So, you’re buying your first property and you are hoping that it will be a smooth process, with no complications. But when your offer has been accepted, and you’ve got your mortgage in place, you then have to go through the conveyancing process for the first time. It all seems so overwhelming and confusing and you aren’t really sure why it has to be this complicated.
Hopefully this can add a bit of context and help you understand why it can be such a long winded process…
1. What do I need to find out about a property?
When you are buying any property, the general position in English Law is “Caveat Emptor” (let the buyer beware). You have to make sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for and the conveyancing process is designed to help you find the information you need.
- Is the seller is the true and complete legal owner? Is his/her title to the property being challenged or restricted by any third party? Nobody wants to buy a property that is being fought over and you need to be sure that this won’t be an issue for you;
- Is the property built at the gates of hell? You don’t want to move into a house that next to a river which floods every few months, built on a former nuclear waste site, or over an old mine which could collapse at any moment. You also need to be sure that it is built to a safe and legal standard;
- You may well have looked round the house a few times and liked the decorations and the fixtures and fittings. You want to know whether anything other than the four walls is included in the sale (i.e. curtains, carpets, washing machines);
- What is the full extent of the property? If it has grounds all around it, are they all part of your title? You need to be sure of where the boundaries are, and whether there is any disagreement with the neighbours over them;
- Which locality is the property in, and who is responsible for collecting waste, mending drainage pipes and so on?
The conveyancing process helps you find the answers to these questions. Your solicitor will conduct a number of searches by applying to local authorities, water companies, the coal mining authority and the Land Registry to find out facts about the property and the area it is situated in. The search results will reveal if there is anything you need to be aware of.
Questionnaires will be sent to the seller and the seller has to answer them truthfully and as fully as possible – this is your opportunity to ask about anything, for instance when and how the extension was built, and how noisy the neighbours are. Your solicitor will advise you if anything concerning the property should be investigated further. The information you are given will often shape your decision before you end up committing yourself to a contract.
2. How does a Property pass into my ownership?
Once you have had your property surveyed, and you are satisfied that it won’t fall down the minute you move in, you then go through the process of having it transferred into your name. All property in England and Wales has to be registered at HM Land Registry. This is so that every landowner in the country can protect their ownership legally.
Your solicitor will speak directly to the solicitor representing the sellers, and the actual buying and selling process will be completed under their supervision. For legal ownership of a property to be transferred from person A to person B, there are certain formalities you have to go through. It is best to think of them in two stages.
Firstly, contracts have to be exchanged. These contain all the terms – the identity of the buyer and seller, the price, the deposit, the intended date of transfer, who is liable for insuring the property and what happens if something goes wrong. Both buyer and seller have a contract and these are “exchanged” at a particular time and date, which is when you have committed yourselves to the transaction. You then start putting the final preparations in place for moving in.
Secondly, a transfer deed has to be executed so that the Land Registry has a formal record of the property transferring from the ownership of the seller to the buyer, and once this is registered you will get the “Office Copies” (i.e. the deeds) proving your ownership. There will be a completion date, which is usually the date of the Transfer Deed, and that is when you get the keys to your new home.
The conveyancing process is designed to help you learn about your new property, and to give you as secure a title as possible so that you don’t encounter big problems when you have moved in.