Conveyancing – your questions answered
How Long will Conveyancing Take?
As you might imagine, I am asked this question a lot.
The conveyancing system is not perfect, but it is a clever system, allowing multiple people to move house on the same day in the same chain using the same set of monies which flow up the chain from the buyer at the beginning to the seller at the end.
This does mean, however, that there are a lot of moving parts. A typical conveyancing chain will involve the buyers, the sellers, quite possibly family members who might be helping to fund the purchase, mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, surveyors/valuers and estate agents. It only takes one thing to go wrong and the whole chain falls apart, like a house of cards.
As conveyancers, we understand that uncertainty is the most difficult thing to deal with, but sadly, it is not within our gift to address this fully. We cannot control how long the buyers in the chain take to arrange their mortgages, nor can we control whether survey issues arise with one of the properties in the chain or that one of the parties simply changes their mind. When I speak to clients at the outset of the transaction, I am often told the matter is urgent. Whilst we will always do our very best to progress all our transactions as quickly as reasonably possible, often delays are entirely outside our control.
The process has also become much more regulated in recent years. Whilst the purpose of such regulation is good, with its roots in ensuring the process is better protected from fraud and crime etc. it has placed a heavy burden on conveyancers and agents, which has served to prolong transactions.
So, coming back to the question, when I am asked this, my first question is to enquire how long the chain is as above all else, this tends to dictate how quickly a transaction will proceed. A smooth transaction in a short chain can take (roughly) 2 months, a particularly long chain can take up to 5 to 6 months, but in all honesty, it is hard to predict as every case can be different depending on a number of circumstances.
When should I instruct a solicitor?
I would suggest obtaining some quotes once you have put your house on the market. Once you have chosen the solicitor you wish to use, you can deal with proof of identity and completing the forms the solicitor needs to issue the contract pack. This means the solicitor can issue the pack to your buyer’s solicitor straight away, once a transaction is agreed.
How much will it cost?
Conveyancers and solicitors are required by law to be clear and open about their pricing and you should be able to obtain information in this regard from firms’ websites. Many firms (including ours) have a quoting tool on their website, which should give a reasonably accurate indication of the price (certain aspects like search costs, will depend on the locality of the property, and the amount of stamp duty land tax can be affected by your circumstances and the type of property, which things are not always clear when a quote is first given).
It is essential to understand that, like anything in life, you get what you pay for. Every firm will offer slightly different prices but cheapest does not mean best. The difficulty that clients often have is that they do not understand what they are buying when they instruct a solicitor. It is no different to paying for an electrician or a plumber: you are paying for a service and the quality of the service can make a huge difference to how stressful the process is.
By way of example, imagine you are in a chain with (say) 5 parties. All the other parties are ready to exchange, you are the only people holding up the chain. You have promised your sellers (who are lovely people) you would find out what’s going on last week, but your solicitor has (again) not returned your calls or emails. You haven’t yet updated the sellers, who are becoming very upset. The agent cannot reach your solicitor either. You feel awful. You are helpless and unable to control a process to which you are central.
Checking out suitable solicitors beforehand, such as looking for recommendations or reading customer reviews, may reduce the chance of experiencing such stressful situations.
At what point should I apply for a mortgage?
You should obtain an offer in principle as soon as possible. You will not be able to obtain a mortgage offer until you have agreed a purchase, but the sooner you address this the better, especially in a market where mortgage rates generally are on the increase.
What is the difference between exchange and completion?
When we exchange contracts, the buyer pays a 10% deposit and the completion date is fixed. After this point, neither party is allowed to withdraw from the transaction without serious consequences. To my mind, exchange is the most important part of the process, because once we have exchanged, it removes all the uncertainty from the process and allows the parties to book up their removals and finalise plans for their move.
Completion is when the transactions conclude. It is the day the purchase price (less the deposit) is paid to the seller and the seller (usually via the estate agent) hands over the keys. The transaction is done, and the buyer can move in.
A conveyancer’s work is not finished on completion, especially in the case of a purchase. All purchases must be registered at the Land Registry, which is essential. It can take the Land Registry many months to complete the registration process, but you should keep in mind the necessity that this is done.
Luke Cain is a partner and conveyancing solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.