Finding a Conveyancer
Property conveyancing is usually done by a solicitor, a solicitor’s agent (Scotland) or a licensed conveyancer. (You can do it yourself – see below – but for most people it’s highly inadvisable.) Ask your friends, neighbours and colleagues if they can recommend a solicitor or licensed conveyancer, as personal recommendations are always best.
It’s advisable to use a local professional who knows the area and is familiar with local planning restrictions. Estate agents and local lenders may give you the name of a solicitor if you ask, but they’re usually reluctant to give recommendations. Some large estate agents offer an in-house conveyancing service, although you may be better off with an independent solicitor or conveyancer, as an agent’s services could lead to a conflict of interest.
Tip: If possible you should engage a solicitor who has been personally recommended, as frauds committed by solicitors aren’t unknown and have risen in recent years.
What Conveyancing Involves
Conveyancing a property purchase should involve the following:
- Ensuring that a ‘good’ title is obtained and verifying ownership.
- Checking whether land has been registered and the existence of any restrictive covenants or rights of way.
- Checking that any structural alterations (extensions, loft conversions, etc.) have the necessary planning permission and building licences, and whether they have a warranty.
- Carrying out local authority searches.
- Ensuring that there are no debts against a property or that they’re cleared before completion.
- Checking the lease and its clauses (leasehold apartments only).
- Drawing up a contract of sale.
- Arranging registration of the title in the new owner’s name after the sale of the property.
Things that you may wish to specifically ask your conveyancer to check could include:
- Checking who owns adjacent vacant land or fields and what degree of development, if any, would be allowed. Beware if it has been ‘zoned’ for commercial activities.
- Checking what the land under and surrounding a house was originally used for, particularly if it’s a relatively modern house. This could include mining, industrial sites (pollution), landfill, waste sites, a burial ground for dead animals (e.g. foot and mouth disease, etc.) and military use (unexploded ordnance), all of which should be avoided.
- Checking whether a property is prone to flooding and whether it has been flooded in recent years. If you’re planning to buy a coastal property you should also take into consideration erosion and global warming (which, if the worst forecasts come to pass, could lead to the flooding of many coastal towns within 50 years or less).
- Checking whether there are any planned developments in the vicinity that could affect the value of the property such as a railway line, motorway or industrial plants, radio or mobile phone masts, electricity sub-stations or plants, sewage works, landfill sites, etc.
- Ensuring that the person selling a property is the sole owner or has the right to sell. It isn’t unknown for a husband or wife to sell a home without telling his or her spouse, forge the spouse’s signature and disappear with the proceeds, in which case you can end up owning only half a house.
HM Land Registry guarantees the title to (and records the ownership of) interests in registered land in England and Wales. Anyone has the right to inspect the Land Registry’s records and check who owns land or property registered in England and Wales, whether or not there’s a mortgage attached to it and any restrictions of use or unusual rights of way (in Scotland it’s also possible to inspect the Registry’s copies of registered mortgages).
Conveyancing can theoretically be completed in a few days but usually takes weeks, with the whole process from agreeing a sale to the exchange of contracts taking two to three months (among the slowest in the world and on average around twice as long as in many other countries). Completion can theoretically be done the same day contracts are exchanged, but in practice it’s usually a number of weeks later and can be several months later. Certain aspects of conveyancing can be speeded up, for example you can opt for a personal search which will speed up the local authority searches from weeks or months to just a few days. There is an extra cost for this service of around £50.
A new service in recent years has been introduced by the National Land Information Service (NLIS, www.nlis.org.uk), which provides online conveyancing searches via the internet to solicitors and licensed conveyancers. When it’s in widespread use this is expected to vastly reduce the time required for searches, with information available within hours rather than days. Using this system a typical sale should take just ten days instead of the current four weeks. Prices are competitive, but the major selling point isn’t price but speed. Many online conveyancers charge a basic fee of around £300 plus disbursements and VAT, and they may offer a no completion, no fee guarantee – so it’s in their interest to ensure that your sale or purchase goes through.
Prior to 1988, the cost of conveyancing was kept artificially high in England and Wales by the monopoly maintained by solicitors. Since 1988 buyers have been able to employ a licensed conveyancer, which has brought costs down to the current average of 0.5 to 1 per cent of the purchase price (still a nice earner for a bit of paperwork that’s often relegated to a solicitor’s clerk).
Expect to pay between £750 and £1,000 for a home costing £150,000, although many lenders offer an inexpensive fixed-fee service. Most solicitors and conveyancers will tell you over the telephone what they charge and you can also obtain quotes via websites. Obtain a quotation in writing before any work starts and check what’s included and whether it’s ‘full and binding’ or just an estimate. A low basic rate may be supplemented by more expensive ‘extras’. Disbursements, which include fees such as stamp duty, Land Registry fees and search fees, are payable separately on completion (see page 118) and VAT is added to the total.
Your conveyancer will need to know the name of the selling agent (if applicable), the property details, a list of any special points such as items included in the sale (carpets, light fittings, appliances, furniture, garden ornaments, etc.), and anything agreed regarding the condition of a house. If the vendor is taking anything that can reasonably be considered to be fixtures and fittings, such as plants or shrubs, this should be agreed with the buyer and included in the contract.
If applicable, your conveyancer will need details of your sources of finance (bank, building society, etc.) and the contact name and telephone number of your lender. He will also need to know when you would like to take possession.
If you’re selling, your solicitor will need details of where the deeds are, your mortgage account number (if applicable), the name of your lender, and the branch office and telephone number. He will require copies of planning consents for any work you’ve had done on the house and details of any warranties still in force. If the sale is linked to another purchase, he will need all the details listed above for buyers, plus the date by which you would like the transactions completed.
If you’re buying with someone other than your spouse, ask your solicitor to draw up a formal agreement setting out your rights and responsibilities, as this is important when you decide to sell. When you’re buying and selling, you must pay conveyancing fees on both properties.
If you’ve got a complaint about your solicitor, in the first instance you should try to resolve it with him personally. If you have a legitimate complaint a threat to report the matter to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) can often yield quick results.
It’s possible and perfectly legal to do your own conveyancing and there are a number of good DIY books available. You will need to do at least ten hours work and require a good grasp of details, plus a measure of patience. However, it isn’t recommended for most people as it’s complex, time-consuming and can be risky. If you miss a mistake in the contract, you could be left with a property you cannot sell – if a solicitor or licensed conveyancer is at fault, you can at least sue them.
Many people do, however, successfully perform their own conveyancing. If you’re short of cash and fancy giving it a try, obtain a copy of the Consumers’ Association action pack, Do Your Own Conveyancing, or a good DIY conveyancing book.
Tip: If you do your own conveyancing it’s advisable to have the paperwork checked by a solicitor or conveyancer, which may cost only £100 or so.
This article is an extract from Buying, selling & letting property (UK). Click here to get a copy now.