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Conveyancing - Frequently Asked Questions:

The answers to life, the universe, and conveyancing....

OK well maybe not exactly that, but we've got the answers to quite a few conveyancing questions anyway. For this page we've pulled through the most commonly asked questions. Don't think that's all we've got to say though! We've also got a Clients FAQ (which we had to do once we'd done this page - it turns out there were plenty of other more specific questions that kept cropping up).

We've also got a "Know your rights" article that our Managing Partner wrote a while ago - it pulls together still more of the questions people are asking (there's a bit of repetition of the stuff below in the article but it looks pretty)

So here are the questions. It's quite a long page but there are plenty of links back to the top of the page if you need them

How long does it take?
The question we'd all like to know the answer to. The quick and unhelpful reply is 'how long is a piece of string?' but that's not going to move us forward. On any individual sale or purchase we will be dealing with a number of people to get information or permission that we require. Some of these people are brilliant - efficient, well organized, and eager to please. Some of them ....... aren't.

It only takes one of these people to be inefficient, disorganised, or downright unhelpful and this can delay the whole transaction. The problem is made worse in a chain of transactions (see below) because each link in the chain is also dealing with a load of external people. We have had (rare) transactions that have completed in less than a week, and also ones that have taken over a year. An average time is about 3 months, from the start to moving in.

What about Chains?
A chain just means where there is more than one buyer and seller involved - e.g. you are selling to someone who in turn is selling to someone else. A chain of conveyancing transactions usually does make things worse, because everyone's got to get their own transaction ready, and they all have to wait for the slowest person to come up to speed. Finally even when everyone is ready things are made slower because the mere act of trying to agree a date to move on can be a bit of a nightmare - the various people up and down the chain all have their own agendas to follow, and a date has to be agreed upon that can please (or at least not wind up) everyone.

How much does it all cost?
You need a quote! If you Click on this 'Conveyancing Quote' link and we'll be happy to give you detailed fixed fee quote.

What documents do I need?
If you are selling and you have had work carried out on your property then any documentation you can provide in connection with this will be a great help - e.g. guarantees, planning consents etc. If they've been lost it's usually not the end of the world (in fact it's never the end of the world) but it can lead to delay while copies are obtained from other sources. If you're buying and you get given documents relating to your property then make sure you keep them in a safe place.

Re mortgaging - what's that about?
This is basically changing the mortgage you have on your current property for a new one, usually with a new lender. It is also used to cover situations where you don't currently have a mortgage on your property and you're going to take one out. A mortgage is a loan that is attached onto your title deeds - it means you can't sell that property without paying the mortgage off.

Moving a loan onto the new property ?
This one can often produce a 'gotcha' near the end of a transaction. When people take out loans that are fixed onto their property (a mortgage) they are sometimes told by the people selling them the mortgage that if they sell it can be moved onto the new property without any problem. They then assume that this is not something they need to let their solicitor know about. At the last minute the loan comes to light and needs to be sorted out in a hurry. The basic position is this - if you've got a mortgage on your property then it MUST be paid off at the time the property is sold.

If the lender says they will 'transfer' it onto the new property that is fine but what actually happens is not a transfer at all - the old loan is paid off and a new loan is granted, registered against the new property. Unfortunately we have experienced cases where people have been told by a salesman at the time they took the loan out that ' this is no big deal - it can be easily transferred' - then when it comes down to it the loan company won't let them have the new loan on the new property. The golden rule is - let us know about any such loans at the start of the transaction - if you need to 'transfer' the loan onto the new property then you'll probably need to make a fresh loan application.

Also if this is a second mortgage (i.e. not your main mortgage) then you will often need the consent of your main mortgage company to taking out the second loan.

Sorry to go on and on but one last point on this - we've seen too many cases where people just weren't aware that a loan had been fixed onto their title deeds - when we ask if they have a second mortgage they confidently reply that they haven't. Then when the deeds come in and we ask more details about it they are surprised that it's been registered against the deeds. If you're borrowing money it's important to know if they are going to register this against your title deeds because if you are, when the property is sold the loan will have to be paid off.

Where do I get a mortgage from?
Wherever you want to. We would advise that you look for an independent financial adviser. A good source of free advice on the various mortgage deals out there can be had from moneysavingexpert.com run by martin Lewis who appears on Radio 2 each week. He's basically an uber-geek who lives for saving money and getting the best deal - it's quite amazing what you find out on his site. We get no advantage from talking about him like this - it's just a good site, and probably a good place to start thinking about what mortgage to have.

We've split up and are selling the house - is it different?
Yes and no - the actual house sale procedure is the same, but the administration is made a bit more complicated because you'll each have to sign and agree to everything. This often means the forms are filled out by one party and we send them to the other party for them to confirm they agree - inevitably this can lead to some delay and disagreements. If the couple are splitting up and matrimonial proceeds are involved we are quite often asked to transfer the money to one of the solicitors involved who will hold onto it (in an interest bearing account) until they can both agree on how it's going to be split.

