What is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the process of preparing legal documents for a property sale, remortgage or lease extension, and transferring legal ownership if the property is being sold.
If you're buying or selling a home, you'll need a conveyancer or property solicitor to deal with the Land Registry, draw up contracts and transfer the cash. They will also make sure the legal ownership of the property passes from the seller to the buyer.
In this guide, we explain what the conveyancing process involves and how to find the best solicitor or conveyancer for you.
- Things work differently in Scotland, so if the property is based there, check out our guide to buying a house in Scotland.
- This guide is primarily aimed at buyers - check out conveyancing when you're selling if that's more relevant to you.
Conveyancing process: step-by-step
While every house purchase and sale is different, it will generally work like this:
1. You choose ('instruct') a solicitor or conveyancer to act on your behalf - ideally before step 2, although you can also hire a solicitor after making an offer if you haven't already done so.
2. You make an offer on a property and the seller accepts.
3. Your conveyancer or solicitor (we will use the terms interchangeably in this guide) carries out all the relevant searches on the property and writes to the seller's solicitor requesting a draft contract and the other selling documents.
Exchange of contracts
5. You and the seller both sign copies of the contract. You also agree to a completion date.
6. Contracts are exchanged. At this point, the sale is legally binding and you must have buildings insurance in place.
7. You pay an exchange deposit to the seller.
8. After exchange, your conveyancer lodges an interest with the Land Registry.
9. Your conveyancer receives mortgage funds from your lender, often the day before completion. On completion day, your conveyancer transfers all outstanding money to the seller's solicitor.
10. Once the seller's solicitor confirms the money has been received, the property is yours.
After the sale
11. The conveyancer registers the transfer of property with the Land Registry.
12. You have 30 days to pay your stamp duty bill, if you owe it. Your solicitor will usually arrange this for you.
Conveyancing fees can range from around £400 to £1,500, depending on the cost and location of the property.
If you're buying and selling at the same time, your conveyancing fees will be higher, as your conveyancer will need to do the work for both transactions.
The cost will also depend on how complex the property transaction is. For example, if the property is a leasehold, there may be more legal work to do, such as reviewing the lease itself.
Some solicitors will charge a flat fee, while others will charge a percentage of the property's value. Always check exactly what the fee covers and whether it's fixed – some companies will charge extra if any unforeseen issues arise. Get a few different quotes before choosing who to use.
Fees for searches can also vary. The Land Registry, for example, charges on a sliding scale depending on how much your property is worth. You can use the Land Registry fees calculator to work out how much you might need to pay.
Estimated possible fees you could face in England or Wales include:
|Items||Fees||Buyer pays||Seller pays|
|Conveyancing fees||£400 - £1,500||✔||✔|
|Additional cost for Help to Buy if applicable||£200 - £300||✔|
|Land charges bankruptcy search||£4||✔|
|Land Registry fee||£20 - £910||✔|
|Additional cost for leasehold property||£100 - £300||✔||✔|
|Official copy of title deed||£4 - £12||✔|
|Searches||£200 - £400||✔|
|Bank transfer fee||£25 - £50||✔|
Find out more: the costs of buying a house
What does a property solicitor or conveyancer do?
Every house purchase is different, and what your conveyancer or solicitor needs to do will depend on the type of property you're buying. (And if you want to understand the differences between the two types of practitioner, see 'Solicitor or conveyancer?', below.)
In general, your solicitor will manage the sale for you, including dealing with the Land Registry, collecting monies and providing legal advice.
They'll also review your contracts and deal with the seller's solicitor. On completion day, they'll make sure the funds are transferred and ownership passes to you.
But there are other specific duties that they need to carry out during the conveyancing process:
Before you exchange contracts, your solicitor or conveyancer will carry out a series of checks about your property.
In some cases, they might uncover issues that could influence how much the property is worth, or even whether you should proceed with the sale - so it's vital to do these before the sale is legally binding.
Some of the searches are likely to 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.
- Land Registry search to check the title register and legal ownership.
- Drainage search to check whether the property is connected to mains drainage and water supply.
- Environmental search 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 solicitor will check whether you’ll be liable to contribute towards church repairs.
- Additional searches depending on factors in your area, for example tin mining searches in Cornwall.
The seller of the property will be asked to fill out a series of forms and questionnaires about their home, including:
- TA6 – covers general information such as boundaries, parking, insurance and whether there are any existing planning notices that could affect the property
- TA10 – gives the seller the opportunity to say which fixtures and fittings they plan to include in the sale of the property
- TA13 – covers some of the finer details about the completion of the sale
- TA7 (for leasehold and share-of-freehold properties only) contains details about the lease
- Energy performance certificate
Your conveyancer will review this information for any potential issues that could affect your offer, but you should read it carefully yourself as well.
Find out more: conveyancing when you're selling
Enquiries to the seller's solicitor
If your conveyancer has questions about anything the searches or seller forms have revealed, they will contact the seller's solicitor and, if necessary, negotiate on your behalf. They'll also answer any questions the seller might have.
If it's a leasehold property, the seller should have provided full information on the lease. Your conveyancer should read through the lease terms with you, including ground rent and service charges.
Your conveyancer should talk you through the key findings of all their work, and talk to you about any potential issues. Before exchange, they should check that you fully understand everything and that you're happy to proceed.
Help to Buy funds
When you buy a property with a Help to Buy Isa or a Help to Buy equity loan, your conveyancer will help you claim the funds.
