If you are buying or selling a property, you will certainly come across the term ‘conveyancing’, but what does it mean, what does conveyancing involve and why is it essential to have it done by a professional?
In theory, you could do your own conveyancing, which is the process of legally transferring ownership of property from one person to another. But because there are so many legal complexities involved, and professional conveyancers have decades of experience in anticipating possible pitfalls, it would be very foolish not to have the work done by a professional.
At the end of the conveyancing procedure, all legal requirements should have been taken care of, and most importantly, both parties to the transaction will be protected against possible legal action in the future.
The conveyancing process can take anything from six to 14 weeks, depending on whether the property is freehold, leasehold, or a new build. During the process, the buyer’s solicitor will raise enquiries on subjects such as the legal title to the property, documents supplied by the seller, or issues raised by legal searches submitted on the property. These issues are dealt with between the buyer’s and sellers’ solicitors and aid in the decision-making process.
The most common terms you will hear in connection with a conveyancing transaction are Exchange and Completion. ‘Exchange’ is the exchange of contracts that makes the transaction legally binding between the parties, and Completion is the agreed upon date when the parties physically move.
As part of the conveyancing process, a survey reporting on the physical condition of the property is usually carried out by the mortgage provider. This will cover areas such as local authority permissions, water and drainage, environmental, and chancel repair liability (a requirement to contribute towards the costs of local church repairs. Yes, despite Henry VIII’s best efforts, this still exists in some parishes).
The survey can be carried out to various levels – a basic ‘home buyer’s’, a complete structural, or a valuation survey. A complete structural survey is only required on properties in need of significant restoration.
Another check carried out by the conveyancing solicitor is for covenants, legally binding promise attached to the land. These could include restrictions on alterations to the property, requirements not to park caravans or commercial vehicles on the property, not to erect satellite dishes, not to cause a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours, limitations on the number and/or type of animals that can be kept at the property, and so on. As the buyer, you should be aware of any covenants attached to the land so that you can ensure you comply with them during your ownership.
Your case manager may also identify defects such as missing title documents with the land registry or absent planning or building regulation certificates.
Another vital part of the conveyancing process is that the conveyancing solicitor usually holds a deposit of 10 percent of the purchase price from the buyer, to compensate the seller if the buyer fails to complete financially. Following exchange but before completion, the conveyancing solicitor supplies a final statement of account showing the balance of funds required to complete. Once these are cleared the conveyancing process can proceed to completion.
It is sometimes possible if you are selling or buying a property with or without a mortgage to manage exchange and completion within seven days, though there is usually an additional charge for this from the conveyancing solicitor because of the large amount of work that needs to be done in a short time. It’s also sometimes possible to exchange and complete on the same day, though again this will usually involve an additional charge.
The conveyancing solicitor is also required to carry out checks under the Anti Money Laundering (AML) regulations. For instance, if any amount of money is being contributed to the cost of buying a property that is not from the buyers themselves, these “gift” or “third party” funds have to be checked for AML purposes, and this too could involve a charge.
In most cases, original documents such as bank statements and identity documents have to be supplied to support this process – photocopies and scans are often not accepted. Again it is the job of the conveyancing solicitor to obtain and verify these documents, so it’s best to disclose if this is to be the case early in the transaction to avoid last-minute delays.
The conveyancing process is somewhat different in Scotland, where a solicitor will be the first point of contact for someone planning to sell, and many solicitors’ firms are also estate agents, so they play a more prominent role in selling homes.
This feature was originally published in Property & Home with Martin Roberts, Autumn/Winter 2024. Read more here.