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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Conveyancing for buyers

Conveyancing is the process of legally transferring ownership of a property from the seller to the buyer. It includes the various searches and checks and any final tasks following the sale. Find out what happens at each stage and what you need to do as a buyer.

Conveyancing: transferring the ownership of property

There are five main stages of conveyancing for a buyer:

  1. Pre-contractual stage
  2. Exchange of contracts
  3. Between exchange and completion
  4. Completion
  5. After completion

Buying a home typically takes around two to three months.

Making payments through your conveyancer

You’ll need to make payments to the seller during the conveyancing process. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer may ask you for the money in advance so payments can be made without delay.

1. Pre-contractual stage

Once you’ve made an offer, legal documents are prepared to transfer ownership from the seller to you.

The seller draws up a contract – you can negotiate its terms if necessary. If you’ve instructed a solicitor or licensed conveyancer, they will carry out this work and advise you on the contract.

The contract details include:

  • the selling price
  • the property’s boundaries
  • what fixtures and fittings, like carpets, are included
  • legal restrictions or rights on the property
  • planning restrictions
  • a description of the services to the property, for example drainage and gas
  • the date for completing the purchase (called ‘completion’)

Researching the property

Before you sign and exchange the contract, you and your solicitor or conveyancer should find out as much as possible about the property.

The seller doesn’t have to voluntarily tell you about problems with the property or neighbourhood. The seller should, however, reply truthfully to enquiries. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will do a number of searches and checks including:

  • checking the ‘title’ – the legal document that proves the seller’s ownership
  • asking the local authority about planned works, like roadworks or new developments, that might affect the property
  • enquiries to the seller’s solicitor or licensed conveyancer about the contract details

There may be other searches depending on the type of property. For example, if your property is in an area where there have been mines, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will need to do a mining check.

Getting home insurance for the property

You are usually responsible for insuring the property as soon as contracts are exchanged.

Getting a property survey

You should get a property survey before the exchange of contracts, to uncover any problems with the building. See ‘Property surveys’ to find out more.

Getting your mortgage in place

If you’re using a mortgage, you’ll need a formal mortgage offer from your lender before you sign the contract. The lender will send documents for you or your solicitor or conveyancer to sign. See ‘Mortgage application process’ to find out more.

2. Exchange of contracts

When the buyer and seller are happy with the contract, they sign final copies and send them to each other. This is called the exchange of contracts.

Once contracts are exchanged, the agreement to sell and buy is legally binding and usually neither party can pull out without paying compensation.

Buyers usually pay the seller a deposit (normally ten per cent of the purchase price) at the exchange of contracts stage.

3. Between exchange and completion

There are often a few further checks to be done at this stage. If not dealt with already, your solicitor or conveyancer will:

  • prepare the legal documents to transfer ownership
  • check mortgage documents
  • make sure they have all the necessary funds, including their own fees
  • arrange for the transfer of funds to the seller
  • do final Land Registry checks
  • check all agreed tasks set out in the contract have been done
  • check that fixtures and fittings have been left as agreed

4. Completion

Once all matters between exchange and completion are dealt with, the money for the property is transferred from buyer to seller. The sale is now completed and the keys are handed over. The property now belongs to the buyer.

At this stage, you will:

  • receive the keys on the agreed date
  • pay the seller the remainder of the property cost through your solicitor or licensed conveyancer
  • receive the legal documents that prove ownership
  • pay your solicitor’s or licensed conveyancer’s fees, if not already done

5. After completion

At this stage, you (or more usually your solicitor or licensed conveyancer) will need to:

  • register the change of ownership with Land Registry
  • pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (Stamp Duty)

You’ll also need to tell your insurers that completion has taken place.

For more about Stamp Duty see ‘Tax on buying property’.

Finding someone to do the conveyancing

Many people hire someone who is professionally trained to do the conveyancing, but you could do it yourself. ‘Finding a solicitor or conveyancer’ explains how to find someone who is qualified and what to consider if you want to do the conveyancing yourself.

Conveyancing in Scotland

In Scotland, the process of conveyancing is slightly different. To find out more, see the Shelter Scotland website.

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