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How conveyancing has changed over the years

Sometimes, the legal conveyancing process of buying and selling properties can seem bewildering, especially as most of us don’t buy and sell properties on a daily basis! I thought it would be interesting to look at how things have changed over the years.

So here’s a peek at some of the aspects of the conveyancing process:


Back in the day, property owners would have handwritten deeds written on parchment paper and this was their only way to prove that they owned the property and any land that went with it. When a property was sold, these documents would then be handed over to the buyer when they had paid for the property.

Today, nearly all ownership of property is recorded at the Land Registry as a public document and is the modern day equivalent of the old parchment title deeds. This will include useful information such as the names of the current owners, the name of any mortgage lenders, and details of any legal restrictions as to what you can and can’t do to the property e.g. whether you can extend the property. If the property is leasehold, the Land Registry will also carry information about the terms of the lease. Copies of this Land Registry information (called office copies) will be sent by the seller’s solicitor to the buyer’s solicitor.


Back in the day, both the buyer’s solicitors and the seller’s solicitors would meet face to face and swap their signed contracts with each other, hence the phrase “exchange of contracts”. Today, it obviously isn’t practical to do it this way, so the solicitors speak to each other over the phone with a legal promise that the contracts are sent to each other in the post that same day and this procedure is the modern day equivalent of an exchange of contracts.

When exchange of contracts takes place, the buyer’s solicitor also sends a deposit to the seller’s solicitors as well as the contract. This amount is usually 10% of the purchase price, and so before exchange of contracts can take place, the buyers will need to send their solicitors this amount as cleared funds.

Exchange of contracts is the point at which the buyer and seller become legally committed to buying and selling the property. It’s also the point when the date of completion is confirmed and added to the contract (see below).


This is the moving date for everyone so it is when the seller moves out of the property and the buyer can move into it.

The buyer becomes the legal owner of the property when their solicitor has sent the rest of the purchase price amount and this is received by the seller’s solicitor. The actual amount sent will be the full purchase price less the amount of the deposit already paid on exchange of contracts.

Back in the day, the solicitors would meet and the buyer’s solicitors would hand over a banker’s draft in exchange for the title deeds and a set of keys to the property.

Today, the completion process has moved into the digital world, and it all depends on when the electronic bank transfer of the funds takes place, and so we all rely on the speed and technology of the banking systems! Having said that, the move out/move in usually takes place smoothly and without a hitch and usually this happens around mid-day. After completion, the buyer’s solicitors will deal with registering the ownership and any mortgage at the Land Registry.

I hope that you find this interesting and informative.  I am the sales progressor at Sewell & Gardner and would be more than happy to answer any further questions you have about the conveyancing progress in today’s market.


Lauren De Vere