Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful events that we go through in a lifetime. Most of us breathe a sigh of relief when we find the perfect home, secure the funding, beat the competition and get our offer accepted.
For your trusty solicitors, the work is just beginning!
While we are gearing ourselves up for the next challenge – packing – they are beavering away in the background to ensure that we don’t end up with a ramshackle home that’s falling down around our ears or sign a contract that is unfair.
Not many of us, however, actually know what solicitors do on our behalf when we’re moving house.
Here Stuart Durrant, partner and head of property at Berkshire-based solicitors, Gardner Leader, gives us a crash course in what conveyancing is really all about.
The first thing to do is to get a quote from a solicitor’s firm. We always give a fixed price so you can budget for your move. The work then starts as soon as you make an offer and the vendor accepts it
Once your solicitor has received notification of the sale from the estate agents they can set all the wheels in motion. It is then up to the seller’s solicitor to prepare a contract. They will get all the legal details about the property from the Land Registry and find out about any planning history. Copies of the lease (if leasehold) and a management company pack will also be obtained.
The seller’s conveyancer will also prepare the property information forms, which include the fixtures and fittings list, and send them over to your solicitor.
Your solicitor will then order four searches on your behalf, and probably ask for a fee to cover the cost of these immediately. These searches are local, environmental, chancel and water and drainage.
These help us to work out if there are any issues of a local nature, or if the building was constructed over an old dump or anything else that may hamper the sale. At this time you are probably finalising your mortgage and arranging a survey of the property too.
Your solicitor will then compile a report on the searches and will go over the contract with a fine tooth comb to ensure there are no hidden surprises. I have seen one that said my client would pay all the legal fees, and some try to include a penalty if you do not complete on a set date.
If there are any questions or ‘enquiries’ arising then these go to the vendor’s solicitor at this stage. These may include some very basic issues, such as do they have all the keys for the doors and windows? If you are ever told there are ‘enquiries outstanding’ then, in jargon-free language, this simply means your solicitor is still waiting for answers.
Once all the responses are in and your mortgage has been accepted, you are ready to exchange – which essentially means you can swap contracts.
It is usually at this stage that your solicitor will get you to go in to their office to go through the contract and legal details, such as rights of way on the property and restrictive covenants. And this is the point at which you must pay your deposit.
Along with the estate agent, your solicitor will now work towards setting a completion date that fits with the whole chain. “Three or four people in a chain is not unusual,” says Stuart. “We once worked with 14 in a chain however, but two or three is about normal.”
The legal duties are then handed over to a completion team, who arrange to get the mortgage money and transfer the legal documents over to you. A few more searches are implemented to check that you are not bankrupt and to double check the legal title of the house is still correct and it hasn’t actually already been sold on to someone else.
On the day of completion, your solicitor will ensure the money is sent to your seller’s solicitors. Once they get that, you get the keys.
While you are sipping champagne and settling into your new home, your solicitors will be finalising all the last bits, such as receiving the transfer deeds and sending them on to the Land Registry.
A good solicitor is worth their weight in gold and can make your house purchase swift and unstressful so it is worth doing your homework and picking a good one.