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Conveyancing Terms Explained

Some of the terms used when you’re buying or selling property can be confusing to those who don’t work in the conveyancing world. Here’s an explanation of a few of the main terms you might encounter:

Last updated on January 21st, 2019 at 10:46 am

Key Points

  • There are different ways you can legally own and occupy property: freehold or leasehold, or rented
  • There are various searches your conveyancer will make – these are investigative reports on environmental and planning risks to your property from the surrounding area
  • There are different surveys you can get to find out more about the condition of the property you’re purchasing
  • The legal transfer of ownership is dealt with by the Land Registry

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Some of the terms used when you’re buying or selling property can be confusing. Here’s a glossary of some of the main terms you might hear or read:


The transfer of a lease: when you buy a property leasehold, the current leaseholder will transfer the lease to you, the new buyer. Read more about buying leasehold property here.

Bankruptcy search

A search done on behalf of the lender (the bank or building society that your mortgage is with) to check whether you or any people with whom you’re buying the property, have been or are about to be declared bankrupt.

Chain and chain-free/no chain

A chain is when there is a sequence of buyers and sellers who are dependent on the property before or after them being sold or bought, in order for them to buy and move into their next property. For example, if you are awaiting money from the sale of your house before you can purchase another, you are in a chain. You may be in a longer chain when you (the bottom of the chain) are buying a house from some sellers (the second in the chain) who are buying their next house from people (the top of the chain) who are in turn buying a property to move into. If the property purchase or sale at the top of the chain falls through and those people can’t move, then the chain collapses and the buyers beneath them may have to find a new property to buy instead, delaying or cancelling the process.

Chain-free or no chain is when nobody is dependent on another person buying or selling their property.

You are a chain-free buyer if:

  • you are a first-time buyer, or
  • you have already sold your property and received the funds with which to buy a new one, or
  • you don’t need to sell a property in order to finance the purchase of a new one

You are a chain-free seller if:

  • you don’t need to buy another property to live in after you sell, perhaps because you are selling property that was rented out, inherited from a relative or you are moving into rented accommodation


A charge is the debt secured on a property, such as a mortgage or loan.

Coal Authority search

This search is needed if your property is in an area where there has previously been mining activity. It will reveal whether mining issues affect the property.

Completion/completion day

Completion is when the transaction of the sale or purchase of a property is completed: when ownership is transferred and the legal ownership is changed. It’s also usually when you get the keys to your new home. Read more about the stages of buying a selling a house here.

Conditions of sale

There may be legal terms attached to the sale that both the buyer and the seller have to agree to. There are standard conditions of sale set by the Law Society which are commonly used in most property transactions, but there may also be different or additional conditions concerning the sale.


In the title deeds, there may be special conditions that relate to the care or upkeep of the property: any such rules are called a covenant. These may details things you must or must not do at the property and they run with the land unless they are removed legally.


The deposit is the sum of money a buyer usually has to raise before the lender (usually a bank or building society) will lend them the rest of the money to buy the property. It is then transferred from the buyer to the seller as an instalment on the full sale prices. Deposits are now usually at least 10% of the full sale price of the property, unless agreed otherwise by negotiation or as a result of a higher mortgage loan.


These are payments that the conveyancer makes for and on behalf of the buyer, such as charges for the land searches.

Drainage and water search

In this search, the local water authority confirms that the property is connected to mains drainage, shows the route of these pipes and answers various standard questions including whether or not the property is served by a water meter.


An easement is a right somebody has over another person’s property; so it may be a right they have over a neighbouring property or land or it may be a right someone has over the property or land you are to buy.


The final version of a document that will be signed by all relevant parties.

Environmental search

This search is needed to identify whether the land is likely to be classed as contaminated through historic use. It is also useful for identifying if the property is close to any landfill sites or phone masts etc.


EPC stands for Energy Performance Certificate, which is required whenever a property is sold, rented, or built. This certificate must be ordered before you start to market your property (i.e., sell your house). An EPC shows a property’s current energy usage and costs, and recommends how to improve these.You get an EPC by using an accredited assessor, which you can find here. Some estate agents may offer this as part of their services when selling your house for you. EPCs used to form part of home information packs (HIPs), which have since been scrapped – the EPC however still remains.

