If you have ever wondered what conveyancing means, what it involves and why it is an integral part of buying or selling a house, you have arrived at the right place.
Simpson Millar's 'Your Guide to Conveyancing' aims to give you a comprehensive and jargon-free understanding of the process and why it is essential to ensure your property deal runs smoothly.
What is conveyancing?
The word 'conveyancing' applies to the legal legwork that goes into transferring the ownership of a house from one person to another.
Why is conveyancing needed?
With the amount of money at stake when buying or selling a house, it is important to ensure you, as the buyer and/or seller, remain protected.
While a property inspection tends to identify any potential structural problems, it will not uncover adverse matters that may impact on the property and the land on which it is built. It is for these reasons that a professional solicitor or licensed conveyancer is needed.
Matters such as leaseholds, restrictions of usage, access to services such as water and electricity, rights of way and ground rents might affect the house, its purchase or sale and your ability to successfully complete the transaction.
Your conveyancing solicitor will take responsibility for checking these in order to ensure you are aware of all the issues affecting the property before making a commitment to buy or sell. Your solicitor will also draw up the necessary documentation for transferring a property's legal title from one party to another.
What Is The Difference Between A Solicitor And A Conveyancer?
Simply put, a solicitor will not only carry out conveyancing work, but can also offer services in other areas of law, enabling them to offer you additional support with property-related issues such as Wills, lease extensions, shared/joint ownership contracts and boundary disputes.
These additional services are important as they protect your interests for the future.
- Wills – These help ensure that, amongst other things, your property will pass to your loved ones, keeping a roof over their head in the event you die.
- Lease extensions – Particularly important where the lease period is relatively short. Your solicitor can negotiate an extension to your lease which protects your investment for the long term and which may actually help to improve its re-sale value when its time to move.
- Joint ownership – If you are buying with another person it is important that you protect your investment and share of the property, in the event that your relationship changes and the property has to be sold.
- Boundary disputes – Sometimes it can be unclear as to who owns the boundary to your property – i.e. a wall that needs repair. It is important to determine this so that the cost of any repairs can be correctly apportioned to the owner(s). Your solicitor can help establish this.
A licensed conveyancer will only be qualified to handle property transactions and will have a limited ability to advise on wider issues.
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, while Conveyancers are overseen by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. Both have to be fully insured to operate in the property market.
What Role Does The Conveyancing Solicitor Play In The Transaction?
The conveyancing solicitor plays an essential role in any property transaction, the primary purpose of which is to protect your interests at all stages of the process.
- Checking the legal title documentation (e.g. the contract and Land Registry information) and raising enquiries to clarify any information provided in the contract pack
- Conducting searches with various authorities and organisations to determine whether there are flood risks, financial liabilities, boundary disputes, prospective building developments, or any other adverse matters which affect the property or land
- Providing the client buyer with a detailed report on the legal title, contract and supporting documents provided by the seller
- Drawing up draft contracts detailing what is included in the transaction, such as fixtures, fittings and contents
- Advising on additional costs such as stamp duty, leasehold notice fees, land registry fees and other obligatory expenditure
- Liaising with mortgage lenders to ensure the funds will be made available when necessary
- Producing the transfer documents required for the purchase or sale of a house to go through
- Conducting all final checks prior to the exchange of contracts, after which neither party can pull out without incurring serious costs
- Exchanging contracts, bringing completion day one step closer
- Arranging for the transfer to be filed with the land registry
- Organising the payment of all related fees.
What Is The Role Of The Estate Agent In A Property Transaction?
If you are selling your house, you will probably have employed the services of an estate agent to handle the marketing and sale of your property.
An estate agent acts only on behalf of the seller in a property transaction.
Their duties include valuing and advertising the property through various channels, such as local newspapers and the internet, and, in the event of the sale being part of a chain, monitoring the links to ensure that no avoidable complications appear before or on completion day. Estate agents might also recommend mortgage brokers or lenders, along with surveyors who will normally be required to undertake structural reviews of the property and substantiate the value.
Once an offer has been made, the estate agent will liaise with the conveyancer, as required, to ensure the transaction runs smoothly for all parties concerned.
