Buying a house is not as straightforward as finding a property, obtaining a mortgage and taking ownership.
There is a mountain of legal work that needs to be undertaken to ensure your interests remain protected throughout. This is known as conveyancing and is carried out by specialist solicitors with the experience and expertise to ensure a property transaction remains on track. So what does the conveyancing process involve?
The following guide to the process of buying or selling a house will let you know exactly what to expect and what to look out for.
How Long Does Conveyancing Take?
There is no hard and fast timeframe for the conveyancing process, although the period from the issue of contracts to completion is generally between 8 and 10 weeks.
Depending upon the complexity of the transaction this period can increase. If the timings do change, there are usually good reasons for this and one of the most important things a solicitor can do to help reduce your anxiety at this time is keep lines of communication going with both you and the other side, ensuring you remain aware of the transaction's status throughout.
The Conveyancing Process In 10 Stages – Buying A House
When buying a house, the conveyancing process can be broken down into ten stages:
- You instruct a conveyancing solicitor to handle the legal requirements of the forthcoming transaction
- You make an offer on a house and it gets accepted
- Your solicitor contacts the solicitor acting on behalf of the seller to obtain the contract pack, which is then checked, with any pre-contract enquiries being raised. Necessary searches are made and a copy of your lender's mortgage offer is obtained
- The seller's solicitor responds to any pre-contract enquiries
- Your solicitor reviews the replies to the pre-contract enquiries, the results of the searches and the mortgage offer. They will then send their ‘report on title’ to you, which will include a review of the contract pack, along with the contract for signing.
- Once you are happy to proceed, you will need to return the signed contract to your solicitor and arrange for the 10% deposit to be paid to them in preparation for the exchange of contracts
- A completion date is agreed between yourself and the seller and contracts are exchanged by telephone – preventing either party from backing out of the transaction without incurring a financial penalty
- Your solicitor prepares a completion statement, conducts final searches and applies to your lender to release the mortgage loan
- Completion day arrives and the seller vacates the property by the pre-agreed time, while your solicitor sends the funds to the seller's solicitor, who releases the house keys via the estate agent
- Your conveyancer registers the property in your name with the Land Registry and sends the completed registration documentation to you.
The Conveyancing Process In 10 Stages – Selling A House
The process of selling a house, like that of buying one, can also be broken down into ten stages:
- You instruct a conveyancing solicitor to handle the legal sale of your property
- Your solicitor issues you with protocol documentation, including Fixtures and Fittings and Property Information forms, which you complete
- An offer is made on your property, which you are prepared to accept
- Your solicitor obtains the title deeds from either yourself or the mortgage lender who is holding them (or acquires a copy from the Land Registry), together with a statement detailing the amount outstanding on any existing mortgage
- A draft contract is prepared by your solicitor along with supporting documentation, all of which will be sent to the buyer's conveyancing solicitor by email. They will then check it and raise any pre-contract enquires if necessary
- Your solicitor answers these enquiries – liaising with you for any replies that require your input – and the buyer's solicitor confirms whether they are happy with the replies, reporting on the contract pack to their client
- You and the buyer agree a completion date for the transaction and contracts are formally exchanged by telephone – after which neither party can pull out without incurring a financial penalty
- On completion day, you vacate the property at a pre-agreed time and arrange for your estate agent (if one is used) to hand over the keys to the buyer, otherwise responsibility of getting the keys to the new owners lies with you
- Your solicitor pays the estate agent (if used) whatever its agreed percentage of the sale is and repays any amount owing to the existing mortgage lender
- Once your solicitor deducts their conveyancing fees, the remaining money is transferred to your account.
What Happens On Completion Day?
After finding a house, securing a mortgage, ensuring the legal aspects are covered and exchanging the contracts, the big day arrives, so what can you expect?
Completion day is the main event, where the purchase funds are transferred between solicitors, the keys are handed over and ownership of the property is transferred, leaving you free to move in.
Your conveyancing solicitor will aim to have this arranged by midday, checking you are happy to proceed with the transaction and ensuring the funds are available for release, allowing formal completion of the sale. They will then inform you that the sale has gone through and you can pick up the keys to your new home either from the vendor or the estate agent, formally finalising the deal.
What Happens After Completion?
Once you are in your new home, the conveyancing process continues as your solicitor ties up the remaining loose ends, drawing the transaction to a close.
This will involve any remaining administrative issues, such as:
- Checking all deeds and documents are correctly signed and legally binding
- Paying the necessary Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) – Mandatory on all residential properties above a certain value (£125,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
- Applying to the Land Registry to record the transfer of ownership and mortgage (where necessary), and pay the required fees
- Liaising with the Land Registry to resolve any issues raised by requisition
- Checking that registration of ownership and mortgage documents are in order and names etc. are spelt correctly
- Sending a copy of the title deeds to you, along with any remaining documents that are not required by the mortgage lender.
What are the most common problems when buying a house?
Although your conveyancing solicitor will endeavour to ensure the transaction goes as smoothly as possible, sometimes problems will arise. If they do, you must rely on your solicitor to resolve any issues that have the potential to derail the transaction.
The most common problems that can arise when buying a house are:
- Gazumping – This is when the person you intend to buy a property from – having accepted a verbal offer – accepts a higher offer from somebody else. The term also applies when a seller decides to increase the asking price just prior to the exchange of contracts.
Unfortunately, without contracts being exchanged, the seller is under no obligation to sell to you on the basis of a verbal agreement.