Exchange of contracts

This is when each party’s solicitor reads out the contracts over the phone, to make sure the contracts are both the same. The details are manually noted on the contracts themselves. Both solicitors then post the contracts to each other. This is the legally binding stage of buying and selling a home – once the contracts have been exchanged, the buyer is legally bound to buy the property and the seller is legally bound to sell the property, and neither can pull out. This is why it’s really important to make sure that you are completely happy with everything detailed in the contract, before the exchange takes place.

Final searches

These are searches made in the Land Registry and the Land Charges Department immediately before the completion date to check that nothing has changed since we checked the title deeds at the outset of the transaction.


Freehold property is when you own outright the land that your property is built on. This is in contrast to leasehold, where you typically own the leasehold for a specified amount of time, after which ownership reverts to the freeholder unless you extend the lease.

Ground rent

You may pay ground rent to the owner of the freehold (the owner of the land upon which your property is built) when you own a leasehold property.

Indemnity insurance

You make take out indemnity insurance to cover yourself for any enforcement orders (and fines) for anything for which you should have obtained consent or complied with rules and which you did not – including building work carried out by the previous owners.

Land Registry fee

The Land Registry is a government department which looks after the register of all registered properties in England and Wales. It charges a fee for transferring ownership on the register to the new owner. A charge is levied according to the property price and type of transaction.


Leasehold is a type of property tenure: it means that you don’t own the ground that the property is built on, but instead you buy the right to live in the property for a specified number of years (which may be anything from 50 to 999 years). Most flats are leasehold – and many houses in Sheffield! You can read more about leasehold property here.

Local authority search

This is a search that reveals whether the local authority has charges or orders registered against the property you are buying which may affect you after your purchase. It also provides information about planning consents granted and council maintenance of roads and services which may affect you.

Office copies of the title

The seller must provide copies of his title (title deeds) to the buyer’s solicitor. If the property is registered these will be obtained from the Land Registry and are known as office copies.

Stamp duty land tax (SDLT)

SDLT is a tax on the purchase or transfer of land or property in the UK.  The amount paid is based on a percentage of the purchase price and your current ownership status: for example, you may have to pay a higher rate if you own more than one house in certain circumstances. You can read more about SDLT here.

Subject to contract

A property will often be listed as ‘sold – subject to contract’. This is the period when an offer has been accepted on a property but the paperwork is not yet complete. The contracts have not yet been exchanged so technically the property is still available, and neither party is legally bound to the sale or purchase of the property.


A survey is different to a search as it concerns the condition of the property itself. Getting a survey is something that the buyer must organise themselves: solicitors do not deal with arranging the survey. A house survey is a detailed inspection of its condition: from structural problems to major repairs. There are several levels of survey you might choose: a condition report, a homebuyer’s report and a building survey. You don’t have to get a survey but it can help to reassure you, and can also reveal important factors that you can use to negotiate: either requesting a price reduction or the seller to fix the problems. Surveys must be carried out by qualified surveyors. The survey costs may vary depending on the value of the property.

Transfer document

A transfer document is the document which transfers a property from the seller’s name into the buyer’s name and which is sent to the Land Registry on completion.

Telegraphic transfer (TT) fee

This is the fee charged by banks for the transferring of money electronically. You will need to pay one of these charges for each TT we send on your behalf; e.g. to redeem your existing mortgage, to send the purchase monies to the seller or to transfer any surplus funds to you after completion. Please note that this fee is charged by the bank and, unlike many other firms, we do not add on any additional administration fees for dealing with this.


Tenure refers to the way in which property is legally owned and the rights people have to occupy that property. For example, it can be freehold, or leasehold.


In property law, this means a right or claim of ownership of property or land. It is most commonly used as a shortened version of the term title deeds.

Valuation survey

A valuation survey is usually requested by the mortgage lender to make sure the property being purchased is worth the funds that are being loaned.

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