When it comes to buying or selling a house, one of the most complex aspects is conveyancing. It helps keep your property transaction on the right side of the law, but what’s involved? What does a solicitor do when you want to buy a house?
Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring ownership of property, whether you are buying or selling. It includes everything involved in the complex process of ownership and ensures that your purchase or sale is legal and no one has any unfortunate surprises.
Without proper conveyancing, you may encounter problems that range from bitter disputes over fence boundaries, to discovering the land on which your house is built is on a lease that’s about to expire!
So, while you can handle conveyancing yourself, most people don’t. Many people find that using a professional conveyancer, usually a solicitor, is much easier and offers peace of mind.
It also frees up time. If you hire a conveyancer to handle things for you, you can get on with your life while they handle the paperwork and investigations.
Conveyancers vs. Solicitors
First, let’s establish some terminology. People often get confused when it comes to the difference between a licenced conveyancer and a solicitor.
Solicitors and conveyancers are both highly regulated professionals and whichever one your choose will have a specialism in the legal work required by property exchanges. They have particular expertise in the transfer of legal title between buyer and seller.
They may both also handle other property legal work such as remortgage legal work, lease extensions, transfer of equity etc. Licenced conveyancers are specialised in property but can’t deal with complex legal issues.
There are around 200 regulated licenced conveyancer firms and approximately 9, 000 solicitors practices offering property legal services in the UK.
Regulatory differences between conveyancers and solicitors
To protect you by ensuring that solicitors and conveyancers are acting above board, both are regulated by professional bodies. They provide important regulatory measures that enforce proper codes of conduct.
Conveyancers are regulated by the CLC (Council of Licenced Conveyancers). They define a licenced conveyancer as:
“a specialist property lawyer qualified in all aspects of property law in England and Wales. A licenced conveyancer is also a Commissioner of Oaths and an increasing number are also licenced to offer probate services. ”
Solicitors are regulated by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) and the Law Society.
Solicitors must always disclose referral fees. Under the SRA Code of Conduct Rule 9, solicitors are required to disclose any referral fee paid out to a marketing or referring agency. This gives you transparency as to why you might be recommended to a specific solicitor.
Licenced conveyancers, on the other hand, are not required to disclose referral fees.
A conveyancing solicitor is a solicitor (regulated by the SRA) who specialises in property legal work or some kind of property law, be it commercial or residential.
Practical differences between conveyancers and solicitors
Unlike solicitors, licenced conveyancers often act on both sides of a transaction. In this case, they represent both buyer and seller. To avoid conflicts of interest, firms have secure policies in place to ensure transparency and respect to both parties.
Solicitors usually work in firms that employ solicitors specialising in other areas of law. This allows them to advise you on other areas of law that might need to be considered if your circumstances are unique.
For example, if your property exchange is linked to a will or some piece of ongoing litigation, a solicitor may be able to undertake all the work in-house. This saves you both time and money in the long run.
If you don’t require the extra services offered by a solicitor, a conveyancer may be the more cost effective way to go.
Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s discover what a solicitor actually does when you instruct them.
What does a solicitor do when you buy a house?
When you want to buy a house, a conveyancing solicitor will:
- liaise with other parties in the transaction
- manage contracts
- carry out property searches
- deal with the Land Registry
- transfer the funds to pay for your property
- offer legal advice
When you want to buy a house, your conveyancing solicitor will request the contract pack from the seller’s conveyancer. They will request relevant searches, usually a Local Authority Search and Environmental Search. Depending on the property, other searches may be required.
Your solicitor reviews the searches and all supporting documents to ensure there are no issues. Then, they make any necessary enquiries with the seller’s conveyancer.
The nature and extent of the enquiries will be unique to every transaction because every exchange is different. Once they have received everything they need, they send you a summary report of their findings. This summarises the information obtained, title deeds, supported by copy documents.
If you have any questions about the searches or documents, your solicitor will pass them across to the other side and deliver the answers. They will only proceed further once you’re happy, so take the time to make sure you have answers to all your questions.
Solicitors also handle any paperwork and money transfers involved in the property exchange.
What does a solicitor do when you sell a house?
If you’re selling a house, a conveyancing solicitor will:
- liaise with other parties in the transaction
- manage contracts and paperwork
- deal with the Land Registry
- transfer the funds regarding your sale
- offer legal advice
The first thing you need to do if you want to sell your property is to instruct your conveyancing solicitor. They will arrange for the contract pack to be collated and issue you with the forms you need to fill out.
Once a buyer has been found, they will liaise with the other side and address any queries they may have. Your solicitor acts as your representative, ensuring that all the documents are up to scratch and organising the payment of fees and costs to various parties.
The conveyancing process
How to pick a solicitor or conveyancer
Choosing the right solicitor or conveyancer is a very important decision. With almost 10,000 firms to choose from across the UK, finding the ideal one can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Sometimes, your mortgage provider or estate agent will recommend a solicitor or conveyancer from a panel of trusted firms. This can help you narrow down your choices, but make sure you do your homework…
- Ask friends and family about their preferred legal representation
- Read online reviews and recommendations
- Make sure they are a member of the Law Society of England and Wales/ Law Society of Scotland and a member of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme
- Similarly, conveyancers must be members of the CLC
The conveyancing process is complex and involves a lot of moving parts and coordination between parties. As a result, delays can arise if the solicitor or conveyancer is not diligent and efficient in their management of the transaction.
To help smooth the process, modern conveyancing practices capitalise on the latest technology. Using secure cloud applications, conveyancers give you access to your purchase or sale anywhere, anytime, allowing you to manage the process much easier.
