How Long Does House Sale Conveyancing Take?

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For most home sellers in the UK, going through the conveyancing process is an essential step to legally transfer the ownership of their property to the buyer. However, conveyancing can often be a lengthy and complex process, leaving many sellers wondering just how long it will take from accepting an offer to completing the sale.

The conveyancing process itself involves the buyer’s and seller’s solicitors working together to investigate the legal title of the property, prepare all the necessary legal documentation, and exchange contracts. The time this takes can vary considerably depending on the circumstances of each sale. On average, conveyancing transactions take between 8 and 12 weeks to complete, but it’s not uncommon for the process to take longer.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different factors that can impact how long the conveyancing process takes from start to finish when selling a house in the UK.

Stages of the Conveyancing Process

Firstly, it’s important to understand that conveyancing involves various key stages that must be completed sequentially. The main stages include:

  • Seller’s solicitor receipt of draft contract pack from buyer’s solicitor – includes a contract for sale, fixtures and fittings form, and property information form. This kicks off the process.
  • Seller answering pre-contract enquiries – the buyer’s solicitor will raise additional enquiries e.g. planning permissions, guarantees, boundaries, disputes.
  • Negotiating and agreeing on the contract – this confirms the price, fixtures and fittings included in the sale, and completion date.
  • Evidence Seller providing evidence of ID.
  • Searches and enquiries – the buyer’s solicitor will conduct searches on things like local planning, drainage, environment, and flooding.
  • Mortgage offer (if applicable) – the buyer will need to have a mortgage offer in place before the exchange.
  • Signing the contract – once the contract is agreed, the seller and buyer will both sign.
  • Exchanging contracts – this is when the completion date is set and the contracts are legally binding.
  • Completion day – this is when the funds are transferred and the buyer can collect the keys. The buyer legally owns the property from this point.

As you can see, there are lots of steps involved, and the timescales can vary at each stage depending on the circumstances. However, certain key things can have an impact on the overall time it takes from start to completion.

Factors Affecting Timescales

Type of Property

The type of property being sold can impact timescales. For example, leasehold properties often take longer as additional work is required around lease extensions, interacting with freeholders/management companies, and dealing with service charges.

For flats and apartments, the solicitor may need to examine and review paperwork for the freehold title as well as the individual leasehold title documentation. Access to this can delay things if not readily available.

With newer build properties, there is less historical paperwork to review which tends to speed things up. However, solicitors may still need to run detailed checks on things like NHBC certification.

Chain Issues

Being part of a property chain, where multiple buyers and sellers rely on each other, is likely to increase timescales. A delay for one party can hold up the whole chain. Chains with just two or three transactions tend to progress faster than longer chains.

Mortgage Requirements

Most buyers will be using mortgage finance, and conveyancers must wait for mortgage offers before exchanging. Mortgage lenders often have their surveys, valuations and credit checks to complete which adds time. Any queries or complexities around the buyer’s mortgage application can cause further delays.

Reaching Agreement

Much of the conveyancing process involves back-and-forth correspondence between solicitors as they work to fully prepare the legal contract and iron out any issues. The speed at which replies are sent and agreements reached between both solicitors directly impacts timescales.

If significant issues arise that require negotiation, such as disputes over boundaries or included fixtures and fittings, it can considerably hold up progress.

Efficiency of Solicitors

The workload and efficiency levels of both the buyer’s and seller’s solicitors will determine how quickly they can work through all the stages. Conveyancers dealing with higher volumes of transactions may take longer to respond. Delays can occur if they are waiting on information from third parties like mortgage lenders.

Use of Online Conveyancing

While traditional law firms still provide the majority of conveyancing services, there has been a rise in online conveyancing companies aiming to speed up the process through greater use of technology and streamlined systems.

Those choosing online conveyancers report an average reduction of 4 weeks in completion times compared to high-street solicitors. However, there are risks around reduced human checking of the legal work.

Extent of Search Requirements

The standard conveyancing searches a solicitor will conduct can include the local authority, drainage and water, environmental, chancel repair, flood risk, and mining — alongside checking the Land Registry title.

The number of searches required will depend on the property’s location and characteristics. In some cases, additional specialist searches may be needed which can add quite a bit of time to the process if there are delays in getting the results.

