Your conveyancing solicitor is just one part of your house move. You will also deal with an estate agent; surveyor; a mortgage lender (perhaps through a mortgage broker); and removals company.
The stages that your conveyancing solicitor will deal with for you happen once the house sale/purchase has been agreed through the estate agent. Those stages all work toward exchange of contracts and what is know as ‘completion’ (the day you move house). Until exchange of contracts, nobody is legally bound and both buyer and seller can walk away. This can cause enormous stress for everyone concerned! The bits you need to get sorted before exchange of contracts include the following, and not all of them fall to your conveyancer:-
- ONBOARDING – this is the process of your conveyancer formally engaging you as a client, taking our ID, have you fill out various forms, and so on
- CONTRACT PACK – this is really the first main part of the legal process. The seller’s solicitor will prepare the contract pack and send it to the buyers solicitors
- SEARCHES – these will include a local authority search; environmental search; and water and drainage search. This is done by the buyer’s as they want to establish the good the bad and ugly of what it is they are buying!
- MORTGAGE – you will arrange this yourself (not your solicitor) and you might do so directly with a lender or via a mortgage broker. Your conveyancing solicitor will ‘report’ to you on your mortgage in as much as they will highlight for you the key legal implications – duration, etc
- SURVEY – again, this is one for you. There are a few different surveys that you can have done from a simple home valuation, through to a full survey. If you are taking a mortgage your lender will insist on you having a valuation as they will want to know that the money they are lending to you is safe. Your survey might unearth something that you would like your conveyancer to raise as a formal ‘pre-contract enquiry (see below).
- ENQUIRIES – (also known as ‘pre-contract enquiries’ or ‘conveyancing enquiries’) this is the final step before exchange of contract and it is where the buyer’s conveyancer will raise formal questions of the seller’s solicitors. This might be anything from is the washing machine staying, through to complex legal questions around the legal title of the property
When does Exchange of Contracts happen?
All of the above 6 steps need to be completed before you can exchange contracts. AND, critically, everyone else in your ‘chain’ needs to be ready too because exchange of contracts (and the subsequent moving day ‘completion’) need to happen at the same time up and down the chain. This can be terribly frustrating for buyers and sellers up and down the chain (and the estate agents and solicitors!) as bringing the chain together ready for exchange can be difficult – for example one party may be deliberately stalling if they have personal reasons for delaying their own move. But, that will stop the whole chain from exchanging contracts!
How long does it take to Exchange Contracts?
As a very rough rule of thumb, you should allow around 12 weeks to get from the start of your house purchase to exchange of contracts. But remember – this will vary enormously from one sale/purchase to another, and you will need the chain above and below you to be ready to go. One party in the chain wanting to slow things down can scupper everything! That’s perhaps the great frustration with conveyancing in the UK – so much of it is out of your control, and until you exchange contracts it can all fall apart.
What happens on Exchange of Contracts?
You will have signed your contract ahead of exchange (once your conveyancer is happy with everything). Signing the contract does NOT tie you into the house sale/purchase – ‘exchange of contracts’ does. On the day of exchange, your conveyancing solicitor will check that you are happy to go ahead, and there is then a process whereby the solicitors up and down the chain exchange one after the other. It is all done by phone, and the actual contracts get sent out by post that night to the other solicitor.
The completion date will be set, and a deposit paid by the purchaser.
How much deposit do I pay on Exchange of Contracts?
The normal process is for the buyer to pay a 10% deposit on exchange of contracts.
When will I get a Completion date?
Exchange of contracts will include setting the completion date. Completion is the day you (and everyone else in your chain) actually move.
How long between Exchange of Contracts and Completion?
There is no hard and fast rule on this, and technically it can even be on the same day as exchange of contracts (this does not happen often). Ideally you will have perhaps a couple of weeks which will allow you plenty of time to organise time off with work, child care, and critically to book your removals company!
What happens after Completion?
After completion your conveyancer will:-
- HMLR – Register you as the new onwer(s) at the Land Registry (HMLR)
- Stamp Duty – pay any SDLT due on your behalf
- Mortgage – register your lender’s mortgage at HMLR too
Why does Conveyancing take so long?
If you want to make sure your conveyancing happens as quickly as possible, step one is to instruct the best conveyancing solicitors! But even then, lots of the conveyancing process is out of their hands, and critically you are always beholden to your ‘property chain’ (ie the buyers and sellers in the transactions linked to your own sale and purchase – ‘above’ and ‘below’ you). Everyone in the chain needs to be ready (and willing) to exchange contracts before your own property solicitor can exchange contracts for you. There is unfortunately NOTHING your conveyancer (or estate agent) can do to make buyers and sellers up and down the chain go quicker than they want to or can.