You find the home you want, get a mortgage offer and it’s time to actually buy a house, but you can’t move in overnight. Adele Barker is Director of Conveyancing at Beaumont Legal – First Time Buyer’s Best Law Firm for Conveyancing for the past three years – and she explains the process you’ll go through, before you can pick up the keys
Step 1 – Find a conveyancer
‘Conveyancing’ is the term for the legal process of transferring ownership of a property from one person to another. You need legal expertise from either a solicitor, or licensed conveyancer to do this – it’s not something you can do on your own, especially if you’re buying with a mortgage. The conveyancer’s job is to look into the legal aspects that could catch you out and make sure the new property legally becomes yours.
Step 2 – Consider getting a surveyor
Conveyancers help look at the legal title, Land Registry plans and obtain searches to identify any problems that might come up, such as the risk of flooding, or future subsidence that may affect the property. Surveyors look at the physical property – the actual building and problems it may have, such as damp or structural problems. The older the property, the more likely you’ll want a surveyor to look at it. If the surveyor notices something serious, you may be able to use it to negotiate a lower price.
Step 3 – Choose your searches
Property searches give information about the property you’re buying, such as checking if it could be at risk of flooding. They can also give other local information, like any developments planned to be built nearby, or whether the property is built on contaminated land. Your conveyancer is likely to recommend a package of searches, but you may want extras to give you more assurance before proceeding. Your mortgage provider might insist on some searches being carried out, for example, if the home you’re buying is in an area where coal mining has taken place.
Step 4 – Title and lease checks
This is where the legal expertise really begins to be needed – your solicitor will look at the title of the property you’re buying and, if it’s a flat, they’ll look at the lease. If you’re buying through a shared ownership scheme, there will be further agreements to be checked around that as well. The solicitor’s job is to act in your interests and to look for anything that could cause concern – such as a lack of clarity over a boundary, conditions in the lease that mean you have to pay more money than you think, or restrictions that mean you can’t do something you want – such as keeping a pet in a property.
Step 5 – Questions
Once your legal expert has checked the key information, they may have extra questions for the person you’re buying a home from, or their conveyancer. Thankfully, nowadays there are standardised forms for areas such as fixtures and fittings, which confirm what will, or won’t be included with the property you’re buying. These forms help to make the process smoother. Delays can happen when dealing with any questions, because you’re reliant on the seller and their solicitor getting back with answers quickly. And, of course, if the answers aren’t what you want, it can mean further negotiation might be needed.
Step 6 – Contracts
The next step is that you will sign the contracts that have been checked by your conveyancer on your behalf. You should receive a full explanation of the contract details, and all matters relating to the title deeds and the property that you need to be aware of, before proceeding. Once you have signed the contract, provided your mortgage offer has come through, you’ll be able to get to the crucial part of exchanging contracts.
Step 7 – Exchange
This is the point where a deposit is paid and the purchase is legally binding – signed contracts are exchanged and, after this, neither buyer nor seller can pull out of the transaction without potential legal action being taken. When this point is reached, there is a confirmed date when you’ll be able to move in, so you can start to plan the actual moving day.
Step 8 – Completion
This is it – the point where the final balance is paid – and your new home is finally yours. The day of completion can be a long one for solicitors, especially if you’re buying as part of a long chain. Each home’s completion needs to take place one after another, as the money passes up the chain. When this is done, you can collect the keys from the estate agents and move in!
Step 9 – Paying Stamp Duty
For you, the process effectively ends at completion, but your solicitors still need to complete some other tasks on your behalf. The first is paying Stamp Duty Land Tax (often abbreviated to SDLT), which has to be paid within 30 days for every property that costs more than £125,000. This is something you shouldn’t need to worry about, as your solicitor will complete it for you.
Step 10 – Registering the Title
The owner of every property in the country is logged at the Land Registry and your legal expert will sort this out for you, making sure the title is changed from the previous owner to you. It’s not something you need to worry about and is completed after you move in. You should expect to receive a copy of the deeds, showing you as the new owner of the home, within a few weeks of completion.
Beaumont Legal is one of the UK’s largest providers of conveyancing and winner of First Time Buyer’s award for Best Law Firm for Conveyancing in 2013, 2014 and 2015. For a free quote, visit Beaumont-legal.co.uk, call 0345 122 8080, or email firstname.lastname@example.org