What’s it all about?
Conveyancing is the branch of law concerned with the preparation of documents for the conveyance of property or the action of preparing documents for the conveyance of property. That’s the dictionary definition. Simply put, it’s where the legal eagles get involved to ensure a smooth and fair transaction that both the seller and buyer are happy with. They also look after transferring the large amounts of money involved in property sales.
The conveyancing wheels begin to slowly turn when your offer on a house is accepted and grind to a halt when you move in.
What happens first?
The first thing to do is find a solicitor or conveyancer and instruct them to handle your purchase. This means they’ll take care of all the legal work when buying your home.
What do they charge?
Conveyancing fees normally come at around £850-£1,500 (including VAT at 20%). You’ll also need to pay for the cost of searches and local searches (we’ll cover those later in this guide), which will add £250-£300 to the price.
Your appointed conveyancer should follow a well-trodden path that will hopefully lead to your new dream home with minimum inconvenience.
First, they’ll make a draft contract or terms of engagement with you that tells you their charges and what deposits you’ll need to pay. Then they’ll make contact with your seller’s appointed conveyancer to let them know they’ve been instructed to act on your behalf, followed by requesting a copy of the draft contract and any other details, such as the property’s title and the standard forms. This will include:
The seller’s property information covering things like boundary issues, works that have been undertaken at the property and notices that have been served affecting the property. It will also cover whether planning consents have been granted for any building work requiring it.
The Managing Agents Pack applies to properties such as flats that are in developments with a Managing Agent. They look after all communal areas and structural elements such as exterior walls and roofs. It should highlight things such as service charge, whether any increases are forecast or whether the reserve fund will be used for major works.
When they receive this information, they’ll check through the draft contract and supporting info, and raise any enquiries.
Raising enquiries means asking questions about the property that haven’t been answered satisfactorily in the initial information detailed earlier.
If you or your conveyancer are not happy with the replies, this gives you the chance to reconsider your offer or walk away.
Searches are another important part of the conveyancing process. This is where they carry out a set of legal searches to highlight any other factors affecting the property that you should be aware of. Some of these are standard and will be recommended by your conveyancer for all types of property. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘search pack’ and include things like water and drainage and environmental searches. Certain others will be required by the mortgage lender to protect them from any liabilities that the property may have. Searches in the search pack include:
Local authority searches These cover road or rail planning applications that could affect your property, if the property has planning decisions affecting or if it’s situated in a conservation area. Cost: Depends on local authority but start from around £150.
Checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry. This is all about proving the seller legally owns the property they are selling. Cost: £6 – £12.
Environmental search. This search tells you about contaminated land at or around the property, landfill sites, former and current industry, detailed flooding predictions, radon gas hazard, ground stability issues, and other related information. Cost: £30 – £40
Drainage and water authority search. This finds out how you get your water and if any public drains on the property might affect extensions or building works. Cost: £50 – £60 (depending on utility provider).
Checking flood risk. A more and more important search to make, this is also carried out by the Land Registry. It’s also part of the more comprehensive Environmental Search mentioned earlier. Cost: Around £10.
Chancel repair search. This helps identify a medieval liability that could return to haunt you in certain areas. It ensures there are no potential leftover liabilities on the property, or the land it’s on, to help pay for local church repairs. Cost: Around £40.
Other searches may be required depending on your property location, for example if mining has taken place nearby. They include:
- Mining searches in various parts of the UK and Cheshire Brine searches
- Tin Mining searches in Cornwall
- Additional Local Authority Questions such as Public Paths, Pipelines, Noise Abatement Zones, Common Land, etc.
Types of tenure
They’ll also need to ascertain what kind of housing tenure your chosen property has. This refers to the financial arrangements under which someone has the right to live in a house or apartment. The most common in the UK for owners are leasehold and freehold.
Leasehold tenure is where one party buys the right to occupy land or a building for a given length of time. As lease is a legal estate, leasehold estate can be bought and sold on the open market. If it’s leasehold, check the length that’s left. Leases below 80 years are a problem, can cost a lot to extend and you need to have owned the property for two years before you are eligible to do so.
Freehold means you have the legal right to own a piece of property. Simply put, the property is yours do with as you wish as long as you stay within the law and obey local planning rules.
In some areas of the UK you’ll be asked to pay ground rent. This means regular (usually small) payments made by a holder of a leasehold property to the freeholder or a superior Leaseholder, as required under a lease. The ground rent provides an income for the landowner.
Before exchange of contracts can take place your lender will require you to get buildings insurance for your new home. You are responsible for the property as soon as contracts have been exchanged so it is in your interests to do so.
Signing the contracts
At this point, things will start to seem very real indeed. You’ll be asked to sign the contracts that will be exchanged making you the legal owner of the property. Before you put pen to paper, your conveyancer will need to ensure:
- That all enquiries have been returned and are satisfactory
- That fixtures and fittings included in the purchase are what you expected
- A completion date has been agreed between the two parties, usually 1-4 weeks after exchange of contracts
You’ll also need to arrange to transfer the deposit into your solicitors account so that it is cleared in time for an exchange. You can negotiate on the size of the deposit, which is normally 10% of the value of the property. However, be warned: If you agree to pay less than 10% you are still liable for 10% of the value of the property if you back out.
How long will it take?
Most conveyancers will estimate property conveyancing should four to six weeks to complete, though this can vary depending on factors like speed of searches. You can keep things moving by staying in touch and providing fast answers to any questions raised but often this stage can feel like you are trapped in some weird legal limbo. Don’t worry, things are progressing…just a little slower than you imagined!