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The conveyancing process - what happens when you buy a property?

View profile for Rebecca Fletcher
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Clear communication makes moving house a breeze - Gemmas Story

Buying a property can often be an exciting time. From house-hunting online to arranging those all-important viewings with the estate agent. But what happens once your offer has been accepted, and at what point will you get the keys to your new home?

Most people are aware that they will need a conveyancer (a lawyer who deals with conveyancing) to represent them in the transaction. However, what does a conveyancer do and what is the legal process they carry out? A conveyancing transaction has various stages to it - all of which must be complete before you get those much-awaited keys.

Stage one - information about you

Your conveyancer will need you to provide your details and your formal instructions for them to act for you - this will often be by completing a form. They will also need to verify your identity, so always ensure that your ID document (passport/driving licence) are in-date. Many law firms, including Stephensons, can now verify your ID electronically though your smartphone whilst keeping the process easy, safe and secure.

In addition to verifying your identity, your conveyancer must also see evidence of your source of funding for the purchase. This is because they are bound to comply with the Anti-Money Laundering Regulations. Proving your source of funds for the purchase or your target property is the most important task in the conveyancing process, without which, your purchase cannot proceed. There are large sums of money changing hands in the conveyancing sector making this an area of law heavily attacked by fraudsters. It is therefore important that you can provide the required information and evidence of your source of funds as early as possible.

Stage two – the contract pack and legal title

Once your instructions and other documents referred to above have been received, your conveyancer will make contact with the seller’s conveyancer and request their draft contract documentation (sometimes referred to as a “contract pack”). Not only is the draft contract for the purchase provided, but copies of the register of title and associated deeds as well as two forms completed by the seller – the property information form and fittings and contents form.

Your conveyancer will review the contract pack and check that there are no issues with the property’s legal title. They will also ensure that the contract has been drafted correctly and contains all the relevant information (such as the address, purchase price and your full name(s)). The property information form contains several questions about the property answered by the seller, such as: any buildings works that have been carried out, any insurance claims, the current utility providers, and when the gas/electrics were last maintained. The fittings and contents form is a list of items which will be either included are excluded from the purchase and the seller is legally bound to adhere to this after contracts have been exchanged.

Once the conveyancer has finalised their review, they will raise various enquiries with the seller’s solicitors based on the information provided from the legal title and the forms completed by the seller. This is the main part of the conveyancing process as your conveyancer needs to ensure that they have as much information regarding the property as possible before they can advise you to proceed to purchase it.

Stage three – searches

Whilst the contract pack is being reviewed, your conveyancer will submit property searches. These searches are usually the local authority search (which includes checks for planning applications, the road status and any land charges), the drainage and water search (to see who maintains the drains and sewers) and the environmental search (including checks for whether the property is affected by contaminated land, flooding, subsidence etc.). There may be additional searches based on the local area, such as coal mining or tin/clay. Once the search results have been received, your conveyancer will review these and advise you.

Stage four – your mortgage

If you are taking out a mortgage, a copy of your mortgage offer will be issued to you and a separate copy issued to your conveyancer. Your conveyancer will usually be representing the mortgage lender as well as you, so they will also need to ensure that the lender’s interests are protected as well as your own. Therefore, there may be occasions where they need to refer any potential issues with the property to the lender for approval before they can proceed.

Once your conveyancer has reviewed your mortgage offer, they will send you the mortgage deed to sign. The deed allows the lender to place a charge over the legal title of the property, which gives them the power of repossession if you fail to make the repayments.

Stage five - the property report

Once your conveyancer has received replies to the enquires raised earlier, the mortgage offer (if any) and the search results, they will prepare a report containing all the information received about the property and their legal advice regarding this. The report will also contain the contract documents for you to sign and return. They will also request your deposit in anticipation of exchange of contracts.

Stage six – exchange and completion

Although you have signed the contract and paid the deposit, the purchase is not legally binding until exchange of contracts has taken place. Your conveyancer will discuss potential completion dates (when you purchase the property and get the keys) and, once a date has been agreed with the seller, your conveyancer will carry out their final checks on your file and request mortgage funds from the lender. Once these checks have been completed and the seller’s solicitors are ready, your conveyancer will give you a call to take your verbal authority to exchange contracts and legally bind you to the purchase.

Once exchange of contracts has taken place, you are bound to purchase the property and cannot withdraw from the transaction. Likewise, the seller is legally bound to sell the property to you. It is therefore important that, before you instruct your conveyancer to exchange contracts, you ensure that you are fully satisfied with both the information provided by your conveyancer and the condition of the property (including any gas/electrical utility appliances) as any issues discovered after exchange are no longer the seller’s responsibility.

On the day of completion, your conveyancer will send the purchase price to the seller’s solicitors bank account by a same day telegraphic transfer. Whilst there is no set time during the day in which completion takes place, the keys are released to you once the seller’s solicitors have received funds. On average, where there is no chain, this usually takes place around lunchtime/early afternoon.

Stage seven – post completion

Following completion of your purchase, your conveyancer will prepare the stamp duty land tax return and pay the stamp duty (if any). They will also make an application to the Land Registry to register you as the new owner of the property. Once the registration has completed, you will receive an up to date copy of the title register showing your name.

Whilst there are many stages in the conveyancing process, Stephensons are on hand to guide you through the process step-by-step during your transaction. Use our conveyancing fee calculator to get a quote or call our team on 0161 696 6187.