The overall length of time it takes can be influenced by factors such as how quickly the lender deals with your mortgage application; however, in many cases it is the length of the conveyancing process that determines how quickly you will be able to take ownership of your new home.
What is conveyancing?
Put simply, conveyancing is the legal process of transferring the ownership of a property from the seller to the buyer. Strictly speaking anyone – including the homebuyer – can act as a conveyancer on a property purchase; however, it is a complex legal process which includes carrying out various checks into the property’s ownership, status and other factors that could have a bearing on your rights and responsibilities as the new owner. Because of this, conveyancing is most often carried out by specialist property lawyers; for extra peace of mind we recommend that you use a conveyancer registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).
The conveyancing process
The time frame from first instructing a conveyancer to actually moving into your new home typically takes somewhere between eight and twelve weeks. However, it’s important to remember that this is just an average. If you’ve already got the ball rolling with your mortgage application and only straightforward “searches” (more on this below) are required, you may be able to move in more quickly. On the other hand, if either the property survey or the conveyancer’s searches throw up something unexpected, further work may be required and completion of the purchase could be delayed until any queries are resolved.
As part of the service they provide, your conveyancer is responsible for reviewing documents relating to the pending house purchase and providing you with the necessary legal advice. These documents will include the contract pack obtained from the seller’s solicitor, your mortgage offer (including its terms and conditions), and the property survey. Any one of these might bring up issues that need to be investigated and resolved before the purchase can proceed – for example, most surveyor’s reports specifically include legal notes intended for the conveyancing solicitor, relating to factors such as building control and planning issues, and guarantees.
A vital part of the conveyancer’s role is in carrying out “searches” relating to the property and grounds. These searches are usually carried out via the local authority and cover matters such as the property boundaries, rights of way, boundary disputes, planning constraints and so on. Depending on the location and the nature of the property itself (for example, its construction type or freehold/leasehold status) further non-routine searches might be called for. Searches can turn up information that will be vital to you as the future owner of the property – such as subsidence or flood risk – so the time and effort spent on this part of the conveyancing process is extremely important. Our article on how long do searches take explains more about local authority searches.
Exchanging contracts and completion
In the final stages of the process your conveyancer will agree the completion date with the seller’s solicitor – this is the date when ownership of the property transfers from the seller to the buyer. Your conveyancer and the seller’s representative will exchange your signed contracts, and at this point the sale becomes legally binding to both parties. Your property deposit is also transferred to the seller’s solicitor at this stage.
You will be asked to sign the completion statement and the property transfer deed, which your conveyancer will send to the seller’s solicitor. They will also get in touch with your lender to arrange for the release of the mortgage funds on the completion date, at which point they will send the balance of the house purchase price to the seller’s solicitor.
The property is now yours! However, even at this stage the conveyancing process isn’t yet over. Your conveyancer will check for receipt of the property’s title deeds, the completed transfer deed and confirmation that any existing mortgages against the property have been repaid, and then formally register the transfer of title with the Land Registry. For purchases where Stamp Duty Land Tax is payable, they will also arrange for the payment and corresponding tax return to be submitted to HM Revenue & Customs within 30 days of completion of the property purchase.
Last reviewed March 2016.