Getting legal

The legal term for buying and selling property is conveyancing and a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer is appointed to carry out this work. Conveyancing is the process of legally transferring ownership of a property from the seller to the buyer and includes the various searches and checks and any final tasks following a property sale.

As well as acting on your behalf, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will:

– Carry out all the legal work required, including checking the contract and dealing with the local authority and Land Registry
– Usually liaise with the lender’s legal work, such as registering their interest in the property. Most lenders will use your solicitor or licensed conveyancer as it saves you and them money
– Confirm what’s included in the sale, for example, fixtures and fittings
– Make sure buildings insurance is in place at exchange of contracts

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will carry out a search of the local area and will ask about; plans for new roads, planning consents, anything else that could affect the value of the property and details of which mains services are connected. The local authority will charge for providing this information and this cost will be included in your bill.

The vendor will be asked questions by your solicitor or licensed conveyancer about the property to determine; whether any alterations have been made, what fixtures and fittings are included in the price and who is responsible for the boundaries and any other relevant information required.

You will need to make payments to the seller during the conveyancing process. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer may ask you for the money in advance so payments can be made without delay.

Once you have made an offer to buy a property, called the pre-contractual stage, legal documents need to be prepared to transfer ownership from the seller to you. The seller draws up a contract for your agreement, you can negotiate its terms if necessary. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will carry out this work and advise you on the contents of the contract.

The contract contains details including:

– what the boundaries of the property are
– what fixtures and fittings, like carpets and kitchen units, are included in the sale
– how much the property is being sold for
– any legal restrictions or rights on the property, like any public footpaths or rules about use of the property
– any planning restrictions in place
– a description of the services to the property; e.g. drainage and gas
– the date for completing the purchase (called ‘completion’)

Before you sign and exchange the contract, both you and your solicitor or licensed conveyancer should find out as much as possible about the property. The seller does not have to voluntarily tell you about problems there might be with the property or neighbourhood. The seller should, however, reply truthfully to enquiries.

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will do a number of searches and checks including:

– checking the ‘title’ – the legal document that proves the seller’s ownership

– asking the local authority about any planned works like roadworks or new developments that might affect the property

– enquiries to the seller’s solicitor or licensed conveyancer about the details of the contract

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer may need to carry out additional searches depending on the type of property involved. For example, if your property is in an area where there have been mines, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will need to do a mining check on the land.

You will also need to consider insurance cover for the property and will usually be responsible for insuring the property as soon as contracts are exchanged.

To uncover any problems with the building like dry rot, you should also obtain a property survey before the exchange of contracts.

If you are using a mortgage to buy your property, you will need a formal mortgage offer from your lender before you sign the contract. The lender will send documents for you or your solicitor or licensed conveyancer to sign.

When you and the seller are happy with its contents, you sign final copies of the contract and send them to each other. This is called the exchange of contracts. Once contracts are exchanged, the agreement to sell and buy is legally binding and usually neither party can pull out without paying compensation. Buyers will usually pay the seller a deposit (usually 10 per cent of the purchase price of the property) at the exchange of contracts stage.

In many cases, there are a few further checks to be done at this stage.

After the exchange of contracts (if not dealt with already) your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will:

– prepare the legal documents to transfer ownership

– check mortgage documents

– make sure that they have all the necessary funds – which may include payment of their own fees

– arrange for the transfer of funds to the seller

– complete final Land Registry checks

– check all agreed tasks set out in the contract have been done, like agreed repairs

– check that fixtures and fittings have been left as agreed

Once all matters between exchange and completion have been dealt with, the money for the property is transferred from you to the seller. The sale is now completed and the keys are handed over. The property now belongs to you.

At this stage, you will:

– receive the keys to the property on the agreed date

– pay the seller the remainder of the cost of the property through your solicitor or licensed conveyancer

– receive the legal documents that prove ownership of the property

– pay your solicitor’s or licensed conveyancer’s fees, if not already done

You will be required to register the change of ownership of the property with Land Registry, pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (Stamp Duty) and inform your insurers that completion has taken place.