A term used for the legal process of buying and selling a house, conveyancing includes quite a few stages which can be quite confusing for homeowners and buyers. A process most people only go through a few times in their life, the steps can be different even if you have done this before and are not the same as those used in other countries.
We thought we’d take the time to explain the conveyancing process so everyone is clear about what happens when, how long each step takes and what you need to do to help speed things up.
What is Conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring ownership from the seller to the buyer. It starts when an offer is accepted and completes when the new buyer has taken the keys to the property.
Whose Role is Conveyancing?
Whilst there is, technically nothing to stop you undertaking the conveyancing process yourself (if you are not taking out a mortgage), the role is most commonly performed by a specialist conveyancing company or via a solicitor.
Mortgage companies typically insist that this is the case and in practice, the process is usually too complicated for most people to carry out themselves.
How Long Does Conveyancing Take?
With very simple transactions with no chain, no mortgage company involved and very few steps to complete such as searches and questions of the local authority (see below), conveyancing can be completed in as little as four weeks.
However, most conveyancing takes 3 months to complete and this takes into account the various stages which can involve hold-ups such as obtaining various property searches, the signing of paperwork, verification of information with the land registry and transfer of monies.
Depending on how many people are involved in the chain and how complicated the financial set-up for a mortgage is, some conveyancing can take longer. Delays can be incurred for a number of reasons, some of which may be in your control whilst others could need the input of other parties such as estate agents.
When Do I Appoint a Conveying Solicitor?
Once your offer has been accepted on a property, you will need to appoint a conveyancer and provide their contact details to the estate agent who is handling the sale.
How to Appoint a Conveyancer
You are at liberty to choose whoever you wish to undertake the conveyancing process. Some estate agents can recommend solicitors that other clients have used in the past who provided a good service; however, you should never be tied in to using a ‘preferred’ conveyancer just because they are attached to the chain in some way.
Just remember that some estate agents may receive a commission from the solicits whose services they recommend which may end up costing you more in the long run.
You can always do your own research and ask friends and family for their recommendations. Some people prefer to use a solicitor who is local and with whom they can meet face to face. Online solicitors can offer cheaper services but may not be the best option if you have a complex property transaction.
Once you’ve decided on the solicitor you are using they should draw up the terms of engagement which details their fees and any initial payments that may be required. You will need to sign and return these along with any deposits before your solicitor can start acting on your instruction.
When they receive this signed contract they should make contact with your seller’s solicitor to start the initial exchange of paperwork.
What Happens During Conveyancing?
Once appointed, your solicitor will make contact with the seller’s conveyancing team to request a copy of the draft contract along with information such as the property’s title.
Your solicitor should carefully go through the draft contract along with any other documents relating to the sale and raise any queries with the seller’s solicitor. Once they are happy that this legal bundle is in order they will forward it on to you to examine. Where they have raised any queries to which they may still be waiting for a response, these should be highlighted.
Your solicitor will recommend any areas which require particular attention but, if the documents are standard with no issues for concern, they will simply recommend that you approve these before they are formally drawn up.
Property searches are an essential component of the legal process for conveyancing with some being a requirement of your mortgage companies whilst others just make good sense to have completed.
Whilst your initial viewing and subsequent surveys may have told you plenty about the property you are purchasing, property searches can reveal some very important information.
There are lots of searches that can be performed and these may be determined by the area in which the property is situated or the mortgage lender you are using.
The most common searches include:
- Local Authority Searches – These will reveal if there are restrictions or charges on the land or property you are buying, if there are any plans or proposals for public highways that will affect your land. Local authority searches also detail if a building is listed and/or is in a conservation area or smoke-control zone. The report will also identify if the land is contaminated along with some other environmental factors which may need to be considered.
- Environmental Search – In addition to the information obtained by your local authority searches, an environmental search will provide information about ground stability, potential flooding hazards, radon gas exposure and other related factors
- Land Registry Searches – This will enable your conveyancer to check the title register and title plan with the Land Registry. These documents prove that the seller is legally the owner of the property and are a requirement in law to have completed prior to sale. Your land registry search can also include a flood risk check if you are not completing an environmental search.
