Buying and selling
England and Wales

Understand the legal process of moving home with our step-by-step guide below - or get a free quote for your conveyancing from our preferred partner.

Prepare to exchange

Once you’ve instructed your conveyancer, they will carry out a number of checks on the property you're planning to buy, while providing your buyer with essential information about your current home.

Preparing to exchange is usually the longest part of the conveyancing process, and neither your sale nor your purchase will be legally binding until this step is complete and you’ve exchanged contracts. Understanding exactly what’s going on during this time can make things a bit less baffling and stressful.

In a nutshell, it’s the time when you and your conveyancer check essential information about the property you're buying to reveal any issues you might need to be aware of.

At the same time, your buyer and their conveyancer will do the same with your property to make sure everything is in order. 

Typically, this takes somewhere between four and 12 weeks. However, it can take longer depending on the speed of your seller’s conveyancer in sending information through, the tenure of the home (leasehold transactions often take longer), and the amount and complexity of queries submitted by your buyer's conveyancer.

Leasehold versus freehold

If you don’t already know, you’ll need to find out from the estate agent whether the property you’re buying is leasehold or freehold. Conveyancing for leasehold properties is more complex, and can take slightly longer. 

You’ll also need to check how long is left on the lease. If there are fewer than 80 years remaining, the property will quickly go down in value. If you find that this is the case you can either ask the seller to extend the lease before they sell it to you, or try to negotiate the price accordingly. It’s best to ask the seller to extend it themselves as you won’t have the automatic right to do so until you’ve owned the property for two years.

Find out more with our guide to conveyancing for leasehold properties.

Questionnaires and forms

You'll need to fill out a number of standard forms with information about the property you're selling. Your solicitor will use these to create a draft contract for your buyer. The forms include:

  • TA6 – covers general information about your home such as boundaries, parking, insurance and whether there are any existing planning notices that could affect the property.
  • TA10 – gives you the opportunity to set out which fixtures and fittings you plan to include in the sale of the property.
  • TA13 – covers some of the finer details about the completion of the sale; your conveyancer will usually complete this form for you although they may ask for your input.
  • TA7 – leasehold and share of freehold properties only; contains details about the lease.

As well as the above, you’ll also need to send your solicitor an energy performance certificate (EPC) for the property and a form of identification.

It’s vital that you provide all information to the best of your knowledge. If you’re found to have deliberately left out information or lied on the questionnaires, you could risk losing the sale, or even be sued for compensation.

Property searches

Your conveyancer will conduct a number of checks to make sure that there are no issues with the house you're buying. These include:

  • Local authority search – to gather  information about factors such as environmental issues, proximity to railway lines and development plans that might affect the property.
  • Drainage search – to check whether the property is connected to mains drainage and water supply.
  • Environmental search – your conveyancer will order an environmental report to find out about factors such as flood risk, ground stability and landfill sites in the local area.
  • Chancel repair liability – if your property is close to a church, your conveyancer will check the property deeds to find out whether you’ll be liable to contribute towards church repairs.

Things can go a bit quiet at this point, but this doesn't mean that nothing's happening. Your conveyancer will be waiting for the information they've sent off for about the house you're buying, while also answering queries from your buyer's conveyancer about your own property.

Having regular catch-ups with your conveyancer can be a good way to put your mind at ease and keep you in the loop.

Valuation and survey

Your mortgage company will also want to carry out a lender’s valuation on the property you're buying to make sure it's worth approximately what you’re planning to pay for it.

You should also pay for a more comprehensive survey to identify any issues with the property such as damp, as the valuation survey is conducted in the lender’s interest rather than yours, and won’t include structural checks.

Find out more about the types of survey and how much they cost by visiting our guide to house surveys.


Depending on the results of the searches and surveys, your conveyancer may raise a number of enquiries with your seller's conveyancer, while answering queries from your buyer's conveyancer.

The enquiries tend to include questions about rights of way, which home contents will be included in the sale, and any planning constraints that the seller is aware of.

If you’re buying or selling a leasehold property, there will be additional enquiries relating to the terms of the lease. These will include factors such as the upkeep of common areas, restrictions about what you can do to the property and whether there’s a managing agent.

