A Simple Guide to Conveyancing
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Understanding the basics of the conveyancing process can ease stress levels when moving home!
Here’s a simple guide to the legal process of selling houses in England & Wales – often referred to as ‘conveyancing’. Each step is summarised here, and you can find a whole load more detail elsewhere on our site (click the links if you want to dive into the detail)!
But, getting to grips with the basics is always a great start right? So, stick around, read on, and let’s demystify conveyancing!
The 8 KEY STAGES of Conveyancing
You can break conveyancing down into just 8 key stages. 6 take you to the magic ‘EXCHANGE OF CONTRACTS’ (stage 7), finishing with the day of your move which is commonly known as ‘COMPLETION’ (step 8).
Before the legal process begins, the estate agent will have agreed the sale with buyer and seller. This is formalised with a ‘memorandum of sale’ which the estate agent will send to both parties, and to both of their chosen solicitors. This is the firing gun for the legal process (the conveyancing) to start. So as we said, think of these 8 key stages:-
2) Contract Pack
This is where your solicitor formally engages you as a client. They will agree their terms of business with you, and critically go through the necessary Money Laundering Regulations. This is to confirm your identity, and to minimise mortgage fraud and money laundering (where ill-gotten gains are ‘washed’ through legitimate transactions such as house buying).
Traditionally, onboarding is done by paper and post, and in particular you may be required to attend at your solicitor’s office with your ID (passport etc), or send them certified copies of your ID.
At Qlaw we use the very latest in biometric ID which simply needs you to complete a short process on your mobile – using the same cutting edge technology used by internet banks. It is the ultimate in convenience for you, taking just minutes. That, instead of taking time off work to get to your local solicitor’s office. See – we haven’t even started the real legal world yet and the ‘online solicitor for everyone everywhere’ has made a difference to your journey already!
> Read more about Onboarding
2) The ‘Contract Pack’
Right, you’ve sorted onboarding, now to the real legal stuff. Key stage 2 is ‘contract pack’. This is a job for the seller and their solicitor. The ‘contract pack’ will include:-
- Draft contract
- Sellers property information forms
- Guarantees (for work done, eg electrical work or damp proofing)
- HM Land Registry Title Register
The sellers property information forms detail all sorts of stuff from what’s staying and what’s leaving the property, through to whether there have been disputes with neighbours. The seller themselves will complete these forms. The seller’s solicitor will do everything else.
As the buyer (and indeed their solicitor) there isn’t much you can be doing other than wait for the contract pack from the sellers solicitor. As a rough guide, this can take anything from 1-3 weeks from the sale being agreed. As with all of the timeframes we can give you here, we can only give you guidance! Each transaction is its own transaction – and NO timeframes are fixed therefore.
The buyer’s solicitor will ‘report’ to their client on the contract pack in due course. This is generally just before exchange of contracts once all enquiries are complete (see below).
> Read more about the Contract Pack
Once the contract pack is in the buyer’s solicitor will usually then order the buyers ‘searches’. These are likely to include:-
- Local search
- Environmental search
- Water & Drainage Search
The searches reveal things from planning, to flood risk, to how mains water gets to the property, and sewerage gets from it. The local search comes from the local authority (of the area in which the house is), the enviro search generally comes from a specialist provider, and the water and drainage search will be issued by the water company local to the property. Actually, there are now consolidated search providers that many solicitors use that will obtain and issue all 3 (or more).
Searches vary in time taken to arrive back with your conveyancing solicitor. They can be anything from instant, to several weeks. At Qlaw we order all of our searches online to ensure max turn around, and least delay for you as our client. When solicitors order the searches they will normally be given an estimated time when the searches will be sent back.
Once your searches are back, your conveyancing solicitor will then need to ‘report’ to you on these in due course also (ie as well as the contract pack). As with the contract pack, that reporting usually takes place later down the line (just before exchange of contracts – rather than piece-meal along the way).
> Read more about Searches
Not everything is down to your solicitor! And, by now, you MUST have a firm mortgage offer in place. Ideally, you will have applied for an ‘in principle’ mortgage before you even started house hunting (to know what you can afford). However, once the conveyancing starts you must ensure that you have a firm written mortgage offer! This will usually have a ‘shelf life’ and will expire on a give date. So, be sure that both you and your solicitor are aware of this! You need to ‘complete’ before your mortgage offer expires!
Getting a mortgage is a job solely for you, and your solicitor will not play any part in what mortgage you choose, or indeed advise you on whether it is the right financial choice for you.
Oddly, what your solicitor will do is also ‘report’ to you on the legal implications of your mortgage before exchange of contracts. However, that simply involves them highlighting the basic terms, and critically what happens if you default on payments!
