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Conveyancing process explained: For Buyers

This is a guide to the conveyancing procedure when buying a home. Conveyancing involves legally transferring home ownership from the seller to the buyer. It starts when your offer on a house is accepted and finishes when you receive the keys. Understanding what it involves will help ensure there are fewer surprises along the way.

Who does the conveyancing?

A solicitor or conveyancer usually conducts the conveyancing process, but it is possible (although difficult) to do it yourself as long as you are not taking out a mortgage. For more on the difference between solicitors and conveyancers, see Finding the right solicitor or conveyancer?. For information on doing conveyancing yourself, see Should I do conveyancing myself?

First stages

1. If like most people you are too worried or time poor to do the conveyancing yourself, the next step is to find a solicitor or conveyancer and “instruct them” to do it for you. Avoid using the estate agents recommended conveyancer as it will likely be a commission based recommendation and cost you more. Get a quote and use it to shop around for the best price and service.                                                  

2. Your appointed conveyancer will then draw up a draft contract or terms of engagement with you, setting out their charges and deposits required.

3. Your solicitor will write to your sellers solicitor to confirm they are instructed and request a copy of the draft contract and any other details, such as the property’s title and the standard forms.

Legal Work

4. Your solicitor will examine the draft contract and supporting documents and raise enquiries with the seller’s solicitor. You will be expected to go through the forms the seller has completed and let the solicitor know if you have any queries or concerns. In particular you will want to double check the tenure of your new home: is it leasehold or freehold? If  leasehold, don’t rely on your solicitor to check for the length of the lease. Leases below 80 years are a problem, can be costly to extend and you need to have owned the property for 2 years before you are eligible to do so. Leases under 60 years are best avoided.

5. Property searches. There are things you may not know about the property just from viewing it with estate agents or even getting a survey. The conveyancer will do a set of legal searches to ensure there are no other factors you should be aware of:

  • Local authority searches: are there plans for a motorway in your new garden? How about radioactive gas? This costs between £70 and £400 depending on the Local Authorityand usually takes 1-2 weeks, but can take up to 6 weeks
  • Checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry– these are the legal documents proving the seller’s ownership. The title register check costs £8 and the title plan check costs £4. Both are legally required to sell.
  • Checking flood risk – this is also done at the Land Registry - and costs £12
  • Water authority searches – find out how you get your water and if any public drains on the property might affect extensions or building works. The water authority search will cost between £50 and £75. In rare cases an additional flood report may be required.
  • Chancel repair search – to ensure there are no potential leftover medieval liabilities on the property to help pay for church repairs. This is a necessity and costs £18. However, they are being abolished in October 2013.
  • Location specific searches – examples of such searches include:
    • Tin searches in Cornwall
    • Mining searches in Warwickshire
    • Radon gas search in Somerset
    • Environmental search from the Environmental Agency, which costs £73.20. This shows whether, for example, the plot used to be a landfill site

Your mortgage

6. You will need to get your mortgage in place. This will include ensuring you have the financing available for a mortgage deposit. Your solicitor will receive a copy of the offer and go through the conditions. For further information on mortgages, see Mortgages made simple  and What type of mortgage should I get?

7. You will need to get a mortgage valuation. This is carried out on behalf of the mortgage company so they know that the property provides sufficient security for the loan. You normally have to pay for it, but a mortgage company might throw it in for free to attract business

8. You will want to have any other necessary surveys done. Whether you have a survey done and what sort of survey you choose will depend on your specific circumstances. See What sort of survey should I have?

9. Before exchange of contracts can take place your lender will require you to get Buildings Insurance for your new home. You are responsible for the property as soon as contracts have been exchanged so it is in your interests to do so.

Signing Contracts

10. Signing the contract. Since receiving the draft contract from the sellers solicitor, your solicitor will have have been in correspondence  with you about what is covered. Before signing the contract your solicitor will need to ensure:

  • that all enquiries have been returned and are satisfactory
  • that fixtures and fittings included in the purchase are what you expected
  • A completion date has been agreed between the two parties, which is usually 4 to 12 weeks after exchange of contracts
  • That you have made arrangements to transfer the deposit into your solicitors account so that it is cleared in time for an exchange. You may want to negotiate on the size of the deposit, which is normally 10% of the value of the property. However even if you agree to pay less than 10% you are still liable for 10% of the value of the property if you later pull out of the agreement. Therefore if you pay a 5% deposit and pull out of buying the property you will not only lose your deposit but also legally owe an additional 5% of the value of the property

11. Go to the property with the estate agent and the fixtures and fittings inventory list to ensure that everything you paid for is still there and the house has not been damaged in any way

Exchanging contracts

12. You and the seller will agree on a date and time to exchange contracts at any time on any given day

13. Your solicitor will exchange contracts for you. This is usually done by both solicitors/conveyancers reading out the contracts over the phone (which is recorded) to make sure the contracts are identical, and then immediately sending them to one another in the post

14. If you are in a chain your solicitor/conveyancer will do the same thing, but will only release it if the other people in the chain are all happy to go ahead. This means if one person pulls out or delays, then everyone in the chain gets held up. For more, see How do I break the housing chain?

