Conveyancing enquiries are raised by the buyer’s solicitor before exchange of contracts.
Conveyancing enquiries (otherwise known as pre contract enquiries) are the questions that are formally raised by the solicitor acting for the buyer in a property transaction or conveyance.
When are pre-contract enquiries raised?
The pre-contract enquiries tend to be raised after the contract pack has been received from the seller’s solicitor, and once the buyer’s solicitor has undertaken searches.
What things do enquiries cover?
Enquiries can cover anything from simple things like what white goods are staying at the property, through to complex legal issues like easements, covenants, and planning.
What gives rise to enquiries?
The enquiries tend to arise from:-
- the sellers property information forms (which the seller completes when selling and which sets out all sorts of info around the property
- the Contract Pack (sent by the seller’s solicitor) which includes the sales contract and ‘title deeds’; and
How long do Enquiries take?
There is only so much that your solicitor can ever do to speed up this process as it is necessary for others to be involved in answering the enquiries (eg the other solicitors, and possibly third parties like leasehold management companies, or perhaps the planning office).
Ideally, your solicitor will deal with all enquiries in one go, ie raise them with the seller’s solicitor in one straightforward list. However, by their very nature it does sometimes become necessary for further enquiries to be raised as the process progresses. On average you would expect the inquiry’s stage to take a matter of 3-6 weeks. Unfortunately, if you are buying a particularly unusual property, or if the seller is unhelpful, the inquiry’s stage can drag on beyond that.
Do property chains slow down enquiries?
For most of us when we are buying a property it is likely that we will be involved in a ‘chain’. This is where there are dependant transactions associated with your own sale and purchase. Whilst those other transactions will not necessarily slow up your own enquiries, it is normal practise for all buyers and sellers in anyone given chain to have to have all of their own inquiries completed before synchronised exchange of contracts can happen up and down that chain. That being so, the enquiries of other parties within your property chain do indirectly slow up the move to exchange of contracts.
Some sellers will also use the enquiries stage to deliberately slow up the conveyancing process if they are trying to synchronise a purchase of their own which for whatever reason has become delayed. In those circumstances, the seller will invariably be reluctant to share that tactic with other people in the chain, or indeed their own estate agent. This is a great example of where the enquiry stage can cause great frustration up and down the chain.
Enquiries can be frustrating for everyone – even your solicitor!
In the hands of others!
The moral of the story is that however quickly your own enquiries are dealt with, if you are involved in a property chain then completing your own enquiries becomes slightly academic as it will be necessary for all other enquiries up and down the chain to be completed before exchange of contracts happens. Equally, however quickly (as a buyer) your own solicitor deals with your enquiries, your solicitor will always be in the hands of others in terms of them replying both speedily, and adequately to all of the enquiries that they raised on your behalf.
Do I have to have Enquiries?
If you are taking a mortgage then you have no choice but to allow your solicitor to raise enquiries on your behalf. This is because your solicitor will also be certifying the title of the property for the lender. The rules surrounding mortgages require solicitors to undertake a full ‘title review’ and to report to the lender with confirmation that everything is in order. It is not therefore your choice as to whether the enquiries take place or not if you are taking a mortgage.
If you are a cash buyer then technically you can do away with the enquiry stage. However, buying property in the UK is very much buyer beware! That being the case, it is unwise to buy a property without allowing your solicitor to undertake enquiries as you would be ‘buying blind’. Indeed, many solicitors would insist on you signing some form of indemnity in favour of them if you asked for that unusual step.
Do Enquiries cost extra?
The enquiries themselves are usually included in the fee you pay to your solicitor as the buyer. However, things can come out of enquiries that may create further cost – sometimes called ‘disbursements’. So for example, some unresolved queries can often be overcome by purchasing what are known as indemnity policies. These are specialist legal insurances that cover you if the problem in question later becomes a practical issue.
If enquiries on your own purchase created a need for such an indemnity policy your solicitor will discuss this with you, inform you of the cost, and of course get your approval before arranging any such insurance (which would be a disbursement that you would of course be liable for on top of your solicitors professional fees). For the avoidance of doubt – this is just an example of possible extra costs around enquiries, and more often than not NO such policies are needed!
Can the estate agent help with enquiries?
A good estate agent will invariably provide great ‘glue’ to a property transaction – chasing things up and down the chain. Solicitors have very strict rules of conduct which forbid us from speaking to solicitors other than those directly associated with your own transaction. So, your estate agent can be a great source of help to ‘chase’ enquiries.
Remember, once the buyer’s solicitor has raised enquiries with the seller, it is then firmly in the hands of the seller and their solicitor. Indeed, it is quite normal for seller’s to actively delay replying to enquiries if, for example, they are trying to ‘catch up’ with their own purchase if that is not coming together. Your estate is permitted of course to speak directly with the seller (your solicitor is not) and so do encourage your estate agent to help with the chasing of enquiries.
As explained above, if you are in a property chain, there are likely to be other enquiries ongoing up and down that chain, and, until they are all resolved, synchronised exchange of contracts throughout the chain will not happen. Put another way, even if your own enquiries are complete, you may be forced to delay exchange until everyone else’s enquiries are sorted in the chain! Frustrating right?! But again, ask your estate agent if they can chase this up for you.
Knowledge is key!
So, we’ve concluded that pre-contract enquiries drag on. We’ve concluded that knowledge is key. And we’ve concluded that even with that knowledge you are in the hands of others (particularly so when you are in a ‘chain’ as everyone’s enquiries need to be sorted before you can (all) exchange contracts.
So, how can you relieve those frustrations? Well, chose the right solicitor is a good start (we would say that). At Qlaw, our client app gives you 24/7 access to your whole file so that you can see real time exactly what is going on with your conveyance. Few solicitors offer that level of transparency, so when you’re next choosing a solicitor, think hard about why you are going with the firm you do. We reckon knowledge really is key, and our clients agree. And, if you want total transparency not just with enquiries, but with everything else, perhaps give Qlaw a try next time you move…