> Read more about Mortgages
Another one for you (not your solicitor)! You need to be sure about the fabric of what you are buying and that’s a job for your surveyor. It is very much ‘buyer beware’ when buying houses. And, a surveyor is the person to tell you what’s what (warts and all) as regards the bricks and mortar.
There are generally 3 types of survey:-
- Full Survey (detailed warts and all report)
- Homebuyers report (scaled down report with less detail)
- Valuation (simply estimates current value)
Given that it is ‘buyer beware’ – a full survey is always advisable. This is particularly on older properties, or where there are known issues locally. A full survey is the most expensive – in the short term at least! NB your lender will insist on a valuation for their own benefit. And, they may well expect you to meet the cost. Remember that this is simply for them to be confident that the house is worth what you are paying for it so that they can recover the money loaned if you were ever to default on your mortgage repayments! You should NOT rely on the valuation as an alternative to a full survey – they are very different things.
> Read more about Surveys
There are 8 key stages to the conveyancing process.
And so to the dreaded enquires stage! This is where your solicitor will be going through everything that’s happened so far with a fine toothcomb, and then ‘reporting’ to you. This will involve them checking all of your searches, the contract pack, and so on. They will then raise any formal ‘enquiries’ with the seller’s solicitor on anything that needs clarifying, or problems that need to be resolved.
The enquiries stage can be lengthy and often frustrating for everyone concerned. The enquiries can relate to any number of issues. We have lots more information about enquiries on the enquiries section of our conveyancing site.
It is difficult to put a figure on like time frames for enquiries. But as a rough guide allow something like 2-6 weeks. Unfortunately, it is common for enquiries to drag on even longer than that.
Once your solicitor (and you as the buyer) are happy with the replies to enquiries, your solicitor will ‘report’ to you on everything. This is sometimes called a ‘report on title’ and a good report on title should be a plain English translation of everything including the contract pack, searches, and replies to enquiries.
> Read more about Enquiries
7) EXCHANGE OF CONTRACTS
Subject to some general points (see below chains and joint ownership), you are now ready to exchange contracts! This is when there is finally some certainty to the whole process. Until now, either party (buyer or seller) can simply walk away without any comeback for doing so.
Exchange of contracts is the point at which buyer and seller become legally bound to ‘complete’. On exchange of contracts, the day of moving (completion day) is set. Exchange of contracts will happen on the same day for all properties in your ‘chain’ (see below). And, the completion date set on exchange is likely to be the same for everyone in your chain as well.
Your solicitor will conduct the exchange of contracts for you, and there is no need for you to be present. You must pay a 10% deposit on exchange of contracts. Your solicitor will have already discussed this with you some time ago. It is often possible to use any deposit below you in your chain in lieu of your own purchase deposit. This means you may not have to find the full 10% deposit on your purchase in cash.
> Read more about the Exchange of Contracts
This is the day you move! On the day of completion, the balance of purchase money will be sent by the buyer’s solicitor to the seller’s solicitor (CHAPS – electronic bank transfer). Once it arrives with the solicitor, ‘completion’ happens. That’s it!
Dah dah! You collect the keys to your new home from the selling agent, and let your removals firm in to start unloading!
There are a couple of points peripheral to the 8 key stages that you should be mindful of in the conveyancing process.
> Read more about the Completion
This is where linked sales and purchase are ‘dependent’ upon each other. They can create all manner of anxiety! The reason is simple. Because exchange of contracts in any one chain will happen on the same day, then by definition, however far you are along with your own conveyancing, you can only exchange contracts when EVERYONE else in your chain is ready as well!
Your solicitor is bound by strict professional conduct rules that forbid them from speaking to solicitors other than those directly involved in your sale and purchase. So, they can NOT ring around and see what the state of play is in the chain. Your estate agent is not bound by the same conduct rules and so may be able to find out more about the state of the other transactions in your chain. It can make for a VERY frustrating time. So be patient!
> Read more about Property Chains
If you are buying jointly with someone else you will need to decide whether to buy as:-
- Joint tenants; or
- Tenants in common
We have lots of information about the ins and outs of joint ownership which can help you decide on which type of joint ownership is right for you.
> Read more about Joint Owners
More information about conveyancing?
Check out the rest of our site for loads of information about conveyancing, and moving house generally! If you still have anything you’re unsure about, do reach out. Our team of expert conveyancing solicitors are here to help…..!
Costs of Buying a House
Looking for a conveyancing quote? Look no further. Check out QLAW’s instant online conveyancing fee calculator which gives a full and exact breakdown of everything from the conveyancing fee, to the various disbursements (eg Search fees; H M Land Registry fees; and Stamp Duty). We offer fixed fee conveyancing.
Watch our ‘Who does what’ Conveyancing Video…
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