Learn more about the conveyancing process and the various steps along the way, with our comprehensive conveyancing guide.
Step 1 - Initial Preparations
Once you have identified the property that you wish to buy, you should contact a mortgage broker or a lender to conduct a basic mortgage search to establish whether or not you can qualify for their mortgages. While you could opt to do this step later, it’s generally a good idea as a first-time buyer to at least have a basic understanding of who your lending options are and what you can realistically be accepted for before you appoint a conveyancer.
Should you wish to improve your chances of securing the property, you can opt to obtain a ‘mortgage in principle’ from the lender at this stage.
In addition to identifying your affordable mortgage range, you should now be considering making an offer on the property*, and if possible, asking the seller or estate agent to take the property off the market. While a seller is not obliged to take the property off the market until the contracts have been exchanged, doing so can help to prevent you from being gazumped, and losing any money that you may have invested up until this point. Please see our in depth guide to learn more about Gazumping and how you can avoid it.
*In Scotland, offers are made through a solicitor, and can only be done once you have a mortgage in principle. Unlike in England and Wales, before you’re able to make an offer on a property, you will need to make contact with mortgage lenders and obtain a guarantee that they’ll be able to lend you the required funds. Once you have done this, you’ll now be expected to engage with a solicitor who will then put an offer on the property on your behalf - it is here that the Scottish conveyancing process begins.
While the Scottish system has a few more initial steps to consider; the Scottish scheme allows you to make a more measured and thought through initial offer as you would have already been made aware of any issues with the property from the seller’s detailed report, obtained at the time of viewing.
Step 2: Mortgage Offer
Once an offer from the agent or the seller has been accepted you will apply for a mortgage either using the MIP or to begin a new application if necessary. After you have met the lending criteria and met their conditions, such as a survey or mortgage valuation on the property, as previously stated you will receive a mortgage offer. Once the mortgage offer has been received your solicitor/licensed conveyancer will be provided with a copy of this as well.
Step 3: Choosing your Conveyancer & The Paperwork
Upon choosing your conveyancer or solicitor, the conveyancing process truly begins.
The first action that your chosen representative will do is examine the draft contract and any supporting documents, before raising queries with the seller’s solicitor.
While you may have already identified faults and flaws about the property when viewing, it is the conveyancer’s legal responsibility to conduct an extensive array of property searches to learn more about the property you wish to buy. As part of the overall house buying process, a conveyancer will do a set of legal searches to ensure there are no other issues or liabilities that you should be aware of; these may include:
Local Authority Searches
These searches will identify any plans that the local area might have that could affect your property. This essential property search could be the difference between your dream property being yours for life or being ruined by the planned development of a new landfill, commercial building or public pathway within the grounds of your property.
Land Registry Searches
Your appointed conveyancer will contact the Land Registry to check on a range of legal documents pertaining to your intended purchase of the property, including:
The Title Register and Title Plan
Required to prove the sellers’ legal ownership of the property.
Flood Risk Searches
A flood risk search can also be purchased from the Land Registry and will reveal if the property resides in an area that is subject to flooding. Please note that it is not always necessary to request this search; however, conveyancers will usually carry out a more extensive Environmental Search that will cover the risk of flooding in greater detail.
Water Authority Searches
As the name suggests, a Water Authority search will reveal how you get water to the property, and the existence of any public drains on the property - which may affect future building works.
Chancel Repair Searches
A Chancel Repair search used to be required to ensure that the property does not have any existing liabilities to help pay for church repairs.
Known as Chancel repair liability, this is a legal obligation dating back to Medieval times which to this day, can still require some property owners in England and Wales, to pay for specific repairs to a Parish church (usually in the local area).
While the Church will today have to claim Chancel repair liability with the Land Registry before they are able to claim any repair funds from you, it is still considered good practice to inquire about the existence of such laws prior to making your purchase.
As mentioned in the ‘Flood Risk’ search section above, the Environmental search is routinely used to reveal detailed information regarding the land and its condition. The report will outline the existence of contaminated land at the property as well as the surrounding area - taking into effect any landfill sites, hazardous gasses, ground stability and of course, flood risks amongst other things.
Location Specific Searches
Depending on the area that you’re buying in, it is generally a good idea to conduct regionally specific searches such to learn more about any nearby mines or public footpaths. Please consult your conveyancer for more information regarding any unique local searches that they would recommend.
While the conveyancer is doing their part to carry out these searches, your conveyancer may ask that you familiarise yourself with any documentation that the seller and their solicitor have given you, before informing your conveyancer of any queries you may have.
Step 4: Deposits and the Signing & Exchanging of Contracts
Once your solicitor/licensed conveyancer has explained the mortgage conditions to you and you have agreed, you can now go to exchange of contracts. You will now be able to pay your deposit as well as signing and exchanging contracts, legally binding you to purchase the property.
Deposits normally are 10% of the property’s value, but this can change depending on your mortgage agreement. Additionally, your deposit can also be reduced through the government’s Help to Buy scheme.
Except in rare circumstances, the purchase will not fall through at this stage as the person who reneges on the deal will be left facing a substantial penalty fee as well as potentially being sued. On exchange of contracts your solicitor/licensed conveyancer will advise you of a completion date.
Step 5: Completion Day
Once the contracts have been signed and exchanged, and all the relevant funds have been transferred to the seller, then completion day can occur.
As the name suggests, completion day is the final step in the property buying and conveyancing process and is the day when you will receive the keys from the seller (usually via the estate agent) and become the official new owner of the property and move into your new home.
Step 6: Loose Ends
After completion day, your solicitor’s role is more or less complete, and the conveyancing process is almost at an end.
Before you can wave goodbye to your solicitor/licensed conveyancer, however, they need to pay the stamp duty on your behalf, as well as transferring the Title Deeds to your mortgage lender... and of course, issuing you the final bill for their services.