If you’re planning to buy or sell a property, you’ll certainly want to know how the conveyancing process works and how long you can expect it to take. Even if you currently own property or you’ve purchased real estate in the past, learning more about the conveyancing process in the UK can help to speed up future property transactions in the future and even enable you to reduce your costs.

With this in mind, read on to find out everything you need to know about conveyancing and what to expect as part of the conveyancing process:

What is the Conveyancing Process?

Conveyancing is the legal process by which ownership of a property is transferred from one person to another. If you’re buying a property with someone else, such as a partner, or purchasing a property from a third party, the conveyancing process UK might involve transferring the ownership of the property from two or more people to more than one person.

Similarly, the commercial property conveyancing process may involve transferring the ownership of a property from one company or entity to another.

Why is the Conveyancing Legal Process Necessary?

We enter into contracts and buy and sell things all of the time, so why is a special process required when it comes to buying and selling property? Well, the act of buying/selling real estate is more complicated than transferring ownership of a car or purchasing an item in a shop. There are more things that can go wrong, which means both parties need to be legally protected.

Furthermore, property is a major asset, which means a significant proportion of your finances is tied to the real estate you’re buying / selling. Due to this, the extra safeguards that the conveyancing process puts in place can protect your investment and give you peace of mind.

In addition to this, it’s important to remember that other parties may have a vested interest in verifying the details of the transaction. If you’re taking out a mortgage to finance a property purchase, for example, the mortgage lender will want to ensure that the property meets relevant criteria before accepting it as collateral on a secured loan.

The Conveyancing Process Explained

In the UK, the conveyancing process is designed to ensure that title deeds of a specific property (and the land beneath it) transfer from the current owner(s) to the intended new owner(s) in accordance with any agreements between the parties.

To facilitate this, conveyancers will undertake a number of duties, including:

  • Drafting contracts.
  • Obtaining copies of mortgage offers.
  • Undertake local authority searches to determine whether any charges or encumbrances have been placed on the property.
  • Analyse the results of local authority searches.
  • Confirm property details with relevant mortgagors.
  • Facilitating the exchange of contracts
  • Transferring a deposit from the buyer to the seller.
  • Notifying HMRC and dealing with Stamp Duty Land Tax liabilities.
  • Transferring the title deeds of the property.

As you can see, there are many specialist tasks a conveyancer will complete throughout the course of a property transaction. For buyers and sellers, however, the two most notable milestones in the process are the exchange of contracts and the completion of the sale.

When contracts are exchanged between the two parties, it essentially means that they are bound to go through with the transaction. At this point, the buyer typically pays a deposit to the seller. If they subsequently pull out of the transaction, the buyer will lose this deposit. However, the seller still retains ownership of the property, even when contracts have been exchanged.

It is not until the transaction is completed (sometimes known as the ‘completion date’), that the title is actually transferred. At this point, the buyer becomes the new owner and legal titles are transferred.

The Conveyancing Process Step by Step

To get a clearer idea of the conveyancing process timeline UK, take a look at this step-by-step guide and find out what to expect when you’re buying or selling a property:

1. Instruct a Conveyancer

If you want to buy or sell real estate, you’ll need to find a conveyancer who can provide you with the requisite assistance and advice. In the UK, you’ll find that some solicitors specialise in conveyancing and can also provide other legal services. Alternatively, you could hire a licenced conveyancer, who won’t be able to deliver additional legal services but who does specialise in the conveyancing process.

Choosing a conveyancer can seem tricky, particularly if this is the first time you’ve bought or sold a property. However, seeking recommendations from trusted friends and family members can be a good place to start. In addition to this, you’ll want to talk to potential conveyancers and confirm their experience, availability, and fees.

2. Drafting an Initial Contract

It is the seller’s conveyancer who usually drafts an initial contract, based on the verbal agreements made by the parties. This document should contain specific information relating to the proposed transaction, such as the agreed price and any particulars regarding fixtures and fittings in the property.

Once complete, the draft contract will be sent to the buyer’s conveyancer. He or she will also send information regarding the property, such as the property’s legal title so that it can be examined in more detail.

