Navigating Conveyancing With Confidence: Insights For Property Enthusiasts In The UK
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring property ownership from seller to buyer. For many property purchasers, conveyancing is a mysterious behind-the-scenes necessity they know little about. However, having a grasp of the conveyancing process, timescales, costs and considerations can help buyers make informed decisions in choosing their advisor and completing smoothly. This guide provides an in-depth look at conveyancing essentials, pitfalls to avoid, and tips to take the confusion out of this critical part of purchasing.
What is Conveyancing?
Conveyancing refers to the legal aspects of buying and selling properties. It essentially facilitates the change of ownership from the current owner (seller) to the new proprietor (buyer).
The conveyancing process includes:
- Carrying out detailed searches and enquiries on the property
- Confirming good legal title and identifying any constraints
- Drafting the contract and other documentation
- Agreeing a completion date for monies and property to exchange hands
- Transferring legal title officially from seller to buyer
Both buyers and sellers instruct conveyancers to represent their interests in navigating this legal minefield. Taking professional guidance is essential to ensure no issues are overlooked that could derail or delay transactions.
Why Conveyancing is Required
Conveyancing may seem like a hassle and added cost. But this essential process provides critical protections for buyers and sellers:
- Ensures you gain full, legitimate ownership without disputes down the line
- Confirm any limitations e.g. planning restrictions before you commit
- Checks for issues like bankruptcy or debt claims against the property
- Verifies what fixtures, fittings and contents are included in the sale
- Contractually secures the agreed sale terms and completion date
- Guarantees sale funds are transferred safely and on time
- Shows the property has been legally transferred to the new owner
- Assures that the buyer has secured a valid mortgage
- Protects against future claims or disputes from the buyer
Conveyancing not only makes transactions legally watertight but also gives both parties peace of mind. While conveyancers’ fees may seem like an extra upfront cost, their services are invaluable.
Stages of the Conveyancing Process
A typical conveyancing transaction follows these key stages:
Take initial instructions
The client provides details on the property, parties involved and any unique circumstances. This allows conveyancers to identify any potential complications ahead of time.
Verify ID and funds
Conveyancers must confirm clients’ identities and sources of funds as part of legal due diligence.
Submit initial enquiries
Early searches flag up potential issues with the property. Priority is checking for financial judgements or ownership disputes.
Draft the contract package
The contract is prepared outlining the terms and conditions agreed upon. Additional documents cover fixtures, fittings and contents to be included in the sale.
Going back and forth finalising contract specifics and answering enquiries via both conveyancers.
Sign contracts & exchange
Once satisfied, parties sign the contract and deposits are exchanged. This legally commits them to the purchase.
Complete final searches
Now committed, the conveyancer undertakes more detailed searches and enquiries.
Resolve final queries
Any issues from the searches are raised with the seller’s conveyancer and resolved.
Confirm completion date & funds
The completion date is agreed upon. The buyer confirms funds are available; the seller gives property access arrangements.
Ownership officially transfers on completion. Keys are provided and stamp duty must be paid within 14 days.
Conveyancing transactions involve much back-and-forth correspondence. Using experienced conveyancers helps expedite the process smoothly and efficiently.
Choosing a Conveyancer or Solicitor
As conveyancing is such a critical process, it’s essential to choose your advisor carefully. Here are the top tips for selecting a conveyancer:
- Get personal recommendations – From friends, family, colleagues, estate agents etc based on their experiences.
- Check qualifications – Look for specialised licenced conveyancers rather than general high street solicitors.
- Read reviews – On Google, Yell, Trustpilot etc – but balance negative and positive feedback.
- Compare costs – Obtain fee quotes from a shortlist of 2-3 recommended conveyancers.
- Look locally – A conveyancer located nearby can visit the property and liaise in person.
- Assess communication – Gauge responsiveness from initial calls and emails. Prompt replies indicate better service.
- Specialist expertise – Some focus specifically on leasehold, new builds, re-mortgages, etc. Match one suiting your needs.
Taking time to research options, shortlist promising conveyancers, and have initial discussions pays dividends in getting the right advisor on board.
Typical Conveyancer Fees and Costs
Conveyancer average fees range from £500 – £1500, depending on property type and location. Typical costs include:
- Basic legal fee – Covers legally transferring the property from seller to buyer. Quoted upfront.
- Additional disbursements – Payable during conveyancing to cover search fees, registration costs etc. Budget £300-£700 extra.
- HM Land Registry fee – Charged to officially register the new owner. Usually £20-£200 depending on property value.
- Telegraphic transfer fee – Around £30 to electronically transfer the completion funds.
- Stamp duty – Not paid to the conveyancer, but they will handle submission. Dependent on property price.
