What is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the process of preparing legal documents for a property sale.
When you buy or sell a home, you'll need a conveyancer to deal with the Land Registry, draw up contracts and transfer the cash.
Conveyancing can be done by both property solicitors and conveyancers. They will make sure the legal ownership of the property passes from the seller to the buyer.
This guide tells you exactly what you'll get from a conveyancer and how to find the best one for you.
Things work a bit differently in Scotland, so if you're buying a home there, check out our guide to buying a house in Scotland.
How does conveyancing work?
Conveyancing is a catch-all phrase used to describe the legal work that goes on after the seller accepts your offer to buy their property.
While every house purchase and sale is different, it will generally happen like this:
1. You choose a solicitor or conveyancer to act on your behalf.
2. You make an offer on a property and the seller accepts.
3. Your conveyancer carries out all the relevant property searches on the property.
Exchange of contracts
5. Your conveyancer draws up contracts of sale, which you and the seller sign. You also agree to a completion date.
6. Contracts are exchanged. At this point, the sale is legally binding.
7. You pay an exchange deposit to the seller.
8. After exchange, your conveyancer lodges an interest with the Land Registry.
9. You conveyancer receives mortgage funds from your lender, often the day before completion. On completion day, your conveyancer transfers all outstanding monies to the seller's solicitor.
10. Once the seller's solicitor confirms the monies have 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 conveyancer will often arrange this for you.
How much does conveyancing cost?
Conveyancing fees range from around £400 to £1,500, depending on the cost of the property and whether you're just buying, or selling one home and buying another.
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.
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 – some 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.
An estimate of the possible fees you'll face includes:
|Items||Fees||Buyer pays?||Seller pays?|
|Conveyancing fees||£400 - £1,500||✔||✔|
|Additional cost for Help to Buy||£200 - £300||✔|
|Land charges bankruptcy search||£4||✔|
|Land Registry fee||£20 - £910||✔|
|Additional cost for leasehold property||£150||✔||✔|
|Official copy of title deed||£4 - £12||✔|
|Searches||£200 - £400||✔|
|Bank transfer fee||£25 - £50||✔|
Find out more: the cost of buying a house
What does a conveyancer do?
Every house purchase is different, and what your conveyancer needs to do will depend on the type of property you're buying.
In general, a conveyancer 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 they also have specific duties that they need to carry out during the conveyancing process.
Before you exchange contracts, your conveyancer will carry out a series of checks to turn up essential information 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 the 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 the property deeds to find out whether you’ll be liable to contribute towards church repairs.
- Additional searches depending on factors in your area, such as tin mining searches in Cornwall.
The seller of the property will be asked to fill out a series of questionnaires about their home. Your conveyancer will review this information for any potential issues that would affect your offer.
These include the following:
- TA6 – covers general information about the home, 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 you 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.
- EPC certificate
Find out more: conveyancing when you're selling
Enquiries to the seller's solicitor
If your conveyancer has questions about this information, or anything else raised by the searches, they may enquire with the seller's solicitor, and if necessary, negotiate on your behalf. They'll also answer any questions the seller might have.
Your conveyancer should talk you through the key findings and any potential issues. Before exchange, they should confirm that you fully understand everything and that you're happy to proceed.
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. Leasehold properties - read our guide to leasehold vs freehold
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 plan to purchase a home. They'll draw up a closing statement, which your conveyancer can use to claim the bonus after exchange.
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, as the property becomes your responsibility as soon as contracts have been exchanged.
Otherwise, 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. If you're concerned, however, make sure you keep in touch with your conveyancer about latest updates.
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 external 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, as this gives them an incentive to get the job done quickly.
- 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.
Solicitor or conveyancer?
All solicitors are qualified to do conveyancing, but not all will have experience in this area, so make sure your lawyer specialises in property transactions.
Conveyancers, meanwhile, generally be able to handle most property transactions from beginning to end, but can't carry out other legal work.
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.
Frequently asked questions
Can you do the conveyancing yourself?
Most mortgage lenders will require you to have a 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 seek 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 packages - although check carefully what's included and the terms and conditions.
You should also seek advice if you're planning to add or remove someone from the mortgage.
Can you put conveyancing fees on my credit card?
Fees for conveyancing can add up fast, especially if you also face a stamp duty bill.
But it's unwise to put these costs on a credit card 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 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.
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 it's recommended to do them, as you may uncover important issues about the property 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, you can request a free callback from Which? Mortgage Advisers.