What does a conveyancing solicitor do?

A conveyancing solicitor takes care of the legal processes involved with buying or selling a property. Your conveyancing solicitor is your main point of contact throughout the process, once an offer is accepted.

Many people don’t really know what a conveyancing solicitor actually does. But a good solicitor can keep your house sale or purchase moving forwards, complete the transaction faster, and help to prevent offers from falling through.

The exact process also depends on whether you are the vendor (i.e. the person selling the property) or the buyer.

Selling a property

When you want to sell a property, your solicitor will usually start by asking you to provide some information about the property, as well as any of the fixtures and fittings inside it that you want to include in, or specifically exclude from, the sale.

It’s common for your conveyancing solicitor to give you a form or questionnaire to fill in, to make sure they have all of the essential information.

This part of the process is important because it sets the expectations for the sale, and ensures your solicitor can write a contract that only includes the fixtures, fittings and furniture that you don’t want to take with you to your next property.

Preparing the contracts

After checking what is included in the sale, the vendor’s conveyancing lawyer will prepare a draft contract and send it to the buyer’s lawyer, along with an itinerary of what’s included.

This contract sets out the terms for the property transaction, and should guide the rest of the process with no major renegotiation. Because of this, it’s crucial to get the contract right at this stage and to iron out any minor disputes between the vendor’s and buyer’s expectations.

It’s also normal at this stage for the seller’s lawyer to obtain proof of the vendor’s title to the property (usually from the Land Registry in the UK) and provide this to the buyer’s conveyancing solicitor so the sale can proceed with confidence.

Buying a property

On the buyer’s side, the conveyancing solicitor will check all the initial paperwork and look for any legal issues that might need ironing out or could prevent the purchase of the property from completing.

The lawyer may raise some enquiries with the vendor’s solicitor at this stage and will also carry out ‘searches’, which check for specific laws, limitations, risks and restrictions that might affect the property.

Examples of conveyancing searches

Some types of conveyancing searches carried out during a property transaction include:

• Chancel Repair Search: Check whether you may be held liable for repairs to local parish churches (you can protect against this using Chancel Repair Insurance for a relatively small cost)
• Environmental Searches: Contaminated land risks, historic landfill sites
• Land Registry Searches: Proof that the vendor is the legal owner of the property
• Local Authority Searches: Planning permissions and restrictions, highways and pavement maintenance
• Location Specific Searches: Additional risks e.g. subsidence and historic mineshafts, more detailed flood assessments
• Water Authority Searches: Water supply to the property and presence of public drains on the land

Buying with a mortgage

If you are buying a property using funds obtained via a mortgage, your conveyancing solicitor is also likely to review your mortgage offer and tell you any concerns they have about the terms and conditions.

You may be required to choose a lawyer who is on your lender’s approved solicitor panel (sometimes called a ‘conveyancing panel’ or ‘lender panel’).

This is because your solicitor is also acting as a legal representative for the lender and must take any direct instructions from them into account.

Before exchange of contracts

The pre-exchange process can take a varying length of time, depending on any issues that emerge. It all depends on how quickly the buyer’s and vendor’s conveyancing solicitors are able to answer the questions raised, and this can sometimes mean going back to the seller to double check any details.

If the buyer’s solicitor is satisfied with the answers to their enquiries, as well as the results obtained from all the conveyancing searches that were carried out, they will feed back to the buyer and ask them to sign the appropriate contracts and documentation.

The vendor’s solicitor also gets signatures from the seller on the contracts and the Transfer Deed, although at this stage the transaction is not yet fully finalised or legally binding under English property law.

It is normally at this stage that the solicitors agree on a completion date, by which any remaining legal admin should be completed so the funds can be released to the vendor, and the keys handed over to the buyer.

Exchange of contracts

The date on which contracts are exchanged is commonly called the ‘completion date’ and there are a few stages to go through:

• The buyer provides a deposit of around 10% of the purchase price
• The solicitors (on both sides) verify that they have identical copies of the contract
• The solicitors agree a time for exchange of contracts and send signed copies by post
• The buyer’s solicitor requests the release of funds by the mortgage lender, if relevant
• Funds are sent to the vendor’s solicitor, which completes the financial purchase

The vendor’s solicitor then sends any required funds to the vendor’s mortgage provider, to repay any remaining capital outstanding on the property. Any remainder is then released to the vendor’s bank account.

Once the exchange of funds is confirmed, the estate agent will hand over the keys to the property so the buyer can start moving in.

Finally, the signed Transfer Deed is sent to the buyer’s lawyer, completing the legal process of assigning ownership to the buyer.

Land Registry registration

Once the conveyancing work is complete and the keys have been handed over, the buyer’s lawyer must register the purchase with the Land Registry.

The Land Registry will then update the official register – the one final step needed to ensure the new owner of the property is listed in all the formal records, which will allow them to sell it on at a future date.

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