‘Conveyancing’ is simply an old-fashioned word for the process of buying or selling a property. The process itself can be very briefly summarised into just a few paragraphs, however, few ‘conveyances’ follow this simplified process. In its’ simplest form, a house sale/purchase could happen as follows:
Buyer offers Seller £200,000.00 to buy her house. Seller agrees. The seller fills in a Land Registry transfer deed which they both sign (in front of a witness) then the Buyer pays the Seller the £200,000.00. They both walk into their local Land Registry office with their identification and the signed transfer, request the transfer is registered and pay the registration fee. Done!
Of course, this rarely happens in practice because there are numerous issues which may adversely affect the process of buying or selling a house. To add to this, most people purchasing properties do so with the help of a mortgage. Mortgage lenders require all issues, which are normally found by a conveyancer or a survey, to be investigated in detail and addressed prior to lending any money. Investigating these issues, either for a cash buyer or on behalf of a mortgage lender, is what normally slows the process down. This, as well as property chains, slow solicitors, buyers ‘gazumping’ one another, property searches, all add to the time it takes to buy or sell a property.
As a home buyer or seller, it’s important to understand the basics of the conveyancing process so you can be involved and understand what is happening in the various stages. A good solicitor will consistently keep you updated and by understanding the process, you will know what happens next.
In summary, buying or selling property happens in 10 stages:
An offer is made from a buyer, this usually happens through an estate agent. The buyer and the seller will both need a solicitor, this is often where the first delay happens. It may seem obvious that if you buy a house, you need a solicitor. However, it is surprisingly common for a buyer to only start looking for a solicitor once they have had their offer accepted. It may take a while to select a firm they’re happy with and go through the process of appointing the solicitors, signing terms & conditions, verifying the buyer’s identity, which is a legal requirement. It’s only after all this has happened that the buyer’s solicitor will now write to the seller’s solicitor to confirm they are acting for the buyer. Hopefully, this should be via email and not post! Once the buyer’s solicitor has contacted the seller’s solicitors, the seller’s solicitors will need to send all the initial information to be sent to the buyer’s solicitors.
The sale information and documents are prepared and sent to the buyer’s solicitor.
A typical residential sale requires at least:
- A contract;
- A transfer;
- Title documents;
- Property information form;
- Fittings and content form.
Title documents are generally available from Land Registry instantly (assuming the property is registered). A standard contract and transfer will take a competent solicitor approximately 20 minutes to draft.
The property information form and fittings and content form are for the seller to complete and will be provided by their solicitor. These forms ask for a lot of information, some of which is not always known to the seller and may take some investigation. Ideally, the forms will be provided prior to a buyer being found for the property so the seller has plenty of time to complete the forms. However, often the forms are only sent to the seller at the time of sale. This can add additional time to the sales process. Not all law firms make use of email to send and receive files and these forms are not readily designed to be completed electronically, therefore they are often printed, completed and returned by post.
Frequently, conveyancing solicitors are often looking after a large number of files at any one time and will not begin working on the matter until all information has been received. If the seller’s completed forms are returned after 1 week, it is probably best to allow another 2 to 3 days for the solicitor to put together all the necessary information to send to the buyer’s solicitors to review.
The buyer’s solicitor receives the seller’s property information.
A buyer’s solicitor is unlikely to review the information the same day it is received, experience tells us a traditional solicitor is generally working on information received 3 to 5 days prior.
Traditionally, once the seller’s solicitor has provided the title documents, the buyer’s solicitor will request property searches. Searches are advised for all property purchases and are mandatory where a person is purchasing with the help of a mortgage. Searches can take anywhere from 3 days to 8 weeks to be returned.
Information and documents to be reviewed include:
- Contract – this document has been very much simplified over the years and should come in a standard and accepted format. All that usually needs to happen is the names and addresses are checked for accuracy. Behind all residential contracts, there is a set of ‘standard conditions’, these standard conditions have been drafted by a body of professional experts to be as fair as possible for both parties. The contract is a legally binding document and can have significant implications for a party who breaches its terms. In practice, if no terms are breached, the document is not used for anything further after the purchase has taken place.
- Transfer – this is usually a very standard document and is the form used to ‘transfer’ the property from the seller to the buyer and update the title records at the Land Registry. Again, it should mostly be a matter of checking the names and address are correct. In more complex transfers, i.e. where only part of a property is being transferred, the document becomes more complicated.
- Title documents – All registered properties have a title Register and a title Plan. Often, there are additional documents which contain other rights affecting or benefiting the property.
