Conveyancing solicitors and how they explain the legal papers to you - piecemeal or expertly?

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Frequently, conveyancing solicitors will have to locate their client's property deeds in order to sell it. This often means contacting the previous conveyancer to discover what they did with them.

After all, a buyer's conveyancer will have received all the seller's deeds, Council consents, copy guarantees, and legal indemnity insurance policies. The buyer's conveyancer will also accumulate the searches they carry out, and all the documents they received when raising enquiries.

This can be quite a bundle. What is surprising is how often a buyer's conveyancer seems to lose them, and so the buyer has nothing to produce when they sell – leading to delays and copying charges for duplicates. Make sure you always secure this bundle before your conveyancer closes their file – either taking possession yourself, or agreeing that your solicitor stores them.

However, it is this 'bundle' that a conveyancer must make sense of themselves when advising their client on the purchase of the property. After all, you are paying them to study all the legal papers and to make sure you correctly and legally take over ownership of the property.

But with ownership comes responsibilities, and the deeds and all the other mentioned elements comprising the 'bundle' contain a vast amount of information that you as buyer must be aware of, as you will be living at the property and be affected by it.

For example:

  • What do the searches reveal – is their contamination or environmental risk? Is there a possibility of a contribution to the repair of the local church chancel? Are there mains water/drainage pipes passing within the property you are buying and so potentially preventing extensions over them?
  • What do the seller's deeds reveal – what parking rights are there, who has a right of way over your property, what restrictions are there (e.g. no chickens, no extensions, no business use)?
  • Have any of the alterations to the property had Council planning and building control consents, as otherwise you will inherit the breach and the Council may become aware and enforce against you? Have those alterations had consent under the restrictions in the deeds (2 above) as extensions may only have been allowed with consent from a stated person?
  • What practical information has the seller revealed – who owns the boundaries, are there any disputes, are there any guarantees etc?

As a buyer, how does your conveyancer inform you about all of this information? You should know all about it after all, as it is your property and you are living there and are affected by it all. Various options are at the conveyancers disposal:

  1. In the late 90s, most conveyancers would meet with their clients and have a round table discussion. However, this was and remains risky, due to the 'he said, she said' problem. Did the conveyancer really explain 'x' and 'y'? Indeed, this method is also time consuming for both the conveyancer, but more importantly the buyer - who has to make a special trip to their lawyers for often an hour or more.
  2. The 'trickler' method – for want of a better description. Every time the conveyancer receives a document, they write a letter to their client on it. Not ideal and very confusing with no overall summary.
  3. A written Report. This - we hope - is by far the most common place, and quite rightly. Even the Law Society's Conveyancing Handbook provides a suggested format of how this should read. Naturally some conveyancers have expanded on it, and many ensure that it provides the clearest and most detailed summary to the client of every significant issue the conveyancer themselves received and which the conveyancer feels their client should be aware of. Many conveyancing solicitors are very proud of the format of their Reports.

The Report will also have copies of each of the documents which it summaries, so the buyer really does have a bible of information they can keep and so make reference to at any stage of their ownership.

Unfortunately, there are those conveyancers who adopt a written Report but the quality is very brief and quite poorly produced, leaving the buyer with incomplete information and storing up issues for a resale, even mistakes made and so problems perhaps when they move in.

The fullest Report is the best way for the conveyancer to be thorough, and for the buying client to have the fullest information they can.