When reviewing costs, make sure that cheap quotes don’t have hidden costs. Do your research and make sure you are aware of what the final bill will be to avoid nasty surprises.
When should you instruct a solicitor or conveyancer?
The earlier you can instruct a solicitor or conveyancer, the better. If you’re buying a property, you can save time by instructing your solicitor or conveyancer ahead of time.
Once they have notice that you will be formally instructing them, they can be ready when you find a property. This allows you and your conveyancer to hit the ground running and save time.
Many sellers only instruct a conveyancer or solicitor when they have agreed the sale with a buyer. What they don’t realise is that this can cost valuable time.
A conveyancer can do so much groundwork on the sale of a house before a buyer enters the picture. Having the majority of a contract pack ready to go will speed up the exchange process hugely.
You should also instruct your solicitor early if you’re trying to sell a leasehold property. This will involve more parties than a freehold and it takes longer to get your ducks in a row ahead of the sale.
Property surveys are undertaken by conveyancers to assess a property’s condition. This is one of the essential things a solicitor will do when you’re looking to buy a house. There are many types of survey available, but the two most common surveys are the Homebuyer Report and Building Survey.
The more extensive a survey is, the more you’ll find out about the property. The more you know about a property, the better informed you’ll be when it comes to make an offer, or negotiating your position.
A Homebuyer Report involves a visual inspection of the visible areas of a property that are reasonably accessible. This is ideal for properties that are new and in sound condition. A homebuyers report includes:
- Condition ratings of each element of the property
- Rates the condition of all permanent structures in the property, e.g. garages etc.
- Market valuation and insurance rebuild costs
- On-going maintenance advice for the property
- An overview of the condition of the services based on visual inspection
Building surveys are a more thorough inspection, including visual and non-visual aspects of a property. If the property you’re buying is old, this is an essential survey.
Building surveys involve checks on all easily accessible areas such as roof or cellar space, underneath the floors etc. It also includes inspections for damp, dry rot and subsidence, all potential future hazards to the structure. The inspection includes:
- A list of all defects uncovered
- Probable causes
- Level of hazardousness
- Advises on defects and repairs
- Includes advice for future maintenance
Surveys only tell you one side of the story. Property searches reveal more about the property and its immediate environs.
There’s more to a property than just bricks and mortar. There could be a something hidden below the surface (sometimes literally!) That’s why property searches are so important.
Some property searches are mandatory. They are either a legal requirement or required by your mortgage provider. Other searches are just good sense and help provide peace of mind, or a valuable bargaining chip for negotiation.
Searches can reveal previous unconsidered factors such as ground stability, potential flood risks, hazardous contamination and the location of drains. The three most common searches are environmental searches, local authority searches and water drainage searches.
Environmental searches are carried out by a environmental specialists. They use past land use records to check whether the land in question is likely to be contaminated, according to the Environmental Protection Act.
Nowadays when new homes are built on brownfield sites, developers are usually required to carry out investigations such as soil analysis and stability reports before starting building work. In effect, this acts as an environmental search. If any contamination is found, or previous landfill sites revealed, the developers have to carry out remedial works before any construction takes place.
But this has not always happened in the past. If contamination is discovered, homeowners may face a long period of uncertainty while further investigations are carried out. Ultimately, the question of who pays for clearing up the site will arise and may involve years of litigation.
Local Authority Search
The main purpose of a local authority search is to protect buyers from upsetting their enjoyment of the property or effects that could effect its value. The Local Authority Search is made up of a LLC1 form and a CON29 form.
Form LLC1 is a search of the local land charges register. It will tell you whether the property is a listed building, in a conservation area, or under some other form of protection. It will also tell you if any trees on the property are protected by preservation orders.
The CON29 contains a series of enquires. Some apply to all property transactions, while others are optional. These enquires include:
- Building control history
- Planning control history
- Nearby road schemes and motorways
- Pipelines and hedgerows
Water Drainage Search
This search determines the state of a property’s water supply and drainage. It confirms whether a property is connected to a public sewer, septic tank or other private disposal facilities.
It also confirms whether the property is connected to a public or private water supply and provides details of how the property is billed for its water supply and disposal.
Costs of conveyancing
You’ll normally need a solicitor or licensed conveyor to carry out all the legal work when buying and selling your home.
You may be asked to pay a deposit when you hire a conveyancing solicitor, and they could ask for up to 10% of the conveyancing fees to be paid. You will usually settle the rest of the conveyancing fees once the sale of the house is completed, although you could be asked to pay for things like local searches before then.
- Anti-money laundering checks
- Title deeds
- Property fraud
- Ownership transfer
- Bank transfer fees
- Stamp Duty
- Help to Buy supplement
How long should they be taking?
The overall length of time it takes can be influenced by factors such as how quickly the lender deals with your mortgage application; however, in many cases it is the length of the conveyancing process that determines how quickly you’ll be able to take ownership of your new home.
Don’t be shy about contacting your solicitor regularly for updates on progress, and to check that there’s nothing they’re still expecting from you. You (or someone else in your property chain) may be on a restricted timescale, and chains can sometimes collapse if the process takes too long. Although no-one wants to be a nuisance, there’s nothing wrong with requesting a weekly update.
The time frame from first instructing a conveyancer to actually moving into your new home typically takes somewhere between eight and twelve weeks. However, it’s important to remember that this is just an average.
On the other hand, if either the property survey or the conveyancer’s searches throw up something unexpected, further work may be required and completion of the purchase could be delayed until any queries are resolved.
Conveyancing can take weeks or even months to complete. Using Gazeal, you can potentially cut this time in half. Find out more about how it works right here.