Conveyancing is the legal transfer of home ownership from seller to buyer. It starts when you accept an offer and finishes when you hand over the keys.
It typically takes between eight and 12 weeks to reach exchange (when the deal becomes legally binding). However, all sorts of things can crop up to delay the process, so don't book your removalists or put any other arrangements in place until a date has been firmly agreed by all parties.
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Conveyancing for sellers: step-by-step guide
The advice below applies to people moving house in England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, visit our guide to selling a house in Scotland.
1. Instruct a solicitor or conveyancer
You can instruct either a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer to do your legal work. Unsurprisingly, conveyancers specialise in conveyancing - but not all solicitors do, so if you choose to use a solicitor do make sure they're experienced in this field.
No matter what your estate agent tells you, you don't have to use their in-house service or any external companies they recommend. Follow the tips below to find the best firm.
- Look 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 based purely on price. The firm you pick will be responsible for all of the legal work surrounding your property purchase and if it misses anything or makes 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 - 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.
2. Fill in the relevant forms and read the contract
You'll need to complete a range of forms (usually TA6, TA10, TA13 and, for leasehold and share of freehold properties, TA7), as well as supplying paperwork including a mortgage statement.
Once your solicitor has checked the title deeds to prove that you're the legal owner of the property, they'll draw up the contract. Ask the solicitor to explain anything you don't understand.
They will send an identical contract to the buyer’s solicitor, together with copies of the title deeds and your completed forms, for them to review.
3. Answer your buyer’s questions
The buyer may have some questions about your property, which you should answer as clearly, honestly and as quickly as you can to avoid delays. If the buyer's survey has flagged any major issues, you can negotiate on whether you'll carry out repairs yourself or reduce the sale price.
Once the negotiations are over and contracts are signed, the buyer hands over the deposit, which is normally 10% of the property value (even if it's less, the buyer is still liable to pay you the full 10% if they pull out after you've exchanged contracts).
4. Exchange contracts
When you exchange contracts, you and the buyer become legally committed to the purchase.
Completion dates are typically set two weeks after exchange, but they don’t need to be. If no one in the chain is in a hurry to move, you can ask for more time. Four weeks or more gives you more time to organise removals, pack everything up and organise change of address information. This can remove a lot of the stresses of selling a home, particularly if you haven’t moved for a long time.
Alternatively, while mortgage lenders typically need at least a week’s notice to provide funds, it's sometimes possible to exchange and complete on the same day.
- Find out more: Exchanging contracts
5. Reach completion
The buyer will pay your solicitor the final balance on completion day. If you're part of a chain, all these payments will be made one after the other in sequence.
Friday is a popular day for completion because it gives you the weekend to settle in. But if you complete mid-week, the solicitors and estate agents are less likely to be quite so tied up with other clients, so if there are any problems you won't have to wait the whole weekend to sort it. You might even get a reduced rate on removals.
- Find out more: Completing and handing over the keys
6. Re-register title deeds
Your conveyancer will settle your account with the estate agent and your mortgage lender. The buyer's conveyancer then registers the change of ownership with the Land Registry within five weeks of completion.