Do you know how to look for a new house? Of course you do; it seems silly to even ask. What about making an offer? Even most first-time buyers know what’s involved there. Okay, how about the steps between your offer being accepted, and exchanging contracts with the seller? Can you explain what goes on between exchange and completion? Didn’t think so.
When purchasing a house, many question the necessity of hiring a solicitor, but few understand the process of conveyancing – the legal procedure of transferring a property title to somebody new. In case you’re not familiar with the process, here’s what your solicitor does (and why they take so long), in between you making an offer on the property, and them handing you the keys.
- Guiding you through the process.
It’s fine if you don’t know about the legal steps of purchasing a house; that’s what a solicitor is for. A qualified solicitor or conveyancer has been specifically trained to manage property law, and will be both your representative and guide throughout the process.
Solicitors are particularly valuable for first-time buyers, as they can simplify each step and explain the various legalities associated with conveyancing and property contracts.
- Investigating the history of the property
There are certain aspects of a property that are not immediately obvious, like whether it’s built on contaminated land or if a neighbour has an easement in place. When you hear the term “conducting searches”, it refers to these investigations.
While the law doesn’t stop you from making these due diligence queries yourself, instructing a solicitor to carry these out on your behalf will be quicker, more thorough and far less stressful. Typically, the list includes:
- Checking with the Land Registry to confirm the title ownership and boundary lines;
- Determining whether the land may be affected by flooding, landfill sites, nearby (or previously existing) industry or other ground stability issues;
- Establishing any usage restrictions in place by the local authority;
- Contacting the local water authority in case public drains will affect your ability to extend the property;
- Identifying whether the property is liable for chancel repairs (where landowners are required to pay ongoing fees towards the local church);
- Any searches specific to the local area, such as common land or mining searches.
These checks happen around the same time that you would commission a survey on the property, to check for structural defects. Depending on your circumstances, you may choose to use a firm that can assist you with multiple aspects of your purchase, like getting both conveyancing and RICS surveys with Daily Move.
- Handling the legal hurdles
For many parts of the conveyancing process, it is not a legal requirement that they be conducted by a qualified solicitor. However, it can certainly help to have an expert on hand to negotiate any issues that are revealed in the searches, or contained in the draft contracts sent over by the seller. Without the experience of a conveyancer, buyers can easily end up out of their depth dealing with complex legal issues.
There are still some aspects of conveyancing where a legal professional is mandatory, such as guaranteeing that the existing mortgage on the property will be removed. This undertaking must be provided by a qualified solicitor or conveyancer, as improper handling is considered professional misconduct and is met with severe penalties.
- Managing the contracts.
Once you and your solicitor are satisfied with the results of the searches, it’s time to go through the contracts again. Unsurprisingly, the contracts transferring property ownership are long and detailed. Going through them with someone that has legal experience is strongly advised, and they can draw your attention to any clauses they have concerns about or items they feel are too vague (or missing altogether). Your contract will also include the list of fixtures and fittings that are included in the property and, crucially, the completion date agreed between you and the seller.
When the contracts have been signed, you can arrange a time for your solicitor to manage the exchange of contracts with the seller’s representative. This is usually done over a recorded phone call, so both solicitors have a record that their documents contain the same thing.
- Completing the sale.
Once contracts have been exchanged, most buyers (and sellers) breath a huge sigh of relief. At this point, the sale agreement is legally binding, and serious penalties come into effect if either party pulls out or delays the transaction past the agreed date for any reason.
It might feel like the final stretch to buyers, but there is still a lot of conveyancing work to be done. Funds have to be transferred, tax returns have to be prepared and Stamp Duty Land Tax must be paid to HMRC. If you don’t choose to hire a solicitor, it becomes entirely your responsibility to ensure the necessary actions are taken in time to meet strict deadlines.
Even if you are not relying on a mortgage (and therefore are not legally required to instruct a solicitor), the technical conveyancing process is extremely stressful. It’s much easier to instruct an experienced solicitor to carry out your conveyancing, leaving you to put your feet up until they hand you the keys.