The conveyancing process is the formal transfer of ownership of a property from the old owner, the seller, to the new owner, the buyer.
A conveyancer is responsible for a multitude of processes, namely;
- To enable their client to either buy or sell the property by completing the necessary legal paperwork
- To ensure all processes, such as the searches and survey are carried out correctly and in a timely manner
- When the buyer is obtaining a mortgage, the conveyancer will carry out a range of tasks on behalf of the lender
The Step by Step Conveyancer Process
Step One: Obtain Title Deeds from the Land Registry
Once the seller’s conveyancer has received details of the sale, they will need to locate the Title Deeds for the property. If the title has already been registered with the land registry, this should be a straightforward process that can be conducted electronically. However, if the title has not been registered with the land registry, this can cause delays as the registration process will have to take place before the process can begin. According to the Land Registry themselves, upto 30% of land across England and Wales is currently unregistered, so it should not be taken for granted that your property will have been automatically registered, especially if it has not been on the market for a long time previously.
Step Two: Prepare the Contract
The seller’s conveyancer will typically prepare a set of documents to send to the buyer’s conveyancer including the following;
- The duplicate draft contract that identifies the parties, property, price and any extra details to be included in the sale
- An official copy of the title deeds from the HM Land Registry, setting out the boundaries of the property and any other land related matters
- The relevant paperwork and forms including a fixtures and fittings list, as well as copies of any pertinent planning permissions or guarantees
Upon receiving this set of documents, the buyer’s conveyancer may raise additional questions relating to the paperwork, before sending back an approved copy of the contract so the process can continue.
Step Three: Local Land Charges Search
The Local Land Charges Search, often just referred to as the Search, will be conducted by the buyer’s conveyancer and sent to the Local Authority for a response. Every local authority is different, but in our experience this search can take between two to six weeks to complete. Some local authorities offer online searches that offer immediate results, however not all conveyancers offer this option.
If there are delays or backlogs at the local authority, a conveyancer can conduct a “Personal Search”, for an extra fee, where the search is undertaken in person at each of the relevant departments.
The purpose of the search is to reveal matters relating to the individual property, such as planning restrictions for the specific property, and any new road proposals within 200 metres. This search does not disclose any planning applications or permissions for adjacent properties however.
The buyer’s conveyancer will wait for the results of the search before proceeding with the exchange of the contracts, so that they can advise the buyer and mortgage lender of any problems.
Step Four: Buyer’s Mortgage Offer
The buyer’s conveyancer will need to receive the buyer’s mortgage offer before proceeding with the exchange of contracts. Confusion often arises at what constitutes a mortgage offer. A confirmation that a bank / building society will offer you a mortgage ‘subject to survey and employer’s reference’ is not a formal mortgage offer that will be accepted by the conveyancer.
Instead, a formal offer will be needed, which sets out the full details of the terms of the mortgage. A copy of the formal mortgage offer is sent to the buyer, whilst another copy, along with the mortgage lender's instructions, will be sent to the buyer’s conveyancer. Some lenders will require the mortgage offer to be signed by the buyer, however not all do.
Typically, a mortgage offer is valid for three months. Should the buyer require this offer to be extended longer than three months, they will need to approach the lender to discuss an extension of the offer.
Once the mortgage offer is received, the conveyancer will ensure that the conditions are reasonable. They will check the amount is correct and whether there are any retentions or undertakings, which are conditions that a lender may impose which potentially affect the amount of money available to borrow.
The conveyancer will then prepare for the signing of the contracts. It is at this stage that the buyer must pay their deposit.
Step Five: Deposit
Once the buyer’s conveyancer is happy that soon the full chain of buyers and sellers is soon to be ready to exchange contracts, they will request that the buyer signs the contract. Typically, a 10% deposit will then be paid.
The deposit money will be held in the conveyancer’s Client Account, which is a strictly governed safeguard for the funds. The conveyancer is legally not able to make payments from the Client Account on behalf of the client until the deposit cheque has cleared. However, a Bankers Draft or Building Society cheque is almost always guaranteed to clear so is as good as depositing cash into the account, allowing the conveyancer to make payments immediately upon receipt of such a deposit.
Step Six: Exchange of Contracts
Before the exchange of contracts can occur, a few conditions must be met by the buyer’s conveyancer:
- Be in possession of a signed contract
- Have received cleared funds deposit
- Set a completion date in conjunction with other parties in the chain
- Be satisfied with all enquiries and questions
- Hold a valid formal mortgage offer
- Ensured all parties in the chain are ready
Once these conditions have been met, the conveyancers can simultaneously exchange. From this point, the transaction becomes legally binding.
The exchanging of contracts does not need to take place in person, they can be exchanged over the telephone. For chains involving multiple properties, the buyer’s conveyancer may release a contract for a short specified period of time so that the exchange can take place at any time during that period.
Step Seven: In preparation for Completion Day
Whilst exchanging contracts is a big relief for everyone involved in the chain, the hard work doesn’t stop there!
The buyer’s conveyancer will still be required to carry out the final searches as required by the buyer’s mortgage lender:
- To carry out a Land Registry Search to ensure that the seller has not changed anything on the Deeds relating to the title, and to register the buyer as the new owner
- As it is a criminal offence to borrow money when an undischarged bankrupt, they will conduct a Bankruptcy Search
- A Report on Title will be carried out by the conveyancer prior to completion day. A buyer should ascertain whether their conveyancer is approved to undertake this work, or whether a third party conveyancer is required. Should a third party be required, this will slow down the process.
The seller’s conveyancer will be responsible for checking with the seller’s mortgage lender (where applicable) for any outstanding mortgage payments on the property, as well as calculating the seller’s fees.
Typically, conveyancers request 7 days between exchange of contracts and completion so that they can carry out their final checks, however this time period is not a legal requirement and in certain circumstances, the exchange and completion can take place on the same day, however specialist advice should be sought if this is to be pursued. If the property in question is a new build, the exchange date might be separated from the completion date by multiple months to allow for the property to be built.
Step Eight: After Completion Day
The buyer’s conveyancer will check the deeds, and send them to the Land Registry for registration of the new ownership of the property. If stamp duty is payable, the transfer will be sent to the Inland Revenue. Once all of the work has been completed, the Deeds are sent to the lender as they have the first charge on the property.
Confused? Don't worry, our team of local property experts will help to put your mind at ease and take the stress out of the whole process. For any questions throughout your move, our team are always on hand to help.