What does a conveyancer do?




You'll need to hire a professional to carry out the legal work behind buying a home. But what can you expect from the service? Find out here.

What is a conveyancer?

A conveyancer carries out the legal work that’s involved in transferring the ownership (or Title) of property from one person to another.

Most of the time this is a solicitor, but it could equally be a property lawyer or licensed conveyancer. In any case, they should be registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

Here's a rough step-by-step guide of what they will do for your money.

Step 1: Open the purchase file

The conveyancer will kick off by sending you a letter setting out the terms of business and requesting information and documents such as your date of birth and National Insurance number, and passport or driving licence.

You’ll need to supply details of your estate agent, state whether or not you need a mortgage (and, if so, who the lender is) and where the deposit is coming from. This will all form the what's known as the purchase file.

At this point, you can ask your conveyancer to quote you a fixed-fee estimate. But bear in mind this will only be based on the information you’ve provided and it could change if the legal work becomes more complex.

Step 2: Request fee for searches

A Local Authority search, which reveals any rights over the property – public rights of way, or compulsory purchase orders for example – can take several weeks. So, hand over the search fees to your solicitor now so they can get the ball rolling.

Around £300 should cover the Local Authority search as well as the Environmental and Water searches.

Step 3: Get to grips with the ‘chain’

Your solicitor will now request a notification (or memorandum) of sale from the estate agent, which lists the solicitors acting for every party along the chain. Your solicitor will then contact the seller’s solicitors and let them know they’ve been instructed to act for you in your property purchase.

Step 4: Get paperwork from the seller’s solicitor

The seller’s solicitor will draw up a draft contract and send it to your solicitor with a copy of the Title Deeds of the property you are buying.

All Deeds have been stored electronically at the Land Registry since 1990. This means that, providing the home has been sold since then, they should be available online.

However, if there have been no transactions since 1990, the land may be unregistered. In this case, ownership can be proved only with the original paper Title Deeds. These are usually kept in the safe of the bank that mortgaged the property, or held personally by the seller.

Your solicitor will also be sent the protocol documents, which include the following.

  • Seller’s Property Information Form, in which the seller must disclose everything from neighbour disputes to the date the boiler was last serviced.
  • Fittings and Contents Form, which specifies what will be removed and what will remain in the property after the sale.
  • Leasehold Information Form. If you’re buying a lease (usually a flat or apartment) this sets out details such as ground rent and the name of the freeholder or management company

Step 5: Checks and queries

Now’s the time for your solicitor to go through the paperwork – and every search as it comes back – with a fine-toothed comb and raise any queries with the seller’s solicitor. These could include anything from discrepancies on the Deeds, to environmental searches which flag risks such as flooding or contaminated land.

Step 6: Collect signatures

When every ‘i’ has been dotted, and ‘t’ crossed, your solicitor will send you the documents to sign and return. Most can be emailed to you, although some are so lengthy they’ll have to be sent by post.

Step 7: Take the deposit

Next, your solicitor will now ask you for a deposit of 10% of the property purchase price. If you’re taking a 95% mortgage, it will only be 5%.

If you’re paying online, note that banks can impose daily limits of around £10,000. In this case, you can make separate payments over several days.

Alternatively, you can do it by CHAPS (telegraphic transfer). If you make payment before 3pm, it will clear the same day. A CHAPS transfer costs between £10 and £35 depending on your bank.

Step 8: Line up the chain for exchange and completion  

Your solicitor should now be in touch for a convenient date for the Move – also known as completion. This date will need to be agreed with the seller and every other party down the chain. Then, your solicitor can start working towards a date at which you can exchange contracts.

Don't book a removals firm until you have a completion date finalised. If the date changes further down the line, it could cost you to cancel or rearrange.

Step 9: Exchange

Exchange can only happen once the sellers at the top of the chain have had their contract released. It can then cascade down and usually must be concluded by a specified deadline.

Your 10% (or 5%) deposit, now sitting as cleared funds in your solicitor’s account, is paid to the seller and a completion date is finalised, fixed and added to the contract.

The purchase is now legally binding. If you back out after exchange, you will you lose your deposit. And if you fail to complete by the deadline cited in the paperwork you’ll be in breach of contract too and could even be sued by the seller for loss and inconvenience.

Step 10: Complete

Your solicitor will now send you the final completion statement and request any outstanding monies. This means all disbursements (ie, what the solicitor has paid to third parties on your behalf, such as stamp duty and management company fees) as well as the cost of the legal work itself.

Any money you’ve already paid – such as for searches – will be deducted from your bill.

This is also the point at which your solicitor will request the mortgage money from your chosen lender. Remember, these funds must be cleared before completion can take place.

On completion day, your solicitor will send all this money to the seller’s solicitors by same-day CHAPS transfer. Once it's arrived safely, they will telephone to confirm completion and authorise the estate agent to release the keys for your new home to you.

Last leg: Register change of ownership

Finally, after you're in, your solicitor will log the transfer of ownership with the Land Registry. When this has been done, you’ll be sent a copy of the document, along with any available paper Deeds, as guarantees.

If the property is leasehold, your solicitor will also 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. 

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