- VAT – If not VAT-registered, you pay 20% VAT on legal fees.
Conveyancers must provide a clear breakdown of their fees and typical disbursements from the outset, allowing you to budget and compare quotes.
Key Questions to Ask a Potential Conveyancer
When researching conveyancers, make sure you ask these key questions:
- Are you legally registered and qualified?
- How long have you been in business?
- How much is your basic legal fee?
- What disbursements/searches do you charge for?
- How much are your estimated total fees?
- How long will the process take?
- How often will you provide progress updates?
- Do you have a complaints procedure and indemnity insurance?
- What are your terms of business?
Probing on their credentials, costs, and service style helps assess if they’re the right fit. Look for detail and clarity rather than vague or hesitant answers.
What Makes Conveyancing Slower?
A straightforward conveyancing transaction typically takes 8-12 weeks – but several factors can prolong the process:
- Property type – Leaseholds, shared ownerships, and new builds often take longer. More enquiries and legal work are involved.
- Chain issues – Other sales falling through or delays in the buyer/seller chain.
- Mortgage – Complex or delayed mortgage applications add time.
- Searches – Waiting on local authority or water company searches to come back.
- Defects or disputes – Issues flagged on surveys or legal work that require resolution.
- Late information – Delayed response to enquiries from either party. Missing documentation.
- Busy periods – Times like summer holidays or Christmas lead to longer turnarounds from solicitors and councils dealing with high workloads.
While some delays are unavoidable, using an efficient conveyancer minimises hold-ups in elements you can control.
Key Conveyancing Steps for Buyers
As a buyer, these are key steps in the conveyancing process:
Provide ID and proof of funds
Your conveyancer must verify your identity and source of any deposits per anti-money laundering regulations. Send copies of passport, bank statements etc.
Check draft contracts
Review any contracts and documents your conveyancer sends over. Clarify queries proactively.
Arrange building surveys
Instruct any surveys on the property condition early, allowing time to assess any problems found.
Confirm mortgage offer
Providing proof of deposit often comes as a mortgage condition. Keep your lender updated on progress.
Sign a completed contract
When ready, sign the final contract, transfer deed and fixtures/fittings forms you are happy with.
Transfer completion funds
Have full funds for the completion amount available. Your conveyancer will confirm the exact figure and their account details.
Insure the property
Put building insurance in place ready for completion day. Provide proof to the conveyancer.
Prepare for completion
Agree on moving dates, book removals etc. Ensure all parties have access to handovers.
Staying engaged and responsive during conveyancing gets transactions to completion faster.
Key Conveyancing Steps for Sellers
Equally important are the seller’s conveyancing responsibilities:
Provide property information
Gather details on the property, range of contents included in the sale, guarantees, planning consents etc.
Be upfront about any property issues, damage or material facts. Concealing problems could lead to disputes later.
Respond to enquiries
Reply promptly and comprehensively to all enquiries raised by the buyer’s conveyancer following searches.
Agree schedule of contents
Confirm which fixtures, fittings and items will be left and which are excluded. Stick to this.
Commission an up-to-date Energy Performance Certificate if missing or expired.
Declutter before completion
Remove all personal belongings so the property is clear for the buyer on completion day.
Hand over keys
Once funds are received, hand over all sets of keys to the estate agent or directly to the buyer.
Cooperating fully with the conveyancing process ensures transactions stay on track on the seller’s side.
Conveyancing Searches Explained
Conveyancers carry out a raft of searches on properties to uncover potential issues early. Standard searches include:
- Local authority – Covers planning info, building controls, road proposals etc.
- Environmental – Identifies risks like flooding, mining, and radon gas.
- Drainage & water – Confirms connections and identifies potential drainage problems.
- Chancel check – Medieval liability to fund repairs of the local parish church. Rare but checked.
Optional searches that may be recommended:
- Flood risk – If signs property may be prone to flooding.
- Mining – In areas with mining history. Checks for subsidence risks.
- Contaminated land – Where past industrial use may have caused contamination.
Conveyancers may also make enquiries with the Land Registry and Land Charges Registry to identify any legal complications.
Key Questions Conveyancers Ask Sellers
When instructed, conveyancers send pages of questions to sellers to gather all information needed about the property. Typical queries include:
- How long have you owned the property?
- Are you aware of any structural issues, repairs or subsidence?
- What fixtures and fittings are included/excluded from the sale?
- What contents will be left on the property?
- Do you have planning permission, FENSA or building control consent for any works done?
- Are there any guarantees, warranties or manuals for installations like boilers?
- Are there any disputes regarding boundaries, covenants, and access rights?
- Are you currently in dispute with any neighbours?
- Are there any debts secured against the property e.g. equity release?
