Conveyancing terms explained 

Advance – When the mortgage lender transfers over the mortgage money. 

Assignment  - When the lease is transferred. 

Boundaries –  The legal definition of the limits of the property and the boundaries, normally marked by walls, fences or hedges. The deeds for the property will clearly indicate the relevant boundaries.

Bridging Loan – A loan taken over a short term, usually to bridge the gap when buying a new property before the old one is sold.

Building Survey - an extensive report prepared by a surveyor on all parts of any property that are visible and easily accessible, identifying any building defect, and how that can be repaired

Chain – The idea that many buyers and sellers are joined together like the links of a chain, and each sale is dependent on the buyers and sellers lower down in the chain. Often, a large number of links in a chain complicates the conveyancing process.

Charge - A sum of money secured on a property. Any sum of money borrowed from a bank or building society to buy a property is usually secured against that property. It is possible to have more than one charge registered against a property.

Collateral – An item or property put up as security when taking out a loan.

Common land search – Search carried out to determine if there are any grazing rights or fishing rights which could apply to a property. 

Completion date – The date on which the conveyancing process comes to the legal end. At this point, the legal purchase takes place when all of the money is transferred for the property purchase and the title deeds are legally transferred over. This term is often used for the day on which the keys are handed over and the new owners move into the property.

Completion statement – this document reduced by your solicitor lists all the financial elements of the property transfer. It is usually produced before the completion date, but after exchange of contracts. The completion statement will also give you full details of your conveyancing solicitors fees, including VAT and disbursements.

Condition of sale – The legalities and conditions for the completion of the purchase. These will normally include the Law Society standard conditions of sale.

Contract – The agreement between the seller and the buyer which is legally binding.

Covenants – Any restrictions or obligations which are applied to the purchase of a property. These can either be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. A covenant might require that you maintain the property up to a certain standard, or restrict the conversion of a house into flats.

Deeds – these are the documents which state the legal owner of the property, or identify the holder of a legal charge is when the property has been bought on a mortgage. 

Deposit – This is the proportion of the total purchase price paid at the time of exchange of contracts to ensure the buyers are fully committed. Once paid, deposits are often non-refundable.

Disbursements – these are the additional expenses incurred during the conveyancing process which your solicitor will need to pass on to you. They include search fees, Stamp Duty and Land Registry fees

Easement – Any rights of way over land owned by someone else.

Equity – The difference between the value of a property and the amount outstanding on any loan.

Engrossment – The final version of a legal document, prepared for signature signed by all relevant parties.

Exchange of contracts – The point in the purchase process when the deal between the purchaser and the seller becomes legally binding. This stage usually comes before completion, that it is possible for it to occur simultaneously.

Fixtures and Fittings – Items in the property which may, or may not, be included in the sale of the property.

Freehold – If you buy a freehold property, you are not only buying the building, but also the piece of land on which it stands. Freehold ownership is registered at the Land Registry. This freehold title can be bought and sold. Freehold is different from leasehold – see below.

Ground rent – An annual rent which any leaseholder has to pay to their landlord. The lease will state how much ground rent has to be paid, and this is normally subject to an automatic increase every 10 years or so. Ground rent does not apply to freehold properties.

Indemnity Insurance Policy – This is an insurance policy which protects the purchaser from any financial loss caused by a problem with the legal title to a property.

Joint tenants – When people own a property as ‘joint tenants’, full ownership of the property transfers to the surviving person when one of them dies. This applies irrespective of what is written in a will.

Land Registry – the government department which keeps records of property ownership in England and Wales.

Lease – A contract between a tenant and a landlord which lays out the terms for living in a property.

Leasehold – Unlike freehold, the occupier has the right to live in a property for a specified time, but does not own the land where the property is built.

Licence to assign – The document issued by a landlord giving legal permission to a tenant to assign, or sell on, their lease. 

Local searches – Questions asked of the Local Authority about services and planning. These enquiries are made at the start of the conveyancing process. They are designed to provide the buyer with any important information which could affect their use or future sale of the property

Mortgage: a loan of money which is secured on the property. If the mortgage payments are not made, the lender usually has a right to repossess the property and sell it.

Mortgage Indemnity Policy – Insurance cover which in certain circumstances, your mortgage lender could insist upon, and which is intended to cover any losses the lender might occur if a property is repossessed.

Mortgagee – the organisation which lends money against a property. Usually a bank or building society.

Mortgagor – the person who borrows money on a mortgage to buy a property.

NHBC – Stands for National House Builders Council which provides a 10 years’ guarantee on new build properties.

Office Copies – in the case of registered land, this is a copy of information held by the Land Registry setting out details of the title to a property i.e. who owns the property etc]

Negative equity - when the amount of money outstanding on a loan secured on the property is more than the property’s market value.

Redemption – The legal term for paying off a mortgage.

Registered land – Any land where details of ownership and any other interest in it are held by the Land Registry.

Requisition on Title – Questions raised by the purchaser’s solicitor about the property’s ownership 

Retention – Money held back and retained by one of the party’s solicitors until some further action is completed or building work carried out.

Service Charge – Money paid to a landlord for a property’s upkeep and repair.

Stamp Duty – A government tax paid by people buying property.

Structural Survey – see Building Survey  

Subject to Contract – This means the agreement is not yet legally binding. In conveyancing terms, negotiations are “subject to contract” until the process reaches the exchange of contracts stage.

Tenants in Common – If two or more people have a property on a separate half or defined share. This means that if one tenant in common dies, then their share of the property does not pass automatically to the other tenant in common but instead is passed on in accordance with their wishes stated in their will. If there is no will, the intestacy laws are followed.

Term – A specified period of time. Often used for the length of a mortgage.

Title – Ownership of a property or land.

Transfer – The legal document transferring ownership of a property from seller to buyer.

Valuation Survey – A report drawn up by a surveyor indicating the market value of the property. This sort of survey is needed by mortgage lenders. Normally less thorough than a building or structural survey.

Unregistered Land - land that is not yet registered at the land Registry. With unregistered land, title deeds may consist of a number of separate documents showing the history of the land concerned e.g. conveyances, mortgages, and  other documents such as death certificates and deeds of easement.

This article is written by Tim Bishop of Solicitors Bonallack and Bishop who run the specialist and property law websites.


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