This work is called conveyancing, and using a professional to carry it out is not only easier but also gives you a level of protection in the event that something goes wrong.
Finding out later that what you have bought is not what you thought you had bought is very distressing. Realising that HS2 is due to run right through your garden is not something you want to find out only when it happens.
Using a conveyancer helps stop that happening, and gives you the opportunity for legal recourse in the unlikely event that it does.
Conveyancers liaise with your mortgage company and the seller’s solicitor and deal with all the legal documentation required to transfer ownership of the property from the seller to you.
They also carry out various searches to discover any potential issues with the property and the surrounding area. They will check for building work in the local vicinity as well as speaking to the Environment Agency and utility companies to find out if there are any other issues that might impact your new home.
Checks will be made with the Land Registry and existing freehold/leasehold documents to confirm the boundaries of the property and whether the seller has the legal right to sell it.
Once all the paperwork is complete, your conveyancer will confirm how much stamp duty you must pay to the government – and once that is done, they will register you as the new owner of your property with the Land Registry.
Sometimes your lender or mortgage broker will have a tie-up with a conveyancer that you must use. If not, they might give you a recommendation.
Otherwise it’s down to the buyer to find someone. You can choose either a conveyancer or a conveyancing solicitor. Conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society. The main difference between the two is that a conveyancer solely deals with property matters, whereas a solicitor can undertake other legal duties, should you need them.
Many homebuyers have no preference over which conveyancer to use, but if you want to spend a bit of time researching them, you could consider these points:
Local: There’s no reason why your conveyancer can’t be based at the other end of the country, but you might find it reassuring to use someone with good local knowledge.
Recommendations: If you know anyone who has used a conveyancer or solicitor for this purpose in the past couple of years, ask them how they found the process and the service.
Timescale: How long things take is not entirely in the hands of the conveyancer as they rely on things being sent and checked by other agencies, but you can ask for an idea of how long they think it will take.
Reviews: Before you take on the services of a conveyancer, take a look at any reviews they have (or their company has). Search beyond their own website for independent reviews, as these tend to be more honest.
Fees: Ask in advance what the initial fees are going to be – and make sure to check if there are likely to be any additional charges later on.
There is no formal timescale but, as a rule of thumb, you should allow up to 12 weeks for the process to be completed. This can be extended if any problems show up during the checks.
Some people like to chase up their conveyancers, and there’s no reason you can’t gently chivvy them along. But remember that they will be dealing with several transactions at once, and they are only human. Conveyancers are less likely to pull their fingers out if you become the annoying customer making unreasonable demands on them!
The good news if you are remortgaging is that the process is much quicker, and should be completed in about four weeks.
The fees that conveyancers or solicitors charge vary not only from firm to firm but also depending on the nature of the property you are buying and the area where you are buying it. They can charge either a flat fee or a percentage of the property value. You should be given an idea of the fees at the start of the process but you should expect to pay anywhere between £500 and £1,500.
Some conveyancers advertise a ‘no sale, no fee’ package, meaning that if your purchase falls through you are not left with an unnecessary fee. But it’s possible that they make this guarantee because their fees for successful completions are higher than elsewhere.
You will be charged disbursements on top of any conveyancing fees. These are additional costs that are charged by some of the third parties contacted by your conveyancer. These vary but they can add up to several hundred pounds and will depend on the number of searches the conveyancer makes.
These are simple online searches to confirm that you are who you claim to be. Conveyancers are legally obliged to do this under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
This search is carried out through the Insolvency Register to determine if you are bankrupt or on the brink of bankruptcy. This is required solely by the mortgage lender – if you are a cash buyer, there is no need for a conveyancer to carry this out.
This is a search undertaken with the local authority, which will report whether any road schemes or other developments that might affect the property are being planned, whether the surrounding roads and paths are maintained, if there is any contaminated land near the property, if the house is in a conservation area, and whether there are any outstanding enforcement notices for violation of planning permission.
A utility provider or third-party company carries out a search to confirm whether the property is connected to a public water supply and sewerage system, and to check if the property is affected by the close proximity of any water/sewage pipes or wastewater treatment works.
This type of search, which is a legal requirement, is carried out to ensure that the seller of the property is the registered owner.
This is payable on completion for transferring the property from the seller into your name.
This is the payment to the Land Registry for a copy of the deeds to your property if you are selling your home.
Also known as a CHAPS payment, this is the fee required by your conveyancer to transfer funds from your mortgage lender to the seller.
Depending on the type of property and the area in which you buy, other more specialist searches might have to be undertaken. Sometimes these are demanded by the mortgage provider.
This is usually undertaken when the property is situated on or near an industrial area or other potentially polluting ground, such as a landfill site. It will look at whether there is any risk to health or whether the value of your home will decrease because of the pollutants.
A planning search is much more detailed than the local search. It reports on any development projects up to a radius of 250 metres from the property, local crime, the performance of local schools and what services are available in the vicinity.
This search will determine whether the property is liable to be flooded or is on a flood plain.
If the property is in a former mining area or there are plans to begin mining or fracking nearby, this search will detail whether there is risk of subsidence, gaseous emissions or any other similar hazards.
This is a search to determine whether your new property is liable for funds to repair your local church. The obligation dates back to medieval times but it remains relevant today. There have been several high-profile cases in which property owners have been stung for hundreds of thousands of pounds, so this search is something you should consider.
If you wish to complain about the conduct of your conveyancer or solicitor, you should initially contact the firm in question directly. If your complaint is not dealt with within a six week period, or you are not happy with the response that you receive, you should contact the Legal Ombudsman.
Legal Ombudsman PO Box 6806 Wolverhampton WV1 9WJ
Telephone: 0300 555 0333