A step-by-step guide to conveyancing for buyers
When you buy a property in England and Wales, the legal side of the purchase follows a standard process which begins after you’ve had an offer accepted and ends when your ownership of the property is registered at the Land Registry.
Conveyancing is the name for this legal process of transferring the ownership of the property from the seller or developer to you, the buyer. It usually takes between eight and 12 weeks, although it can be longer if there are several parties in the chain.
To help you understand what to expect and when, this helpful guide will show you every step along the way. If you’re buying a property in Scotland, read the Which? guide to Conveyancing in Scotland.
Step 1 – Instruct a conveyancer
Once the purchase price has been agreed, you’ll need to provide your estate agent or developer with details of your property conveyancer.
You can choose either a lawyer or a licensed conveyancer to do your conveyancing for you. If you’re buying an off-plan or new-build property, look for one who’s experienced in this field.
Whichever firm you choose, make sure they’re regulated by either the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. Conveyancing fees vary widely so it’s a good idea to ask people you trust for recommendations and to get a few quotes before deciding who you want to go with.
Once you’ve found a lawyer, they will provide you with their terms of business. At this point many lawyers will also provide you with a fixed-fee estimate. Bear in mind, this is only based on the information you’ve provided so far and could change if the legal work becomes more complex.
Step 2 – Receive documentation from the seller’s lawyer
Your lawyer will contact the developer or seller’s lawyer to advise that they are instructed to act on your behalf and to request copies of the draft contract plans and the title documents. They will also ask for the property’s ‘protocol documents’. These forms, which the seller is required to complete, will give you a lot of practical information about the property you are intending to buy.
- The Property Information Form
- The Fittings and Contents Form
- Leasehold Information Form (if applicable)
Step 3 – Pay for the searches
A part of the process that often causes delays is the ‘searches’. These checks are carried out to help protect you from anything that may adversely affect your property’s value after you have moved in. They include:
- Local authority searches to check for any planned developments, right of way issues or health risks that may affect your new home
- Water authority search to confirm that the property is connected to mains water/drain and sewer
- Chancel repair search to check for any liabilities to maintain local churches
- Environmental searches to find out if there is any nearby contaminated land, landfill sites, floodplains or land stability issues
- Location-specific searches, such as mining or flood searches in some areas of the UK
You pay your lawyer upfront to carry out these searches, which usually cost between £200 and £300. They can take up to six weeks to process so they quicker you pay for them, the quicker your lawyer can get things moving.
Step 4 – Carry out legal work
When your lawyer receives the draft contract, they will scrutinise every detail.
This document contains the terms and conditions of the proposed purchase, details of the seller and purchaser, full details of the property being sold, the agreed sale price and size of the deposit to be paid on exchange of contracts.
They’ll also carefully examine the seller’s supporting documents and will raise enquiries with their lawyer until they are satisfied that the contract is acceptable to you and any lender you are using. You will also need to carefully review all the forms the seller has completed and let your lawyer know if you have any queries or concerns.
Your lawyer will receive a copy of your mortgage offer from your lender. They will check any special conditions contained within the offer and verify that the information held by the lender is correct. A report will be produced for you outlining all the findings and you will be asked to sign a mortgage deed.
Step 5 – Sign the paperwork
During the transaction there will be documents you need to complete and return. Some of these can be emailed or scanned but there will be more formal documents (the transfer and mortgage deed) which will require an original signature and which will also need to be witnessed.
You may need to go to their office to do this or return them via recorded delivery.
Your lawyer will now discuss a convenient date with you to move into your new home (known as completion). This date will then need to be agreed with the developer or seller’s lawyer and any other parties in your chain. Once a completion date is agreed, the lawyers will then work towards a date you can exchange contracts.
If you’re buying a new-build or off-plan property, it’s likely that completion will be on notice. This means that once the property is built, you’ll be required to complete within 10 working days. Your lawyer will explain this to you in more detail.
Step 6 – Pay your deposit
Before you can exchange contracts, you’ll need to transfer the deposit to your lawyer.
In most cases, this will be 10% of the property’s value (although the developer or seller may accept less) or 5% if the property is Help to Buy.
Step 7 – Exchange contracts
Perhaps the most significant conveyancing milestone is ‘exchanging’. This is where contracts between you and the seller are exchanged, resulting in a legally binding contract.
This means if you fail to complete the purchase on the agreed date, you may lose your deposit and/or incur costs.
Exchange of contracts takes place on the telephone. After this your lawyer will send the signed contract, transfer deed and the deposit to the seller’s lawyer. If there is a chain your lawyer will make sure that all parties exchange at the same time with the same completion date.
If you’re buying a second-hand home, you’ll need to have buildings insurance in place as you’ll be legally responsible for your new home once the contracts have been exchanged. If you’re purchasing a new-build property, you won’t need to do this until your purchase completes.
Step 8 – Complete the purchase
Shortly before completion day, your lawyer will provide you with a completion statement so you can arrange to pay any outstanding balance that you owe. They will also request the mortgage funds from your mortgage provider and carry out the final completion searches.
On completion day, your lawyer will receive the mortgage funds from your lender and transfer the balance due to the seller’s lawyer. They will be in contact with you as well and, once the completion monies have been received by the developer’s or seller’s lawyers, you’ll be able to collect the keys and move into your new home.
Step 9 – Register the change of ownership
After you’ve got the keys, there are still a few more loose ends to tie up. Your lawyer will pay your Stamp Duty Land Tax (if applicable) to HM Revenue & Customs. They will also send your documents to Land Registry to register your ownership.
If it is a new-build property this may take some time, but when the registration has been completed, the Land Registry will send the title certificate to your lawyer and this will be passed onto your mortgage lender. If you’re a cash buyer, this will be sent to you.