When buying or selling a property, some of the information or unfamiliar legal terms can seem confusing, especially if this is for the first time. At Bridge McFarland LLP, our experienced property team will be on hand to ensure the process is as stress-free as possible. In this blog, we look at some Conveyancing FAQs to help explain some of the common conveyancing terms you might encounter.
What does conveyancing mean?
In its simplest form, conveyancing is the legal process by which property ownership is transferred from one owner to another. The process involves two core phases: a) the exchange of contracts and b) completion. A conveyancing solicitor or licenced conveyancer will prepare the documents, including the contract and transfer deed, and carry out the various tasks necessary to purchase or sell a property.
What happens at Exchange of Contracts?
The exchange of contracts is when the two legal representatives of the buyer and seller swap signed contracts, and the buyer pays a deposit. Once the exchange of contracts has taken place, the agreement to buy or sell a property becomes legally binding; a binding obligation to sell by the seller and a binding obligation to buy on the buyer Until contracts are exchanged, it is still possible for the buyer or seller to change their minds and pull out of the transaction without incurring any penalty to the other side (save where a non-refundable payment has been made).
Before the exchange of contracts stage takes place, the property solicitor or licenced conveyancer representing the buyer and seller will need to undertake various searches and legal obligations. Once these have been completed, the legal representatives of each party will confirm that their clients have signed identical contracts. At this point, the completion date is agreed on, and a deposit is typically sent to the seller’s solicitor/conveyancer – usually 10% of the purchase price – and the signed contracts are formally exchanged.
What searches and surveys need to be completed?
Having specific surveys performed before purchasing any property is always advised. A survey can help identify if there are any issues or potential problems with the property that is being purchased that can never be identified through third-party searches or replies to enquiries. A wide range of surveys can be conducted; however, the three core checks are rot, damp and surveys for structural problems. Although these surveys are helpful, they are typically optional, and some buyers may choose to progress without them; we would never advise to buy without undertaking a full survey.
However, if you require a mortgage to purchase the property, there are some searches that mortgage lenders require before giving you a mortgage. Typically, these searches include:
- Water and Drainage Searches – Checks will confirm if the property is connected to mains drainage and water supply.
- Environmental Searches – An environmental search, as it suggests, is the survey carried out to identify what the land and the land in the vicinity of the property were previously used for and whether such uses are likely to have caused any potential contamination of the land as well as highlighting potential risk of flooding.
- Local Authority Searches – Assess various factors in the local area to identify if anything might affect the property in the future.
- Bankruptcy Search An absolute requirement of any mortgage lender to confirm that you are not bankrupt and are not going through any form bankruptcy proceedings.
What is an Energy Performance Certificate?
Also known as an EPC, these documents provide buyers with details of how efficient a property is in energy consumption. An EPC gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is generally valid for ten years. Your property’s EPC needs to be available to potential buyers as soon as you market your property for sale or rent. You will need an approved Domestic Energy Assessor to produce the EPC. If you’re buying or renting a property, an EPC allows you to compare the energy efficiency of different properties.
What are title deeds?
The Title deeds are documents showing proof of ownership and the chain of ownership for land and property. In general, for most residential properties these include:
- Conveyance or transfer
- Lease Information; and
- Official Copies of Register Entries issued by HM Land Registry
Since it has become compulsory to register a property at the HM Land Registry, bundles of paper title deeds have become a thing of the past. Usually, now, the title deeds consist of a copy of the electronic registers held by HM Land Registry.
What happens on the Completion Date?
The completion date is when the ownership of the property is legally transferred from the seller to the buyer. The completion date will have been agreed upon at the exchange of contracts stage. At this point, the buyer’s legal representative will arrange for funds to be transferred to the seller’s legal representative (covering the agreed remaining purchase cost). On confirmation of funds received, the seller’s legal representative will arrange for the keys to the property to be handed over to the buyer often by the Sellers agent.
What are conveyancing disbursements?
During the conveyancing process, additional fees and taxes may apply to transactions. These are often paid to various third parties by the property solicitor or licenced conveyancer on behalf of the seller or buyer. These are known as disbursements, which generally will be paid at the start of the conveyancing process. However, some of these expenses will be added to the final property transaction costs and paid at the final point of the completion stage. Your property solicitor or conveyancer will ensure you are fully aware of all the fees involved, but some of the most common disbursements include:
- Stamp Duty Land Tax
- HM Land Registry registration fees
- Landlord or management company fees and expenses (Leasehold)
Calculating Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)
You pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) when you buy houses, flats and other land and buildings over a certain price in the UK. You can calculate the amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax by visiting the Gov.UK SDLT Calculator. The calculator will work out the basic SDLT payable for most transactions.
This calculator can be used for property purchases that are:
- for first-time buyers
- replacing main residence
- additional property
- residential or non-residential
- freehold or leasehold
How long does the conveyancing process take?
A typical residential conveyancing transaction averages between 12 to 16 weeks, with some transactions progressing much faster (of example if mortgage applications are already in place and only straightforward “searches” are needed) although the time is very much determined by many factors especially if your transaction is part of a chain of transactional reliant on each other. It is difficult, however, to determine an exact time frame, and if unavoidable unforeseen delays occur – see types of delays below – this could prolong the conveyancing process.
What are the common causes of delay?
Delays are frustrating for everyone in the property transaction chain. However, procedures and checks must be carried out thoroughly, and more extensive legal work may be required to resolve any issues to complete the transaction. Unavoidable outside factors might cause delays in the completion, and your conveyancing solicitor or conveyancer will be working hard to progress the completion as quickly as possible. However, most of these delays will be out of their control.
Here are some of the most common delays:
- Waiting on a mortgage offer.
- Identification and purchase funds reconciliation
- Valuation survey delays.
- Survey results requiring further investigation or attention.
- Delays from the other party in completing contract information or enquiries.
- A long chain of property sale and purchase transactions.
- Requirements from or of third parties as example landlords and managing agents)
When should you instruct a property solicitor?
Seeking legal advice or instructing a solicitor at the earliest stage is always advisable, regardless of whether you are buying or selling a property, to ensure the process can run as smoothly as possible. At Bridge McFarland LLP, our conveyancing solicitors are on hand to ensure you are fully aware of all the processes and costs involved, communicating with you every step of the way.
We are also proud to hold The Law Society Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation, a recognised quality standard for residential conveyancing practices.
Read more: click here for our full list of property law FAQs.
Get in touch with our Property Solicitors.
To speak to our team of residential conveyancing solicitors about buying or selling a property or to enquire about more of our services, please call 0800 987 8800.
Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice, it is for general guidance only, and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.