In recent years, there has been a tendency for some people to do their own conveyancing. However, buying or selling a property can be time-consuming and fraught with legal pitfalls, so most people will use the services of a conveyancing solicitor. As solicitors will charge for this service, you should understand they do for their fees.
What is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring the ownership of property titles from one person to another. The conveyancing process begins once you have accepted a property, through to the exchange of contracts and ends once the contracts have been signed and the money transferred to complete the sale.
Who can do my conveyancing?
You can hire a conveyancing solicitor or a licensed conveyancer to undertake the conveyancing process. The difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer is that a licensed conveyancer is only qualified in property law. In contrast, a conveyancing solicitor is qualified in all areas of law but elects to specialise in property. If you choose a solicitor, it is good to check that they specialise in residential property transactions.
Some mortgage lenders have an approved list of conveyancers for you to choose from.
What exactly will a conveyancing solicitor do?
1. Request your details
The very first thing a conveyancer will do is request your basic details, including your contact information, date of birth and national insurance number. They will also require details of your estate agent, whether you need a mortgage for the purchase and – if you do – which lender you are using and where the deposit is coming from. You must also submit a photo ID such as a passport or driving licence.
Conveyancers must check your identity and source of funds (beyond any mortgage) because they are under stringent rules to prevent money laundering and other types of fraud.
Property searches are enquiries made on your behalf by your solicitor to find out information about the property you are about to purchase.
The three main searches are:
- Local authority search will tell you if any building control regulations affect your property, for example, its listed status and whether it is located in a conservation area. This search also identifies planning proposals for buildings or roads surrounding your property.
- An environmental search will identify whether the property is built on land with ecological risks such as flooding, subsidence, landslips, or contamination from an old landfill or waste site.
- A water and drainage search is made to the local water company to confirm that the property is connected to the public water supply and sewage system. If it is, enquiries are made to check who owns them and establish responsibility for maintenance. This search will also tell you if you need permission from the water company to extend the property.
3. Draw up paperwork and carry out checks (and more checks)
Your solicitor will be the main point of contact with the seller's solicitor and will be in continual communication with them. The seller's solicitor will draw up a draft contract and send this, together with the title deeds and the following protocol forms, to your solicitor.
- Sellers Property Information Form (SPIF) – a questionnaire completed by the seller disclosing all kinds of information from disputes with neighbours to whether the property has ever been flooded.
- Fittings and Contents Form – completed by the seller listing all the items they will leave behind or take from the property following completion.
- Leasehold Information Form – requests information from the seller specific to leasehold properties.
Your solicitor will carefully review these documents and the results of the searches and raise any concerns they have with the seller's solicitor.
4. Send you paperwork to sign
Once they are satisfied, you will receive a pack with all the checked documents and a summary of the searches. You are required to sign and return each document.
5. Request your deposit
Next, your solicitor will ask you for the deposit. This usually is 10% of the purchase price.
Most buyers pay via a CHAPS transfer because there is no maximum payment limit, and the payment clears on the same day. There is a fee for making a CHAPS payment, usually around £25.
6. Line up all parties for the exchange of contracts and completion
Your solicitor will agree on a completion date with your seller's solicitor and any other parties further down the chain. This is the date on which the seller must vacate the property, and you will receive the keys to move in.
7. Exchange of contracts
Typically, you will exchange contracts two to four weeks before completion. At this point, the sale becomes legally binding, and the completion date is set in stone.
On the day of exchange, the solicitor at the bottom of the chain contacts their client's seller's solicitor (usually by telephone), verifies they have a signed sale contract and deposit funds and confirms the completion date. The next conveyancer in the chain does the same thing until the top is reached. The exchange then needs to come back down the chain to reach the first solicitor.
Once the completion date is confirmed, you can book your removal company.
Completion is the final stage of buying a house. Before completion, you must send the purchase price balance to your solicitor's account.
On the day of completion, your solicitor will send the total purchase funds to the seller's solicitor, who will confirm receipt of the money and authorise the estate agent to release the keys.
9. Register a change of ownership
Once you have moved in, the conveyancer will coordinate paying any stamp duty due to the Inland Revenue and register your ownership with the Land Registry. They will also give you a copy of the Title Deeds.
How much will it cost?
The price you pay for the conveyancing process will vary depending on factors including location and whether some additional searches are required – because the property is close to a river, for example. Legal fees for leasehold properties are likely more because of the extra work involved. Shared ownership and help-to-buy schemes, or accessing a Lifetime ISA, can also increase the workload and add to your bill.
However, costs can also vary between solicitors, so it's advisable to shop around and get quotes. Solicitors in England and Wales must now publish their conveyancing fees on their websites, making it easy to compare costs.
Typically, solicitors' fees for conveyancing are around £850 to £1,000, which is a small proportion of the overall buying and selling costs.
How long does the conveyancing process take?
On average, it can take around 12-16 weeks to complete the conveyancing process, depending on whether any issues arise.
It's essential to communicate with your conveyancer to speed up the process.
Does a chain affect the conveyancing process?
A housing chain is when your buyer is also selling their house, or your seller is also buying a home. The conveyancing process can take longer, depending on the length of the housing chain.
If a problem arises with one link of the chain, it can have a knock-on effect and delay everyone else.
How can I avoid delays in the conveyancing process?
You can assist in speeding up the conveyancing process by instructing your conveyancing solicitor as soon as your offer has been accepted. Ensure you have researched and chosen a suitable conveyancer, as an unresponsive solicitor can delay the process.
Ensure all involved in the process have your most recent contact details and promptly respond to paperwork and questions.
Communicate with your solicitor and estate agent at least once a week to check on progress and to ensure they aren't waiting for any details from your side.
Can I do my own conveyancing?
DIY conveyancing is possible. However, the devil is in the detail when buying or selling a property. The conveyancing process is extremely time-consuming and complicated, which could end in disaster if mistakes are made.
If you are taking out a mortgage to purchase the property, DIY conveyancing will not be an option, as your mortgage lender will insist on employing a professional conveyancer.
Buying a house can be very stressful, so choosing a good conveyancer is vital to make your house purchase easier. What does a conveyancing solicitor do that you can't? In effect, they bring invaluable experience to the table. You can even find conveyancers who specialise in areas like shared ownership and know their field inside out.
We can help
Plaza Estates have over 40 years of experience helping clients buy and sell properties in central London. We will work with your conveyancing solicitor to ensure your move is as problem-free as possible. If you want a stress-free home move, contact us today.