What is conveyancing, how long does it take, and what can go wrong?

There has been much media coverage about the decline in homeownership, the rise of private renting, and general affordability issues when it comes to owning your own property.

Despite the dreary tidings, owning a home of their own is still high on the list of priorities for many twenty-somethings in the UK.

If you find yourself in the fortunate position of being able to buy your own home, you need to know how to deal with the legal process (conveyancing), and then how to choose the right conveyancing solicitor to make it all happen for you without any mishaps.

In this article, we discuss how you can go about making sure you choose the right solicitor, and we also explain some of the process so you can get an idea of the timescales involved, and perhaps have forewarning of some of the pitfalls which might arise.

I’ve found the home of my dreams, now what?

Conveyancing, that’s what!

First things first: you’ve checked you have the finance in place, and perhaps a mortgage decision in principle, so you’re all set to proceed.

Now you need to find the conveyancing solicitor to do the legal bit.

Finding A Good Conveyancing Solicitor

Friends and Family Recommendations

Ideally, you will have a solicitor personally recommended to you by friends or family who have had a positive experience.

Estate Agent / Mortgage Broker Recommendations

Your estate agent – and possibly your mortgage broker – may well be able to recommend a conveyancer. Not all estate agent recommendations are the same; when an estate agent recommends a conveyancing solicitor within the locality, they often have a good working relationship with that solicitor, whereas some agents will recommend an out of town ‘factory’ firm which tends to be more of a business relationship.

Searching for a Solicitor Online

You might just be looking online hoping to find a solicitor you can trust to look after you through the process. Be sure to read their reviews, though, and make sure you will be dealing with a single point of contact who you can meet and trust with your finances.

You will find this article a useful guide when trying to decide who to use.

Whichever route you choose, you should ALWAYS have a person-to-person relationship with your conveyancing solicitor so that all instructions can be verified personally. You should never rely solely on email.

So you’ve chosen your conveyancing solicitor, what happens next, and what’s the process?

Once you find and instruct your solicitor you’ll need to produce ID, utility bills, and proof of where any money is coming from (to comply with money laundering regulations) – your solicitor will let you know the proof they need.

They will also ask for contracts, proof of the seller’s ownership and property information forms from their counterpart acting for the seller.

To ensure there are no nasty surprises in the future, your conveyancer runs searches with the local authority and others, and enquiries sent to the seller’s solicitors to answer. The local search will on average take a couple of weeks, although there are some councils where searches can take much longer.

How long does the conveyancing process take?

As the searches involve a number of different solicitors and authorities, it is impossible to say how long they will all take. And when there is a chain of transactions involved, the number of people involved multiplies! Your solicitor should push things along as much as possible, but it’s never down to one person.

Another aspect of the buying process that can impact on the time-to-completion is the type of property you are buying.

Freehold Property

If the property is ‘freehold’, you can realistically expect to be ready to exchange contracts in around five to six weeks.

Leasehold Flats

Buying a leasehold flat can take longer, perhaps six to eight weeks. Your solicitor must raise enquiries with the landlord for the building; there are a lot of other issues to deal with from insurance to past and future maintenance, and the specific formalities that have to be observed to ensure the change of ownership is correctly registered.

Listed property

Your conveyancer needs to find out about all the alterations and works carried out so they can check they have appropriate consents – this can obviously add more time to the process.

Unauthorised alterations

A common cause of significant delays in leasehold transactions is if the seller has made alterations to the flat, without the landlord’s consent. This will often mean getting the landlord’s retrospective consent, and often in these situations the seller may have also failed to obtain appropriate building regulations consent. So if you’re involved in a purchase when this issue arises, you should be prepared for significant delays!

Your mortgage

In the meantime you will have completed your mortgage application and organised a survey of the property, you can usually expect the mortgage offer to be issued about a week after the valuation has been carried out, assuming your lender has the necessary information from you and your mortgage broker.

Toward exchanging contracts …

When the searches are back, your conveyancing solicitor has received all replies to enquiries and (if applicable) your mortgage offer, you’ll receive a contract report and documents for signing. Make sure you read this through carefully, make sure you understand the documents and the property you are buying.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions so you feel comfortable proceeding, as there is a lot of your money involved! Then sign and return everything to your solicitor with the money you have agreed for the deposit and you should be ready to exchange.

Setting the dates

It is at this point you can decide on completion dates, and when your solicitor has exchanged for you, the deal is legally binding.

Between exchange and completion you’ll receive your solicitors bill which will include their fees, disbursements (additional payments) such as Land Registry fees and of course any stamp duty payable. All these need to be paid prior to completion to make sure there are no delays.

Completion Day!

The removers are booked, you’ve paid all your money to your solicitor, and you’re all set. In the meantime your solicitor will have requested the money for your mortgage (if applicable) and prepared the file in readiness for completion.

What can go wrong?! Well 99 times out of 100 absolutely nothing. However there can be occasions where problems arise on the day of completion. There can occasionally be a delay in obtaining mortgage funds, or the seller simply not being ready to move out.

Any solicitor worth their salt will do all they can to make sure things go as smoothly as possible on the day, so you can collect the keys and move into your new home, hopefully with the minimum of stress!

If you want to read about some successful completions, read these testimonials by happy Cunningtons’ clients.

And if you want to find out more about our conveyancing services, contact us and we’ll be happy to talk you through the process.

You can talk to our team in one of our local branches in Braintree, Brighton, Chelmsford, Croydon, Solihull, Hornchurch or Wickford. They’ll be happy to help. 

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