What Is Involved In House Conveyancing?
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring ownership of a property from one party to another. When selling or buying a house in the UK, both the buyer and seller must go through conveyancing to ensure the legal transfer of the property title and to protect their interests. Conveyancing can seem complicated but when broken down, it involves three main stages – before exchange of contracts, exchange of contracts and completion. Understanding what each stage entails helps make the conveyancing process smoother. This article provides an overview of everything involved in house conveyancing when you have a property to sell in the UK.
What Happens Before the Exchange of Contracts?
The early stages of conveyancing focus on the seller and include:
Title Deeds and Property Information
When putting a property to sell on the market, the seller must gather together the title deeds and documents relating to the property. These include the register of the property’s title, deeds, Land Registry filed plan, planning permissions, building regulations consent, leasehold documents, parking space or garage documents, shared amenity information etc. This paperwork will be needed by the buyer’s conveyancer to confirm the seller’s ownership and understand any restrictions on the property. The seller’s conveyancer will check the title is good and marketable.
Fixtures and Fittings Form
The fixtures and fittings form details what is included and excluded from the property sale. Standard fixtures like kitchen units and bathroom suites are typically included unless agreed otherwise. The seller completes this form itemising all inclusions like curtains, light fittings, fitted appliances etc. Excluded fixtures must be removed before completion.
Property Information Forms
These forms require the seller to provide information about the property’s structure, boundaries, disputes, alterations, environmental matters like flooding and subsidence, warranties and more. Any issues must be disclosed at this stage.
Leasehold Information Form
For leasehold properties, this requires details of the lease, service charges, ground rent, management company, etc.
Draft Contract Package
The seller’s conveyancer prepares a draft contract package for the buyer containing the key documents outlined above.
Buyer Due Diligence
Once a buyer agrees to purchase the property, their conveyancer will conduct due diligence checks on the draft contract package including:
- Reviewing title documents and deeds
- Checking for any restrictions like local authority overrides, restrictive covenants etc.
- Verifying leasehold information
- Reviewing planning documentation for any violations
- Assessing potential risks indicated on the property information forms
- Raising additional enquiries with the seller’s conveyancer
Both parties work to answer queries, agree on the terms of the sale and address any issues arising.
If needing a mortgage, the buyer must secure an offer from their lender in principle early in the process. This is usually valid for 3-6 months during which property searches are completed.
The buyer undertakes physical property surveys to assess the property’s condition. A survey helps identify any repairs needed and informs the price offered.
The buyer’s conveyancer undertakes local authority searches providing information about the area and property. These include:
- Local authority search highlighting planning proposals, building control actions, highways plans etc.
- Water and drainage search outlining water supply, sewerage and flood risk
- Environmental search checking for contamination, radon gas, mining activity etc.
- Chancel repair search on the rare chance a liability exists
The results of the searches must be deemed satisfactory for the purchase to proceed. Follow-up enquiries may be needed first.
The buyer should arrange building insurance ready for the exchange of contracts. It must be in place from completion onwards.
Exchange of Contracts
Once all enquiries are resolved and searches are satisfactory, the legal contracts can be signed and exchanged. This is the critical, legally binding stage where completion dates are agreed upon.
In exchange, the buyer pays a deposit usually 10% of the purchase price which is held by the seller’s conveyancer. The seller’s conveyancer receives the buyer’s signed contract while the buyer’s conveyancer receives the seller’s signed contract.
Dates are set for completion, usually 1-2 weeks for residential property. The date range gives some leeway but if either party pulls out at this stage, penalties apply. Both parties are now under contractual obligation to complete the transaction.
Between Exchange and Completion
This short interim period involves:
- The buyer transferring the full purchase funds via bank transfer and obtaining a mortgage if required
- The seller vacated the property and removed all excluded fixtures
- Utility meter readings are taken on the completion date
- Insurance and remaining community fees are apportioned between the parties
- Any accrued rent or service charges are reconciled
- The seller pays off any existing mortgage
On the day of completion, the legal ownership of the property is transferred. The conveyancing process culminates in sending the full purchase funds from the buyer’s conveyancer to the seller’s conveyancer by telegraphic bank transfer.
Once funds are received, the seller’s conveyancer authorises the release of keys to the estate agent or buyer directly. They also submit transfer documents to the Land Registry to officially register the change of ownership.
The buyer can pick up the keys and take possession of the property once this registration is confirmed, usually within 1-2 weeks. The buyer’s conveyancer will forward the title deeds and Land Registry certificate once received. The conveyancing process is now finished.
Conveyancing entails considerable coordination between the parties’ conveyancers and various checks and preparations before that critical moment of legally transferring a property. While the precise steps can vary depending on property type and location, these core elements apply to conveyancing a residential property being sold in the UK. Conveyancers experienced in local regulations and requirements can steer the process smoothly, allowing buyers and sellers to stay on top of each stage. With good conveyancing, the complex process of buying or selling a house does not have to feel overwhelming.