What Is Your Role In The Transaction?
If you are selling a property, you will need to provide your conveyancer with all the legal information you hold regarding it. You will also have to complete the Property Information and Fixtures and Fittings forms, which will be sent to the buyer.
During the transaction, your conveyancer will liaise with you to provide responses to the legal enquiries raised by the buyer’s solicitor. It is important that these are dealt with promptly in order to ensure the transaction proceeds smoothly.
If you are buying a property you will need to carefully read the written reports that your conveyancer provides to you on the mortgage offer, searches and legal title. You should also let the conveyancer know of any discrepancy between the legal information provided and your own inspection of the property.
When Should You Appoint A Conveyancer?
You should appoint a solicitor as soon as you consider selling or buying a property – even before you have made an offer on a house (or somebody has made you an offer) – as this can help to speed up the process by bringing them on board early.
How Do You Choose A Conveyancer?
Choosing the right conveyancer is essential to ensure your property transaction goes ahead without avoidable delays or hitches, while keeping legal costs to their minimum.
When making your decision you should consider the following:
- If using the services of a solicitor, ensure they are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It is illegal for a solicitor to practise without this regulatory requirement. Likewise, a conveyancer should be registered with the Council of Licensed Conveyancers
- A solicitor should also be able to provide additional services that may be required as a result of a property transaction This includes Will writing, drawing up protective contracts for shared ownership, handling lease extensions or offering advice on settling boundary disputes
This is probably one of the biggest investments you will make in your life; don’t be led by the promise of low fees and unrealistic timescales.
How Long Should The Conveyancing Transaction Take?
If you are buying a house, you can expect exchange of contracts to take place within 6-8 weeks of receipt of the contract pack.
Be aware that if you are in a long chain of transactions, delays across the chain will have an impact on your own completion. Each home is individual and the conveyancing process reflects this.
Your solicitor has to gather information that is provided by third parties, such as search providers, mortgage agreements from your lender and information from the vendor about the property you are buying, all of which can impact on the timeline.
Is DIY Conveyancing An Option?
Although it is possible to carry out your own conveyancing, it is not something that we would recommend.
Conveyancing can be a complicated process requiring legal expertise. A lack of experience might easily lead to a poor deal being struck between yourself and the other party's lawyers. There is also the possibility of leaving yourself open to court action should you make a mistake and the conveyancing is executed incorrectly.
DIY conveyancing is also frowned upon by mortgage lenders, with the majority of banks insisting you use a professional solicitor or conveyancer to undertake the process so that their interests remain protected. In cases where the property is either leasehold, not registered with the land registry, or is not a house or flat, the law becomes particularly tricky, greatly increasing the possibility of error and the chance you will end up with the additional costs of any resulting court action.
What Is Conveyancing Fraud?
With the amount of money involved in property transactions, conveyancing has become an attractive target for criminal gangs, with a reported 2 successful frauds occurring every week.
Those perpetrating these lucrative scams intercept the email exchanges between the conveyancer and the buyer or seller and then pose as the law firm when the money is due to be exchanged, providing the details for a bank account set up specifically for the purpose of the fraud.
The following steps will help you to stay protected against this form of conveyancing fraud:
- When a transfer of funds is requested, always check the email address to ensure the domain name (the bit that comes after the @) matches the site address of your conveyancing solicitor's website
- Double check that the bank details given to you are correct by either phoning or visiting the solicitor's office in person – do not accept bank details provided by email as these can be intercepted
- Do not use the hackable public Wi-Fi of an internet café or pub when checking or replying to emails from your solicitor, or when making sizeable money transfers. A secured wireless or wired connection should be used when large amounts of money are at stake
- Keep financial information in email correspondence with your conveyancing solicitor to a minimum. Communicate important information by phone, fax or post
- Consider sending a small 'test' payment before transferring the full amount. A sum of about £1 will allow you to check that your money is going into the solicitor's account as requested, without risking the funds you have secured to buy the house
- Once you have enlisted a conveyancing solicitor, request that they send you their bank details by post and never take any email stating they have changed at face value – once again, always check by phone or in person.
To speak to one of our professional conveyancing team about your circumstances, contact Simpson Millar today.
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