An introduction to the conveyancing process

Buying a home is the biggest financial outlay that most of us will ever make. It is vital to use a reputable conveyancing solicitor to carry out the legal work for you to avoid many of the legal pitfalls that you could otherwise encounter.

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When should I instruct a conveyancer?

If you are selling a home, it can save time in the long run if you speak to your conveyancer when your existing home goes on the market. They will advise you what documents you should start pulling together and begin preparing the contract pack, which will eventually be sent to your buyer. If you are a first-time buyer, then you need to instruct a conveyancer as soon as you have had an offer accepted on a property.

It is important to use a solicitor experienced in conveyancing matters, as the law relating to the sale and purchase of property is complex and full of traps for the unwary. The Law Society operates the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.

You will need to provide your conveyancer with evidence of your identity, and they will usually ask for payment of a sum of money on account of expenses.

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What does the process involve?

On your sale, your conveyancer will put together a pack of the replies to enquiries about the property, title information and draft contract to send to the buyer’s conveyancer. They will liaise with your estate agent and the buyer’s conveyancer throughout the process and complete the sale on your behalf. If you had a mortgage on the property, the conveyancer will pay it off out of the proceeds of sale.

When you are selling a property, you will need to complete replies to standard forms about the property. These cover issues such as who has maintained any boundaries, whether the property has flooded while you have been the owner, whether you have had any disputes with the neighbours, and whether items from garden furniture to light fittings and everything in between are included in the sale.

On your purchase, the conveyancer will submit searches to various bodies to uncover information about the property. Searches are important because the general rule with property transactions is ‘buyer beware’. If you do not carry out a search that would have revealed information detrimental to the property, you are unlikely to have any recourse against the seller. These searches include the local authority search for issues such as whether roads are adopted, planning permission and building regulations consent, environmental searches, water and drainage searches, coal searches if necessary, and land registry searches.

The conveyancer will receive a pack of information from the seller’s conveyancer, including details of the seller’s replies to standard enquiries about the property and the legal title to the property. The conveyancer will use their legal expertise to check the title to the property and review the other information. You will receive a report from them setting out any burdens on the property and any rights it may have, along with any other matters that you need to know about.

If you are buying a property with a mortgage, your conveyancer will also act on behalf of the mortgage company and report to them before you exchange contracts to confirm that the property is satisfactory security for their mortgage.

Exchange of contracts is the step that commits both parties to completing the sale or purchase on a specific date. Completion date, or moving day, is usually set for 7 to 14 days after exchange, but the two can happen on the same day if all parties agree.

What about a survey?

If you are buying the property with a mortgage, your mortgage company will instruct a valuer to value the property. However, mortgage valuations are limited and most buyers will wish to upgrade the survey to a level 2 HomeBuyer Report or a level 3 building survey, previously known as a structural survey. For more details of when a structural survey is advisable and what it will involve, read this structural survey information .

What happens on completion day?

On completion, or moving day, your solicitor will ensure that your sale and purchase are tied together so you do not end up having sold one property without being able to move into the new one. They will liaise with your mortgage company, submit your stamp duty land tax return, and attend to registration of your new home at the Land Registry.