You have just had an offer accepted on your dream home, or you have accepted a fantastic offer on your home – what now? Whether you are selling or buying a property it is important to understand how the conveyancing process works.
Stage 1: Instructing a Conveyancer
After you have instructed a solicitor, legal executive, or conveyancer, the legal process of transferring a property to or from your name begins. The conveyancer acting for the seller will prepare a legal information pack, traditionally known as the ‘Contract Papers’ which will include:
- A draft contract: This states the address and price of the property, the names and addresses of the buyer and seller and outlines any other agreed terms.
- A fixtures, fittings, and contents form: This is a list of items which the seller intends to leave or remove from the property on completion. Fixtures are items that are fixed to the walls or floor, such as light fixtures and kitchen units, whereas fittings are free standing items, such as blinds and curtains. Once agreed by both parties, the form is attached to, and forms part of the contract and the seller must leave the items marked as included on completion or be in breach of contract. Similarly, the seller must not leave items that they have not listed – such as rubbish in a shed.
- A property information form: This is filled out by the seller of a property. It is designed to provide information on the property directly to the buyer. It is a standard form, with a series of questions relating to the property, and should include details on boundaries and boundary features, disputes, and complaints by neighbouring owners / occupiers, proposed planning applications or guarantees which benefit the property. If the seller fills out the form in a way that is dishonest or covers up important details, they may be liable for misrepresentation.
- The legal title to the property: The Land Registry is a government department which is responsible for recording the ownership of land and property in England and Wales. Registration has become compulsory throughout the country whenever a property is sold or mortgaged so your solicitor or conveyancer will check the title of the property to ensure it can be legally sold.
Stage 2: Searches and Enquiries
There are several different types of searches your solicitor will conduct when you buy a property.
- Local search: Local authority searches are arguably the most important type of search your solicitor will arrange, as they will look at all information held by the local authority involving the property, including any prospective plans for nearby developments or roads. They will also show who is responsible for maintaining roads and paths adjoining the property, and highlight any public rights of way burdening the property.
- Water and drainage search: This is submitted to the local water and sewerage undertaker and confirms whether the foul and surface water drain to a public sewer and whether the property is connected to a mains water supply. It also includes plans illustrating any mains drains affecting or nearby to the property.
- Environmental search: An environmental search is important as it will establish whether the property you are buying is built on or near contaminated land or water, or on an old landfill site. The reason this type of search is required is because many properties are built on land which was previously used for industrial purposes, and toxic substances could remain in the ground. If these aren’t uncovered before you take ownership of the property you could find yourself with a home which is impossible to sell at a later date, or even worse a health hazard. An environmental search should also show whether there is a risk of flooding or subsidence.
During this time, the purchaser should make any enquiries of their own, such as instructing a surveyor or arranging any specialist reports such as electrical or damp reports, as conveyancers do not advise on the physical condition of the property.
The seller will also need to assist their conveyancer with enquiries which are raised by the purchaser’s conveyancer. Once they have satisfactorily answered the enquiries, the seller usually signs their part of the contract in readiness for exchange of contracts.
Stage 3: Pre Exchange
Once the purchaser’s conveyancer has received the results of the various searches and the replies to the enquiries they have raised, they would usually report to the purchaser on the matters pertaining to the property and arrange for them to sign their part of the contract. It is extremely important that a purchaser reads the report carefully so that they are aware of all the factors which affect the property they are buying. At Spire Solicitors LLP we encourage our clients to read our reports in full and ask us questions; some clients prefer to come into the office and go through the report with us so we can fully explain the information to them.
Stage 4: Exchange of Contracts and Completion
Once the purchaser and seller have signed the contracts and the purchaser is happy with all matters affecting the property the conveyancers would then be looking to ‘Exchange Contracts’. At this point a completion date is agreed between all parties, and the agreed deposit is transferred to the seller’s conveyancer. In England and Wales, a property transaction is not legally binding until exchange of contracts takes place.
The completion day is when you will get the keys which are usually held by the Estate Agent selling the property. On this day the purchaser’s conveyancer starts the process of updating the Land Registry with the purchaser’s details and undertakes other post-completion formalities, such as submitting the Stamp Duty Land Tax return.
Please note that conveyancing transactions take on average 8-12 weeks to complete. There are many variables that can affect this timescale and whilst we will do all we can to meet your expectations with regards to a completion date this can’t be guaranteed.
This is a guide to the conveyancing process in its most simplistic form and sometimes there may be other specific considerations which vary from property to property. We would be more than happy to talk through the process in detail with you and hopefully with our assistance, you will find the process to be straightforward and understandable.
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