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What is Conveyancing?

Conveyancing is transferring ownership of property or land from one person to another.

Why do I need a solicitor or conveyancing lawyer to do this?

It is possible to do your own conveyancing but transferring property is complex and mistakes can be very costly.  If you are obtaining a mortgage your lender will insist that you employ a solicitor or licensed conveyancer who is on their approved panel.

What will my solicitor or property lawyer do?

When you employ a solicitor or property lawyer they are there first and foremost to protect your interests financially. They will give you unbiased, impartial advice. They will use their expertise to ensure that your sale, purchase, re-mortgage or transfer of equity is completed safely.

The Conveyancing stages for a property or land purchase

  • Choosing a solicitor – You first have to choose a solicitor and then ask (instruct) them to act on your behalf. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority stipulates that before a solicitor may start work on your behalf, you must confirm in writing that you wish them to act for you. Before instructing a solicitor tell them who your mortgage lender will be and ask whether they are on your lender’s approved panel – if not you will need to choose another firm. CMS have solicitors who are on the panel of all the major lenders and can advise you on which solicitor will be on your particular lender’s panel.
  • Notify the estate agent and your lender – Once you have chosen your solicitor and they have agreed to act for you, you will need to give their details to the estate agent and also to your lender if you are taking out a mortgage. If your seller hasn’t used an estate agent to sell then you need to give your solicitor details to your seller to pass onto their seller and you need to obtain their solicitor details to pass onto your solicitor. If you are using a CMS solicitor then CMS will do all of this for you.
  • Particulars of Sale – Once the estate agent has your solicitors details and those of the person selling to you they will send out particulars of sale.  This is a document which confirms the price agreed and any special terms and conditions agreed.  Your details, those of your solicitor, your seller and those of their solicitor are all included on the document so that all parties know who is selling, who is buying and who their solicitors are.
  • Client Care Letter – once you have chosen a solicitor and asked them to act for you they will send you a client care letter.  This will include their Terms and Conditions of Business, an estimate of the costs and disbursements and usually an information form to complete.  You will be asked to return this letter signed, together with your ID documents and Anti-Money Laundering information. At this stage you are asked to pay an up-front sum (money on account) for pre-exchange searches. If you have any questions about the property, what is included, anything you have agreed with the seller this is the point to let your solicitor know. You should put all such questions in writing and return with the client care documents.

Until your solicitor receives the completed and signed Client Care Letter they are not allowed to begin acting for you.

  • Requesting Contracts – when your solicitor receives your signed client care letter, ID and anti-money laundering documents they can then begin work. They should by now have received the Particulars of Sale and will write to the seller’s solicitor requesting a draft contract pack. This stage of the transaction can be a bit nerve-wracking as you won’t necessarily hear from your solicitor again until they have the contract, searches and pre-contract enquiries back. Try not to phone or e mail every day – it will only slow matters down.  If you need an update then phone or e mail once a week – and avoid Friday it’s the busiest day of the week for conveyancers.
  • Receipt of the Contract pack – The contract pack will consist of
    • Two copies of the contract.  Solicitors generally use a standard form of contract which incorporates the National Conditions of Sale, the specific details of the property, the seller, the buyer, the price and any non-standard conditions.
    • Property Information Forms – and if leasehold, Leasehold Information Forms. These are a standard set of enquiries which are answered by the seller and deal with boundary ownership, any neighbour disputes, work carried out to the property by the seller etc.
    • Fixtures and Fittings Form – this states what is included in the sale, what is excluded and any items the seller would like to sell with the property
    • Lease – if the property is leasehold the pack will include the lease.  This document is often about 50 – 60 pages long and contains all the leasehold conditions that affect the property
    • Official Copy Entries – If the property is registered at the Land Registry – which most are – then Official Copy Entries are included. These give the details of the Seller, any mortgages or financial charges on the property, any non-financial charges on the property or third party interests, a description of the property including a plan, details of any restrictions affecting the property or any matters that the property is subject to.
    • Deeds – if the property is unregistered a copy of the deeds are enclosed.
    • Transfer or Conveyance – if the property has ‘covenants’ or ‘easements’ affecting it such as the requirement to maintain a boundary or allow access via a right of way then the document containing that information is enclosed.

Your solicitor will carefully check the contract pack to ensure that the seller has the right to sell the property to you, that the description and plan accurately describe the property; they will note any restrictions or easements affecting the property. Very importantly they will also note any financial charges or third party interests and ensure these are released upon completion.

  • Raising additional pre-contract enquiries

The contract pack may highlight some additional information which your solicitor feels you should have. They may request copies of planning permissions or building works, FENSA certificates for new windows at the property, guarantees for any works carried out such as timber & damp proofing. If leasehold then additional enquiries have to be answered by the Landlord or Management Company. These will include a 3 years service charge history, management accounts, confirmation of payment, details of works to be done to the property etc. Your solicitor will send these additional enquiries to your seller’s solicitor who may, in turn, have to get answers from the seller and any landlord or managing agent.

