Conveyancing and Property Law
Conveyancing is the process whereby ownership of a property is transferred from one person to another. It can be an extremely complicated process requiring expert advice.
Conveyancing is the legal name given to the process of buying and selling a property and encompasses all the legal and administrative legwork involved in the transaction.
Conveyancing can be complicated, so, although some people take the DIY route, you are advised to take advantage of the services provided by conveyancing solicitors and licensed conveyancers. After all, purchasing a home is the most expensive transaction most of us will ever carry out – so it may be worth worth shelling out a little extra for peace of mind.
In fact, there are certain circumstances in which you should definitely not attempt DIY conveyancing, such as when:
- the property involved is not a freehold
- the property is not registered with the land registry
- the property is not a house, e.g. commercial premises
- the sellers of the property are divorcing or separating.
Solicitors must have insurance to cover any complications during the conveyancing process, so if something goes wrong, you will be compensated.
Conveyancing fees and charges
Conveyancing is not cheap. Along with a basic fee, there are costs such as Land Registry fees and electronic transfer fees. When added up, the typical cost is between £600 and £800. The exact fee will depend on certain factors, such as:
- whether the property is freehold or leasehold – leasehold property transactions are more complex so fees can be greater
- what type of solicitor or conveyancer you instruct – some are better value for money than others
It is important to take care when choosing a solicitor for conveyancing – it will not do to simply visit your regular solicitor or go to a high street law firm. Instead, you should ideally get a number of different quotes from specialist licensed conveyancers and solicitors to compare before making a choice. It is worth noting, however, that a very cheap quote should start alarm bells ringing, as the poverty of the service by the individual or company may be a reflection of a dubious quality of service.
Don’t be fooled by firms whose local knowledge is part of the perks of their service. This doesn’t really come into the equation, so it’s not worth paying extra for.
On top of everything, there are miscellaneous fees charged by conveyancing solicitors as disbursements. These include indemnity insurance, file storage, identity checks and more, and could cost an extra £200. Check beforehand with your solicitor to see what extras they charge and try to negotiate a flat, fixed-fee with them so there are no surprises.
Stamp duty can also add significantly to the costs of conveyancing. For details of the amount payable on different values of property, see our Stamp Duty page.
Land Registry Fee & Land Registry Search Fee
A fee of £220 must be paid to the Land Registry to register you as the legal owner of the property. A small fee must also be paid for a preliminary search to be carried out to check that the state of the register has not changed and to give the buyer priority over any other application to change it which is made within the next 30 days.
Getting a conveyancing quotation
Before appointing a conveyancer to deal with the legal side of your property transaction, they should provide you with a quotation to outline the costs of the procedure. The total fee payable for conveyancing comprises a number of different elements which should all be enumerated in the quotation that you are given. The overall price can depend on a number of factors.
Composition of conveyancing quotations
A conveyancing quote will be made up of 2 elements; namely, the solicitor’s basic fee and disbursements.
Conveyancing solicitors generally charge their basic fee in 3 ways, which are:
- Fixed fee (i.e. the price is set before any work starts)
- Using a scale where the cost is proportional to the value of the property
- Per hour (this can end up being very expensive)
The second of these is the most common.
Disbursements are costs that the solicitor has incurred by paying other organisations for services on your behalf. Among the things that might fall under disbursements are the following:
- Land registry copies
- Telegraphic transfer fee
- Bankruptcy search
- Local authority searches
- Drainage search
- Chancel Repair Liability search
- Environmental search
- Land Registration fee
- Stamp Duty
It is a common ploy for companies to add on fictitious disbursements for services which are usually part of the basic fee. This is to give the impression that their service is cheap, but can often mean the opposite in reality. Thus, very cheap basic solicitor’s fees should be viewed with suspicion.
Nowadays, many organisations give you the option of applying for a quote online. This can be beneficial, since the quotation will arrive quicker, making it easier to swiftly accumulate a number of offers from different companies to compare prices.
Doing your own conveyancing
Most people rely on a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer to carry out their conveyancing. However, some choose instead to undertake the conveyancing process themselves. This is risky but can mean ample rewards if done properly. Potential upsides include:
- Cost - you will save money on solicitor or conveyancer fees
- Time - a professional will be handling many cases at once, whereas you will be focused on one
- Control - you will be in charge of the process and know exactly what is happening at all times
There are, of course, downsides and risks, numbering among them:
- Fines - without the expertise of a professional, you may make mistakes, which could turn out to be costly. Solicitors are insured in case they err in such situations - you are not
- Hard work - not only can the conveyancing process be difficult to grasp, but you'll have to set aside time to do all the work that would otherwise be handled by a solicitor
- Stigma - you will still have to deal with companies and professionals for some parts of the process, and they may be less confident in dealing with those who are not backed by fat insurance policies
If despite these dangers you would still like to take the plunge and attempt to do the conveyancing yourself, you will at least require guidance of some nature. We would recommend finding a good quality and up-to-date book on the topic if you want to be sure that you are on the right trajectory.
