There is a legal process in the UK that must be followed when buying a house. While there is no legal requirement, using an experienced conveyancing solicitor can save you time, money and future pain.
A summary of the conveyancing process
Once you have had an offer accepted on a property it is the solicitor’s job to manage the legal process and to ensure there is as little risk involved for you as possible.
- The buyer’s solicitor requests and reviews the title deeds and contract pack.
- The title deeds and other documents about the property are inspected and any additional information may be requested from the seller’s legal representative.
- The right solicitor will be aware of any missing information when reviewing the legal documents.
- The buyer’s solicitor should commission property searches including; local authority searches, land registry searches, water & drainage searches, environmental searches (e.g. to check that the property is not near any contaminated land) and any other location specific searches, along with any certificates relating to the property.
- The buyer’s solicitor will receive evidence that there has been a mortgage offer (where relevant) along with any evidence required to demonstrate that the property purchase can be made – including relevant identification. The solicitor may also check that you are not in breach of the conditions of your mortgage offer e.g. do you have the necessary buildings insurance?
- The buyer’s conveyancing solicitor will then approve the draft contract for the buyer to sign. The contract will detail the terms and conditions of the property sale.
- A legally binding contract is created when the “offer to purchase ” is signed by both the buyer and the seller and the respective solicitors have carried out the formal exchange process. The exchange of contracts confirms the agreement between the seller and buyer in respect of the legal transfer of the property as well as the potential completion date.
- The solicitor will send a statement of any fees due such as deposits, stamp duty, land tax or a land registry fee. Any mortgage money is then requested from the mortgage lender and sent to the seller’s solicitor on completion together with the completion funds from the buyer.
- The keys are then collected by the buyer on “completion day” – usually via an estate agent.
- The buyer’s solicitors deal with all the post completion formalities inducing submitting the SDLT return and updating the title deed at Land registry to reflect the purchaser’s ownership.
At what stage in the house buying process do you need a conveyancing solicitor?
You can start thinking about which property solicitor to use as soon as you begin your property search. This is a good time to understand potential costs and time scales.
As a rule of thumb, you should instruct a good solicitor or conveyancer as soon as you have had an offer accepted on a property. This allows the legal process to begin and ensures that you have a conveyancing solicitor in place to deal with any requests from the seller’s solicitor.
What legal documents do solicitors need when buying a house?
The purchase can complete when all necessary information is provided to the solicitor or conveyancer of the party buying the property.
These documents include but are not limited to:
- title deeds
- transfer deed
- property searches
- planning documents
- details of any property survey e.g. valuation survey
- any other documents that are relevant to the property purchase
- details of the mortgage offer
- confirmation that the buyer has the relevant funds
What are the common issues that arise during the conveyancing process?
There are various factors that may affect the purchase price. Some properties will come with a history that could affect the purchase process and what you are allowed to do with the property in future such as restrictive covenants.
A good solicitor will use their experience to ensure that the new owner is left with no hidden surprises.
For example there may be potential for boundary disputes or property searches may uncover potential flood risks or adverse planning entries or enforcement notices.
It could even be that the property you are purchasing did not have the correct planning permission or approval from building control.
The other party may also be difficult to deal with, requiring expert negotiation from a solicitor.
How long do solicitors take when buying a house?
The conveyancing process can take around 8 to 16 weeks. For most solicitors it is a case of relying on 3rd parties to send information required to make sure they have covered all the legal angles.
3rd parties may include the solicitor of the seller and local authorities. If information needs to be queried or is missing, then this process can take longer.
The conveyancing process for leasehold property transactions can take longer than the freehold process, as there is additional paperwork involved with the leasehold.
This includes checking the terms of any existing lease, ensuring that all necessary documents are signed by all relevant parties and obtaining consent from the landlord or managing agent for the purchase. All these steps need to be taken in order to protect both buyer and seller, as well as comply with relevant legislation.
The conveyancing process is usually shorter when a cash buyer is involved, as there are no mortgage documents to be prepared and there is no need for a mortgage lender to conduct any surveys. This means that the contract can be exchanged sooner, making the whole process take less time. Cash buyers usually require fewer checks than those with a mortgage, as they already have all the funds available.
What do you pay a solicitor for when buying a house?
When buying a house, you will pay a solicitor for the legal advice and assistance they provide. This includes checking that all documents are in order and ensuring that you have good title to the property, drawing up contracts, negotiating any issues or disputes that arise during the process, handling the transfer of funds and registering changes with the Land Registry. They will also offer general advice throughout the conveyancing process to help ensure your purchase runs smoothly.
You should be sure about how your property solicitor’s legal fees work. Some charge a fixed fee, while others use an hourly rate.