Someone's died and the house has to be sold - what happens?
Again the basic procedure is the same, except for one or two additional twists:- We would deal with the people responsible for carrying out the deceased's wishes. If there was a will this will be the executors, if there wasn't then this will be basically their next of kin (but see our probate section for more details). Usually an executor won't know much about the property itself so the forms that are normally filled out by the seller are usually left blank. other than that it's basically the same.

What happens if someone in a chain pulls out?
The nightmare scenario! Because no-one is committed until contracts are exchanged then if one of the chain members pulls out normally the whole chain collapses. If you are in this situation it is worth finding out exactly why they have pulled out - it may be that it is related to money problems, and it may also be that the other parties in the chain would be willing to help out in order to see the chain stay alive. We have seen cases where each party in the chain took a cut in the sale price of a few thousand to ensure that someone was able to move and not break the chain. These cases are exceptional and require a lot of goodwill on behalf of all the parties concerned.

When am I committed/when can I pull out?
Key point here is when contracts are exchanged - right up until that point any party in the chain can withdraw - with no comeback on them whatsoever. This can lead to tears, anger frustration and a lot of name-calling. I've had it happen to me and you feel totally gutted. Once contracts are exchanged everyone is bound by the terms of the contract - if anyone wants to pull out after that point it will cost them many thousands of pounds - as a starting point it is usually 10% of the purchase price and then any damages that flow from their actions.

Because of this the best advice if you want to withdraw after you've exchanged contracts is to go ahead and buy it, then sell it straight onwards - depending on he market at that time you may lose a little money, but nothing like what you would have lost if you'd withdrawn. So to all intents and purposes, when we say you've exchanged you can finally relax - it's all going to happen - all you've got to do then is put your whole life into a bunch of cardboard boxes ready for the move! hardly relaxing, I know.

What if I'm gazumped? - and what is gazumping anyway? - does it hurt?
The press love this one, but as usual don't generally paint a full picture of what is happening. Gazumping is simply where a sale has been agreed (but contract not yet exchanged), and a third party comes along and offers more. The third party has gazumped the original buyer. Gazumping is a nightmare for the original buyer as they've no comeback against either of the other two parties. In order for Gazumping to happen, the seller would have to accept the higher offer - they don't have to. I know of cases where a seller received higher offers but stuck to the original one because they felt it was the honourable thing to do; I know of other cases where gazumping saved the chain - the original buyer was not taking it seriously and the chain was about to fall through - the new buyer moved ahead quickly and the whole chain completed. Gazumping normally occurs more often in a rising housing market, but probably not as much as the papers would have you believe.

This all sounds rubbish - what about the Scottish system?
There are a lot of faults with the existing system - the fact that everyone moves on one day can cause very high stress levels. The delay at the start of the transaction while everyone is information gathering is also very frustrating. Finally for too many years conveyancing has been done by an incredibly wide variety of lawyers with different business models and ways of working. Taking each of these points in turn:-

Moving on one day is a bit of a problem, but in Scotland (where you basically commit yourself very early on) you usually end up having to have a bridging loan because you're committed to buying your new property and you haven't sold your own yet. This is all well and good if you can afford it but a nightmare if the property market takes a nosedive just after you've completed your purchase.

The delay at the start will hopefully be helped by Home Information Packs (or HIPs - see above) gathering the required information at the outset.

The huge variance in quality of conveyancers has been the bane of our lives for many years now. We know if we get a certain conveyancer in the chain they will have the potential to mess it up for everyone - the whole chain gets angry and frustrated, and we then end up getting tarred with the same brush! The signs are that as conveyancing becomes even more competitive, firms such as these firms will stop dabbling in the work and leave it to firms like ourselves with specialist conveyancing departments.

Someone's mentioned indemnity insurance - what's that all about?
This used to be quite rare and a bit of a pain, but these days it's incredibly common and you are likely to hear about it as you buy and sell houses. Basically it involves taking out an insurance policy to protect you against problems that have cropped up on the property you are buying. What you sometimes find is that there is a problem with the property you are buying, but it's a relatively obscure legal problem with the deeds - it's almost certain that no-one is ever going to make it a problem in reality, but to sort it out by going to the other parties involved may be very expensive, very slow, or impossible.

In these sort of cases an indemnity policy is ideal - should the unusual problem ever show it's face then you are covered by the policy. If you're offered such a policy It's important to bear in mind what it does and doesn't cover. For example a policy in respect of missing building regulations will not cover the cost of doing the work properly, but only the cost of following through any action taken by the local authority - if they don't take any action (and they won't after the works have been up for a year) then you won't be able to claim. Your legal adviser would sort the policy out for you and if it's us then we'll advise you properly on this.