- Have you completed any sale/rent back agreement on the property?
While exhaustive, fully answering conveyancing enquiries smooths transactions, avoids issues cropping up, and prevents sales from falling through.
Helpful Tips for a Smooth Conveyancing Process
Follow these tips for the best chance of a hitch-free conveyancing transaction:
- Research conveyancers thoroughly and get recommendations
- Provide funds for fees and deposits as quickly as possible when requested
- Chase your mortgage provider if their side is delaying matters
- Respond to conveyancer queries and documents promptly
- Don’t make any substantial changes to your financial circumstances
- Declutter the property and clear any stored possessions before listing
- Gather together property information like warranties, planning consents, guarantees
- Engage the conveyancer as soon as possible once the sale agreed
- Reply to conveyancer enquiries comprehensively and quickly
- Be honest about any property defects or limitations upfront
Proactively managing conveyancing steps speeds up transactions for all parties and gets buyers moving in sooner.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Conveyancing
To avoid major issues that could derail transactions, steer clear of these conveyancing pitfalls:
- Don’t make major finance changes mid-transaction e.g. new debts or credit applications
- Avoid pursuing property renovations or changes before completion
- Don’t commit to a completion date unless your mortgage offer is secured
- Don’t hand over deposit funds without a signed contract in place
- Don’t conceal any defects, boundary issues, or planning breaches when asked
- Don’t stop paying the mortgage out of the belief the sale will settle it
- Don’t pack up and move out before funds have cleared on completion day
- Don’t rely solely on the estate agent – directly engage your conveyancer too
Conveyancing is complex at the best of times – ill-advised actions only serve to complicate matters and delay transactions further.
Using Conveyancers for Remortgaging
Aside from house purchases and sales, conveyancing is also required whenever you remortgage a property. The conveyancer handles:
- Identification checks
- Title searches
- Mortgage redemption figure requests
- Securing post-completion proofs of mortgage for lenders
- Payment of redemption funds to existing lender
- Land registry update application
Legal work is still required to facilitate the change of mortgage lender and borrowing secured against the property. Though less complex than purchase conveyancing, quotes still reach £500-£1000.
Conveyancing When Inheriting Property
If inheriting a property, conveyancing retains an important role:
- Obtaining the official UK grant of probate allowing the property transfer
- Communicating with the estate executor handling the inheritance
- Transferring legal title from the deceased’s name into your ownership
- Submitting the required inheritance tax forms and payments
- Mortgage administration if inheriting an owned property with outstanding borrowing
Though often emotional, conveyancers sensitively guide beneficiaries through the administrative process. Specialist expertise in probate cases is advised. Expect fees around £500-£1500 depending on estate complexity.
Using Conveyancers for Property Auctions
Conveyancing is highly advisable for property auction purchases. The accelerated timescales mean buyers need advice on securing immediate funding and navigating tight deadlines.
While most auction houses offer in-house conveyancing, an independent advisor protects your interests solely. Auction transactions from start to completion typically take 4-6 weeks so require an experienced conveyancer. Costs are around £800-£1200.
When DIY Conveyancing Goes Wrong
Some buyers or sellers opt to attempt handling the legal work themselves to save on conveyancer fees, often following online DIY kits.
This is generally inadvisable – without expertise, vital issues get overlooked such as:
- Lack of local knowledge of property disputes or planning issues
- Missed restrictions and covenants on the title deeds
- Failure to spot defects within limited personal searches
- Inability to endorse key documentation like title transfers
- Struggling to interpret conveyancing jargon in contracts
- Not legally validating identification of parties
Saving a few hundred pounds is a false economy if major problems derail the transaction. Conveyancers have extensive training, resources and experience to reliably avoid pitfalls.
Conveyancing Review Stages
Once you’ve completed the conveyancing process, there are still review stages allowing you to provide feedback:
- Estate agent surveys – Typically sent 6-12 weeks after move-in, covering the whole buying and conveyancing experience.
- Direct conveyancer feedback – Good conveyancers will proactively request feedback. Provide open and honest opinions on service.
- Voluntary reviews – Consider leaving opinions of your conveyancer on sites like Trustpilot to help others.
- Property portals – When reporting the sale as sold, you may be able to leave feedback on the conveyancing service.
- Direct feedback – Just as buyers do, conveyancers want testimonials from happy clients to aid marketing.
Don’t miss opportunities to report back. Your reviews help conveyancers enhance services while providing insight for new clients.
Conveyancing for Joint Property Ownership
Jointly purchasing with family or a partner? Conveyancing processes are largely the same but with a few distinctions:
- ID and funds checks are required for all named owners
- Joint mortgage applications if borrowing together
- All buyers must sign contracts – delays if one party needs to chase
- The completed transfer deed registers the ownership shares of each party
- Separate legal representation is optional if co-owners want independent advice
Expect slightly higher legal fees to cover additional administration like multiple ID checks. But otherwise, the conveyancing process aligns with standard transactions.
