Ten things you need to know before you buy or sell a house

Elderly couple celebrating buying their new house

Buying or selling a house can seem a little daunting, but our conveyancing solicitors are here to help keep it straightforward.

1. What is Conveyancing

This is the word typically used to refer to the legal process of buying or selling a house.

2. How long will it take?

This depends upon whether the sale or purchase is a one off transaction or caught up in a chain of transactions. If for example the property is empty and the buyer does not need a mortgage and the paperwork is received promptly by the buyer’s lawyer, a sale and purchase can be completed very quickly.

However, more often than not, a mortgage will be needed and there will be a chain of transactions. If this is the case, it will usually take about four to six weeks to exchange contracts and another two weeks between exchange of contracts and final completion, making a total of six to eight weeks from start to finish.

We will always work hard to minimise delays and to try to complete your transaction as soon as possible. It is not possible however to guarantee the time it will take where a chain of transactions is involved. This is because a transaction in a chain can only proceed as quickly as the slowest person in the chain. Examples where delays could arise include where someone is waiting to receive a mortgage, to have a survey carried out or a transaction has started off later than the others in the chain or has previously fallen through.

3. When do I need to pay any money?

If you are buying a property your solicitor will ask you for funds, typically £350 at the start of the transaction to cover search fees. Then a few days before contracts are due to be exchanged, your solicitor will ask you for the deposit which is payable on exchange of contracts. This is usually agreed at 10% of the asking price of the property but can vary. The balance of the purchase money and solicitor's costs including Stamp Duty Land Tax and land registration fees are payable a few days before the completion date as we must have cleared funds on the date of completion.

4. Do I need a survey?

The legal position is ‘buyer beware’ and that you buy a property in its existing condition with no come back against the seller if there are any defects at all. This is why it is always advisable to have a survey carried out before contracts are exchanged and you are legally committed to buy the property. If you need a mortgage, the lender will insist on a valuation being carried out to check on the value of the property but this is not a survey. It depends on the type of property you are buying as to the type of survey that it is advisable to have carried out. We will be pleased to discuss this with you and have good relationships with various local surveyors and can put you in touch with them to get this advice.

5. What searches do you carry out?

If you are buying a property we will carry out all appropriate searches and pre contract enquiries for you against the property. The main searches are:

  • Local Authority Search
  • Drainage and Water search
  • Environmental Search
  • Chancel Search and Land Charges
  • Land Registry Searches

These searches are undertaken to check that there are no adverse matters registered against the property including for example breaches of planning, proposals for nearby new roads or traffic schemes, whether there are any risks from contaminated land or flooding and whether there is any potential liability to contribute towards the upkeep of the chancel of any medieval church in the vicinity. Our drainage and water search will show whether or not the surface and/or foul water drains run into a public or private sewer and the route that they take and whether the property is connected to the mains water supply. We also ask various questions of the Seller to identify a host of important things like who is responsible for the boundaries, when the central heating was last serviced, whether their are any guarantees for building work, and whether they have had any problems with the neighbours. 

6. When do I need to arrange buildings insurance?

Unless the insurance is being arranged by the lender or it is a leasehold property and the insurance is dealt with by the landlord, this must usually be arranged from exchange of contracts as the property will be at your risk from that time. You should make arrangements to have this in place immediately Contracts are exchanged.

7. What does exchange of Contracts mean?

Once all searches, pre contract enquiries and your survey has been carried out, any mortgage offer required has been received and you and the other parties in the chain are ready to proceed, Contracts can be ‘exchanged’. There are two parts to the Contract. One is signed by the seller and the other part by the buyer. Your solicitor will check with you and the other parties in the chain as to a suitable completion date and will then ‘exchange’ the Contract with his /her opposite number. This is usually dealt with on the telephone and it is only at that stage that you are a legally committed to the purchase or sale and that a completion date is agreed.

8. What is the ‘Completion Date’?

This is the date agreed on exchange of Contracts for you to complete your purchase or sale. It is the day that the buyer is entitled to collect the keys and move into the property.

9. What happens on the 'Completion Date’?

This is when the buyer’s solicitor sends the balance of the purchase money through the banking system to the seller's solicitors. Once received they will call the estate agents to authorise them to release the keys to the buyers. On completion the seller has to move out (give ‘vacant possession’) and remove all furniture and effects from the property. The seller’s solicitors will send the deeds of the property to the buyer's solicitors and send to the seller the balance of the sale monies after payment of any outstanding mortgage, estate agents fee and legal costs.

10. What happens after Completion?

The buyer's solicitors will pay any Stamp Duty Land Tax and arrange for the buyer and the lender to be registered as the new owner and lender at the Land Registry.

If you are looking to buy a property, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Our specialist lawyers are members of the Law Society's Conveyancing quality scheme and are based in:

  • Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
  • Essex: Brentwood, Chelmsford, and Saffron Walden
  • Hertfordshire: Bishop's Stortford and Royston 

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

Chat to the Author, Catherine Banks

Associate - Residential property, Bishop's Stortford office

Meet Catherine
Catherine Banks, residential property specialist in Bishops Stortford
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