process or documentation, you should raise this with your legal adviser for clarification.
The seller’s legal adviser will make sure the necessary documents are shared with your legal adviser during the conveyancing process as part of a contract pack, including any forms covering property information and fixtures and fittings to be included in the sale.
The Fittings and Contents Form covers what will be included in the sale. It is a comprehensive document covering everything from the curtains to kitchen appliances. Read this document carefully once you obtain a copy from your solicitor.
If you like the fixtures and fittings within the house, you may want to negotiate with the seller at the offer stage or during the early stages of the conveyancing process to include certain appliances, light fittings or even items of furniture included in the sale price.
As well as obtaining the contract pack from the seller’s legal adviser, your conveyancing legal adviser will also need you to provide proof of ID, such as your passport; proof of address, for example a recent utility bill; and a completed purchase questionnaire. You should also expect to provide proof of funds for the purchase at this stage.
You should send these documents to your legal adviser as early as possible in the conveyancing process, as they will need them to being to carry out the necessary work.
What does chain length mean in relation to the property?
At this point, it is also a good idea to establish if the property sale is subject to chain, and if so, how many properties are in the chain. In other words, how many parties will need to sell their house before your purchase is complete.
If the seller is selling their home with no onward chain, the conveyancing process is generally quicker and more straightforward.
The longer the chain, the longer the conveyancing process is likely to take given there are more parties involved and a greater risk of issues arising. This is because for long chains, the purchase is dependent on more than one house sale. There is also the possibility that the seller’s move does not go according to plan, for example if the seller of the home they thought they would move to does not accept their offer. This is known as when the chain collapses. It is therefore best to wait until the seller has an offer accepted for their future home before you spend money on property surveys and searches.
Stage 2: Securing a mortgage, if required
If you are buying the property with a mortgage, the next stage in the process is to secure your funding from the lender.
Most buyers instruct a solicitor with a mortgage agreement in principle. After the offer has been accepted, there are two further stages: the mortgage valuation and the mortgage offer. This part of the process can take a few weeks so it is advisable to book your mortgage valuation as soon as possible.
A mortgage valuation is an assessment of the property you plan to purchase using a loan. It helps the lender determine the property’s value. It is often organised by the lenders themselves.
This is not to be confused with the valuation given by a surveyor as part of some surveys, as the mortgage valuation is more for the benefit of the lender than for you as the house buyer.
The mortgage valuation helps the lender know that the home is worth more than the amount they are lending you, whereas the property survey you pay for will help you determine the condition of the house and potentially its market value.
Stage 3: Property survey
Property surveys are an important part of the conveyancing process. Resist the temptation to see this as an unnecessary expense as it could potentially save you a lot of money and prevent you from investing in a property with issues that require unexpected work at your expense.
Survey reports can result in further price negotiations. If issues are identified, you as the buyer may be happy to take these on and proceed with the sale, subject to the purchase price being reduced accordingly.
There are different levels of property surveys available, depending upon certain factors, such as the age of the house you intend to buy.
The two main types of survey are a HomeBuyer Report with valuation and a Building Survey. HomeBuyer Reports are usually for properties in reasonable condition and are written in an easy-to-understand manner. If your property is older, you plan on carrying out an extension, or you just want complete peace of mind, then a Builders Survey is the more detailed option.
Always instruct a RICS surveyor to conduct your survey. Once the survey has been written, you should ask your surveyor any questions you have on the findings. Some chartered surveyors will also offer to have a phone call with you as part of the package to discuss initial findings straight after they conduct the survey.
Stage 4: Conveyancing searches
Another crucial part of the conveyancing process is the pre-completion property searches. Searches can be obtained by your legal adviser on your behalf from various official agencies. You then pay the searches fees as part of the overall legal fees.
These searches can help confirm information the seller has given you about the property, or even provide you with information that the seller did not know.
The main searches to be conducted usually include:
- Local Authority: covers planning permission and building regulation checks.
- Water and drainage: confirms where your drains flow out to.
- Environmental: highlights any issues with potential flooding, contaminated land and ground stability.
- Chancel indemnity: checks for properties that may have a liability to the local church.
Your legal adviser may also advise you to obtain additional specialist searches, such as flood reports and subsidence reports, based on certain risk factors relating to the property and area you buying in.
While your legal adviser arranges the necessary searches, the seller’s adviser should obtain the title deeds from the deeds holder or official copies of the title register and any other documents required by The Land Registry, as well as details of the amount outstanding on any existing mortgage.
