Conveyancing Terms Explained

Attwells Solicitors are committed to quick, jargon-free conveyancing. We have produced this useful conveyancing glossary to help.

Assent: is the legal document that transfers ownership from a deceased owner to the beneficiary.

Caveat Emptor: is a legal term you may hear being used by solicitors and means ‘let the buyer beware’. It is a reminder that there is no positive obligation of disclosure by a seller to the buyer during the sale and purchase process about the property and it is for the buyer to ask the questions.

Chain: is the word to describe the buyers and sellers who are dependent upon one another in order for their sale and purchase to go through. Typically if you are in a chain then it will take longer.

Charge: is a debt secured against your property. In most cases this will be a mortgage. Your solicitor needs details of any charges affecting your property as early as possible in your sale.

Chancel Search or Indemnity: a chancel search is a search of the church records to ascertain whether your property is historically liable to contribute to the upkeep of the local parish church. It is unlikely to effect your property and therefore often the risk is insured against instead as it is faster and more cost effective and the risk is very low.

Chattels: is another name for fittings. Please see the comments below in relation to fixtures and fittings.

Completion date: is the date when payment is made by the buyer’s solicitor to the seller’s solicitor to purchase a property and the legal transfer of the property takes place. This is also the day you receive the key and can move in!

Completion statement: is a financial breakdown from your solicitor of all the sums received and paid by your solicitor during your sale or purchase. Your expectation should be to receive this in good time before completion but when timing is tight this sometimes proves difficult but your solicitor should be able to give you estimated figures and a final statement following completion.

Conveyancing: is the name given to the process of the buying and selling of a house.

Covenants: are obligations and restrictions that are attached to the property that may limit your use and enjoyment of the property. All covenants should be discussed with your solicitor.

Deeds or Title Deeds:  most land in England and Wales is registered at HM Land Registry and therefore legal ownership is evidenced by the electronic register. There are no physical deeds. If the property is not registered because it has not changed hands for over 35 years then the physical title deeds that prove ownership are a critical first step to any sale. The word “Deeds” is also sometimes used to describe other documents that are useful albeit not critical to ownership and were probably sent to you when you bought the property and may include leases, planning documentation and guarantees. Please provide all of these to your solicitor.

Deposit: is the money paid by the seller’s solicitor to the buyer’s solicitor upon the sale becoming binding at “exchange of contracts”. It is typically 10% of the purchase price. It is also the amount that would be forfeited by the buyer to the seller should the buyer fail to complete after the sale becomes binding.

Disbursements: are not legal fees and instead are costs incurred by us during the sale or purchase process such as land registry fees. The solicitor is just passing on the cost that is incurred.

Draft Contract Pack: this is the pack produced at the outset by the seller’s solicitors and typically includes a contract, a copy of the title to the property and the property information forms.    

Drainage search: is a check your solicitor will carry out to ensure your property is connected to mains water and sewers.

Easement: is a legal term for the right of way over a piece of land owned by someone else.

Environmental Search: it seeks to identify from a desktop survey whether the land could be contaminated land and therefore liable to costs to clean up.

Equity: is the monetary difference between the value of a property and the outstanding mortgage balance.

Exchange of contracts: is when your solicitors make the offer legally binding and fix the completion date. At this time a deposit is typically paid by the buyer’s solicitors to the seller’s solicitors.

Fixtures and Fittings: refers to items that belong to the Seller and are at the property. Fixtures typically are not easily removable items whereas fittings are moveable. It is important for your solicitor to clarify what of these items are being left or taken and this is normally dealt with on a fixtures, fittings and contents form that will be completed by the seller.

Freehold: means all the property within that area from the centre of the earth to the skies. Ownership is not limited in time unlike the other form of property “leasehold”.

Gazumping: is when a seller accepts a higher offer from a third party after agreeing terms with a buyer. Until contracts are exchanged then there is no remedy if this takes place. The risk of gazumping are typically very low.

Ground rent: is a yearly fee relating to leasehold properties. This is payable by the leaseholder to the freeholder.

Indemnity insurance policy: protects the buyer against any problems that may be experienced due to a defect in the legal title. It is available where the risk is low. Your solicitors can advise you whether this can/should be used in a particular circumstance.

HM Land Registry: is a government organisation that deals with ownership of property and land in England and Wales and holds an electronic register of all land ownership.

Land Registry office copies: a copy of the title registers of the property held by HM Land Registry. This is the evidence of the seller’s ownership of the property.

Leasehold: is the other form of property and relates to the right to occupy an area of freehold land for a specified term which is then reducing and paying a nominal annual rent. For this reason the length of the lease is important for your solicitor to ascertain as it can have a significant effect upon the value of your property as it diminishes. Much of the property in London in particular is leasehold.     

Local authority searches: these searches will unearth any council plans that may affect the property you wish to purchase.

Mortgage redemption: is the sum of money required by your lender to repay your mortgage.

Negative equity: is the negative monetary difference between the value of a property and the outstanding mortgage balance.

Occupier’s consent: is required when the person or people living at a property are not signatures on the mortgage. The rights of these occupiers need to be postponed to the rights of the mortgage lender.

Power of attorney: is a legal document that allows a person to act on behalf another person. These are normally used to safeguard the interests of the elderly or ill.

Pre-completion searches: are checks undertaken at the land registry in order to ensure there have been no changes to the title registers since the sale got underway and checks for a mortgage lender to ensure that you are not bankrupt.

Property Information Form: is a form the solicitor will ask the seller to complete. It lists questions regarding boundaries, services, guarantees and restrictions. The more information you can provide to aid your replies the better. If you are unsure, please ask your solicitor for help.

Reservation fee: is typically found in the new homes market and is a sum of no more £1000 to reserve the property for a period of time to give you exclusivity to buy. You should expect this to come off the purchase price. 

Retention: these are commonly found in a leasehold sale or purchase where service charges may have been paid on account for a period that straddles completion. As a result at the end of the service charge year when actual charges for that period are known there may be a shortfall due from the seller. A retention is money held back from the case to meet any such liability.   

Service charges: are payable to your landlord in respect of a leasehold property. The charge covers any repairs, maintenance or improvements made to the building as a whole.

Share of Freehold: means that you are a leasehold owner but that you have a share in the ownership of the freehold building. This ownership may be a share in a limited company that owns the freehold or a personal share in the freehold depending upon the freehold structure. Do not assume that necessarily by having a share in the freehold you can extend your lease at no cost or that you can refuse to pay service charges. Further advice is required here.

Stamp Duty Land Tax also known as SDLT is a tax payable to HMRC and is based on the purchase price of the property. Your solicitor will be able to advise the rates applicable to you.

SSTC: is an abbreviation for Sold Subject to Contract which is a term used by estate agents when a sale has been agreed but there is not a legally binding sale.

Subsidence: is when a property moves due to poor foundations. It can also be caused by changes to ground although these would have to be significant.

Transfer deed: is legal document that transfers the ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer. If you buy with a partner this document also defines your shares in the property.

Transferor: means the seller.

Transferee: means the buyer.

Transfer of equity: is a transfer of ownership in a property from one person to another but normally the buyer has a relationship with the seller such as in the following a divorce. You will need a solicitor to help you with this and typically it will involve the transfer of the property subject to the terms of the existing mortgage.

Vendor: is another name for seller.

Wayleave agreement an agreement between the property owner and service provider that allows piping or cabling through or over the property.