3. Analysing the Draft Contract

At this stage in the conveyancing process timeline, the buyer’s conveyancer will examine the draft contract and the property information that’s been supplied by the seller’s conveyancing team. If necessary, additional enquiries will be made to verify the accuracy of the information supplied.

The buyer’s conveyancer will carry out a number of searches independently. This may include checking whether the land is subject to any right of ways or confirming whether any unregistered charges affect the property. Similarly, a professional survey or a series of surveys may be carried out to confirm whether there are any issues relating to the structure or its function.

Although some of these searches are essential, others are optional. While only choosing to have essential checks carried out can reduce the cost of the conveyancing process, it does increase the risk of unexpected issues arising at a later date. Furthermore, some mortgage companies will insist that particular searches are completed prior to making a mortgage offer.

4. Approving the Draft Contract

In most cases, the initial draft contract will be modified before it’s signed by both parties. The outcome of property searches or confirmation of what fittings are to be left might mean that clauses need to be inserted, removed, or adjusted, for example.

Once both parties are happy with the draft contract, it can be approved and each party can sign it, ready for them to be exchanged.

5. Applying for a Mortgage

Before this point, the buyers will begin the process of applying for a mortgage, if they intend to rely on one in order to fund the purchase. You can’t apply for a mortgage until you can specify which property you need the mortgage for, which is why potential buyers don’t proceed with this earlier. However, many mortgage firms will provide ‘pre-approval’, which essentially means that they’re agreeing to grant you a mortgage in theory.

If your conveyancer is a solicitor, they may handle this part of the process for you. If not, the buyer will need to instruct a separate solicitor to check the terms of the mortgage contract and send copies to the mortgagor when the buyer has signed the contract.

6. Exchanging Contracts

When the contracts are exchanged between the buyer and seller, both parties are legally committing to the transaction. The ownership of the property doesn’t change at this point in the conveyancing process timeline, but each party is duty-bound to proceed with the transaction.

Usually, the buyer will pay a pre-agreed deposit to the seller at this stage. In practical terms, the buyer transfers funds to their conveyancer or solicitor, who arranges for them to be transferred to the seller’s legal representative.

If either party tries to adjust the contract terms following the exchange or if either party drops out of the transaction, serious financial consequences will arise. The buyer will lose the deposit they’ve paid, for example, and either party can be held liable for any loss that the other party has suffered.

Due to this, it’s extremely important that all of the contract details and the property has been properly checked and verified prior to the contracts being exchanged. Fortunately, a good conveyancer will ensure that this has been done before advising you to exchange contracts.

7. Final Checks and Transactions

After the contract has been exchanged, there are still some final checks that need to be carried out as part of the conveyancing process UK. It’s common for bankruptcy searches and a final Land Registry search to be carried out at this time, for example. Often, the contract will include clauses that relate to any potential issues arising from these searches.

Additionally, the formal transfer deed can now be signed, and the mortgage funds are requested from the mortgage company and transferred to the buyer’s solicitor, ready for the sale to be finalised. The seller’s solicitor will also determine how much is left to pay (the agreed sale price minus the deposit that has been paid) and confirm this.

8. Completion

The completion date is the penultimate step in the conveyancing process. The buyer’s solicitor will transfer funds to the seller’s solicitors and the sellers will vacate the property so that the buyers can take possession.

Although completion doesn’t actually take place until the seller’s solicitors have received the funds for the property, neither the seller nor the buyer has to be present for this to occur. In fact, the use of electronic transfers means that this is often done without representatives from either party meeting face-to-face.

9. Post Completion Conveyancing Process

Although the buyers can move into the property once completion has taken place, there is still work that needs to be done as part of the conveyancing process. The seller’s solicitor must ensure that any outstanding mortgages on the property are paid using the funds that have been transferred from the buyers, for example. The seller’s solicitor will then pay any outstanding estate agency fees from these funds and transfer the remaining balance to the sellers.

On the other side, the buyer’s solicitor will verify the deeds and check any paperwork they receive following the completion date. They will also notify HMRC of the transaction and arrange for the relevant amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to be paid. Finally, the buyer’s solicitor will confirm to the buyer and their mortgage company that these checks have been carried out and forward the relevant paperwork.

