Buying or selling a property and the conveyancing process involved is often complex for both buyer and seller and some of the information or unfamiliar legal terms can seem confusing if you have not heard of them before. Our Conveyancing FAQ aims to help you make sense of the conveyancing process and explains some of the common conveyancing legal terms.
What does conveyancing mean?
Conveyancing, in its most simple form, is the area of law that involves the preparation of documents necessary for the purchase of sale of a property and is the legal process by which the ownership of a property is transferred from one owner to another. The process involves two core phases; the exchange of contracts and completion and this will be carried out by a conveyancing solicitor or licenced conveyancer.
What happens at Exchange of Contracts?
This is when the two legal representatives of the buyer and seller swap signed contracts and the buyer pays the deposit. Once the exchange of contracts has taken place, the agreement to buy or sell a property becomes legally binding. Until this point, either the buyer or the seller can pull out of the transaction without incurring any serious costs.
To get to the exchange of contracts stage, the property solicitor or licenced conveyancer representing the buyer and seller will have needed to carry out various searches and legal obligations. Once these have been completed, the legal representatives of each party will confirm that their clients have signed identical contracts. It is at this point that the completion date is agreed on and a deposit is normally sent to the seller’s solicitor / conveyancer – this is usually up to 10% of the purchase price – and the signed contracts are exchanged.
What searches and surveys need to be completed?
Before purchasing any property, it is normally advised to have certain surveys performed which will identify if there are any issues or potential problems with the property that is being purchased. There are various surveys that can be conducted, however, the three core checks are; rot, damp and surveys for structural problems. Although these surveys are useful, they are not compulsory and many buyers choose to progress without them.
However, if you require a mortgage to purchase the property, there are certain mandatory searches that mortgage lenders require before giving you a mortgage. Typically these searches include:
- Water and Drainage Searches – These are required to ensure that the property being purchased is safe from any flooding, leaking or damp caused by public waterways and drains.
- Environmental Searches – An environmental search as it suggests, is the survey carried out to identify what the land and the land in the vicinity of the property was previously used for and whether such uses are likely to have caused any potential contamination of the land.
- Local Authority Searches – Evaluating the local area to identify if there is anything that might affect the property in the future.
- Bankruptcy search – Only applicable if you’re having a mortgage, but if you are then your mortgage lender will expect your legal representative to confirm that you are not bankrupt and that you are not going through bankruptcy proceedings.
What is an Energy Performance Certificate?
Also known as an EPC, these are documents which provide buyers with details of how efficient a property is in terms of its energy consumption. Your property’s EPC needs to be available to potential buyers as soon as you start to market your property for sale or rent. You must get an approved Domestic Energy Assessor to produce the EPC. If you’re buying or renting a property, an EPC allows you to compare the energy efficiency of different properties easily.
What are title deeds?
Title deeds are documents showing proof of ownership and the chain of ownership for land and property. They can include:
- contracts for sale
Since it has become compulsory to register property at the Land Registry the days of having bundles of paper title deeds have become a thing of the past – usually now the title deeds consist of a copy of the electronic registers held at the Land Registry.
What happens on the Completion Date?
The completion date is when the ownership of the property is legally transferred from the seller to the buyer. The date of completion will have been agreed at the exchange of contracts stage. It is at this point that the buyer’s legal representative will arrange for the agreed purchase money to be transferred to the seller’s legal representative. On confirmation of funds received, the seller’s legal representative will arrange for the keys to the property to be handed over to the buyer.
What are conveyancing disbursements?
During the conveyancing process there are additional fees and taxes that apply to all transactions and that must be paid to various third parties by the solicitor or licenced conveyancer on the behalf of the seller or buyer. These are known as disbursements and most of them will be paid at the start of the conveyancing process. However, some of these additional expenses will be added to the final property transaction costs and paid at the final point of the completion stage. Your property solicitor or conveyancer will ensure you are fully aware of all the fees involved, but some of the most common disbursements include:
- Stamp Duty Land Tax
- Land Registry
- Survey Fees
Calculating Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)
You pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) when you buy houses, flats and other land and buildings over a certain price in the UK. You can calculate the amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax by visiting the Gov.uk SDLT Calculator The calculator will work out the SDLT payable for most transactions.
This calculator can be used for property purchases that are:
- for first-time buyers
- replacing main residence
- additional property
- residential or non-residential
- freehold or leasehold
How long does the conveyancing process take?
A typical residential conveyancing transaction can take anything up to 12 weeks, with some conveyancing transactions progressing much faster if for example, mortgage applications are already in place and there are only straightforward “searches needed”. It is difficult however to determine an exact time-frame, and if certain unforeseen delays occur – see types of delays below – this could prolong the conveyancing process.
What are the common causes of delay?
Delays are obviously frustrating for both buyer and seller; however, it will be vital for your solicitor or conveyancer to carry out further legal work on certain matters to resolve any issues that occur and complete the transaction. There could be various outside factors that cause delays in the completion, and your conveyancing solicitor or conveyancer will be working hard to progress the completion as quickly as possible, however some of these delays will be out of their control.
Here are some of the most common delays:
- Waiting on a mortgage offer
- Valuation survey delays
- Survey results requiring further investigation or attention
- Delays from the other party in completing contract information or enquiries
- Long chain of property sale and purchase transactions
When should you instruct a property solicitor?
It is always advisable to instruct a solicitor at the earliest stage, regardless of whether you are buying or selling a property. At Larcomes, we have a specialist team of highly experienced residential property solicitors who have the experience and resources to ensure your transaction is carried out as smoothly and cost-effectively as possible.
If you have a conveyancing enquiry, contact us today on 023 9244 8100 for our Portsmouth office or 023 9224 6666 for our Waterlooville office for a fast, constructive advice that is friendly and local.
Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice, it is for general guidance only and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.