DIY conveyancing

If you’re tempted to save money on buying or selling a property by doing your own conveyancing make sure you understand the risks and what’s involved before you take the plunge.

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Buying or selling a home is expensive, with a long list of fees and costs you need to pay. Conveyancing – the legal process of transferring the ownership of a property from one person to another – is one of them, so can you do it yourself to save money?

Although you are allowed to do your own conveyancing, it’s not for the faint hearted. It requires you having at least a basic understanding of the law involved, filling in a lot of forms and being able to make sense of legal jargon. And if things go wrong, the financial implications could be huge and only you will be responsible.

Getting your conveyancing done by a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer costs around £850 to £1,500, although you may be able to pay less if you use an online conveyancer. However, this money buys you the benefit of years of training and experience. A solicitor or conveyancer must also have professional indemnity insurance, so if they make a mistake you’ll be able to claim for any loss.

Even if you do it yourself, there are still fees you’ll have to pay, such as the cost of carrying out local searches and the Land Registry fee for transferring the ownership of the property into the new owner’s name.

When DIY conveyancing isn’t worth it

If you are buying with a mortgage your mortgage lender will want a professional to do the conveyancing to protect its interests, which you will have to pay for, so in that situation it’s not worth doing it yourself. The same solicitor/conveyancer can usually act for you and the mortgage lender.

Other situations that are too complicated for DIY conveyancing are if you’re buying a leasehold, which is usually the case with flats, buying or selling property that isn’t registered, buying or selling only part of a property, buying or selling an unusual property and selling at the same time as divorcing.

So, generally speaking, you should only contemplate doing your own conveyancing if you’re buying a freehold house without a mortgage or selling a freehold house.

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What’s involved

If you’ve decided to go ahead with doing your own conveyancing, before you start it’s a good idea to get a book about how to do it – just make sure it’s up to date. You can also find information online although make sure it’s from a trustworthy source.

If you’re buying a property, you first need to ask the seller’s estate agent to pass your details on to the solicitor (or licensed conveyancer) acting for the seller.

One of the most important jobs is making sure the seller legally owns the property and therefore has the right to sell it. You also need to find out as much about the property as possible so you can satisfy yourself that it’s worth the money and that there are no nasty surprises that could cause problems later.

The seller’s solicitor will send you a copy of the registered title, which shows who owns the property, and the title plan, which shows the location of the property and its general boundaries. They will also send over the draft contract of sale as well as the property information form and fittings and contents form, which tells you what’s included in the sale, completed by the seller.

You should check these over carefully to make sure they show what you would expect and that there are no unreasonable conditions in the contract, although it will usually incorporate the Law Society’s standard conditions of sale.

If you have any questions about anything in the documents, send them to the seller’s solicitor by letter or email. You may also need to ask for extra information or documents, such as guarantees or certificates relating to work done on the property.

Property searches

Although you don’t have to carry out searches if you’re not buying with a mortgage, it’s wise to do so. These include local authority searches that tell you whether there are any developments, such as new roads or schools, planned for near the property, and whether the property is listed or in a conservation area. You can find out about these and how much they cost from the website of the local authority where the property is located.

The internet is also a useful source of information about upcoming developments in the area.

There are environmental searches that flag issues such as flood risk or contaminated land, and water authority searches to confirm that the property is connected to the mains and check whether any public drains or sewers run through the property. You may also need others depending on the type of property and where it is.

To make getting searches easier there are specialist companies who can do this for you. However you decide to do it, it can take a few weeks for the searches to be completed.

Exchanging contracts

Once you have received all the information you need and are satisfied that everything is in order you can sign the contract, agree a completion date with the seller’s solicitor (the day the sale is finalised and you can move in) and exchange contracts, when the transaction becomes legally binding. You’ll have to pay 10% of the purchase price at this point.

Solicitors usually exchange contracts over the phone and then post them to each other but as you’re not a legal professional you may have to visit the seller’s solicitor in person or send the signed contract and deposit cheque in advance. You’re responsible for insuring the building from the date of exchange too. Learn more about the exchange of contracts.

After exchange of contracts

When you’ve exchanged contracts the seller’s solicitor will send you the contract signed by the seller – check that it’s the same as the one you signed and has the correct completion date.

You’ll then need to request completion information from the seller’s solicitor who can reply to the questions in the Law Society’s standard completion information form. These include whether there are any changes to the information provided during the transaction and what the arrangements are for vacating the property and handing over the keys.

The buyer’s side usually prepares a draft property transfer. The form you need (TR1) can be downloaded from the Gov.uk website. You should then sent it to the seller’s solicitor, who will check it and get it signed by the seller. The seller’s solicitor will also need to give undertakings that any mortgage the seller still has on the property will be discharged on completion.

You should complete form OS1 to do a final Land Registry search to check whether anything has changed with the ownership of the property since you first saw a copy of the title. It will also stop any changes being made until your purchase is registered as long as it’s within 30 days.

The seller’s solicitor will usually send a completion statement showing the final amount you need to pay. You should then arrange for this amount to be transferred to them on the day of completion. Once the money is received you’ll be told that you can pick up the keys and move in.

After completion

There is still paperwork to be done after completion. You’ll receive the signed transfer from the seller’s solicitor a day or so later and should also get confirmation that any mortgage on the property has been discharged. You’ll have to complete a Stamp Duty Land Tax return form (in England and Northern Ireland) and pay anything you owe.

Once you’ve paid your stamp duty you can apply to the Land Registry (for a fee) to change the ownership of the property on the register. You’ll need to send the signed transfer form, evidence that any mortgage has been discharged and proof of your identity. Once it has all gone through you’ll receive a copy of the updated register showing you as the new owner.

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