When a property is bought or sold, the legal ownership - sometimes called the title - must transfer from the seller to the buyer. The process is known as conveyancing and can take about three months, sometimes even longer.
The conveyancing process starts when an offer is made on a property. The seller must then draw up a contract, which will detail the price, the boundaries, any fixtures and fittings, planning restrictions and so on. The contract will also nominate a completion date for the transaction. An energy performance certificate should be included too.
The paperwork can be daunting, but it's important to go through the contract carefully and negotiate any terms if necessary. Your solicitor or conveyancer will help you. Your conveyancer will also conduct a number of searches and checks on the property.
You can apply for a mortgage before having an offer on a property and if based on the information you've given the bank or building society is willing to lend to you, it will give you an 'offer in principle'. However, you'll have to have a survey done before that becomes a formal mortgage offer. The lender needs to know the property you want to buy is worth what you are willing to pay.
A survey is also important for your own peace of mind as you need to know that there are no nasty surprises about the structural state of the building.
There are three types of survey. The most basic is a valuation survey. This is fine if you're remortgaging or buying a new build. However, it literally just gives an indication about the property's value. It doesn't look at whether the building is structurally sound and won't highlight any potential problems. In most instances, it is therefore worth paying for a more in depth survey.
The most popular type of survey is a homebuyer's report. This will look at the general state of repair of the building and pull out any problems such as evidence of subsidence and look at things like the state of the roof and windows. However, some problems could still go undetected as the surveyor won't lift floor boards or anything like that.
If you are buying a very old property or 'a project' that's in a bad state of repair, is probably worth having a full structural survey done. It will cost you more than a homebuyer's report but it's far more comprehensive so could be money well spent because it will give you the clearest idea as to the real state of the property you want to buy.
Exchange of contracts
When the buyer and seller are both happy with the terms, they sign and exchange contracts. The deal is now legally binding, so there's no going back! The buyer will normally pay a deposit on exchange and is now responsible for the home insurance on the new property.
You can exchange and complete within a matter of hours, but most people prefer to leave a bit of time for any final checks. Once everything is in order, the balance of the purchase price can be paid. It can be a nervous wait on completion day because you have to wait for your mortgage lender to transfer the money over to the seller's bank account and that can take a bit of time. However, once the funds land, the property is yours!
The purchase is now complete and you can collect the key and move in. Your conveyancer will then register the ownership with the Land Registry and arrange with you the payment of any stamp duty.
Instructing a conveyancer
It's possible to carry out the conveyancing yourself, but it can be complicated and time consuming. You could also end up in a terrible mess if something goes wrong. Most people therefore instruct a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to act on their behalf.
Conveyancers are solicitors who specialise in property law and are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) in England and Wales. They can sometimes work out cheaper than a solicitor, but bear in mind that a licensed conveyancer can only deal with conveyancing. If any problems arise that do not relate to property law, you will have to call in a solicitor.
A solicitor can carry out conveyancing, but is also licensed to advise on other areas of the law. However, it probably makes sense to instruct a solicitor who specialises in conveyancing if you are buying or selling a property.
Choosing a conveyancer
You probably want to choose a solicitor or conveyancer who is close by and familiar with your area. Most people also want to instruct someone who has been recommended or who is highly rated. Then there's the cost. Legal fees can be expensive so you should always check the likely cost before you instruct a solicitor or conveyancer. Also make sure that you understand exactly how the fee system works. Some firms, for example, do not charge if the sale or purchase falls through, which could save you hundreds of pounds in legal costs.
Conveyancing in Scotland
The process of buying and selling a house is different in Scotland, so you should choose an experienced local firm if the property is north of the border.
Finding the right conveyancer
MoneySupermarket has joined forces with eConveyancer so that consumers can compare more than 200 highly rated solicitors and conveyancers to find the right firm at the right price. It couldn't be easier. So now all you have to do is find your dream home.