One solution is to ask the seller, as a condition of your offer, to remove the house from the market. Although this provides some hope that the property will not attract a higher offer, it is not binding and the seller can just as easily place the property back on the market.
Gazumping can be extremely upsetting, as well as costly if you have already commissioned surveys.
Simpson Millar provides a 'no move no fee' service, meaning you will not have to pay the legal fees for the work we undertake, should your house purchase fall through because you have been gazumped. Any third party costs, such as searches, would still be passed to you for payment as usual.
- Gazanging – Similar to gazumping, gazanging applies when the property owner cancels the sale and decides to stay. This is often for economic reasons, such as prices in the area going up and the vendor being tempted to sell a few months later.
Once again, this can be an unpleasant experience and our 'no move no fee' policy means you will not be charged our legal fees for any work that has already commenced.
- Overpricing – If you need to apply for a mortgage then your intended lender will carry out a mortgage valuation. If they decide that the amount you will be paying for the property is too much, they may make the decision not to lend you the funds required or, in some cases, a reduced amount.
When this happens, you can try and renegotiate the offer price with the seller or, if this fails, either cover the shortfall yourself as part of the deposit or seek a mortgage elsewhere. Of course, the latter approach offers the possibility of the lender valuing the property likewise, leaving you with a choice of whether to continue with the purchase or recommence your house-hunting endeavours from the start.
- Survey problems – The surveying process is there to discover issues with a property that would otherwise remain unacknowledged.
A professional property survey is required in order to highlight possible structural problems that might require attention, as well as help establish the true market value of the property. It will also place you in a stronger negotiating position, allowing you the opportunity to either request the seller gets any issues fixed or reconsiders the asking price, taking the cost of repairs to you into account.
Typical problems that a surveyors report can reveal include damp in the walls, wet or dry rot, subsidence and electrical issues. Most can be easily remedied, without the sale falling through.
A mortgage lender may insist that any such problems are rectified before agreeing to loan you the funds to buy the house, delaying the process until the issues have been resolved.
- Delayed documents – Obtaining the documents from the various sources, whether it is the local authority, the other party's solicitor, mortgage lenders or the Land Registry, can affect the timings of a property transaction.
In these instances the buyer and sellers can help maintain the momentum of the purchase or sale, as it is in everyone’s interests that documents are completed and returned to the solicitors as soon as possible in order for the transaction to remain on schedule.
- Breaking the housing chain – A housing chain is where the purchase of one or more properties depend upon the sale of others, creating a sequence of properties all requiring the preceding and succeeding purchases to complete successfully on the same day.
The number of variables present in multiple property transactions of this nature can give rise to complexities and issues that may cause stress and delays, with all parties facing the same challenges regarding surveys and documentation, while attempting to meet the same deadlines. Communication between the solicitors and their clients is important, in order to keep the transactions moving.
The worst case scenario for a housing chain is if one of the parties pulls out, breaking the chain and causing the entire process to collapse. In such an event, your solicitor will do everything in their power to keep your transaction alive, but sometimes things happen beyond their control and delays will occur.
How Can You Help The Sale Move As Swiftly As Possible?
It can be frustrating when your expectations of a quick sale or purchase are thwarted by delays and inactivity.
To ensure your transaction moves along as swiftly as possible, it is important that you respond to your solicitor's questions and fill out and return any necessary paperwork when requested. It is also important that you have confidence in your conveyancing solicitor to look after your best interests. To this end, you should choose a legal firm with a dedicated conveyancing team, who will have the resources to deal more quickly with your transaction and keep you informed throughout.
A solicitor that can offer instant online conveyancing quotes will also help cut the time it takes to begin the process.
What Do We Do To Ensure An Efficient Sale?
Simpson Millar will:
- Ensure the conveyancing process, whether selling or buying a house, is completed as promptly and methodically as possible, allowing you a speedier transaction
- Take a proactive approach to making sure all relevant parties fulfil their commitments in reasonable time
- Keep you informed of any problems or delays that may arise, as and when they occur. If any additional legal work is required, Simpson Millar will explain why and confirm the cost before commencing
- Ensure everything is in order and ready for completion day, so that your house purchase/sale goes ahead at the arranged time without any last minute hitches
- Tie up all the necessary loose ends once completion has been finalised, including the all-important registration of transfer of ownership with the Land Registry; resolving any further questions that might arise as a result; and ensuring you receive all your necessary documents promptly
- Offer a 'no move no fee' promise If, for any reason, your property purchase or sale fails to materialise, we will not charge you legal fees for the work we have undertaken – only third party fees will be payable
- Provide an award-wining service that takes the anxiety out of 'one of life's most stressful events'
- Sometimes property transactions require additional help with family matters or with litigation and Simpson Millar can provide additional support in these areas with experts on hand to deal with these types of situations
If you are about to buy or sell a house, make sure you use a solicitor with a dedicated and professional conveyancing team. To kick-start your conveyancing process contact one of our expert legal team today.
Get a Quote Today
Our expert team of Conveyancers and Solicitors are on hand to offer you the quality assured Conveyancing service that you expect. We can advise on any aspect of the process and are happy to discuss how we can help make the process as swift and pain free as possible – we want to get you into your new home almost as much as you do!
Call us on 0800 206 1521 to obtain your quote or alternatively fill out our enquiry form and one of our friendly team will be able to start you on the path to your new home!