  • Applying for searches – If you are buying with a mortgage then your lender will insist on the local and water authority searches as a minimum.  Some lenders also insist on environmental and chancel repair searches.  Your solicitor will advise you which searches need to be done once they have checked the contract pack.  For a full list of conveyancing searches see our Conveyancing Quote explained – disbursements section here
  • Approval of the contract – When your solicitor receives satisfactory replies to their pre-contract enquiries and the results of their searches they will approve the Contract.  One copy will be sent back to the seller’s solicitor who will arrange for the seller to sign it in readiness for exchange of contracts
  • Mortgage offer received – If you are having a mortgage your solicitor will usually wait until you/they have received your written mortgage offer before sending you the contract to sign.  This is because they must advise you on the terms and conditions of your mortgage and arrange for you to sign the mortgage and any other deeds that the lender wants you to sign.
  • Contract Report Your solicitor will prepare a report on the contract, the replies to the pre-contract enquiries, the searches, any restrictions on the property and the terms and conditions of your mortgage if you are having one. This report is often lengthy, running to many pages and often incorporating copies of the deeds, plans and searches.  Ensure you read it carefully.  The contract report will usually also contain:
    • The contract document which usually has the Fixtures and Fittings Form attached. You will be asked to check for accuracy and sign
    • A transfer deed which you will be asked to sign in the presence of a witness
    • The mortgage documents which must be signed in the presence of a witness
    • Stamp Duty Land Transaction return which you must sign

At this stage the solicitor will ask you to return all the documents signed and to send your deposit to them in readiness for exchange of contracts. Traditionally, the deposit payable on exchange is 10% of the purchase price. However, if you are getting a mortgage for more than 90% of the purchase price let your solicitor know as they will need to negotiate with the seller’s solicitor for you to pay a smaller deposit.

  • Solicitors receipt of signed contract documents – When your solicitor is in receipt of the signed contract, deposit and related documents they will ask you when you would like to complete your purchase.  They will then let the seller’s solicitor know that they are ready to exchange contracts and suggest the completion date.  At this stage there may be negotiation on the completion date between you and the seller and any chain below or above you.  Not everyone wants to move on the same date so you may need to be flexible.
  • Exchange of contracts this is done by your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor over the phone.  If there is a chain involved then the solicitor acting for the person at the bottom of the chain starts the exchange by ‘releasing’ the contract to the next solicitor in the chain. The contracts are usually released only for a set period of time.  This release procedure carries on solicitor to solicitor until the solicitor at the end of the chain receives the call to exchange. Once the top of the chain exchanges then the exchange goes all the way back down the chain to the beginning solicitor.  This can take hours or sometimes days as it depends on all the solicitors being at their desks at the same time. As soon as contracts are exchanged your solicitor will notify you, usually by phone.  At this point the purchase is legally binding and neither you nor the seller can change your minds (without financial penalty). Your solicitor will then post your signed contract and remit the exchange to deposit to the seller’s solicitor. At this point you need to:-
    • Place your property and life insurance on risk and send details to your solicitor – your lender may ask for them before releasing mortgage funds
    • Book removals
    • Ensure your completion funds are ready to send to your solicitor
    • Check your utilities such as water, electricity, gas, telephone are connected and ready to be transferred to you on completion
  • Report on title and request for mortgage funds – If you are getting a mortgage your solicitor will send in the necessary report on title to the lender – this confirms that they have checked the deeds and searches and that it is safe for the lender to lend.  They will request the mortgage funds in time for completion.
  • Request for final balance – Your solicitor will send you an invoice for their fee and a completion statement showing how much money they need from you to complete.  There will usually be instructions of how to get the money to them in good time for completion.
  • Pre- completion searches – there are some final searches which your solicitor has to do before completion. One is bankruptcy search which is only done if you are getting a mortgage. It checks that you are not bankrupt or about to become so. It is done by your solicitor on behalf of your lender. The other is a Land Registry search which checks that nothing has changed since the Official Copy Entries were issued (i.e. that the seller hasn’t taken out any new mortgages or charges on the property) and importantly it also confers priority on your lender to register their mortgage ahead of any one else. This priority period lasts for 30 working days but can be renewed if necessary.
  • Requisitions on Title this is a standard form sent by your solicitor to the seller’s solicitor. It requests bank details of the seller’s solicitor for completion and a legal undertaking (promise) from the seller’s solicitor to discharge the mortgage(s) on the property. It also asks where the keys can be collected on the day of completion. If leasehold ground rent and service charge apportionments are requested.
  • Completion Day – your solicitor will receive mortgage funds from the lender and any balance from you. Your solicitor will phone the seller’s solicitor to check that they are ready to complete and request confirmation that they hold the deed of Transfer signed by the seller. Provided the answer is yes, your solicitor will then arrange a bank transfer of the purchase money to the seller’s solicitor. Funds can sometimes take hours to move through the banking system, other times it can be instantaneous.  Once the seller’s solicitor has received the funds they will phone your solicitor to confirm the completion has taken place and will put the transfer deed and all deeds and documents relating to the property in the post to your solicitor.  The seller’s solicitor then phones the seller and his estate agent to confirm completion and to release the keys to you.  Your solicitor will phone you to confirm completion has taken place.
  • After completion – although you have completed your purchase your solicitor still has work to do.  They will submit the Stamp Duty Land Transaction Return to HMRC together with the correct amount of stamp duty.  HMRC will then send a certificate to say this is received.  Your solicitor will send the Land Registry an application to register you as the new owner and your lender as the new mortgage company.  This procedure is usually done online. If the property is leasehold they will send a Notice of Assignment to the Landlord and/or managing agent advising you are the new owner and of any mortgage. Most solicitors will send you a copy of the completed registration showing your ownership of the property, they will also send you any documents that you may need to keep such as guarantees, planning consents etc. Your solicitor is obliged to keep your file in storage for a minimum of 6 years.