How does a conveyancer help you buy a house?

How does a conveyancer help you buy a house?

By Laura Howard

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You've found your perfect home and it’s time to appoint a conveyancer or solicitor to help you buy it. Here’s what a conveyancer does and how they’ll help you, from start to moving day.

Your offer has been accepted on a home you love. 

Once your heart rate has returned to normal, the next job is to instruct a solicitor or conveyancer to help you with the purchase.

What do conveyancers do?

A conveyancer or solicitor handles the legal side of buying a property and transferring home ownership.

They work on your behalf to find out everything you need to know about a home.

They run local searches, check boundaries, negotiate key dates and get the contract ready for you to sign.

With a conveyancer or solicitor on your side, you can feel confident you won’t get any nasty surprises down the line.

What’s the difference between a conveyancer and a solicitor?

Conveyancers and solicitors both do the same job in the purchase of a house. It’s up to you which one you choose.

The difference is that conveyancers are specialist property lawyers. They mainly deal with buying and selling residential properties.

Solicitors are qualified lawyers, so they can offer a full range of legal services alongside the home buying process.

If you choose a solicitor, it’s worth checking that they are experienced in property. It may not be their specialist area.

Both conveyancers and solicitors are fully regulated and insured to handle your home purchase.

How much do conveyancing fees cost?

Fees for a conveyancer or solicitor can cost between £850 and £2,000. 

The cost depends on how complex the purchase of your new home is and if any extra legal work crops up.

Solicitors can be more expensive than conveyancers as they can offer a full range of legal services.

How long does the conveyancing process take?

Be prepared for the conveyancing process to take several weeks, depending on the complexity of the purchase.

Your conveyancer should keep you in the loop the whole time.

“You are only ever as quick as the slowest firm in the chain,” says Linda Kirk, Director at Adkirk Law.

How can I find a good conveyancer or solicitor?

Shop around before you make a decision on a conveyancer or solicitor.

They’ll be responsible for the legal side of your property purchase, and any mistakes could be costly for you.

You want someone who will check every detail, get answers for you and keep the process moving.

Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest quote. It can be worth paying a bit more for good service and open communication.

You can find a good conveyancer or solicitor by:

  • asking friends and family for a recommendation
  • comparing conveyancing firms on a comparison website
  • asking your mortgage lender, broker or estate agent for a recommendation (but this may be more expensive than finding one yourself)
  • Checking reviews and ratings online
  • searching for a conveyancer on the Council for Licenced Conveyancers. All conveyancers must be a member of the Council.

What is the role of a conveyancer when buying a house?

A conveyancer or solicitor will handle all the legal aspects of buying a property for you.

From sorting the searches to arranging a completion date, here's what they do in more detail.

  1. Open the purchase file
  2. Request fees for searches
  3. Get the lowdown on ‘the chain’ from the estate agent
  4. Receive all paperwork from the seller’s solicitor
  5. Raise queries and carry out checks (and more checks)
  6. Send watertight paperwork to you to sign
  7. Request your initial deposit
  8. Line up parties along the chain for exchange and completion 
  9. Exchange
  10. Completion
  11. Register change of ownership
An adult wearing glasses speaking with a client over his laptop

1. Open the purchase file

Your conveyancer will open the purchase file and send you a letter setting down the terms of business. 

This includes a fixed fee estimate for the work and the deposit you need to pay upfront. 

Be aware that the fee is an estimate. It could change if the legal work becomes more complex than expected, but your conveyancer should tell you in advance if this happens.

They’ll need to know: 

  • your contact information
  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number 
  • passport or driving license
  • details of your estate agent
  • whether you need a mortgage and which lender you’re using 
  • where the deposit is coming from

2. Request fees for searches

Next, your conveyancer will start to run searches on the property. They’ll ask you for payment to cover the cost of the searches, which is usually around £300. 

Searches can take several weeks to process, so it’s good to get the ball rolling early on.

Local authority searches 

Your conveyancer will run searches with your local authority to find any:

  • planning proposals for new roads or rail schemes
  • breaches of planning regulations on the home you’re buying
  • enforcement notices for the property (when something has been built without planning permission and needs to be rectified)
  • compulsory purchase orders (when a public body can force a homeowner to sell up if their property obstructs a regeneration project or it's for the ‘greater public good’)

Environmental, water and drainage searches

A drainage and water search looks into the sewer connections and water supply to your property.

It also confirms if any water mains or sewers are located on the property itself. This is particularly useful if you're planning to extend, as you may not be able to build over them.

The environmental search looks into past uses of the land on and around the property to check if it’s contaminated.

Estate agents working together at a desk in an office

3. Get the lowdown on ‘the chain’ from the estate agent

Next, your conveyancer will ask the seller's estate agent for a notification of sale (also known as a memorandum of sale).

This contains the name and address of the buyer and the seller, the conveyancers’ details for each party in the chain, and the agreed sale price.

Your conveyancer will then contact the seller’s solicitor or conveyancer to let them know they’ve been instructed to act for you on the purchase of the property.

4. Receive all paperwork from the seller’s conveyancer

As soon as the seller’s conveyancer has drawn up the draft contract, they’ll send it to your conveyancer.

They'll also send a copy of the Title (or ‘Deeds’) for the property.

Providing the home has been sold at least once since 1990, the Title will be electronically recorded with the Land Registry and available online. 