Title deeds refer to the certificate of ownership, which will be transferred into your name once the conveyancing process is complete and the house sale official. The deeds will state the type of ownership the current house owner (seller) has, so you know what type of ownership you are purchasing.
Freehold or leasehold?
Whether a property is leasehold or freehold is known as the tenure of the house, and it is one of the most important elements to check early on in the conveyancing process.
Freehold properties tend to have higher values, while leasehold properties are often subject to service charges and landlord restrictions. It is important to establish which one applies to the property, so you know you are paying a fair price.
If the house you are buying is subject to a lease, also known as a leasehold property, a copy of the lease itself will be sent over as part of the contract pack. Similarly, if the purchase is being facilitated by a mortgage, then your legal adviser should receive a copy of the mortgage agreement too.
Stage 5: Pre-contract negotiations
Prior to exchanging contracts, your legal adviser will help you identify and resolve any outstanding concerns regarding the house purchase. This is an important step in the conveyancing process, as it ensures you are satisfied with the terms of the sale before you are legally bound.
Property is always sold as seen, hence the term buyer beware, so it is best to review the contract and other associated documents carefully during this part of the conveyancing process.
At this stage, your legal adviser should also consult once more with the Land Registry to ensure no alterations have been made to the house while the property searches have been completed.
Stage 6: Exchange of contracts
Once all of the terms of the sale have been agreed by both the seller and buyer, the conveyancing process moves on to exchanging contracts.
The exchange stage of the conveyancing process is where the contracts are signed by both parties and exchanged via the solicitors. It is the point at which the transaction becomes legally binding, so neither the buyer or the seller can pull out of the sale once contracts have been exchanged.
As the buyer, you will need to sign and return several documents to your legal adviser including the Contract of Sale, Transfer Form, Mortgage Deed (if applicable) and a Stamp Duty Land Tax form.
At this point, your deposit is paid to the seller’s legal adviser.
Your legal adviser should then prepare a draft transfer deed and completion information form and send these to the seller’s adviser for completion. The seller’s adviser should then approve the draft deed, which may need to be signed by you as the buyer before being sent to the seller’s adviser to be signed for completion.
Your adviser should then prepare the completion statement, finalise the pre-completion searches and apply to your mortgage lender for the mortgage loan, if applicable.
Stage 7: Completion
The date when the house is legally transferred to you and you take possession of the property is known as completion day.
The date for completion is agreed with the seller via your respective legal advisers. Completion typically takes place one to two weeks after the exchange of contracts.
The seller must vacate the property by the agreed time on this day.
The remaining balance – the sale price minus the deposit – is transferred to the seller’s adviser at this stage.
Keys are usually given to you by the estate agents handling the sale of the property, with the exchange of keys typically taking place at the estate agents’ offices. When you collect keys, you need to ensure you have all the necessary ones, including front door, back door, windows, shed (if applicable) and garage (if applicable).
Stage 8: Post-completion
Post-completion, the title deeds and transfer deed are sent to your legal adviser by the seller’s adviser, along with an undertaking to repay any existing mortgage.
Your legal adviser should sent the stamp duty payable to HMRC and register the property in your name at The Land Registry. You will then receive a copy of the registered title from The Land Registry. Any documents required by the mortgage lender to be retained by them are sent on by your legal adviser.
Conveyancing process FAQs
Who pays for a survey on a house?
As the survey mostly benefits the buyer, it is typically the buyer who organises and covers the cost of the survey. The optimal time to arrange a house survey tends to be once the offer has been accepted by the seller, and you have secured a mortgage agreement and appointed a solicitor.
What are the steps of conveyancing?
The conveyancing process has eight main steps. These include instructing a solicitor, obtaining a mortgage, arranging a property survey, legal searches, reviewing the contract, the exchange stage, completion and post-completion.
How long does the conveyancing process take?
The time taken to complete the conveyancing process varies, depending on factors like the length of the property chain, how long it takes to complete legal searches and the time left between exchange and completion. Cash purchases are also typically quicker than those that require a mortgage. Typically, it can take anywhere from a month to several months to go through the conveyancing process.
What is involved with conveyancing?
Conveyancing is a broad term used to describe the process of a property changing ownership. It begins when an offer on the property is accepted and ends once keys are given to the new buyer and they move into the property.
How long does conveyancing take after a mortgage offer?
Once you have received your mortgage offer, the full process usually takes between one and three months. Usually, the conveyancing process is considered complete after you receive the keys and move into your new home.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.