Freehold Conveyancing Process Walkthrough - Pre Exchange of Contracts

What follows is a brief walk through of  the Conveyancing process from the point of view of both buyer and seller prior to exchange of contracts. For a more in depth look at particular Conveyancing, Property Information Questionnaire ( PIQ )  or Home Information Pack topics ( leasehold or freehold ) use the menu on the Fridaysmove web site. This overview concentrated on general freehold  Conveyancing.  London does not have specific requirements  and this article is not focused on Conveyancing London transactions. Specific advice on Conveyancing London properties is found elsewhere on this site.

The Conveyancing process begins with both buyer and seller instructing a Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer . Other than certain exceptional circumstances the same Conveyancing solicitor  cannot act for both parties ( although the Licensed Conveyancers have more lenient rules in this regard )

The purchaser's Conveyancing solicitor or Conveyancing lawyer  will usually confirm they are instructed to the seller's  Conveyancing solicitor ( property lawyer ), at which point the seller's Conveyancing solicitor will issue the contract package. Traditionally it was necessary to wait for title deeds to be delivered to the seller's solicitor before the contract package could be issued however except in the case of unregistered land this is no longer the case. Any decent Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer should be able to issue a contract within 48 hours of receiving the purchaser’s solicitors details ( regardless of whether the property is leasehold or freehold ). The ability to issue relevant papers has been speeded by the fact that a seller can not now market their property without a Home Information Pack ( which includes much of a standard legal pack of documents relevant to a sale ).

The conveyancing package consists briefly of a draft version of the contract, Official Copies of the legal title, copies of any deed/documents which affect the title, a Sellers Property Information Form and a Fixtures, Fittings and Contents Form, both completed by the seller.  If a Home Information Pack (HIP) is supplied it will include the result of Conveyancing searches which are otherwise carried out by the purchaser's solicitor. If the title to the property is Leasehold, the contract package should also contain the Lease, a  Sellers Leasehold Information Form ( management information if there are service charges ) and office copies relating to the landlord or freeholder’s interest.

At this point the title deeds may  be ordered by the seller's Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer (if not already obtained) and a provisional mortgage redemption statement should be requested for budgeting purposes.

Once the purchaser's Conveyancing solicitor or Conveyancing lawyer  has received the contract package he will order the Conveyancing searches ( other than those contained within the Home Information Pack  ) and also raise any necessary Conveyancing enquiries based on the documents and in particular the Property Information Questionnaire with the seller's Conveyancing solicitors. It is a good idea for the purchaser's Conveyancing lawyer to draft the Transfer Deed for approval at this point. This is traditionally done after exchange of contracts however with many Conveyancing solicitors now being at a distance from their clients, and with a gap of more than 7 days between exchange and completion a rarity, leaving it until this stage will often cause problems on completion.

It is then up to the seller's Conveyancing solicitor to answer the enquiries. Some may be technical points relating to the contract and others may be relating to the state and condition of the property, comments on the fixtures and fittings list, enquiries about disputes etc. revealed in the in the Sellers Property Information Form, Sellers Leasehold Information Form or the Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ ) . These additional Conveyancing enquiries will be passed to the seller to answer in his own words. The seller must be careful to ensure the answers he provides are accurate and that there are no obvious omissions as it will generally be a condition of the contract that the buyer is entitled to rely on the replies. The seller's Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer   should check any replies and caveat  them where necessary, for example if the question is asked: " Has the property ever suffered form subsidence ?" and the seller answers "No" this implies that the seller has detailed knowledge of the property even before his or her ownership. Usually this will not be the case and might be amended to "The seller is unaware of any problems however no warranty is given in this regard bearing in mind that the seller  is not qualified to answer this question and the buyer must therefore rely on his own inspections and surveys". The same logic should apply to the seller when completing the Property Information Questionnaire ( PIQ ).

According to National Conveyancing Protocol, the buyer's Conveyancing solicitor or Conveyancing lawyer should not use a standard pre-contract enquiry sheet. These sheets are easily recognizable being usually pre-formatted and containing several enquiries which either mirror those raised in the Sellers Property Information Form or else are not relevant to the transaction. They also contain enquiries relating to the state and condition of the property, which are issues for a surveyor rather than a Conveyancing  solicitor. They not only create additional work for the purchaser's Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer but also place an onus on the seller to answer questions which he is not really qualified to answer - for example questions as to the condition of the property which ought to be covered by a survey or questions about events at the property prior to his ownership, and they should be rejected in the first instance. If the purchaser's Conveyancing lawyers  insist, as some will, then it may ultimately prove simpler to allow the seller to answer them, but in this case the seller’s Conveyancing solicitor must be certain to check the replies carefully to ensure the seller is not making a statement which is clearly beyond the scope of his knowledge.

On receipt of the search results the purchaser's Conveyancing solicitor may need to raise some further enquiries. Once all the outstanding points are answered, and provided the purchaser's Conveyancing solicitor or Conveyancing lawyer is in receipt of his client's Mortgage Offer, he or she will be in a position to report to his client. It is important to note that there are always two copies (or three if a mortgage broker has arranged the mortgage) of the offer produced. The offer that is issued to the Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer   is different to that issued to the borrowing client  in two areas. Firstly, it will contain the required documents for signing by the buyer’s Conveyancing solicitor and the buyer being Certificate of Title and Mortgage Deed ( sometimes referred to as a Legal Charge ) respectively  and secondly it will contain a covering letter addressed to the Conveyancing solicitor which is the lender's instructions to the Conveyancing solicitor to act on its behalf. Clients often forget that the Conveyancing solicitor is acting for the lender as well as buyer. This is why often the Terms of Engagement of a Conveyancing law firm makes provision for where a buyer does not want certain matters discloses to the Lender. In such circumstances the Conveyancing solicitor or property lawyer has to end their retainer with both parties.   

With out these instructions a Conveyancing solicitor or Conveyancing solicitor  can not act for a lender. The Mortgage may contain Special Conditions which the Conveyancing solicitor (or purchaser) needs to satisfy before the funds will be released by the lender. As well as specific conditions the buyer’s Conveyancing lawyer has to check the Lenders general conditions which can be found at the CML Lender’s web site.  Both the general conditions or specific conditions could result in the buyers Conveyancing solicitor having to raise new enquires even if it appeared to all parties that there were no further questions to be raised.

When reporting to his client the traditional method is for the Conveyancing solicitor to invite him to his office to go through the papers and sign the contract and Mortgage Deed ( and in the case of leasehold, often a Deed of Covenant ) . Often today however, particularly where the Conveyancing solicitor is at a distance from his client, a written report will be prepared and e-mailed  together with the papers. The client can of course discuss any points which might arise over the telephone. For Conveyancing London properties Fridaysmove does see may clients face to face.