Your conveyancer will need to read the full lease and will talk you through any of the major issues to consider.

Responding to any enquiries you receive as soon as you can will help to keep things moving, meaning that you reach that all-important exchange of contracts as quickly as possible.

When all the enquiries have been adequately answered, your conveyancer will report back to you with any key findings. At this point, you, your buyer and your seller will need to confirm that you’re happy to go ahead.

Signing contracts

Once everybody confirms they’re happy, your conveyancer will send you your final contract and any other documents to sign.

Your conveyancer will then arrange to collect the deposit funds from you for the property you're buying, and provide you with a transfer deed to sign for your current property. 

Dos and don'ts


  • Tell your conveyancer if you're concerned about the search results - they will be able to advise you about what they mean, and whether you're right to be concerned.

  • Ask your conveyancer when you need to pay your deposit - this will help you to ensure your funds are readily available when you need them.

  • Find out when your buyer and seller are hoping to complete - sometimes delays are unavoidable, but having an agreed goal should help keep things moving forward.


  • Settle for a lender's valuation - opt for a more comprehensive survey of your own to flag any issues that could end up costing you money later on.

  • Panic about your survey results - surveys are deliberately thorough and can seem alarming. Talk through any issues uncovered with your surveyor or property specialist.

  • Make any firm plans for completion day - delays can occur and it's risky to book time off work or pay removals companies until you've exchanged.

Related FAQs View all FAQS >

If you are purchasing a property with a mortgage you will always need to have searches as a condition of the mortgage.

If you are buying a property outright with no mortgage then it's up to you whether or not to have searches.

Generally, it's a good idea to have them as they can uncover important issues about the property such as flood risk, contaminated land and whether any alterations have received planning permission and building regulations consent. 

Not always. If you opted for a conveyancer or solicitor offering a no-sale, no-fee deal, you shouldn’t have to pay your conveyancing fees if the sale falls through.

You may still be responsible for extra fees, though, such as any searches that have already been carried out.

Gazumping happens when you've had an offer accepted on a property, but a different buyer then makes a higher offer which the seller accepts.

If you’ve had your heart set on a property, being gazumped can be very upsetting. You could try to negotiate with the seller via their estate agent, and up your offer if you can afford to. However, given that in England your offer is not legally binding until contracts are exchanged, in reality there’s little you can do.

Next time, once your offer has been accepted, insist the property is taken off the market and any for sale sign replaced by a sold sign.

Keep in regular contact with the seller's agent – tell them when you have completed the survey and received a formal mortgage offer. This assures them the sale is progressing.

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Jargon buster
  • Chain

    A property chain occurs when at least one vendor is selling their home to a buyer who also has property to sell and, as a result, there are a number of linked transactions depending on each other.

  • Gazumping

    Gazumping is when a seller accepts an offer from one potential buyer, only to accept a higher offer later from someone else. The seller then either accepts the increased offer or asks you to beat it.

    Gazumping tends to occur in a market when house prices are rising and there are more buyers than sellers.

    The problem arises because agents are legally obliged to inform sellers of all offers made on their property, even after an offer has been accepted. Until contracts have been exchanged the offer is not legally binding.

    Get Which? advice on gazumping

  • Exchange

    Exchange of contracts is the point in the process when both the buyer and seller commit themselves to a legally binding agreement.

    To exchange, the seller's conveyancer draws up two copies of the same contract and both the buyer and seller signs their own copy. When both parties are ready to legally commit, the two contracts are exchanged.

    Once contracts are exchanged, both the buyer and the seller are legally bound to go through with the house sale.

  • Lender

    A lender is an individual, bank or building society that provides a mortgage loan to a borrower. The borrower will repay the mortgage in regular instalments, usually over a period of five to 30 years.

  • Searches

    Searches are formal legal enquiries submitted by a conveyancer to local councils, the Environment Agency, and coal or water authorities. They provide important information that could affect a property's value.

    They will show, for example, whether or not the road serving a property is a publicly adopted highway, whether there are any mineshafts close by, and whether the property is subject to any planning enforcement notices.

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