If you have a Help to Buy Isa, you'll need to let the provider know you're about to buy a home. They'll draw up a closing statement, which your conveyancer can use to claim the bonus from the government after exchange. Your solicitor can't charge more than £60 to process your bonus application.
If you're buying with an equity loan, your conveyancer should explain the legal implications to you and check over the documents. Your conveyancer will then receive authority from the local Help to Buy scheme at exchange, so you can sign the Help to Buy agreement.
On completion, the funds will be transferred to the house builder. Your conveyancer will also register a 'second charge' on your home in favour of the government to reflect their share in your property.
What do you need to do?
Before exchange, you'll need to secure a mortgage offer, in writing, from your lender. Your conveyancer will review the offer for you.
Your lender will usually require you to have a mortgage valuation as part of the conveyancing process. Keep in mind that this is different from a house survey, which you should also carry out. The valuation is for the lender's benefit, while a house survey is carried out to identify any defects or structural problems.
You'll also need to organise buildings insurance to take effect from the date of exchange, as the property becomes your responsibility at this point. Most mortgage providers will require this as a condition of lending.
Other than that, there may be some weeks where it seems like nothing is happening. During this time, your conveyancer is likely carrying out searches and fielding enquiries - just make sure you keep in touch with them to check everything is going smoothly.
It's also important to let your solicitor and the estate agent know if you're going on holiday or are likely to be uncontactable for any other reason.
How to choose a conveyancer or solicitor
It's hardly the most exciting part of buying a house, but choosing a solicitor or conveyancer is a really important decision.
No matter what your estate agent tells you, you don't have to use their in-house service or any companies they recommend. However, some mortgage lenders will charge you an additional fee if you use a conveyancer who is not on their panel.
Follow these tips to find the best firm:
- Consider opting for a ‘no-sale, no-fee’ company - this gives them an incentive to get the job done quickly and you won't have to pay the legal fees if the sale falls through.
- It's also worth finding a ‘fixed-fee’ service, which means you only pay the amount that's quoted when you sign up. This avoids nasty surprises further down the line.
- Don't make your decision purely based on price. The firm you pick will be responsible for all of the legal work surrounding your property purchase, and if they miss anything or make a mistake it could end up costing you a lot more than the amount you saved by choosing the cheapest service.
- Try not to use a conveyancer who is very busy, as you want someone who can give your case proper attention. If possible, tell them your preferred exchange and completion dates and ask if they can meet these.
All solicitors are qualified to do conveyancing, but not all will have experience in this area, so if you decide to use a solicitor make sure they have specialist knowledge and experience in property transactions.
Conveyancers, meanwhile, can usually handle property transactions from beginning to end, but can't carry out other legal work.
Hiring a fully qualified solicitor may be necessary for difficult transactions - for example, if there are boundary disputes. However, solicitors are generally more expensive than conveyancers, and may also be juggling more complex cases that take precedence over yours.
Can you do the conveyancing yourself?
Most mortgage lenders will require you to use a professional conveyancer or solicitor as part of their mortgage offer.
If you're a cash buyer, you might be tempted to do the conveyancing without legal advice, but it's very risky. You may miss a major defect in the home, fail to properly transfer ownership, or cause the sale to fall over - in which case, you could be sued for compensation by other people in the chain.
Conveyancing is especially high risk if the property is leasehold, unregistered with the Land Registry or if the sellers are divorcing.
So while saving money may be appealing, it's recommended to always hire a conveyancer or solicitor when buying a home.
Is conveyancing required when remortgaging?
If you're remortgaging with your current lender - what's known as a product transfer - you're unlikely to need a solicitor. Similarly, you should be able to get an advance from your lender without legal advice.
For anything more complicated, it's wise to seek out a solicitor or conveyancer. If you're switching lenders, many will offer free legal advice as part of their remortgaging package - although check the terms and conditions carefully to see what's included.
You should also seek advice if you're planning to add or remove someone from the mortgage.
Can I pay for conveyancing fees on my credit card?
Fees for conveyancing can add up fast, especially if you also face a stamp duty bill, and it is technically possible to put the fees on your credit card.
But it's unwise to do this unless they're relatively modest. Mortgage lenders can search your credit history even after making a formal mortgage offer, and anything that changes your financial situation could cause them to withdraw their agreement. They may also ask you to confirm that you'll be able to carry out the sale without borrowing.
So you should avoid putting any major purchases, especially those related to the property purchase, on your credit card before the sale is finalised.
If the sale falls through, do you still have to pay?
Not always. If you opt for a conveyancer or solicitor offering a no-sale, no-fee package, you shouldn’t have to pay the 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.
To avoid being caught out, check the terms and conditions of your agreement carefully before you appoint a conveyancer.
Can you skip the searches?
If you're purchasing a property with a mortgage, you'll always need to have searches as a condition of the mortgage agreement.
As a cash buyer, it's up to you whether or not to have searches. But we'd recommend that you do them, as you may uncover important issues that could affect the property and its value, such as flood risk, contaminated land and whether any alterations have received planning permission and building regulations consent.
What if you're unhappy with the service?
Conveyancing is a complicated process, and your conveyancer can make or break the deal.
If you have concerns about how your conveyancer handled the purchase, you should talk to them and make a complaint to the firm in the first instance.
But if you're not happy with their response, you can bring your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.
Get expert advice on your mortgage
To make your property sale go smoothly, it's vital to have a mortgage offer in place.
For expert advice on the right mortgage for your circumstances, and help with every step of the application process, you can call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0800 197 8461 or fill out the form below for a free call back.