The conveyancing process for buying a property in England & Wales
Buying property in England and Wales follows a standard legal process and you will usually use conveyancing solicitors or Licensed Conveyancers as your legal representatives.
Stage 1 – Instructing a conveyancer
After agreeing the purchase price, details of the buyer and sellers’ conveyancing solicitor, or Licensed Conveyancer, are exchanged through your estate agent. The seller’s conveyancer will send your legal team the contract pack (formal agreement to sell) accompanied by:
These provide information about the property (for example, if there are any problems with boundaries) and exactly what will be included in the sale (e.g. are they leaving all of the carpets or curtains?). The contract pack will also include the property title and forms completed by the seller. A copy of the lease will also be included if your property is leasehold.
Although your conveyancer will deal with the paperwork on your behalf, it's important that you go through these forms carefully and raise any questions or concerns at this stage.
During these initial stages, your offer to purchase the property will have been accepted and your mortgage application approved – the conveyancer will obtain a copy of the mortgage offer.
At this point in the process, you should also arrange for a property survey (separate to the lender’s valuation report).
Until stage 4 is completed, either you or the seller could have a change of heart and pull out of the sale without any legal consequences.
Stage 2 – Searches
Your legal representative will need to carry out required searches, including a Local Authority Search. These provide essential information about the property, such as:
Depending on the property and its location, other non-routine searches may also be required. Our article on conveyancing searches provides more information about the types of search that may be required.
Stage 3 – Plan a completion date
The contract pack, mortgage offer and local authority searches will be evaluated by your conveyancing solicitor.
If any issues arise, these will be drawn to your attention. For example:
If the property you are purchasing is located on contaminated land
The council are planning major road works near your new home
If anyone else has right of way over your land.
Talk to your conveyancing solicitor about a suggested completion date and negotiate an agreed date with the seller’s solicitor.
Your conveyancer will notify the seller’s solicitor and let them know that you would like to progress with the contract exchange and send them your deposit.
Stage 4 - Exchange
The conveyancer will pull together the final completion statement, transfer deed and mortgage deed for you to agree and sign. This will also outline what money you have to provide them for completion.
HMLR final searches will be organised by your conveyancer. This is a final check to ensure no changes have been made to the Land Register since your initial searches.
The seller’s solicitor will be sent the signed transfer deed, contracts will be exchanged and the deposit sent to the seller’s solicitor.
On exchange you are legally committed to proceed with buying the property.
Our First Time Buyers Guide to Exchanging Contracts provides additional information about this stage of the buying process.
Stage 5 - Completion
Completion day is when the sale is finalised and the property is transferred to you, as the new legal owner. Your conveyancer will pay over the balance of the sale price (less the deposit already paid) and receive the signed Transfer Deed.
Your conveyancing solicitor will ask for your finances from the mortgage lender. Title deeds, transfer deeds and proof of outstanding mortgages will be obtained by your conveyancer.
Stage 6 - Post completion
The conveyancer will send your deeds to the lender if you have a mortgage on the property, arrange for any Stamp Duty (if applicable) to be received by the Revenue and Customs and send your documents to HM Land Registry to register you as the owner of the property – this must be done within 30 days of completion of the purchase.
HM Land Registry will send the title deeds to your conveyancer and these will be passed onto your mortgage lender if they have provided finance.
If you are a cash buyer the title deeds will be passed on to you.
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The conveyancing process for selling a property in England & Wales
Stage 1 - Sale agreement
Instruct a conveyancing solicitor who will request your title deeds and ask you to complete a questionnaire.
You will need to complete a property information form, fixtures and fittings form and if your property is leasehold a seller’s leasehold information form.
Discuss a completion date with your conveyancer to be negotiated with the buyer’s solicitor.
Your mortgage lender will provide your conveyancing solicitor with a statement outlining the total sum of money that needs to be repaid on completion of your sale.
Stage 2 - Exchange
As soon as the contracts are exchanged, your property lawyer will receive the buyer’s deposit – usually 10% of the property price.
At this point the buyer is liable to lose their deposit if they back out and you will be in a legally binding contract to sell the property – you can no longer accept another offer.
Stage 3 - Completion
Your conveyancing solicitor will require payment for their services before completion on your property and all final accounts will be prepared by your conveyancer. A final settlement will be drafted for your approval.
Your conveyancer will verify that all deeds and remaining monies have arrived and that your sale is complete, and transfer the deeds to the buyer’s conveyancer. Your conveyancer will then pay the estate agent (if one was used), repay the amount owing to the existing mortgage lender (if applicable) and take payment for their conveyancing service costs.
Once all the payments have been made, the remaining money from the house sale will be transferred to you, usually by bank transfer on the day of completion.
On completion, you must vacate the property at the agreed time and release the keys to the estate agent or the buyer of your property.
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Updated November 2017
It is worth noting that in England and Wales, until contracts are exchanged, neither party is legally bound and either party can withdraw at any time. Only once contracts have been exchanged must the buyer and seller complete. If the buyer fails to complete on the agreed date, the seller can serve a notice and if the buyers still does not complete, they will forfeit the deposit.
If you are moving house in Scotland, our guide to conveyancing solicitors in Scotland will provide you with information and advice about the Scottish conveyancing process.