Do you know what your conveyancer is doing behind the scenes for you?

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Buying or selling a property can be a stressful experience, but an efficient conveyancing solicitor who makes the process smooth and effortless is worth their weight in gold. The following checklists will help you know what they are and should be doing. The legal work need not be a secret from you:

ON A SALE

Step 1

There is little justification for any delay. Immediately you instruct, conveyancers can do 2 things:

1. Send you a welcome pack so your move is under way. Simply read the covering letter about what to do with the contents.

2. If your deeds are registered at the Land Registry they can obtain a copy and they can dispatch contract papers to your buyers the very same day you instruct them!

Step 2

Once you return the contents at point 1 above, they then send you your contract to sign. As a result you are signed up ready to exchange within days of instructing.

Step 3

Early on, your conveyancer obtains a record of the balance owing on your mortgage (if any) and prepares a statement of the net proceeds owing to you. This avoids any nasty surprises later on, in case you overlooked a deduction (e.g. estate agent’s bill, a second mortgage).

Step 4

Your buyers will review your conveyancing solicitor’s contract papers, and if they wish to raise any questions, your lawyer shall attempt to deal with them, but if they require your own input then they shall ideally email or telephone them through to you and request your answers – to keep up the pace of your house move.

Step 5

Exchange of contracts. Once the buyer is happy with the contract papers and replies to their questions, (and your related purchase is ready if applicable), a move date is finally agreed, and the buyer’s finances are in place, it should be possible to proceed to exchange contracts. The buyer pays up to a 10% deposit on exchange which your lawyer will hold safe until the moving day (or use to fund your own purchase deposit).

NOTE: Exchange of Contracts is simply a telephone call between the buyers’ and sellers’ lawyers to confirm that each party will not back out (as either party can until exchange), and will move (i.e. complete) at a fixed date shortly in the future. This then allows house clearance, carpet ordering (etc) and property removals to be booked without fear of cancellation and lost deposit. It is your conveyancer’s job to get you to an exchange of contracts as efficiently as possible. Once contracts have been exchanged the deal is legally binding. You and the buyer are fully committed to the transaction and cannot withdraw without facing substantial damages and penalties. Exchange of contracts can be a lengthy and often frustrating process depending on the number of parties in the chain. Your conveyancer aims to shield you from this though the process can only move forward as quickly as the slowest person in the chain.

Step 6 

Before completion. Your moving date, or more commonly ‘completion date’, is normally a week or two after exchange of contracts. Your conveyancer will prepare by requesting a final mortgage repayment amount calculated to the specific move date. They should also telephone you a day or two before completion just to check you are ready.

Step 7

Moving day (i.e. completion). On the date of completion your conveyancer will receive the remaining sale price from the buyer’s solicitor. On receipt they will authorise the release of keys through the estate agents (where there is one). The buyer collects the keys from the agents. Any spare keys can be put through your letterbox. Your conveyancer will pay your estate agents, re-pay your mortgage provider and deduct their legal fees before sending you the net proceeds (or carrying them over to any related purchase).

ON A PURCHASE

Step 1

Immediately you instruct us, your conveyancer can again do 2 things:

1. They send you a welcome pack so your move is under way. Simply read the covering letter about what to do with the contents.

2. They chase the selling lawyers for the legal papers.

Step 2

Once contract papers are sent to us, your conveyancer’s main work begins, and they should do 2 things:

1. They check through the sellers’ contract papers and they raise enquiries on any deficiency.

2. They send off the usual conveyancing searches (Local Authority, drainage, environmental and chancel repair).

Both 1 and 2 can take several weeks or more, unless there is a pre-agreed timescale.

NOTE: By this stage, you should seriously consider a survey. To obtain a mortgage your lender will instruct a valuer to inspect the property and produce a valuation report to simply establish its market value. It is not advisable to rely on this valuation alone because the condition of the property is not considered in any great detail and it is for the lender’s benefit. You should arrange for a more detailed inspection called a “Home Buyers Report” or even a “Full Structural Survey” especially if the property is very old. Your survey will identify the true condition of the property and show if any repairs are needed. The survey can be very cost effective because if anything is found to be wrong with the property after exchange of contracts the seller is not liable and any necessary repairs will be at your expense.

Step 3

Once your lawyer is happy with the search results, and the contract papers, they do 2 things:

1. You should receive a written Property Report – in plain English – of all the contract papers they have received. This report tells you about your boundaries, items being left at the property, any previous building works/alterations that have been disclosed, any restrictions in your deeds which you will have to comply with (i.e. no alterations, no business use, no trade vehicles at the Property) etc.

2. Along with the report, you are also sent the contract for signing and request a 10% deposit, (unless you are also selling in which case they would hope to use your buyer’s 10% deposit to fund yours) both for sending back – your conveyancer will hold them both until you give permission for them to exchange contracts. At this stage, you can raise any of your own enquiries arising from the content of the report.

Step 4

Your conveyancer checks your finance is in place ready to allow an exchange of contracts:

1. Either that your mortgage offer has been issued to you (and a copy to your lawyer) or

2. You have private means of purchasing in place without needing a mortgage.

Step 5

Exchange of contracts. After any outstanding issues with your survey and enquiries have been dealt with, an actual move date is finally agreed, (and your related sale if any is also ready) and finances are in place, it should be possible to proceed to exchange contracts.

NOTE: It is your responsibility to ensure that buildings and contents insurance exists for the property at this time (and where a mortgage is required this is a condition of the mortgage offer as well as under the contract).

Step 6

Before completion. Your moving date or more commonly ‘completion date’ is normally a week or two after exchange of contracts. Your lawyer will prepare by requesting mortgage funds, and by carrying out Land Registry searches to ensure that the Sellers have not added anything on to their title deeds, which you would otherwise take over (e.g. a second mortgage).

Step 7

Moving day (i.e. completion). On the date of completion (your conveyancer receives your own buyer’s money if you have a related sale and then) they transfer the remaining purchase price to the sellers’ solicitor. On receipt they authorise the release of keys through the estate agents (where there is one). You collect the keys from the agents. Your conveyancer will telephone you to confirm that you may collect your keys and move into your new home.

Step 8

After completion. While you move in to your new home, your conveyancer continues working for you behind the scenes. They will pay Stamp Duty on your behalf to the Inland Revenue and register your ownership of the property with the Land Registry. The registration process usually takes between four to six weeks.