Conveyancing is the legal process of buying and selling a property. The solicitors who manage this are a crucial part of that.
In this guide, we explain everything about the conveyancing process, how much it could cost you and what you can do to keep everything on track, whether you're buying or selling in England, Wales or Scotland.
For help with finding a solicitor to progress your sale, contact your local branch
What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor manages the legal aspects of buying or selling a property, including protecting the legal rights of buyers and sellers and assisting with the transfer of money.
Your solicitor plays a key role from day one of your property purchase or sale and the tasks they’ll complete on your behalf include:
1. Starting a file of paperwork
One of the first tasks your solicitor will carry out is collecting and compiling crucial documentation for your sale or purchase.
Their file will include:
- Proof of your identification
- Proof of address
- Your bank details
- Details of the property you’re buying or selling
- Your estate agent’s details
- Your mortgage lender’s details
- Details of your deposit if buying
- Details of the conveyancer’s terms and fees
2. Property title checks
Your solicitor will check the title deeds of the property you’re selling and the one you’re buying.
They’ll also establish whether the property being purchased is freehold or leasehold, though the latter is much less prevalent in Scotland than it is in England and Wales.
A freehold property, known as heritable proprietorship in Scotland, means you’ll own the building and the land it sits on, whereas with a leasehold property, you’ll own it subject to the terms of the freeholder’s lease and won’t own the land.
Leasehold property purchases can be more complicated, so be prepared for conveyancing to take longer and potentially cost more than if you’re buying a freehold home.
3. Local searches
One of the most important tasks your solicitor will carry out is local searches.
These searches can reveal problems with the property you’re buying or the land around it so you can decide if going ahead with the purchase is the right step to take.
The local searches include:
- Local authority searches showing planning permission, restrictions, road maintenance responsibilities and more
- Land Registry searches, which prove who owns the property you’re buying
- Coal Reports to understand whether the property might be affected by historic mining.
- Environmental searches, which will show if the property is built on contaminated land or on potentially unstable ground such as a former landfill site
- Water authority searches, which highlights any public drains on the property
- Chancel repair searches, which will show if the property comes with liability for repairing any local churches.
Searches usually take around two-to-three weeks to complete but can take longer depending on how busy the local authority is.
Some local searches are legal requirements, while others may be requested by your mortgage provider.
4. Contract, legal forms, and progression
Working alongside your buyer or seller’s solicitor, your solicitor will continue to draft your contract (known as missives in Scotland) and progress your purchase or sale.
If you’re selling, they will send your buyer’s solicitor your property’s title deeds and ask you to complete several key forms, including:
- The TA6 property information form, outlining key details about the property, any disputes with neighbours and any building work completed
- The TA10 fixtures and fittings form, detailing everything that is being included with the sale of the property
- The TA7 leasehold information form, which explains details on ground rents and service charges if the property is leasehold
They will also raise various queries with the other side’s conveyancer and vice versa, ranging from questions about paperwork to queries on local search results.
5. Mortgage details
If you’re buying with a mortgage, your solicitor will work with your lender to obtain a copy of your mortgage offer.
6. Deposit transfer and completion arrangements
Once both the buyer and seller contracts are fully drafted, both conveyancers will start to discuss possible dates to exchange contracts and then settle, or complete, the transaction.
If you’re buying, your seller’s solicitor will also request your deposit.
7. Exchange and completion
Once your contracts, or missives, are completed and all other searches and queries are complete and answered, your solicitor will exchange missives or contracts with your buyer or seller’s solicitor.
This is usually done over the phone and makes your sale or purchase legally binding.
Having agreed on a settlement, or completion, date, they are then responsible for transferring any money between the two parties and the keys to the properties being bought or sold will only be released once all funds are cleared.
8. Post-settlement (completion)
If you’re buying, your solicitor will pay any Land and Building Transaction Tax and/or any Additional Dwelling Supplement you owe on your behalf and ensure all documents are sent to the Land Register and your mortgage lender.
You’ll then be sent documents from the Land Registry confirming you own your new home. How long this takes depends on the type of property you’re buying or the style of title you’re acquiring.
Any money owed to you after completion will also be forwarded by your conveyancer.
How much does conveyancing cost?
Standard conveyancing fees can cost anything from £700 to £2,500, depending on the value and complexity of the property being purchased or sold.
Leasehold properties are often more complicated than freehold properties, so you should expect to pay more in this case.
As well as standard solicitor's' fees, you may have to pay disbursement charges on top.
Disbursements are tasks like local searches, bankruptcy checks, and ID verification and could add around £300 to £400 to your total bill, although some conveyancers may offer you a fixed fee for their services which include these additional costs
Who pays conveyancing fees?
Both buyers and sellers pay conveyancing fees, although the exact amounts may vary depending on:
- How complicated the process is
- Whether each party is buying and selling at the same time
- The value of the properties being bought and sold
What is included in conveyancing fees?
In most cases, your fee will include all their legal work, but you may have to pay additional disbursement fees on top.
As well as fees for local searches, disbursements can include:
- Electronic transfer fees
- Leasehold fees
- ID check fees
- Land Registry fees
How long does conveyancing take?
Conveyancing can be a long-winded and frustrating part of the home buying process.
It can take between eight and 12 weeks to complete from start to finish, but if you’re prepared and know what to expect it can make the process smoother.
What can delay the conveyancing process?
Various issues can sometimes delay the process, including:
- Buyers or sellers who aren’t proactive in returning vital paperwork to their solicitor
- Delays to mortgage valuations and surveys
- Delays in obtaining leasehold information packs from freeholders
- Mortgage offers expiring before contracts have been exchanged
- Delays to buyer enquiry responses
- A long chain
If you’re not in a chain, conveyancing is often faster, taking around four-to-six weeks.
How to speed up conveyancing
If you’re keen to speed your conveyancing up, be sure to keep in regular contact with your conveyancer or solicitor and provide anything they need as promptly as possible.
Doing everything you can to help the conveyancing process run smoothly can mean getting the keys to your new home much quicker.
To help speed up conveyancing, you should:
- Instruct a solicitor as early as possible
- Compile all the documentation your solicitor will need as soon as you make or receive an offer
- Always be proactive when responding to requests from your conveyancer
- Ask your solicitor to use a preferred method of communication, for example WhatsApp messages, phone calls or email
For more tips, read our tips on how to speed up conveyancing.
Frequently asked questions about conveyancing
Are solicitors and conveyancers different?
Conveyancers only work on property purchases and sales, whereas solicitors have a far wider legal training and knowledge which allows them work on other legal matters, including remortgages, equity transfers and lease extensions and various other ancillary matters.
Solicitors are permitted to work for only one party in a transaction so will act either for a buyer or a seller in a transaction but not both.
Can I do my own conveyancing?
While it’s legally possible for you to do your own conveyancing when buying or selling a property, the reality is it’s a very specialist role that should only be carried out by a solicitor.
If key parts of the conveyancing process like searches aren’t carried out correctly, legal problems can often arise later in the process. Most sellers would not wish to deal with a buyer who was not properly represented by a solicitor.
If you’re buying a property with a mortgage, it’s almost certain that your lender will insist all legal work is carried out by a professional as the solicitor will also undertake some crucial legal worth for the Lender as part of the process.
Solicitors are also covered by insurance.
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For help with finding a solicitor or licenced conveyancer to progress your sale, contact your local branch