- Water Authority Searches – This will determine who supplies your water and whether your property has any public drain access.
Other location specific searches which may be optional include
- Tin Mining searches
- Mining searches
- Chancel repair search
- Additional Local Authority Searches to determine other factors such as noise abatement zones, common land Public Paths, Pipelines, etc
Dealing with Your Mortgage Company
If you have arranged a mortgage to finance some of the cost of buying your home, your conveyancing solicitor will need to deal with the mortgage company directly.
The first stage of this is to request a copy of your mortgage offer and to verify the conditions of his document. It is then typical to get a mortgage valuation to validate the offer you have made on the property; this is usually arranged through your conveyancer although you will often have to pay this cost directly to your mortgage company.
Any surveys that are required as a condition of your mortgage must also be completed plus you will have to arrange buildings insurance for your new property. The survey reports and proof of your buildings insurance must be provided to your solicitor.
Whilst all of the above has been taking place your solicitor will have been drawing up the formal contracts taking into consideration any enquiries that have been raised.
They will also detail the fixtures and fittings that have been agreed.
The contracts will have a completion date that has been agreed between yourselves and the sellers; typically this is around 1-3 weeks after the exchange of contracts has taken place.
Your solicitor will also need to confirm the arrangements you have made for the deposit you are making for the exchange of contracts.
This is normally a figure of 10% of the agreed sale price of the property but is up to you to negotiate with the seller. It may be that you can agree a smaller deposit to help with cashflow but you should be aware that, even if you pull out of the sale of your purchase after the exchange of contracts has taken place, you will still be liable for 10%.
Your solicitor will exchange contracts with the sellers conveyancer on the date which has been agreed in the contract. This is usually done by reading the contracts out loud over the telephone with a recording being made by both parties. This is done to ensure that the contracts held by each conveyancer are identical before they are sent in the post to one another.
With a simple chain of just one buyer and one seller, the process of exchange is quite siple but with a longer chain, this has to happen between several sets of solicitors before the contracts can be formally agreed to be ‘exchanged’ for all parties.
As soon as the contracts have all been exchanged then the sale is made legally binding and there is a fixed date by which the contracts must be completed.
Legally speaking, the exchange of contracts means that the seller must sell the property to you and not accept another offer. Likewise you are bound to complete the purchase and failure to do so will meaning losing your deposit.
Between Completion and Exchange
Whilst you can now get busy with the packing and finalising removals your solicitor will now lodge an interest in the property which effectively freezes the Deeds to the property for a period of 30 days. This ensures that no changes can be made to the title of the property before contracts are completed.
Crucially, your solicitor will need to arrange for payment of the final purchase costs to be made to their bank account. Your mortgage company should arrange for this to be cleared at least 24 hours before completion is due to take place. If, however, there are any additional sums to pay or your mortgage company are only covering part of the purchase cost then you will need to ensure that the monies are paid yourself.
Day of Completion
The role of your conveyancers on completion day is simply to ensure that the transfer of money takes place for the purchase of your property. If you are selling a home at the same time then the chain of completing this transfer is dependent on funds being available from your buyers.
Once funds have been cleared and both sets of conveyancing solicitors (buyer and seller) are satisfied with the transaction, they will give the instruction to the estate agent to release the keys for collection.
Once the sale on your property has been completed your solicitor will need to perform some last tasks on your behalf.
This will including paying the Stamp Duty Land Tax to HMRC and submitting the legal documents to the Land Registry to reflect the change in ownership.
Your solicitor should receive a copy of these new documents but the originals will need to be sent on to your mortgage lender who will hold them until you have repaid the loan.
If your property is leasehold then your solicitor will also need to notify the freeholder of the transfer of entitlement.
At this point, a final bill will be calculated for their services and submitted to you for settlement. This may be taken from any funds held on account and you may be entitled to a payment if there is a residual balance left over.
Here at Property Assistant, we have plenty of experience in the process of buying and selling a new home and understand fully the processes involved with conveyancing. Whilst we are no legal experts, we do know that swift and accurate communication between all parties is essential to the smooth transfer of ownership.
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