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A guide to conveyancing

Conveyancing is an essential part of any property purchase or sale, involving lots of formalities that protect you from any nasty surprises as a buyer or seller, as well as making your home move legally binding.

It might seem complicated at first, but our guide to conveyancing will help you understand the process and make moving house that little bit easier.

Rows of brick houses with small trees in front

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing covers all the legal and administrative elements involved in buying or selling a property. More broadly, conveyancing occurs where any land or buildings have their ownership transferred from one person to another.

The process begins as soon as you have an offer accepted on a property, whether that’s as a buyer or a seller. Conveyancing ends once all the money involved has been transferred and the final contract has been signed – a point in a property sale or purchase known as ‘completion’.

Because of the legal intricacies of conveyancing, almost all buyers and sellers appoint a professional to guide them through the process. Known as ‘conveyancers’, these are registered solicitors who specialise in property transactions. Theoretically, any solicitor will be qualified to undertake conveyancing work, however most people choose a conveyancing solicitor because of the experience and expertise they have in this area.

In some cases, your mortgage provider will pick your conveyancer for you, but it’s more likely that you’ll be free to appoint a conveyancer of your choosing. Policies around this will vary from lender to lender so be sure to do your research.

How long does conveyancing take?

Because every case is unique, it’s hard to say exactly how long the conveyancing process will take from start to finish. A lot of this hinges on whether you’re part of a chain. If you aren’t, the process should be straightforward and you can be confident you’ll complete close to, or even a little before, the national average of 12 to 14 weeks.

Where you are part of a chain, things can be more complex. You’re relying on everyone else involved to keep the process moving forward, and it’s possible someone else’s conveyancing process might take longer, which can result in delays for you. Because of this, it’s not unheard of for the conveyancing process to take much longer, but if you’re worried, keep in regular contact with your conveyancer – they should provide you with further information and reassure you throughout.

The conveyancing process explained

  1. The offer 

    Conveyancing will begin the moment your offer is submitted. This is what’s called pre-contract stage, and you’ll need to find a conveyancer to assist you from this point onwards.

  2. The mortgage offer

    Ideally, you should have received your mortgage Agreement in Principle (AIP) before you begin your house hunt, which can really speed up this part of the process. Now you and your lender will need to make that provisional agreement concrete, which will mean your lender carrying out their own valuations and reviewing all the paperwork linked to that property. Your conveyancer should be on-hand to help you give your lender all the information they need, and you can expect this stage to take a few weeks.

    If you’re beginning your home search and are wondering how much mortgage you could get, find out what Post Office could lend you with our handy mortgage calculator.

  3. The drawing-up of contracts

    While you’re waiting to hear about your mortgage, your conveyancer will get to work writing up a contract. This will involve them communicating with a number of parties, including the Land Registry, the sellers, and their conveyancer. There’s lots of details your conveyancer will need to think about, so you should expect it to take them a couple of weeks to get a draft ready.

  4. The searches and surveys 

    Having searches and surveys conducted is very important if you’re buying a property. This involves research that should tell you everything you need to know about your potential new home that can’t be obtained upon simple viewings. Your conveyancer will recommend which searches and surveys you should have conducted on the property, while your mortgage lender may insist certain assessments are carried out as a condition of your agreement.

    Common searches include:

    • Local authority searches – to check whether the building is listed, if it’s in a conservation area, if there are any further restrictions to the property, as well as if any roads, railways or new homes are planned nearby.
    • Land Registry checks – to ensure the seller legally owns the property, and therefore has the right to sell.
    • Water authority searches – to establish how the property gets its water, and see if there are any public drains within the boundary that could impact the property.
    • Environmental searches – to determine if there’s any contaminated land or landfill sites nearby, whether the property is at risk of flooding, how stable the ground is, and whether there’s any hazard from radon gas – among other factors.
    • Local/location specific searches – depending on where the home is, your conveyancer may recommend additional searches. This could include things like extra local authority queries, such as whether there may be a public right of way on the land, or if there are any mines close to the property if it’s in an area where this is common.

    Meanwhile, surveys will assess the physical condition of the property you’re interested in, and should flag any major issues you should know about before you move forward. You can usually choose between a homebuyer report or a building survey, depending on how thorough you want your surveys to be.

    To learn more about what the various types of survey involve, read our guide.

  5. The exchange of contracts

    If you’re happy after your searches and surveys have been conducted, and your mortgage has been approved, you’ll now be ready to move towards exchange and completion. If you’re buying, your conveyancer will facilitate payment of the deposit for you, before contracts are exchanged with the other party’s conveyancer. From this point onwards, your transaction is legally binding. Your conveyancer will also arrange your completion day, which could be anything from a few days to several weeks, as well as finalising all the completion documents and conducting any further searches.

  6. Completion day 

    Once completion day arrives, each party’s conveyancer will organise and oversee the transfer of funds. The property being sold will be vacated and the keys handed over so you can move in to your new home.

  7. Beyond completion day

    While the conveyancing process technically ends upon completion, there will be other activities your conveyancer may conduct, either as part of their service or as an optional extra. This will include things like sorting and paying Stamp Duty Land Tax for you, informing the Land Registry, and tying up lots of other loose ends.

If you’d like to learn even more, take a look at our guide on the house buying process. And don't forget the importance of getting home insurance to protect your building and its contents once you've moved in.

How much does conveyancing cost?

Because you’ll need the help of professionals, and because information is required from many different parties, you will incur costs as part of the conveyancing process.

Most conveyancers will set their fees based upon the value of the property. That means costs can vary greatly, but generally speaking, you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of £500 to £1,500 for your conveyancer’s time and services.

There may be additional charges linked to the searches and surveys conducted, such as fees charged by the Land Registry, and your conveyancer should keep you informed about these as the process moves forward. Some conveyancers will incorporate these costs into the fee they charge.

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