"Conveyancing" is the legal process that must be followed to transfer the ownership of the property from the seller to you. The legal aspects of buying a home can be complicated. Although in theory you can do the legal work yourself, in practice most home-buyers appoint a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer to do the legal work involved in buying a property. That person, known as the conveyancer, will be your legal adviser and will act for you. You need to appoint a solicitor or licensed conveyancer as soon as possible after your offer is accepted so that:
• you can give your lender the solicitor's or conveyancer's details;
• your conveyancer can make contact with the seller's conveyancer and begin work on drafting the contract that will form the basis of the selling/buying agreement; and
• the solicitor or conveyancer can check over any valuation reports and offers of advance.
Your broker may be able to give you a list of conveyancers to choose from, who are also approved by the lender to undertake the legal work they need. You can also get details of conveyancers from the Law Society or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
The fee charged by conveyancers will vary. It is worth getting estimates from several conveyancers. Whichever conveyancer you decide to use, check that your lender is happy to use the same conveyancer for their legal work - this should help to keep the total legal costs you have to pay as low as possible. Some mortgage deals include free conveyancing up to a certain value, which can be useful if you want to minimise your upfront costs.
A lot of legal work involved in buying a home doesn't need to involve you directly, but it is useful to understand what needs to be done in case you need to check up on progress. Your conveyancer will tell you about the documents you need to sign, but if you do not understand anything you should ask.
Your conveyancer will do the following:
• Get the title deeds (documents giving evidence of ownership) of the property from the seller's conveyancer and examine them to make sure there are no problems.
• Make sure that you will get proper ownership of (title to) the property.
• Make sure that there are no planning conditions or particularly harsh conditions of ownership (for example an intrusive right of way) affecting the property.
• Make sure the seller has all planning permission and completion certificates for any alterations or extensions to the property.
• Check that there are no local developments (for example, road-widening schemes) planned which might affect the value of the property.
• Check that the street, pavement and main drains are public and maintained by the local authority.
• Negotiate and agree (with the seller's conveyancer) the draft of the contract setting out the terms on which you are buying.
• Register or record the change of title to the property, and the mortgage deed (loan agreement) in favour of the lender, with the Land Registry.
Getting hold of all the necessary information can be time-consuming. Your conveyancer will request "searches" of information that could affect your property from the relevant local authority and sometimes other agencies. Sometimes these can be obtained quickly and electronically, but sometimes they can be slower and this may cause delay.
Sometimes it is possible to use title insurance as a way to streamline some of the conveyancing. Title insurance can sometimes be used to complement or replace some elements of the legal work by insuring against the risk of problems arising in the future. It is more commonly used on remortgage cases than on mortgages to buy a property, but it may be useful if problems are identified during the conveyancing process.
If your conveyancer is also acting for your lender, your lender may instruct the conveyancer to prepare the mortgage deed. This is the legal contract between you and the lender. Your conveyancer will explain the terms of the mortgage deed to you, and then have them signed by you and the lender.
Once the conveyancing work has been completed, you and the seller need to sign the contract your conveyancers have agreed that sets out the terms of the sale. The conveyancers will then exchange contracts and at this point both you and the seller are legally committed to the deal. At this point, you will need to pay a deposit of about 10% of the purchase price. Also, you become responsible for putting right any loss of or damage to the property (unless the contract says otherwise). Your conveyancer will advise on how and when this should be arranged and be put into effect.
If you are depending on the sale of an existing property to buy the new one, you need to make sure that you exchange contracts for both properties at the same time, and agree the same completion date for both properties. Otherwise, there is a risk you might be legally committed to buy but not have access to the money you need to do so. If you complete your purchase before your sale then you will face a shortfall and will need an expensive "bridging loan".