Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Common questions from a first time buyer about conveyancing

A first time buyer will of course have no experience of instructing or using a conveyancer. Here Adam Crawford, Partner at Prince Evans Solicitors LLP, looks at some of the common questions a first time buyer may ask

Q What is conveyancing and why do I need a conveyancer?

A Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring a piece of land from one party to another.

You need a conveyancer to advise you on all of the legalities of buying a property such as the terms of the contract, the legal title to the property and the result of any conveyancing searches. Your conveyancer will ensure you have a good and marketable title to the property for both you and your mortgage lender’s interest.

Q Do I need to choose a local conveyancer and how do I choose a conveyancer?

A No, and often it may be wise not to as your local conveyancer may not have the necessary expertise for the nature of the property you are buying. For example, if you are buying a new build or shared ownership property you would be wise to ensure that your conveyancer has ample experience in this area.

Often you will be recommended a specific conveyancer by your agent/developer/housing association/mortgage adviser. It would certainly be worth talking to the recommended conveyancer as they will, in the main, be recommended as they are trusted by the person recommending them to do a good job or have the specialist expertise required.

Most conveyancers do not require their buyer clients to visit their offices and operate using email, post and telephone, and in this day and age, with the technology available, there is no need for restricting yourself to a local conveyancer.

Finally, shop around and look at reviews and remember the cheapest option is often not the best option and could be reflected in the service you receive. Your relationship with your conveyancer will be crucial for your homebuying journey and is not one you want to get wrong!

Q How much does conveyancing cost?

A There is no simple answer to this as it can vary depending on the type of property you are buying, and many conveyancers will charge extra for leasehold property (flats) or if there is, for example, a Help to Buy: Equity Loan, to reflect the additional work they will need to carry out. Typically, however, we would suggest as a first time buyer you should budget in the region of £700-£1,200 plus VAT for conveyancing fees. In addition, you need to budget for the additional third party costs and ensure you are aware of any Stamp Duty Land Tax, land registration fees and the cost of conveyancing searches.

You would be well advised to obtain a few quotes to compare in advance of buying a property and familiarise yourself with the associated costs.

Q How long will the conveyancing process take (and when can I get the keys)?

A This is the question a conveyancer gets asked more than any other! The honest answer is we cannot say (and any conveyancer who tells you they can is fibbing!). The conveyancing process is dependent on many elements and the process can only move as quickly as the slowest element. For example, it will depend on the speed of the conveyancing searches, your mortgage offer, any delays in the chain, the complexity of any legal issues and how quickly the seller and their conveyancer deal with any enquiries.

The average time in the UK from reserving a property to completion is typically around 16 weeks but varies depending on the type of the property. As an example, Prince Evans Solicitors LLP acts for many buyers of new build property where we are targeted to exchange contracts within four weeks of receiving contract papers; and if the mortgage is issued in time we routinely achieve this.

It should be noted that Covid, the Stamp Duty holiday and the high level of activity in the housing market has resulted in a negative impact on timescales for certain services, eg it may take longer to obtain your mortgage or search results than usual.

The best way to gauge how long it will take is to stay in regular contact with your conveyancer and agent as key stages are achieved (but by that we do not mean call them every day!) and the picture will become clear as progress is made.

Q What is the difference between conveyancing and surveying?

A Conveyancing concerns the legal aspects and the legal process of purchasing a property, whereas surveying looks at the condition of the property. You are highly recommended to consider carrying out a survey when you buy a property as this can identify any issues with the condition of the property and could prevent you from buying a property with expensive defects that may need repairing. We recommend you read the further information on the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors website at the following link: ricsfirms.com/residential/moving-home/buying.

Q I see some conveyancers offer “no completion, no fee” or similar. What does this actually mean?

A You would need to check the specific terms of any conveyancer that offers this, but broadly speaking it will mean that if you do not proceed with your purchase, whether through your own choice or the choice of your seller, your conveyancer may not charge you a fee for the work they have carried out. This does not extend to any disbursements that have been incurred (ie money paid to others on your behalf such as the cost of conveyancing searches).

If your conveyancer does not offer this (which is not standard) then you would likely be charged an abortive fee based on the approximate time your conveyancer has spent on your file.

You should check any terms and conditions carefully.

Q Why does conveyancing cost more for an apartment than a house?

A An apartment will be a Leasehold Title whereas a house will typically be a Freehold Title. There is a lot more work involved for your conveyancer if you are buying a leasehold property than a freehold, including checking the lease is adequate and checking the management arrangements which are in place. 

A freehold purchase is generally less complex than a leasehold purchase.

Q Can I instruct any conveyancer irrespective of the type of property that I am buying?

A Yes, you can. However, you are strongly urged to check that the conveyancer you are instructing specialises in the type of property you are buying. If you are buying a typical suburban house then it is true that most conveyancers should have the necessary skills and experience to competently act for you. 

However, if you are, for example, buying using the shared ownership scheme, or using a Help to Buy: Equity Loan, which are both popular products with first time buyers, then you are strongly advised to ensure that your conveyancer has a good level of expertise in this area.

Q When should I appoint a conveyancer

A There is no strict rule on when you should appoint a conveyancer, but most people appoint a conveyancer once they have found a property that they intend to purchase. However, there is merit in obtaining quotes and choosing your conveyancer prior to this, and it can also put you in a strong position in any negotiations with a seller. For example, if you are competing with another buyer, then having a mortgage in principle agreed and a conveyancer already instructed could give you an edge over any rivals. It is also wise to get quotes in advance of any purchase, as this will help you budget appropriately for your purchase.

Q How often should I chase or contact my conveyancer during the transaction?

A A good conveyancer should keep you updated when something key in your transaction occurs, so hopefully there should not be a need for you to constantly chase them. Of course, it is a good idea to stay in contact with your conveyancer and you should feel free to contact them when you have questions. 

However, please resist the urge to contact your conveyancer constantly as they are typically very busy (which is how they keep the fees down for you as a buyer) and if you are over contacting them this will slow down the conveyancing process.

Conveyancers understand better than most the stress of buying a property, but please be realistic and understand that they may not always be able to reply to your email or phone call immediately, but they will respond to you when they can and when it is appropriate. You will be far best served by building a friendly and professional rapport with your conveyancer and having realistic expectations (like you would from any service you pay for) – we are human like you after all!

Prince Evans specialise in all aspects of conveyancing. Please contact Prince Evans for all your conveyancing needs and for a friendly no obligation quote on 020 8567 3477 or nbh@prince-evans.co.uk

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