Buying or selling a property is a huge step for anyone – a leap into the relative unknown, placing your faith in the idea that the new home you’ve chosen will be everything you hope for.

Find the right home for you may involve contacting estate agents or simply searching for properties by yourself, but once you make an offer, you’ll enter a specific kind of legal territory.

Everything from the offer to completion day is called conveyancing. This period requires expert oversight from a trained professional – and that person is known as a conveyancer.

You should expect to pay around £1,100 for this service – but it’s worth it to make sure your transaction goes through as smoothly as possible.

man and woman hugging while moving in

Choose the right conveyancer, and you’ll soon have a happy completion date

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal transfer of property from one owner to another.

It’s a process that’s required when you’re buying, selling, remortgaging, or extending the lease of a property.

The person in charge of the procedure – either a solicitor, a specialised conveyancer, or you – must make sure the Land Registry has all the correct details, create contracts, get them signed, and transfer money and/or ownership at the right time.

In cases of a property being bought and sold, they must also ensure that the property’s legal ownership passes from the seller to the buyer at the correct time, and that the correct amount of money goes the other way.

How much does conveyancing usually cost?

The process of conveyancing typically costs around £1,100.

This includes the amount you’ll pay to your conveyancer or solicitor – known as legal fees – which generally comes to around £600.

They will carry out the process of conveyancing for you – arranging searches, communicating with the Land Registry, paying Stamp Duty, and so on – which will also need to be paid for.

These charges are known as disbursements, and will come to around £500.

Make sure to check if your prospective conveyancer offers a fixed fee – which means you’ll know how much you’re paying them in advance, and it won’t change – and whether they operate on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis, which would protect you if the purchase fell through.

How long does conveyancing usually take?

Conveyancing takes 12 weeks, on average.

The process begins when the buyer makes an offer on the property and it’s accepted, and ends on completion day, when the keys are exchanged and ownership is legally transferred to the buyer.

It can be achieved in a shorter span of time, and sometimes takes as little as four weeks.

If the chain of transactions that you’re relying on is small, and ideally limited to just one – yours – then that can help limit complications, but there are no guarantees.

You need the seller and the buyer to both be keen to complete the process quickly – and to stay that enthusiastic throughout – and for both sides’ conveyancers to move in a similarly speedy fashion.

Of course, the process can also take longer than 12 weeks.

At best, this will be because one or more parties drag their feet, or a conveyancer takes longer than expected.

At worst, multiple people in the chain may decide against moving, necessitating others to find alternative properties, or even pull out of the chain altogether.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also slowed down this process.

Most companies and individual solicitors have now adapted reasonably well, with many relying on digital methods, but you should expect delays after every lockdown, and once the pandemic is over.

The steps in a conveyancing process

The main stages of conveyancing are the exchange of contracts, which locks everyone involved into the deal, and completion, when the ownership of the property will legally pass to the buyer, and the seller must move out.

But of course, there are more steps than just those two. Let’s run through the process from start to finish, with you positioned as the buyer.

1. Pre-contract information gathering

Once your offer on the property is accepted, the work begins. You’ll make your mortgage application, hire a conveyancer or solicitor, and tell them about the accepted offer and property.

They will give you legal advice on the proposed purchase, ask the seller’s conveyancer for a draft contract and raise any questions about it, and initiate a local authority search.

This search checks whether there are any restrictions or issues with the property – for instance, you’ll find out if it’s in a conservation area, a listed building, or covered by a Tree Preservation Order.

If there are any plans to construct a public highway, road, trainline, or other transport network near the property, you’ll also find out about that.

The search will also reveal any environmental factors that will affect the residents of your new property, such as contaminated air or land, or potential flooding issues.

Your search may be carried out by council staff – known as an ‘official’ search – or by an external agency, in which case it’s called a ‘personal’ search. Consult your conveyancer to see which option is right for you.

At this time, you should also proceed with an independent survey of the property to find out if everything’s ship-shape.

Contact a surveyor well in advance to ensure that their timing matches your needs, and also because surveyors can take anywhere from a day to a month to get their report back to you.

This is especially pertinent in both the pandemic and post-pandemic times, when local surveyors may be more overwhelmed than usual.

