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Conveyancing is the legal and administrative work involved in transferring land or buildings from one person or organisation to another.

For the process to happen more efficiently, it’s best for sellers   to make relevant documents available to their solicitor or conveyancer before putting a property on the market. Much of this information is accessible  online such as  consents, boundary ownership,  rights of way, energy performance certificate (EPC), utility bills and,  if leasehold, service charges, ground rent etc.  

However, many buyers and sellers are reluctant to potentially waste time and money until an offer has been accepted. That could be a false economy as serious buyers want to know they are dealing with committed sellers who could act quickly if necessary. Transactions  can only proceed at the pace of the slowest in a chain. 

Instructing a conveyancer or solicitor early might reveal problems which could delay or even jeopardise a sale later. Choice will depend on cost, location, or better still, recommendation though cheapest is rarely best.  A face-to-face meeting to hear what’s required at each stage is a good idea.

Better technology can reduce delays so firms which can provide  a  central communications hub, cloud for document storage,   real time updates, etc.  may be preferable but most transactions still need considerable human input.

Buyers requiring a mortgage should certainly know how much they  can borrow  before starting to look for a property. 

A straightforward sale/purchase without a chain or mortgage may still take 6-8 weeks but 4-6 weeks might easily be added if leasehold, particularly when  obtaining information from managing agents.

Once terms are agreed, the solicitor/conveyancer acting for the seller will send a draft contract and other documents to the buyer’s legal representatives. These include details of the title, respective rights and obligations, service charges and ground rent (if applicable), as well as property information forms setting out fittings and contents staying in the property, responsibility for boundaries  etc.

The buyer’s solicitor/conveyancer can then raise pre-contract enquiries seeking, for instance, guarantees for works carried out, details of service/utility providers, any disputes etc.

Searches – the  solicitor/conveyancer acting for the buyer requests local authority, water and drainage, environmental, chancel etc. searches although others could be required such as for mining or ground stability. A chancel repair liability search checks buyers won’t be liable for maintenance of property owned by a  local church.

Water and drainage searches advise whether the property is connected to a mains water and sewer supply, has a water meter as well as where drains and sewers are located.
Environmental searches usually reveal details of contaminated land, radon gas, ground stability, flood risk etc.

Most searches take 2-3 weeks and provide  information about listed buildings, conservation areas, tree protection orders, improvement grants, future developments, new roads, public paths, advertisements, Houses In Multiple Occupation (HMOs), mineral areas, hazardous substances etc.

Some Councils in England and Wales are digitising local land charges registers which might drastically reduce the present up to 8 week wait for some searches.

Next steps - mortgage valuations, homebuyer condition reports or more detailed building surveys carried out by a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) should confirm whether the property is in good order and represents suitable security for a lender, if a mortgage is required. Cost of the reports depends on the value and location as well as size and condition of the property. 

Buyers are recommended to carefully check the results of these searches and inspections as they are likely to have a better idea of their impact on a property’s value and saleability than their legal representatives!

Once satisfied with replies to enquiries, legal report, mortgage offer, etc,  the buyer’s solicitor/conveyancer generally asks clients to attend their office to discuss the contents, confirm agreement as well as sign the contract and any mortgage deed. 

Exchange of contracts - a completion date needs to be agreed and cleared funds received by the buyer’s solicitor/conveyancer– often 10% of the purchase price but not usually less than 5% - before exchange. A bankruptcy search will be carried out on each purchaser as well as on family members or friends contributing any  loan or gift to the purchase.
The exchange tends to  happen over the phone between respective solicitors/conveyancers with the sellers’ representatives retaining the deposit until completion.

Once contracts have been exchanged the transaction is legally binding as withdrawal or alteration of completion date can have significant legal and/or financial consequences. If relevant, the  buyer’s solicitor/conveyancer will seek transfer of mortgage funds by the lender – and/or other monies - in good time for completion when legal title passes to the buyer.  

On completion -the seller’s legal representatives request a formal transfer to be signed by their client as well as a redemption figure from the lender if there is a mortgage in place and a charge has been registered against the property.  If leasehold, service charges and ground rent need to be apportioned. The completion statement sets out the balance of purchase monies,  fees, disbursements, stamp duty etc required  to finalise the transaction

On the day of completion, the seller should be ready to leave the property by around noon at the latest. Completion usually happens between 1pm and 2pm due to frequent delays in receiving funds through the banking system.

Once the seller’s solicitor/conveyancer has received the balance of monies from the buyers’ legal representatives, completion can take place and keys will be ready for collection by the buyer!

After completion – the seller’s solicitor/conveyancer sends the signed transfer, original deeds and any guarantees to the buyers’ legal representatives. The title is generally registered and stamp duty paid within 30 days to avoid incurring a penalty. Bear in mind, Land Registry may not confirm details of the new registered proprietor for several weeks.
Buying and selling is not straightforward and rarely proceeds without a hitch. Another reason why consulting local chartered surveyors and estate agents, Jeremy Leaf & Co, who have over 30 years experience selling thousands of properties, will increase your chances of a successful and stress free move!

Jeremy Leaf, a former RICS residential chairman &  independent North London Estate Agency owner.