Do I have to have pre-contract enquiries when buying a house?

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Can I ask my solicitor to not do conveyancing enquiries (aka pre-contract enquiries)?

What are conveyancing enquiries?

Conveyancing enquiries (also know as pre-contract enquiries) are the stage during your conveyance when the buyer’s solicitor will raise a list of various formal enquiries or queries with the seller (via their solicitor).

How long do pre-contract enquiries take?

Typically, the enquiries stage takes anything between 3-6 weeks, but it can be much longer if things get ‘stuck’ (which they can for any number of reasons). 

When do enquiries get raised by my solicitor?

The pre-contract enquiries tend to be raised after the contract pack has been received from the seller’s solicitor, and the searches have been done by the buyer’s solicitor?  It is for the buyer’s solicitor to raise the enquiries.

Why are enquiries necessary in a conveyance?

The legal principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies to the purchase of houses and land in the UK.  It is therefore essential that you understand what it is you are buying.  Once you have exchanged contracts, there is no backing out (without getting sued)!

Why do conveyancing enquiries get stuck?

Conveyancing (or pre-contract enquiries) are raised by the buyers solicitor to hopefully clarify any and all queries that may exist around all manner of aspects to the purchase.  Although the bulk of those queries will be directed at the seller’s solicitor, there is plenty of scope for things to then become stuck and drawn out.  Those issues might include:-

  • Slow solicitor for seller
  • Seller may want to delay (eg for personal reasons or to tie in their own purchase)
  • Other third parties may need to be contacted – eg leasehold management company

Enquiries can be a pain for everyone – even your solicitor!

Should I always allow my solicitor to do pre-contract enquiries?

Yes! Because of the principle of buyer beware you must be sure what it is you are buying and to establish that before exchange of contracts.  Once you have exchanged contracts, you are bound to buy the property – warts and all.  An extreme example, but searches and enquiries may reveal planning for a main road going past your house (extreme example but it happens!).

Are there any times I can instruct my solicitor to ignore enquiries?

If you are a cash buyer, you can technically ask your solicitor to skip enquiries.  But, what is the point of having a solicitor without letting them do their job?  You wouldn’t ask a doctor to diagnose your problems without allowing them to examine you and run some blook tests!  Why ask a solicitor to do your conveyancing for you and not then let them do the important bits?

When am I absolutely bound to have pre-contract enquiries?

Whether you want the enquiries or not, if you are taking a mortgage (which most of us do when buying a house) then you have no choice but to allow your solicitor to undertake pre-contract enquiries.

The reason is that where there is a lender, your solicitor also owes that bank a duty of care as well as you.  In simple terms, the rules in the UK around mortgage lending require the buyer’s solicitor to ‘certify title’ to the bank or building society.  And, the only way of doing that is invariably by undertaking the normal series of enquiries (or indeed those peculiar to a particular property or area).

So, whether you like or not, if you are taking a mortgage, it is the decision of your solicitor whether to do enquiries or not – NOT YOURS!

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