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Residential conveyancing – guide to key steps and process

Residential conveyancing is the legal process of buying or selling a residential property. Most people who aren’t familiar with the process use a solicitor to act for them when they buy or sell residential property. In addition, mortgage lenders typically require that the conveyancing process is carried out by a solicitor when they provide a mortgage for a property purchase.

We hope you find this quick guide helpful – if you are buying or selling a property and want proactive, competitive fee conveyancing, we’d love to talk to you and quote. We understand people shop around but it’s not all about price. You also need thorough lawyers who drive the transaction. We are Conveyancing Quality Scheme accredited which means we satisfy the Law Society that we are experts and offer high levels of service.

When a residential property changes hands, the residential conveyancing process includes three stages:

  • Agreement to sell;
  • Exchange of contracts;
  • Completion of sale.

The process starts when a buyer and a seller make an agreement to sell, and ends when the buyer of the property receives the keys. However, while every sale includes these three stages, the actual process you go through is different depending on whether you’re buying or selling a residential property.

Agreement to Sell

The agreement to sell is the point at which the conveyancing process begins. At this point, both the buyer and the seller have certain obligations.

For instance, sellers must complete a property information form with details about the property’s boundaries, work done on the property, any disputes with neighbours, and other issues. In addition, they must also complete a fixtures, fittings, and contents form, which details items that are remaining with the property, such as kitchen appliances or cupboards. A copy of the property title, and a copy of the contract of sale, must also be supplied.

During this stage the buyer will conduct various legal searches, arrange for home valuation and surveying, and take care of any other requirements. Ideally these need to be completed prior to the exchange and signing of contracts. The buyer must also review the property information form to ensure there are no potential problems. They’ll also review the fixtures, fittings, and contents form to check that it conforms to anything that might have been previously agreed upon.

This is also the point at which the buyer must arrange or finalise their mortgage, as they must have an offer in writing before the exchange of contracts can take place.

Exchange of Contracts

During this part of the process, the buyer will make a deposit on the property. If the seller has a mortgage, they’ll use this time to arrange full payment of the balance once the property has been sold.

Once these two matters are taken care of, the purchase and sale contracts are then signed by each party, and a completion date is agreed upon. Once the buyer and seller have signed both contracts the sale is final. If either party wants to back out of the sale after this point they’ll incur a financial penalty.

Depending on the specifics of the contracts, there may be clauses that provide for some circumstances in which either party can back out of the sale without penalty. For instance, the buyer might be allowed to back out of the sale if the results of a pending building survey show that the home has significant structural problems.

Completion of Sale

On the date of completion the buyer sends the balance of payment for the property purchase. The seller uses the funds to pay the outstanding balance of their mortgage, along with any fees and costs associated with the property sale. Any money that’s left over belongs to the seller.

Finally, the transfer deed is signed by the seller and then handed over to the buyer. The buyer can then sign the deed to be registered as the new owner of the property. They receive the keys to the property and the transaction is complete.

How a Solicitor can Help

Working with a solicitor is enormously helpful when you’re buying or selling a residential property, even if you have some prior experience. There’s a lot involved in property transactions, and the expertise of a solicitor can make it all much easier to deal with. It’s also the best way to ensure that the process can be completed without errors that might slow things down or cause negotiations to break down completely.

Documentation review

During the initial agreement to sell phase, your solicitor will start by examining the draft of the purchase agreement and any accompanying documentation. For leasehold properties they’ll also review the lease covenants and check with you that you’re satisfied with the terms.

If your solicitor has any concerns about any of the documents they’ll discuss these with you and with the other party’s solicitor. In addition you’ll be required to check all documentation yourself and let your solicitor know if you have any concerns.

The seller’s solicitor will arrange for the completion of necessary documents by the seller, and ensure that they’re passed on to the buyer when required.

Legal searches

Also during the agreement to sell phase, a solicitor will act on behalf of the buyer to conduct a range of legal searches. These searches are important to ensure there are no pending problems associated with the property. They include:

  • Local authority searches to check if there are pending plans for construction work that may affect the property or its value, or any other issues that affect the property;
  • Land Registry searches to check title register and title plan. These legal documents designate the legal owner of the property;
  • Water authority search to determine how the property’s water is obtained, and whether there are any public drains on or near the property.
  • Chancel repair search. Some properties are affected by a legal obligation to provide funds to help pay for local parish church chancel repairs.
  • Environmental search is a report that provides information about the land the property is built on, and surrounding land, including contamination, presence of landfill sites or industrial sites, potential gas hazards, flood risk, and erosion risk.
  • Location-dependent searches may be required in some parts of the country. For instance, mining searches re recommended in some regions of the UK.

Valuation and surveys

For the buyer, additional requirements for property conveyancing include a mortgage valuation, which a mortgage company requires to ensure that the property value matches the mortgage value, and property surveys to inspect the home for potential issues such as structural problems, electrical issues, and repairs that might be needed. These surveys are typically carried out before the exchange of contracts takes place.

Types of surveys include:

  • Condition report, a basic survey that provides a summary of any obvious concerns or risks associated with the property; these don’t provide much information beyond what a typical homeowner can find out for themselves.
  • Home buyer’s report, a more detailed survey that provides information about major problems, and includes a valuation. This is a non-intrusive survey, however, which means the surveyor doesn’t investigate hard-to-reach areas such as underneath floorboards or above the ceiling.
  • Building surveys are much more extensive, and offer a detailed report on every inch of the property, along with repair advice and estimates.

Working with lenders and making payments

For the property seller, a solicitor can arrange the payment of the balance of the mortgage. For the buyer, a solicitor can arrange for the payment of the deposit and the balance of the payment for the property.

Contracts and documentation

Finally, a solicitor can ensure that all documents are completed correctly, signed, and delivered to the required parties. Each solicitor involved in a conveyancing transaction also works to ensure that the best interests of their client—whether buyer or seller—are represented.

Please do contact us to discuss how our property lawyers can assist you with conveyancing.

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