Confused about contracts? Dizzied by disbursements? Mystified by mortgages? Look no further than Homeward Legal’s simplified guide to conveyancing.
We break down the legal jargon to explain in simple, easy-to-understand terms exactly how the conveyancing process works from start to finish.
Ready to buy or sell your home? Read on.
What is conveyancing?
In simple terms, conveyancing is the legal work carried out by a solicitor or licensed conveyancer when someone is selling or buying property.
This includes changing the legal ownership of the property, drawing up binding contracts, liaising with mortgage lenders, paying essential legal fees and other charges such as Stamp Duty Land Tax and registering the change of ownership with the Land Registry.
Instructing a solicitor
Whether you are buying or selling, there is a point early on when you will need to instruct a conveyancing solicitor to work on your behalf.
Usually for a seller, this point is when you accept an offer from a prospective buyer.
For a buyer, it makes sense to have a solicitor ready to act for you as soon as you have found a place you want to buy.
At Homeward Legal, we work with experienced property lawyers across England and Wales. Every firm on our panel of solicitors has been carefully vetted to ensure they meet our rigorously high standards so you can be confident you will be in safe hands throughout.
The first steps in the conveyancing process
The conveyancing process will alter depending on whether you are buying or selling.
For buyers, their solicitor’s first step will be to commission the essential searches required for conveyancing.
These searches, via the local authority and other authorities such as water and sewerage operators, provide vital information about the property. You can read more about conveyancing searches here.
When buying, it’s crucial that you are armed with as much information as possible. A seller is under no obligation to volunteer any information about any issues with the property.
This is why conveyancing searches are so important. It’s also a very good reason to commission a building survey that can uncover any structural issues.
Our sister site, Surveyor Local, works with chartered surveyors who are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to offer a range of affordable property surveys.
Drawing up contracts
The seller’s solicitor will draw up the sale contract and send a copy to the buyer’s legal representative. The selling side will also prove who owns the property, confirming their client has the legal right to sell.
The two solicitors will also agree on a completion date and work towards finalising the sale by that date.
Another vital part of conveyancing is ensuring the buyer has the finance in place to make the purchase.
When a mortgage is required, the buyer’s solicitor will liaise with the lender to get a copy of the mortgage offer, which is then shared with the seller’s legal team.
Those buying without a mortgage will have to show their solicitor proof of funds before the conveyancing process can continue.
Freehold or leasehold
The buyer’s solicitor will carry out a search with the Land Registry to establish whether the property is freehold or leasehold.
This is known as tenure – a freehold property means the owner also owns the land on which the property stands. Leasehold means the land is owned by someone else and only leased for a specific period of time.
Knowing the tenure of a property is important because the buyer must be made aware of how long the lease has left to run. They must also find out how much rent charges and management fees are.
Where a property is leasehold, the seller’s solicitor will provide a Leasehold Management Pack that includes this crucial information.
The key moment in the transaction is the exchange of contracts. Once the two solicitors have exchanged contracts – usually done by telephone to confirm the contracts are identical – neither buyer nor seller can back out.
The buyer will have to provide a deposit, usually 10 percent of the purchase price, which their solicitor will transfer to the seller’s legal team. The signed contracts will also be swapped at this stage.
Arranging a completion date
Once contracts have been exchanged, both parties will agree on a completion date that suits buyer and seller.
There’s usually a gap between the exchange of contracts and the completion, although it can happen on the same day.
Before the sale is complete, the buyer’s solicitor will make a final check with the Land Registry to confirm there have been no changes to the title since their initial query.
They will liaise with the lender for the transfer of the mortgage funds to their account and then on to the buyer’s solicitor on completion day itself.
The transfer of funds is always done electronically.
Once the seller’s solicitor has the funds for the sale, they will arrange to release the keys to the property to the buyer.
The final steps
The seller’s part in the transaction ends once their solicitor has received the funds for the property and transferred their share to them. The solicitor will also pay off any outstanding mortgage and deduct their own fees.
For the buyer, there are still some outstanding legal matters to be completed.
Chief among those is paying any Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), the tax that is owed on any land or property transaction. Read more about stamp duty and the Land Transaction Tax that is paid in Wales here.
Buyers who are eligible must pay stamp duty within 14 days of completing their purchase. Your solicitor will usually complete the HMRC return online and pay the outstanding duty.
The final step is to register the sale with the Land Registry. The title will then be updated to reflect the new ownership.
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