15. Once you have exchanged contracts you will be in a legally binding contract to buy the property with a fixed date for moving. This means that:

  • If you do not complete the purchase, you will lose your deposit and owe the seller more if the deposit was less than 10%
  • the seller has to sell or you can sue them
  • the seller can no longer accept another offer (you no longer need to worry about being gazumped)

Between exchange and completion

16. Your solicitor will lodge an interest in the property which will mean that the deeds to the property are frozen for 30 working days to allow you to pay the seller and lodge your application to the Land Registry to transfer the deeds into your name.

17. The seller will move out (although they may leave this to the day of completion)

18. You should organise the moving

19. The solicitor will send you a statement showing the final figure to pay, which will ned to be cleared into your solicitors bank account at least one day before completion.

On completion day

20. Completion is normally set around midday on the specified date although in practice takes place when the seller’s solicitor confirms that they have received all the money that is due. Once this happens the seller should drop the keys at the estate agents for your collection. You can then move in.

After completion

21. Your solicitor will tie up some loose ends:

  • Pay Stamp Duty Land Tax on your behalf. See Five things you need to know about Stamp Duty
  • You will receive your legal documents about 20 days after completion after your solicitor has sent them to the Land Registry
  • Send a copy of the title deeds to your mortgage lender, who will hold them until you pay your loan off
  • Notify the freeholder if the property is leasehold
  • Give you a bill for their payment

22. You will want to collect together all your paperwork from the purchase of your new home, including the estate agent’s brochure, to file away and keep safe for when you move again.

To improve this service, please give feedback! Leave a comment below, or send a confidential email to comment@hoa.org.uk

 

The legal stuff is here.

 

 


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7 comments on “Conveyancing process explained: For Buyers

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  1. In August 2002, i purchased a house in Nottingham adjoining some allotments. I took what i considered to be sensible precautions and had a basic survey done and employed solicitors to carry out the conveyancing.
    Two years ago, i was informed by the people that are shareholders of the adjoining land via their Secretary, that my boundary fence is in the wrong place and depriving them of land that allegedly belongs to them. The fence was put up by the previous owner of my house and he had declared that “No boundary had been moved in the last 20 years”. From my investigations, it would seem that the council had not provided a boundary fence when the house was built in 1964.
    I would be grateful if you could advise me with regard to this issue, as i have been threatened with court action if i do not surrender the land or buy it.
    The area, according to their surveyor is 19 square metres.
    Does the law of ‘Property Misdescription’ apply for instance and could i use it in my defence?

    Yours faithfully,
    Stephen Cope.

  2. Stephen, I hope this isn’t too late for you (though it probably is).

    You almost certainly have rights as a squatter– the owners should have notified you far before if you were out of the boundary.

  3. I am considering looking for building plots to purchase as an investment for the future. Does the buying process of Land differ much from that of purchasing a property? Would the processes and charges be more or less the same?
    Please be so kind to email me some guidance on this topic.

    Many thanks.

  4. Our conveyancing solicitor seems to be causing unnecessary delays, and doesn’t seem to grasp simple maths (I’m selling to my mum who already has a £55k second charge on my house, the agreed price is £125k therefore after the consideration of £55k there is £70k payable, it seems straightforward to me but not to the solicitor).
    I’m buying another property at the same time which seems to be dragging on for a ridiculously long time.
    Is there benefit to the solicitor to extend the process? We had asked for a completion date that was well before Christmas yet we are still being delayed now and won’t be completing before the end of January!

  5. We sold our late mothers house to a buyer with no chain in October 2013. The house sale was completed Friday 21/2/14. We have not had our money paid into our account and have been told by solicitor that she is waiting for estate agents bill. Is it usual to wait this amount of time for money to be paid into our account?

  6. Hello, I have an unusual situation where I am selling my house and my tenant would like to buy it, which is great. However because she and her husband are in their late 40′s they have been told they need more than 10% deposit and the term will be shorter. They do not have sufficient deposit to buy at this time. I would like to pay their deposit of £10K but then they buy the house at £10K above the current valuation. Is this legal and secondly are there any downsides to the idea?

  7. Hi,

    I purchased my house in 2011 by getting a mortgage including a product with all legal fees covered. I have recently applied for a copy of title details from land registry and it looks like there are 2 typos in my first name. Instead of Muhammad, it says Mohammed.

    My query is: Who is responsible for this mistake as I never filled in any forms for land registry and all my applications with the mortgage lender has the correct spellings.

    Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Thanks

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