If not, the property could be unregistered. This means ownership can only be proved with the original hard copy of the Title Deeds. 

‘The original hard copy is usually held in Deeds storage by the bank that has/had the mortgage on the property, or by the seller themselves,’ says Kirk.

Along with the draft contract and Deeds, your solicitor will be sent the property's 'protocol documents'. These include:

  • A Seller’s Property Information Form, in which the seller must disclose everything they know about the home, from neighbour disputes to when the boiler was last serviced.
  • Fittings and Contents Form, which outlines what will be left and removed from the property as part of the sale.
  • Leasehold Information Form. If the property you’re buying is leasehold (usually a flat or apartment) this will set out factors such as the amount of ground rent payable and contact details for the freeholders and/or management company.

5. Raise queries and carry out checks (and more checks)

Your conveyancer will now go through this paperwork – and every search as it comes back – with a fine-toothed comb.

They’ll raise any questions and queries they have with the seller’s conveyancer.

“Queries could range from a discrepancy on the Deeds to the environmental search showing up potential flood risks,” says Kirk.

Getting to the bottom of any issues can delay the process by weeks but it’s imperative it’s done correctly.

Conveyancers and solicitors follow a code of conduct and they must also comply with your mortgage lender's requirements. If they don't, they could be negligent.

6. Send watertight paperwork for you to sign

When every 'i' has been dotted and 't' crossed, your conveyancer will send you all the checked documents to sign and return.

They can usually be emailed to you, but some are so extensive they have to be posted. 

You can sign, scan and email some documents, such as the Instruction Form and Seller’s Property Information Form.

But others documents, such as the Deeds, require an original signature.

7. Request your initial deposit

Next, your conveyancer will ask you for a deposit of 10% of the purchase price (unless you are taking out a 95% mortgage, in which case only 5% is due).

This payment can be made by online banking transfer – although bear in mind that some banks have a daily limit, which can be as low as £10,000.

‘If you have time, you could make several payments over several days,’ says Kirk.

Check your bank’s transaction limit on fasterpayments.org.uk.

Alternatively, you can make the payment through your bank if they use CHAPS, a high-value payment system from the Bank of England. 

As long as you make a CHAPS payment before 3pm, it will clear that day. The cost of a CHAPS transfer varies between banks, but it's usually between £25 and £35.

A family moving into their new home with their dog and lots of cardboard boxes

8. Line up parties along the chain for exchange and completion 

Your conveyancer will ask you for a date that's convenient for you to move into your new home. This move-in day is also called the completion date.

Your conveyancer will try to agree this date with the seller’s conveyancer and people further along the chain.

‘Sometimes the chain has difficulty agreeing a mutually convenient date,’ says Kirk. ‘But being willing to compromise is one of the best ways to avoid delays.’

Once you've agreed a completion date, your conveyancer will work backwards to agree a date to exchange contracts.

Don’t make moving arrangements until you have a definitive completion date. If you book in removal companies or deliveries which you are then forced to cancel, you could end up losing money.

9. Exchange contracts

The seller at the bottom of the chain will need to be the first to have their contract released and ready for exchange.

Once the process starts, exchange will cascade up the chain and will be concluded within the timeframe set. Once the process has been completed, the completion date cannot then be changed.

The 10% (or 5%) deposit you paid into your conveyancer's account will be paid to the seller on exchange of contracts. The date agreed for completion is then fixed in the contract.

Th exchange is the point at which the purchase becomes legally binding.

‘If you back out after exchanging signed contracts, there are serious consequences,’ says Kirk.

‘Not only will you lose the deposit, if you don’t complete on the fixed completion date stated in the contract, you’ll be in breach of contract too.'

‘This means the seller could sue you for inconvenience and costs they’ve incurred as a result of your breach.’

10. Completion

Your conveyancer will then send you the final completion statement. Any outstanding balance due in order to complete is now payable.

This includes all disbursements, which are the charges the solicitor pays to third parties on your behalf, such as stamp duty. It also includes the cost of the legal work itself.

Any money you’ve paid in advance, such as for searches, will be deducted from the balance due.

Your conveyancer will also request the balance of the mortgage amount from your bank or building society.

On the day of completion, your conveyancer will send this balance, along with any other fees payable (ground rent and service charge on flats, for example), to the seller’s conveyancer by same-day CHAPS transfer.

Once the cash has landed with the seller’s conveyancer, they’ll telephone to confirm completion and authorise the estate agent to release the keys to you.

11. Register change of ownership

Your conveyancer's job is not over quite yet.

They need to log the change of ownership with the Land Registry.

Following completion, the seller’s conveyancer will send the signed Deed – which now shows the transfer of property from the seller’s name to yours – to your conveyancer.

Your conveyancer will submit it, together with the Mortgage Deed, to the Land Registry for registration.

'This is normally carried out electronically, although if it’s a new-build or first registration the application has to be posted,' says Kirk.

Once the Land Registry has completed the registration, you’ll be sent an Office Copy, which is proof of your ownership (and the Deeds where they exist) along with any guarantees for your new property.

They’ll also transfer any stamp duty you’re liable for on the purchase to HM Revenue & Customs on your behalf.

If you have purchased a leasehold property, your conveyancer will notify the landlord or management company that the lease has been assigned to you. That way, they know who to send any service charges and ground rent bills to.