How Long Does the Conveyancing Process Take?

As you can see, there are many steps that need to be taken as part of the conveyancing process timeline UK. Generally, the conveyancing process takes around two to three months from start to finish. However, every property transaction is unique and should be viewed in isolation.

While two to three months is an average estimate, you might find that the conveyancing process can be completed more quickly when you buy or sell a property. Conversely, delays from either side or unexpected search results can lengthen the process.

Why Is the Conveyancing Process Different for Buyers and Sellers?

Although the conveyancing process works in the same way for every property transaction, the exact role of conveyancer varies depending on whether their client is selling or buying a property. This is because the needs of their client are different, depending on whether they’re a buyer or seller. To understand exactly what your conveyancer will be doing on your behalf, take a closer look at the conveyancing selling process and the conveyancing process buying now:

The Conveyancing Process Explained for Sellers

When you’re selling a property, your conveyancer will begin the process by drafting an initial contract and sending it to the buyer’s conveyancer to review. They will also source documents relating to the property and forward these to the buyer’s conveyancer. If either party wants to renegotiate or adjust the contract based on these documents, the conveyancer will liaise with the seller and make subsequent changes to the contract, following approval from their client.

When searches are carried out on the property, such as Land Registry searches, water and drainage surveys and environmental surveys, the seller’s conveyancer will also review these reports and confirm that they verify the information already provided by the sellers.

Providing both parties have verbally confirmed that they are happy with the draft contract, the seller’s conveyancer will forward the document to their client to sign. After setting a date to exchange contracts, the seller’s conveyancer will ensure that the pre-agreed deposit is sent to them and proceed with the formal exchange of contracts.

Following this, the seller’s conveyancer will calculate how much is left to be paid by the property buyer and inform their solicitor or conveyancer. They will arrange for the title to be signed and confirm that the relevant funds have been received on the date of completion.

After this, the seller’s conveyancer simply needs to use the funds to pay off any outstanding mortgage(s) that the seller had on the property, estate agents’ fees, and any other relevant costs that were included in the contract between the conveyancer and the seller. The remaining balance is then sent to the seller by their conveyancer or solicitor.

The Conveyancing Process Explained for Buyers

The buying a house conveyancing process begins when the seller’s conveyancer sends the initial draft contract and related paperwork to the buyer’s conveyancer. Then, the buyer’s conveyancer must examine the document and raise any potential issues to protect their client’s interests. If further investigation is required regarding a claim related to the property, for example, the conveyancer will alert their client (the buyer), liaise with the seller’s legal representative and, if necessary, conduct searches or arrange for inspections to be carried out.

The buyer’s conveyancer will also carry out a number of searches, regardless of whether the initial draft contract appears to throw up any potential issues. These searches may involve the condition of the property and the structure of the building, as well as Land Registry, searches to confirm that the sellers are the legal owners. In addition to this, environmental searches, chancel searches, and even coal mining searches may need to be carried out, depending on the property and its location.

As well as conducting these searches, the buyer’s conveyancer will examine subsequent results and reports and notify the buyers if there is any cause for concern. Once both parties are happy with the draft contract and the results of investigations, both conveyancers will agree on an exchange date and prepare the contract so that it can be signed.

At this point in the conveyancing process timeline, the buyer’s conveyancer or solicitor will also check the terms of their mortgage offer and supply relevant documentation to the mortgage company.

On the pre-agreed exchange date, the buyer’s conveyancer will arrange for the buyer’s deposit to be transferred to the seller’s legal representative and ensure that the contract is exchanged in accordance with prior agreements.

Following the exchange of contracts, the buyer’s conveyancer or solicitor will conduct final checks, such as bankruptcy searches, and, upon the successful completion of these, arrange for the transfer deeds to be signed.

When the pre-agreed completion date arrives, the buyer’s conveyancer will check the title deeds and arrange for the funds to be transferred to the seller’s solicitor. Then, they will notify HMRC and deal with the buyer’s Stamp Duty liabilities. Finally, the buyer’s conveyancer will complete the process by forwarding copies of relevant documentation to the buyer and their mortgage company.