3.1 Title Register has 3 main sections –
Section A: which includes (to name a few) –
- Description of the land with reference to the Title Plan;
- Details of any exclusions from the title, such as mines and minerals particulars of Lease (if leasehold);
- Matters that benefit the land such as: Easements, Rights, Privileges, Covenants, Party wall declarations.
Section B: which includes –
- Class of Title;
- Name of the owner;
- Address for service of the owner;
- Positive covenants;
- Purchase price (or value declared).
Section C: which includes notices of –
- Mortgages and charges;
- Other interests adversely affecting the property;
- Restrictions relating to charges/mortgages;
- Notices relating to charges/mortgages.
3.2. Title Plan is a map which shows the boundary of the property edged in red. It may also show access ways and other areas which have various rights in other colours on the plan. The plan is commonly shown at a scale of 1:1250 therefore the red line showing the boundary is only accurate to approximately one metre.
3.3. Additional Deeds, often historic, may also be noted against the property title. These deeds often contain rights of access, restrictive covenants and positive covenants affecting the property. Such rights and covenants lead into a vast area of law and careful consideration needs to be given to whether they remain in place and/or are enforceable. Further information can be found by following the links in the previous sentence.
3.4. Lease where a property is leasehold.
3.5. Property Information Form. This specifically prepared form is designed to address all the common queries a solicitor may have when seeking information about a residential property. The Law Society has provided a very detailed Explanatory Note here, which explains each section of the form. A solicitor reviewing the form will request further information from the seller’s solicitors where they consider the information provided by the seller is either insufficient or requires further investigation.
3.6. Fittings and Contents Form. This is another specifically designed form for the seller to complete indicating which fixtures and fittings will remain at the property once sold. A solicitor will review this form to ensure it is completed in full and check to see the main appliances are included in the sale. There is no obligation on the seller to include any items in the sale, however, they must make it clear on this form if they are not leaving them. It is extremely important the buyer checks this form and is aware of which items are remaining and which items are not.
Conveyancing property searches are reports that reveal if there are any risks to a property being purchased in relation to issues including planning enforcements, environmental issues including flooding, mining or subsidence, and more.
A local authority search, for example, will provide information on any planning and/or building regulation applications, approvals and enforcement notices. It will also reveal if a property is a listed building if it is in a conservation area and if any land within the property is required for public use, etc. Property searches are applied for by the buyer’s solicitor and are usually applied for through a search company.
The majority of searches are undertaken by accessing electronic records and can be obtained in a few days, with the exception of a local authority search. A local authority search is undertaken by either a specific department within the Local Authority (this is an ‘official’ search) or by an independent company who will send an agent to attend the relevant office of the local authority and go through the records to provide the search results.
A local authority search can therefore take anywhere from 3 days to 8 weeks, depending on the local authority and their lead-times.
Because a local authority search can take several weeks, it is imperative a buyer’s searches are undertaken at the earliest opportunity. To apply for most property searches, a title plan for the property needs to be provided to the search provider. In a traditional approach to conveyancing, the title plan is obtained by the seller’s solicitor and sent to the buyer’s solicitors. There will ultimately be a wait for the buyer’s solicitor to be able to request the property searches.
If you are purchasing a property with the assistance of a mortgage, you must undertake at least a local authority search as well as a water and drainage search. A mortgage lender requires your solicitor to undertake ‘all necessary searches’. Depending on the use (current and former), location and other factors, additional searches as set out below may be necessary and therefore mandatory to satisfy your mortgage lender’s requirements.
Common residential searches include:
- Local authority search;
- Water and drainage search;
- Environmental search;
- Planning search;
- Flooding search;
- Chancel repair search;
- Coal mining search.
Enquiries (requesting further information from the seller)
The buyer’s solicitor will ‘raise enquiries’ (ask questions) with the seller’s solicitors on any points which require further investigation from stage 3 and 4 above. Such questions may relate to the property title, for example, requesting further information on a right of way over, or from, the property or more information on covenants affecting the property.
Some enquiries are a request for further information from the information provided by the seller on the Property Information Form. For example, it is surprisingly common for a seller to confirm on the Property Information Form they have had building, gas or electrical work undertaken at the property, however, copies of the necessary documentation, i.e. building regulation completion certificates, have not been provided.
Also at this stage, a buyer may receive a ‘report’ from their solicitor on all the information received from the seller’s solicitor up until this point. This report will be subject to any enquiries which have been raised with the seller’s solicitors but not yet responded to.
