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Buying a Freehold House Part I – First Steps…

What does your Conveyancing Solicitor do?

This is the first article in a new series of articles focusing on the freehold Conveyancing process. For leasehold purchases, click here.

You probably wonder what Conveyancing Solicitors actually do to earn their money. You may also think that conveyancing takes far too long, and that solicitors spin things out just to bump up their charges. Transfer and mortgage forms which you have to sign look very simple and have probably been prepared by a computer, so what are you paying for?

There is in fact more to Conveyancing than you might think and your Conveyancing Solicitor will be doing a lot more work for you than you might imagine. This series is intended to give a brief overview of the work involved in the majority of purchases of freehold houses.

This isn’t a series of hard and fast rules, so don’t worry unduly if your Solicitor undertakes these tasks in a slightly different order. . .

First Steps – Quote & Confirming Instructions

  • You find a quote – basic details should be taken at this stage to identify you
  • The Quote is delivered online or by phone, then confirmed in writing
  • You agree the quote with your Solicitor
  • You will then probably be asked to sign a form to confirm instructions. This creates a contract with the Solicitor, and will set out the terms on which the solicitor will act.
    • You should check the terms carefully; especially check what the quote includes, whether the amount is fixed, whether it is on a ‘no completion – no fee’ basis, and whether the Solicitor can add additional charges, such as relating to a mortgage.
  • The Solicitor will ask you to provide some form of ID, such as a passport or driving licence, and also evidence of your current address, such as a utility bill, unless the firm has acted for you in another recent transaction.
    • Solicitors are now required to comply with the government’s money laundering regulations when carrying out any work involving handling money for clients, and also to satisfy the land registry anti-fraud regulations.
  • You will be asked for payment on account of search fees – the Solicitor will have to pay fees to search providers, this shouldn’t be something they profit from.
  • The Solicitors’ firm will carry out an internal compliance check to ensure that there will not be any conflict of interest ( e.g. if the firm is already acting for the seller)
  • If there is any difficulty with ID, e.g. if you are resident abroad, you may be requested to supply copy ID documents certified by a local lawyer
  • A file will then be opened and details  put in on computer system
  • In order to send through details of the property, the Solicitor will inform sellers’ agents that the firm is acting for you.

Many complaints about Solicitors arise when clients think there has been delay caused by their solicitor. Some of the reasons why Conveyancing took a long time in the past, such as the need to prepare lengthy typed documents, have now thankfully gone.

The majority of property titles are now registered at the land registry, so details can be downloaded direct from the registry’s website. Conveyancing Solicitors can now use email or fax for a lot of correspondence, letters and documents being sent as email attachments. It is usually possible for clients to complete some forms Online or download a copy and return by post.

It’s worth remembering though that the Solicitor will, at various stages in the process, need to be in possession of original documents signed by clients, especially the contract, mortgage and transfer deeds. These will have to be signed and returned to the Solicitor, as faxed or scanned copies will generally not be acceptable.

Unfortunately, the simple fact is that delays are often caused by other people and organisations involved in the Conveyancing process. Some local councils are notoriously slow at returning the results of local searches. A lot will also depend upon how quickly the seller wants to proceed. Conveyancing Solicitors will do what they can to minimise such delays, but be aware that they cannot speak directly to another Solicitor’s client.

Once these steps have been completed, the Conveyancing Solicitor is ready to proceed with the pre-contract work as detailed in the next section – Part II.

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