Bear in mind that, even if you do your own conveyancing, the process will not be free of fees - you will be required to pay for various professional services along the way, including various surveys and checks which you will need to have carried out satisfactorily in order to obtain approval. Some solicitors claim that a large chunk of their fees is actually made up of the costs they incur having these checks undertaken, but if you shop around you will probably be able to save a fair amount of money on them.
Ultimately, it will be up to you to ensure that everything is completed to your satisfaction, as any problems will ultimately fall in your lap.
Many companies nowadays offer to perform conveyancing via the internet as an alternative to paying for a solicitor. With online conveyancing everything is dealt with through mail, internet or telephone, so there’s no need to physically visit the company in person. Thanks to this, geographical location does not have to come into your consideration when considering who to go with for conveyancing. The nationwide competition that this engenders means that online conveyancing prices can be quite cheap.
Cost of online conveyancing
The primary advantage of such companies is that they charge significantly less than a solicitor would. Many of these services offer a quick conveyancing quote available at the lick of a button once you have submitted your details. This is advantageous as it allows the customer to quickly compare a large sample of quotes from different providers.
The main drawback for some people with online conveyancing is its faceless nature – some people naturally prefer to have face-to-face contact with the person they are trusting their conveyancy duties to. As with more traditional conveyancing, prices can vary greatly in accordance with circumstances and the type of property.
The conveyancing process
These are the steps involved in a typical conveyancing process, after an offer has been accepted on the property:
Your solicitor will receive confirmation of your accepted offer on the property and a copy of the estate agent's details from the seller's estate agent.
Your solicitor will contact the seller's solicitors requesting the draft contract.
Your solicitor will receive the draft contract, which is checked for any unusual clauses, and a copy of the deeds that confirm the property is owned by the seller and any restrictions that apply to its ownership (e.g. rights of way over the property). Once the contract is approved, one copy is returned to the seller for signature, with one kept for you to sign. Your solicitor will also usually receive details from the seller about matters such as boundaries, disputes, guarantees, alterations to the property and a list of fixtures and fittings to be included in the sale. These documents will be explained to you and you will be given copies.
Your solicitor will carry out a search with the relevant local authority asking for details on proposed road development in the area, relevant planning applications, etc.
Once you have received the results of your property survey and are happy with the information that the seller has provided, you can sign your part of the contract and return it to your solicitor. You are now ready to exchange contracts (unless and until this happens you are not legally bound to go through with the purchase). At exchange the seller will usually insist that you pay a deposit as a sign of good faith. This is usually 5-10% of the purchase price. You will need to let your solicitor have this money a few days before exchange if it is being provided by cheque. The deposit is usually held by the seller's solicitors in a special account.
Now comes the exchange of contracts. Your solicitor and the seller's solicitor agree (usually on the telephone) that contracts are exchanged on your purchase and they fix the completion date (the date on which the property will become yours). The relevant dates are inserted in the two copies of the contract and these are then physically exchanged, together with the deposit cheque to the seller's solicitor.
After exchange your solicitor will carry out further searches to ensure the property details provided are accurate and the seller is not bankrupt.
If you are obtaining a mortgage, your solicitor will also have been liaising with your mortgagee. They will prepare the Mortgage Deed (the document which gives the bank or building society a charge over your new house) for you to sign and report to the mortgagee requesting the mortgage advance in time for completion.
Your solicitor will calculate the sum needed from you to complete the purchase, including the balance of the purchase monies, their fees, stamp duty (only applicable on purchase prices over £125,000, or £250,000 for first time buyers) and Land Registry fees. You must provide them with this sum before the completion date.
The conveyancing reaches completion. On the day of completion, the balance of the purchase price is sent electronically to the seller's solicitor’s bank by your solicitor. Once it has been received by them, the purchase has been completed and they should advise the agents to release the keys to the property to you. The deeds to the property are sent to your solicitor.
After completion your solicitor will pay any stamp duty payable and register the transfer with the Land Registry.
And that’s it! The conveyancing is over and you can enjoy your new home.