Ten common conveyancing terms

Things can go wrong when you buy a house. That’s why people entrust it to professionals. Even so, misunderstandings can arise when buyers don’t understand key terms, so here are ten you should know.

Vacant possession

This is an undertaking that nobody will be in the house when you take ownership, such as the previous owner or tenant. The conveyancing process cannot prevent someone being there when you arrive, but it provides evidence of your rights if you have to sue.

Defect in title

Sellers don’t always have a clear right to sell. For example, undertakings not to sell property are sometimes made in the course of divorce settlements and custody agreements. In other cases rival buyers believe they have priority. As the conveyancing process may not uncover such details, some people insure against the risk.

Ten common conveyancing terms


Land registration has reduced disputes over boundaries but disputes also arise over the ownership of walls, fences and hedges. You may not want ownership if they require expensive repairs. Contrary to popular belief, there is no universal formula for determining which fence is whose.


Buying land doesn’t give you absolute rights over it. Other people can retain rights over certain things, such as rights-of-way. Conveyancers usually discover this during the conveyancing process.


An easement is an example of an encumbrance – something that might reduce the property’s value to you.

Conservation areas and planning controls

Governments and local authorities can block alterations and developments out of keeping with their own policies. Being in a conservation area may sound like a great idea, but are you willing to make the sacrifices?

Private roads

Again, some people like the idea of “privacy”, but it often means bills toward upkeep of the road.

Management companies

These are the people who send you the bills for contractual responsibilities attached to ownership of private roads, communal gardens or shared roofs.

Stamp duty

Changes in the agreed price can suddenly change the amount of stamp duty you have to pay, so always remember this when you’re negotiating, (see https://www.gov.uk/stamp-duty-land-tax).


The “Clearing Houses Automated Payment System” is the usual way buyers and sellers exchange payments. Be aware that there is a moderate fee for using it.

Never be shy to ask what the terms and phrases you read in letters and documents mean before you agree to them!