Found your dream home? Had your offer accepted? Before you can buy the house of your dreams, your solicitor will have a ton of legal work to do, known as ‘conveyancing.’ Read on to find out what’s involved and how long it’ll take.
What exactly is conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal process that transfers the ownership of a property from one person to another. Basically, you can’t buy or sell a house without it.
If you’re buying a house, the ‘conveyancing’ process starts when you get an offer accepted on the property you want to buy (or, if you’re selling, it starts when you accept an offer on your property). It then lasts right up until completion day (the day the house changes hands and the new owner gets to take the keys).
Even though there’s a lot of legal work involved when you’re buying or selling a house, you won’t normally have to do a whole lot. That’s because your conveyancing solicitor will handle it all for you. That’s right, while they’re working their butts off, you get to sit back and work through Netflix’s whole back catalogue!
Don’t yet have a conveyancing solicitor to take care of the legal side of things? Your estate agent will usually recommend one, but it’s worth asking friends and family for recommendations too.
So, how long does conveyancing actually take?
All in all, conveyancing normally takes 8 to 12 weeks.
Here’s an idea of what the process looks like:
The ‘pre-contract’ phase is everything that happens before your solicitor draws up a draft contract for the sale of the property – including the time you take to choose and appoint your conveyancing solicitor (also known as your conveyancer).
Once you’ve got a conveyancer onboard, they’ll get to work collecting all the legal documents you need and going through them for you. An important part of this is the ‘local searches,’ where they contact the local council and ask them for information about the property’s land and local area. The searches should only take around 10 days to come back (although some councils are a lot slower than others).
If we assume everything happens on time, the pre-contract phase of conveyancing should only take around 2 weeks in total. Not bad, eh?
Just bear in mind that this isn’t the only thing that’ll be going on. At the same time, your mortgage lender will be assessing your application to see whether to approve you for a mortgage (read our guide to how long a mortgage application takes for the full lowdown). You’ll also want to get a survey carried out on your property to find out whether there are any problems that might affect whether you want to go ahead with the purchase. It’s all go go go!
2. Draft contract
Next, your conveyancer will bring together all the info they got from the seller, the seller’s conveyancer and the land registry. They’ll use this to put together a draft contract.
This part of the conveyancing process could take anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks, depending on how straightforward things are. Once the searches and results from your survey come back, there might be issues that your conveyancer needs to look into further. And each time your conveyancer has to ask for more information, you can expect another wait. Ultimately, this process involves a lot of waiting!
3. Exchange contracts
When your conveyancer has finished drafting the contract and your mortgage has been approved, you’re ready to exchange contracts. This is basically the moment of no return. Once you exchange, this means you legally have to buy the property and the seller legally has to sell it to you.
It might sound scary, but it’s actually the moment you get to breathe a big sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back. Until now, the sale could have fallen through at any point. But once you’ve exchanged, you get to rest safe in the knowledge that it’s only a matter of time before your dream home is yours!
Congratulations, you made it! Completion is the moment all the money goes through and the keys to your new home are officially yours. In other words, it’s the day you get to sit on the floor of your new house with a takeaway dinner in your lap, a bottle of bubbly on the go and boxes all around you. Get in!
Usually, this happens around 1 to 2 weeks after the exchange of contracts but it can vary a lot. For instance, the seller might want a little longer to move out, especially if they’re part of a chain and they’re waiting to complete on the property they’re buying.
At the other end of the scale, if both you and the seller are in a hurry, you’re legally able to complete the next day. Exciting times!
Why does conveyancing take so long?
If you’re wondering ‘why does conveyancing take so long?’ we don’t blame you. You’ve spent years scrimping and saving, found a house that you love and committed to buying it. Why can’t you just move in already?!
Well, the conveyancing process relies on lots of different parties doing their bit to get things ready for the house purchase. And if just one aspect takes longer than it should, this holds up everything. Here are just a few factors that can slow things down.
Being part of a chain
According to The Independent, 85% of property transactions are part of a chain. This means that there’s more than just one buyer and seller involved.
Maybe the seller of the property you’re buying can’t move out until they’ve bought a new house themselves. Or, if you’re not a first-time buyer, maybe you need to sell your current home before you can finish buying your new one.
There’s no maximum number of sellers and buyers in a chain, so there could be a long line of people who need to buy and move out before you can get the keys to your dream home. As you can imagine, this needs a lot of coordination and can take a while!
Delays with the searches
You know how we said the council should give your conveyancer the results of your local searches within 10 days? Well, sadly, many councils can be a teeny bit slow (to put it politely!).
As of 2019, people buying houses in Camden were being told to wait at least 70 working days for the searches to come back. And they weren’t the only slow ones. Derby Council was said to be taking nearly 9 weeks, while Sevenoaks was taking 5.
On top of this, the BBC has reported that the Coronavirus pandemic has been slowing things down still more. So, you could be waiting even longer if you start the conveyancing process now. Fingers crossed your local council is one of the speedy ones!
Your survey results
Do you remember us saying that you should get a survey done on the property you’re hoping to buy? This is because a survey should reveal whether there are any serious issues with it.
If the survey comes back and there are major problems, you might want to pull out of the house purchase. Or, if you choose to go ahead, you might want to renegotiate your offer.
If this is the case, your conveyancing solicitor will be able to help you decide what to do and how to approach the seller. BUT this is obviously going to take time, so you can expect the conveyancing process to last longer. Let’s be honest though, if it’s about saving thousands of pounds, it’s probably going to be worth it!
Delays with your mortgage offer
Usually, you’ll receive your mortgage offer around 2 to 6 weeks after handing in your application. This means you should have a mortgage offer well before your conveyancing solicitor is ready to exchange contracts.
However, there’s always a chance you’re still waiting to be approved for a mortgage when the legal stuff is ready. This is especially likely if your circumstances have changed since you put the application in – maybe you’ve changed jobs, for example (read our guide to changing jobs after mortgage approval to find out more).
If this is the case, you’ll have to pause on the conveyancing until you get things sorted. Don’t worry though, if you use a mortgage broker, they’ll be able to handle it all for you. There’s a reason we like to refer to them as lifesavers!
Buying a new build
If you’ve put in an offer on a new build, there could be delays in the construction of your house (we hate to break it to you, but this wouldn’t be the first time!). If this happens and your move-in date gets pushed back, conveyancing will take longer accordingly. This also goes if you’re in a chain and the sellers are moving into a new build.
The main problem with this is that your mortgage offer will usually only last between 3 and 6 months. If your move-in date gets delayed too much, your mortgage offer could expire. Usually if you give your lender plenty of notice, they’ll be happy to extend it for you, but if not, you might have to reapply for a mortgage which could delay the process even further. Don’t panic! We’ve laid it all out in our guide to how long a mortgage offer lasts.
Over to you
Whatever happens, you’re going to have to do a lot of waiting. So, the best advice we can give you is to relax and find something therapeutic to occupy your mind with (does watching TV and binging Ben + Jerry’s count?!). That said, giving your conveyancer a nudge to make sure they’re on the right track every once in a while certainly can’t hurt.
Before you know it, you’ll be trialling new paint colours in your brand new home. It’ll come round quicker than you think!