2. The paperwork floods in

At this point, you’ll receive the results of all the actions taken by you and your conveyancer up to this point, which will come in the form of information. Lots and lots of information.

You’ll get your mortgage offer around a month after submitting the application, along with the results of local searches, and responses to your conveyancer’s pre-contract enquiries.

You can then pore over these documents with your conveyancer, who will advise you and check whether – with all the knowledge you now hold – you’re happy to continue with the purchase.

At this point, make sure you ask every question, no matter how big or small, no matter if it means raising queries with your lender, the seller, or the council, until you’re comfortable with your final decision.

3. Contract and deposit

Your conveyancer will then present you with a draft contract that includes all the relevant information from the seller, their conveyancer, and the Land Registry.

Talk this contract through with your conveyancer, and once you’re happy to proceed, you’ll arrange for the deposit to be paid to them.

4. Exchanging contracts and completion

You’ll now be ready to formally exchange contracts with the seller and settle on a completion date, which legally commits you to the purchase.

The completion date is often a week after you exchange contracts, but it doesn’t have to be.

Your conveyancer will then draw up drafts of a transfer deed, completion information form, and completion statement, and send them to the seller’s conveyancer.

The two will make alterations until they and their clients are happy with the documents, and you and/or the seller will sign them, depending on what’s legally required.

On the completion date, the seller will leave the property by the agreed time, and the buyer’s conveyancer will transfer the proceeds of the sale to the seller’s conveyancer.

In return, the seller’s conveyancer will ensure your conveyancer has the keys to the property, the title deeds and transfer deed, and proof that any existing mortgage has been paid.

Your conveyancer will then send the stamp duty you owe to HM Revenue and Customs, register the property in your name with the Land Registry, and make sure you get proof of this.

woman and man sign contract

Conveyancing is your route from making an offer to moving in

Do I definitely need a conveyancer?

If you’re not getting a mortgage, it’s possible and legal to carry out the conveyancing process yourself.

The government has a couple of excellent blogs which can help get you started, for example on registering property and updating property records after a death.

But in general, we do not recommend doing it yourself.

This is a complicated legal undertaking that must be completed without mistakes. You would have to deal with the Land Registry, draw up legally binding contracts, and handle all the money as hundreds of thousands of pounds – or even millions – hang in the balance.

Instead, you should acquire the services of a solicitor – as all solicitors are qualified for conveyancing – or a conveyancer, who is trained solely in the art of conveyancing.

How do I choose the right conveyancer?

Get recommendations from people in the know

Firstly, ask your family and friends for suggestions – anyone you know who’s bought and/or sold a property, and whose opinion you trust.

If you’re using an estate agent, don’t take their recommendation. They may have a partnership or deal with a conveyancing firm, and therefore have a vested interest.

Also, make a note of who’s on your mortgage lender’s approved panel of solicitors, as choosing one of these options will make the whole process of getting a mortgage comparatively smooth.

Then go online and look at reviews of every solicitor and/or conveyancer you’ve been recommended, either by loved ones or your lender.

Decide whether to get a solicitor or conveyancer

If it’s a complex situation, you should choose a solicitor. Conveyancers will be able to handle the majority of cases, but if there are complicating factors that may require extra legal knowledge – such as issues with the property’s boundaries – a solicitor is best.

Check they’re in the appropriate groups. Your conveyancing solicitor should be a member of the Law Society of England and Wales or Scotland, and part of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme.

If they’re solely a conveyancer, they should be in the Council for Licenced Conveyancers.

Contact a few candidates

Next, get in touch with everyone who sounds good according to your in-person and online research.

When talking to a candidate, tell them about your situation, your plan, and how long you would like the whole process to take. Ascertain whether they’ll ask for a fixed fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the property’s price as payment.

Get a quote from them and at least two other conveyancers, making sure that they all break down all their charges for you.

That includes bank transfers, disbursements, Land Registry fees, local searches, Stamp Duty, and what they would charge for additional work.

Ask them if they have any leave booked during the period you want to carry out the transaction, who will cover for them if they fall sick, the best way and times to contact them, and whether they have a page online where you can check how the process is going.

Feel free to also question them on their past experience, and whether they’ve handled any transactions in your local area.

Think of yourself like a business, giving a contract to the professional who interviews best.