Conveyancing Jargon Explained
Like most legal processes, conveyancing comes loaded with jargon that can easily confuse buyers and sellers alike. Here are some key terms demystified:
- Disbursements – Additional outlays like search fees are covered by the client separately from the main legal fees.
- Fixtures and fittings – Items and installations forming part of the property sale, e.g. kitchen appliances.
- Land registry fee – Fee paid to formally register a change of property ownership on completion.
- Local searches – Checks on aspects like planning history and environmental risks for the property.
- SDLT – Stamp Duty Land Tax payable to HMRC on completion. Rate based on property price.
- Title deeds – Legal documents proving ownership and any associated property rights.
- Transfer deed – Legal document transferring ownership from seller to buyer on completion.
- TT fee – Telegraphic transfer fee for electronically sending completion funds.
Knowing some of the terminology ahead of time helps understand the process and queries raised during conveyancing.
Using Conveyancers for Property Development
For property developers acquiring sites and progressing major projects, conveyancers are an essential advisory partner:
- Advise on-site options and identify potential title issues ahead of acquisition
- Handle negotiations and contracts for conditional site purchases
- Conduct rigorous site searches/surveys to validate viability and uncover risks
- Oversee site acquisitions and identify required consents for development works
- Administer overage agreements and rights of pre-emption attached to sites
- Prepare section 106 agreements and community infrastructure levy (CIL) requirements
- Discharge relevant title conditions to allow development to proceed
- Transfer ownership of the completed site and individual plots/units
Their expertise ensures sites are acquired compliantly and projects delivered successfully from a legal perspective. Expect fees from £2,000+ depending on site complexity.
How Technology Is Improving Conveyancing
Technology is already enhancing aspects of the conveyancing process:
- Case tracking apps – Allow clients 24/7 visibility on their transaction status and key dates.
- Client portals – Provide secure direct access to case files and documents.
- Automated reporting – Updates clients when key milestone events occur.
- Blockchain – Could enable property information sharing between conveyancers to reduce duplication.
- e-signatures – Digital signature tools like DocuSign enable faster signing of transfer deeds.
- AI data checking – Can automatically flag up issues on forms clients complete.
Ongoing investment aims to digitise more elements, improving transparency and speed. But human oversight remains essential given the complex legalities involved.
Conveyancing Regulations and Redress
If you have serious concerns about your conveyancer’s conduct or service standards, there are regulatory bodies providing oversight and complaint resolution:
- Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – The regulatory body for qualified solicitors in England and Wales. Investigates serious misconduct allegations.
- Council for Licenced Conveyancers (CLC) – Regulates licenced conveyancers. Also deals with complaints if unresolved directly.
- Legal Ombudsman – Provides independent redress for unsettled grievances with lawyers. Can award compensation up to £50,000.
- Financial Services Compensation Scheme – Compensates clients up to £85,000 in the rare event a conveyancing firm goes bankrupt or into administration. (Note most firms have insurance covering substantially higher losses)
Serious issues can be escalated if a conveyancer fails to address problems satisfactorily internally first. But formal complaints are rare – pick your advisor carefully from the outset and conveyancing usually goes smoothly!
Stamp Duty Land Tax Explained
A key part of the conveyancing process is handling payment of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) owed to HMRC on completion. Key points for buyers to note:
- SDLT is based on the property purchase price in brackets, with rates from 0% to 12%
- Payable on residential and commercial property purchases in England and Northern Ireland
- Paid within 14 days of completion or penalties apply
- The conveyancer calculates and submits payment on the buyer’s behalf
Ensure you transfer your conveyancer funds to cover SDLT shortly before completion. This prevents delays in paying taxes and claiming ownership.
Conveyancing Summary for Buyers and Sellers
In summary, efficient conveyancing ensures property transactions are completed safely and swiftly. To recap:
- Research conveyancers thoroughly and compare services.
- Provide funds for disbursements/SDLT when requested.
- Query unclear contract terms – don’t just blindly sign.
- Respond promptly to inquiries throughout.
- Have funds ready for exchange deposits and completion.
- Gather together property details like warranties, consents, manuals.
- Disclose any property defects or limitations upfront.
- Reply to conveyancer questions fully and quickly.
- Stick to agreed contents to be included in the sale.
- Ensure the property is clear of possessions on completion.
One question often asked in the process is, “how long does conveyancing take?” Conveyancing sets transactions up for success when managed proactively. With the right advice and preparation on both sides, you can navigate even complex sales and purchases smoothly.