Issue That Arise

No matter how smooth the transaction appears initially, unforeseen issues can arise that hold up exchanging contracts. For example, a problem identified in the survey, an issue with leasehold terms, planning disputes, or a defect in the legal title.

If additional work is required to fix any issues or professional advice is needed, it can add weeks or even months to the process.

Volume of Paperwork

Larger and older properties tend to have greater quantities of supporting documentation around things like renovations, extensions, planning permissions and building regs. Solicitors will carefully review all of this which takes time.

If the buyer’s solicitor is dissatisfied with the paperwork provided by the seller, they may request additional documents to clarify and validate. This can cause delays.

When Delays Occur

Given the many steps involved and parties to keep aligned, it is very common for some delays to occur during the conveyancing process. However, there are certain points where delays or issues are more likely to crop up:

  • When the seller provides incomplete initial paperwork it triggers additional enquiries.
  • Where problems or unclear terms are identified when the buyer’s solicitor reviews the draft contract pack.
  • After searches and enquiries are returned any adverse results need to be resolved.
  • Waiting for the buyer to receive a mortgage offer if their application hits problems.
  • Negotiating solutions around surveys revealing issues like subsidence or dampness.
  • Resolving disputes between buyer and seller over fixtures, fittings, and boundaries.
  • Delays by one party in the chain affect the speed of the whole chain.
  • Hitting legal difficulties when examining the property’s title deeds and paperwork.

Despite such delays being common, both solicitors will typically work hard to mitigate any significant impact on timelines, and keep the transaction progressing as rapidly as possible.

Best Practice for Smoother Process

While the factors above often influence timescales despite best efforts, there are things sellers can do to help reduce delays and keep conveyancing moving efficiently:

  • Gather together all title deeds, paperwork, forms, and certificates relating to the property in advance, ready to send to your solicitor.
  • Respond to any additional enquiries or questions from the buyer’s solicitor as quickly and fully as possible.
  • Ensure all legal paperwork around ownership such as wills, probate, and divorces are accessible and complete.
  • Do not make any significant changes to the property after the offers are accepted and before completion.
  • Try to ensure the property is vacant on completion day to allow buyer access.
  • Maintain regular contact with your solicitor and update them on any changes in circumstances.
  • Avoid excessive negotiation with the buyer once an offer is agreed upon and contracts are drafted.
  • Check in advance for any potential issues that might delay e.g. planning permissions, or neighbour disputes.

Using an experienced solicitor who specialises in conveyancing can also help speed up the process and reduce delays through their legal knowledge and contacts. Many offer online case tracking so you can monitor progress.

Expected Timescales

Providing there are no significant issues or setbacks, straightforward conveyancing transactions with no chain or mortgage typically take between 4-6 weeks from the offer accepted to completion day.

For purchases involving mortgages and small chains, around 8-10 weeks would be fairly common.

Under more complex circumstances with longer chains, leasehold factors, and issues arising along the way, 12 weeks + timescales are not uncommon.

However, some transactions, especially leasehold flats, can drag out for 6-9 months in extreme cases. With the pandemic impact, even ‘simple’ sales have been taking 10-12 weeks on average. As pressures ease, this is likely to improve.

While the average conveyancing process takes between 2-3 months, many variables can impact timescales both positively and negatively. As a seller, maintaining good communication channels and preparing properly can certainly help avoid delays. However, some factors remain outside of your control. Working with an efficient conveyancer and staying patient through the process is key.

Conclusion

Completing conveyancing when selling a property is a key requirement, and most sellers should expect it to take somewhere between 8-12 weeks from accepting an offer to handing over the keys on completion day. However, numerous factors relating to the property type, chain issues, efficiency of solicitors, and problems arising can all impact timescales in either direction.

As the seller, keeping your paperwork organised, responding rapidly to enquiries, and maintaining contact with your conveyancer can all help avoid unnecessary delays and keep things moving smoothly. However, even with best efforts, hold-ups are common within the convoluted conveyancing process, meaning patience and flexibility are also vital. Communication is key, so keep your conveyancer updated on any changes and they can guide you through the complex legal steps as quickly and cleanly as possible.

While conveyancing can often seem like the most tedious and lengthy part of selling and moving, it is of course essential to fully protect your interests and ensure the legal transfer of property ownership. By understanding the key stages involved, and being aware of factors impacting timescales, sellers can set realistic expectations and work proactively with their solicitor to complete in a timely fashion.

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