The buyer can now review the information including checking the boundaries against the title plan, review the list of fixtures and contents which are being left at the property, and ensuring they are satisfied with the information provided so far.
If you are selling a property and have any documentation, certificates or information about the property which is either mentioned in the Property Information Form or you consider may be needed, you should send them (or copies of them) to your solicitor at the very beginning of the sale as this can save considerable time during the process.
Responding to Enquiries
Once the buyer’s solicitor has sent the enquiries to the seller’s solicitors the seller’s solicitor will need to liaise with the seller to obtain the requested additional information and/or documentation. Hopefully, this doesn’t take the seller’s solicitor more than 48 hours to start reviewing the enquiries, however, it may take the seller a few days or more to gather the information needed, especially if a duplicate certificate or information from a third party is required.
Once all the buyer’s solicitor’s questions have been sufficiently addressed, the information and any documents will be sent to the buyer’s solicitor for them to check.
It may be the answers provided by the seller’s solicitors have not been sufficient to satisfy the legal issue and the buyer’s solicitor has raised a further set of questions or requested further information from the seller’s solicitors. This can happen more than once and obviously adds further delays. Until the legal issues have been adequately addressed, the matter will not be able to move forward. In some cases an indemnity insurance policy can be taken out to address the issue and allow the matter to progress.
Once the legal issues have been adequately dealt with, all the information provided by the seller needs to be presented to the buyer, with summaries and explanations, to ensure the buyer is aware of the relevant information relating to the property and the transaction. Depending on the extent of any reports already provided to the buyer, a final report is usually provided to the buyer to ensure they have had all the information and, more importantly, are satisfied with all the information.
Along with the final information, at this stage the buyer should also expect:
- Draft invoice and completion statement;
- Stamp duty form;
- Final contract for signing;
- Final transfer for signing;
- A form confirming they are satisfied with all information and are agreeable to exchanging contracts.
If the buyer is taking a mortgage, they will also be provided with a very brief mortgage summary and the mortgage deed for signing.
Exchange of Contracts
To be able to exchange contracts ALL of the following needs to occur:
- Both solicitors hold their respective client’s signed contract.
- A completion date has been agreed (by all parties in the ‘chain’).
- The buyer has paid their deposit to their solicitor.
- Final authority to exchange contracts has been given from the buyer and the seller to their respective solicitors (usually on the day of exchanging contracts).
Following the exchange of contracts, the seller’s solicitor needs to:
- Prepare a completion statement.
- Obtain a final redemption statement to pay off the seller’s mortgage (if any).
- Send account details and completion information to the buyer’s solicitor.
- Send the seller’s executed contract to the buyer’s solicitor.
Following the exchange of contracts, the Buyer’s solicitor needs to:
- Prepare a completion statement.
- Request mortgage money from the buyer’s lender (if any).
- Obtain a final balance of monies from the buyer. This will include stamp duty, legal fees and disbursements.
- Send the seller’s executed contract to the buyer’s solicitor.
This is surprisingly simple. Once the post-exchange steps above have been done and all money is with the buyer’s solicitor, the buyer’s solicitor will send the completion money to the seller’s solicitors by electronic bank transfer.
Once the money has been received by the seller’s solicitor, they will telephone the buyer’s solicitor to confirm the money has been received and the sale has completed. The seller’s solicitor will then call the estate agent to confirm the matter has completed and the keys to the property can be given to the buyer, who is now the owner of the property.
Once the seller’s solicitor has confirmed completion to the buyer’s solicitor, the buyer’s solicitor will telephone the buyer to confirm the purchase has completed. They are now the owner of the property and they can collect the keys to their new house from the estate agent.
The seller’s solicitor will pay any mortgage the seller had and send the balance to the seller on the same day. They will also send the seller’s signed transfer and any original documents relating to the property to the buyer’s solicitor.
The buyer’s solicitor will pay the buyer’s stamp duty and attend to the registration of the property transfer.
The buyer’s solicitor will register the transfer of the property at Land Registry. This is usually done electronically and can take anywhere up to 6 months for Land Registry to process.
Once the transfer has been registered, Land Registry will send an updated copy of the Title Register to the buyer’s solicitor who will, in turn, send it to the buyer.
The Title Register is simply an electronic printout of Land Registry’s electronic records or property ownership. If a Title Register is lost, a further copy can be obtained from Land Registry for a small fee.
Original ‘deeds’ are uncommon these days and the safekeeping of title deeds is generally no longer required.
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