What Is the New Build Conveyancing Process?

It’s easy to assume that the conveyancing process is different if you’re purchasing a new build property or that you don’t need to go through the same stages of the process. However, the conveyancing process is extremely important if you’re buying a new build commercial or residential property. Although the conveyancing process is generally the same, regardless of whether the property has been recently built, there are some additional issues that will need to be addressed if you’re purchasing a new build.

The buyer’s conveyancer will want to ensure that the property has been built in accordance with relevant planning laws and regulations, for example, and that it has passed NHBC inspections. In addition to this, they’ll want to see that the developers have entered into agreements with water suppliers and local authorities and that the property meets the original building specification.

When purchasing a new build property, it’s not uncommon for buyers to agree to the purchase before the property has been finished or even before construction has commenced. In such cases, a ‘long-stop’ completion date can be incorporated via the new build conveyancing process. This ensures that the developer will have completed the build by a specific date, even if legal completion takes place earlier.

While there are many advantages to buying a new build property, it’s important to use the conveyancing process to protect your rights. By choosing the right conveyancer and having the appropriate searches and surveys carried out, you can ensure that your new build property really is the home or business premises of your dreams.

Boxes ready for a new house following completed conveyancing process

What Is the Self Conveyancing Process?

Many people ask if they can undertake the conveyancing process themselves, without hiring a professional. In theory, much of the conveyancing process can be carried out by a layperson, but you will need a solicitor for some aspects of buying/selling a property.

In practice, however, it is rarely a good idea to handle the conveyancing process yourself, unless you have the relevant professional experience. Every aspect of the conveyancing process can be complex, and it requires intricate knowledge of the law and the procedural requirements of a property sale.

Furthermore, the range of surveys and searches that should be carried out prior to a real estate transaction can make it a time-consuming process if you try to do it yourself.

A mistake at any point in the conveyancing process can have a catastrophic effect on your finances and your property, regardless of whether you’re a buyer or a seller. When you work with a professional, licenced conveyancer or a conveyancing solicitor, you’ll benefit from their experience and expertise, but you’ll also have peace of mind that their advice and work is insured.

Is the Conveyancing Process Easy?

Although the conveyancing process has many important steps, there are times when it can be relatively straightforward. Conversely, some properties may warrant a more complex conveyancing process due to encumbrances being present.

For buyers and sellers, the conveyancing process can seem frustrating but, with the right professional support, it needn’t be difficult. In fact, choosing the right conveyancer can make buying/selling a property easier than ever.

The Conveyancing Process FAQs

Now you’ve got the lowdown on what the conveyancing process involves, refresh your memory with these quickfire FAQs:

Is the Conveyancing Process Important?

Yes. It protects the rights of buyers and sellers and can prevent major financial losses or future property issues.

How Long Does Conveyancing Process Take?

It varies depending on the transaction but, in general, the conveyancing process takes around two to three months from start to finish.

Does Each Party Need a Different Conveyancer?

Yes. The selling house conveyancing process is slightly different to the buying house conveyancing process, so each conveyancer will be undertaking different tasks and protect their clients’ interests. If buyers and sellers attempted to ‘share’ a conveyancer, it would be a conflict of interest.

Is There a Commercial Property Conveyancing Process?

Yes. Commercial conveyancers undertake similar steps when facilitating the sale or purchase of a commercial property.

Do You Need a Professional Conveyancer?

Technically, you can decide to deal with many aspects of the conveyancing process yourself when you’re buying/selling a property. However, this is rarely advisable and raises a number of risks. By working with a licenced conveyancing solicitor, you can protect your interests and streamline the real estate transaction.

Advice for vendors?

Our advice to the vendor would be that as soon as one is contemplating selling, to contact their solicitor and arrange to have the property information forms sent. These need to be filled in by the vendor and will form part of the contract. We recommend vendors do this as early as possible, as these forms can be quite time-consuming and may hold up the sale if not readily available. Cobb Farr are happy to recommend solicitors based on our experience and expertise.