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Buying a home is an exciting time but it can be confusing, especially if you're a first-time buyer.
Conveyancing describes the legal transfer of property (from seller to buyer). How long it takes depends on several things, such as how many buyers and sellers are involved in the process, but it can take weeks or months.
A solicitor can help you buy your home by explaining the steps involved and helping you to resolve any legal issues that come up.
The Law Society awards law firms that meet the required standards of technical expertise and client service in conveyancing with its CQS accreditation. Look out for it on Find a Solicitor search results.
Find out about conveyancing accreditation >
The Law Society has also produced a guide: Your guide to buying a flat (PDF 569).
There are a number of legal problems that can occur when buying a property so it's risky to buy a home without help from an experienced and skilled conveyancing solicitor. Solicitors are required to act in your best interests and give you good quality service, so don’t be afraid to ask them any questions. It can be a complicated and time-consuming process, but there are a number of legal documents that need to be completed. In the unlikely event that anything goes wrong, you are protected if you use a solicitor – for example you can complain to an ombudsman, and solicitors have insurance to compensate for losses. Mortgage lenders often ask for a conveyancing professional to carry out the process. It's not worth taking any risks when buying a home as it can be the most expensive purchase in your life.
Fees will vary between solicitors, and usually depend on the home you are buying. You can get the best price that is relevant to your needs from a solicitor by phone, email, in person or via a website. There will probably also be charges you will need to pay that a solicitor has no control over – for example stamp duty and search fees.
However, cheapest isn’t always best. Before you decide who to use you should shop around and check with a few solicitors to see what is most helpful to you. For example, is the solicitor local so you can call in to sign and pick up documents to save postal delays? And what are their opening hours? Will most communications be dealt with by email and text messaging?
To find a solicitor who can help you with the process of buying a home, visit the Law Society's Find a Solicitor website and use the quick search option "Houses, property and neighbours" to find your nearest solicitor.
Choosing a law firm that is a member of the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme means that your solicitor will meet the high standards set by the Law Society for conveyancing services. You will be using a legal conveyancing professional who is regulated and insured.
Carrying out searches will provide details about issues that could affect your new home including legal disputes, flooding, planning constraints and permissions. Your solicitor will make these searches for you.
A survey will be carried out by a specialist surveyor and will highlight any problems with your new home (for example, structural issues, damp). If there are any problems you may want to reduce the price you pay for the property.
Your solicitor will help to resolve any property-related legal problems that are revealed by searches and surveys before 'exchange of contracts'.
Exchange of contracts confirms your agreement to buy and the seller's agreement to sell the property. You and the seller can change your minds about buying or selling the property before contracts are exchanged.
However, once contracts have been exchanged, they become legally binding and there may be significant financial penalties if you or the seller pull out of the sale. Your solicitor and the seller's solicitor will exchange contracts signed by you and the seller. Your solicitor will also work with you and the seller's solicitor to agree a date for completion.
Completion takes place when the purchase money is transferred to the seller and other fees are paid. Once all the necessary searches and investigations have been made, your solicitor will tell your mortgage lender the results and the lender will let them have the mortgage monies.
Your solicitor will also transfer the money to the seller and pay other fees on your behalf. Your solicitor will help you to prepare the tax return and make arrangements to pay the Stamp Duty Land Tax to HMRC. They will also register your name as the owner, and your mortgage lender as the lender, at Land Registry.
This means that completion of the purchase can take place and you can get the keys. It's now time to move into your new home and to celebrate!
An information leaflet on conveyancing is available in the following formats:
We can make this information available in other formats and selected languages on request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.