Conveyancing Timetable - A Step-by-Step Guide to Buying a Home

1. Before making an offer to buy a property, it is important that you get your finances in order and to ensure that the mortgage you have been offered is enough to cover the proposed purchase price.  Please bear in mind that it is standard practice to pay a 10% deposit to the seller’s solicitors on exchange of contracts and that this deposit is not included within the mortgage finance which is only available on completion of your purchase.  You are then free to make an offer on a property and [hopefully?] the other side accepts it.

2. At this point, the estate agents will notify your solicitor and the seller’s solicitors of each other’s details so that initial contact can be made.

3. Your solicitor will ask the seller’s solicitors for a draft contract and supporting documents. The seller will also provide a list showing any fixtures or other household items which are being included in the price.

4. When the draft contract papers are received, your solicitor will order searches (such as the local search, environmental search, water and drainage search, flood report) and will raise any necessary enquiries of the seller’s solicitors based on the draft contract and supporting documents received. It can take several weeks for these searches to come back and if the searches throw up any potential issues, then your solicitor will contact the seller’s solicitors with further enquiries and to discuss the way forward.  . While this is being done, use the time to get an independent surveyor to prepare a report on the property.

5. Your mortgage lender will send your solicitor a copy of the formal mortgage offer when this is issued and you should receive your copy at a similar time.  If you are required to sign and return an acceptance of offer form to your lender, please do so in good time to avoid delay when your solicitor orders the mortgage advance in readiness for completion. 

6. Once satisfactory replies to all enquiries and search results are received, the solicitor will send you the final contract to sign together with a contract report and supporting documents so that you can make an informed choice on whether to proceed. Once you have returned your signed contract and provided your solicitor with deposit monies, and all parties in the chain are ready to exchange contracts, a date is agreed for completion which is when you pick up the keys to your new property, and contracts are exchanged.  Exchange is a formal legal process which involves both sets of solicitors and binds both the seller and yourself to the sale/purchase.  Therefore, at this point, the contract becomes legally binding. Should you pull out, any deposit you have paid will be lost.

7. As risk passes to the buyer on exchange  you will need to ensure that you can put buildings insurance on risk on the day of exchange to cover the property so please obtain quotes prior to exchange to ensure that comprehensive insurance is available on standard terms. 

8. The solicitor will ask for the mortgage advance from the mortgage lender so that this arrives in time for completion. 

9. Your solicitor will then do some additional pre-completion searches and protect your interests and those of your mortgage lender so that your purchase and the mortgage of the property take priority. She/he will also make arrangements with the seller’s solicitors covering issues such as where the keys for the property will be collected from (usually the estate agents). If you are purchasing a leasehold property, the seller’s solicitors will provide a completion statement showing the money which is due to complete your purchase including any apportionments of ground rent and service charges due from you.

10. Your solicitor will then amend the draft completion statement sent to you with the contract report  so that it includes all charges due to the seller’s solicitors and this will be sent to you so that you are aware of how much money you will need to provide to your solicitor to complete your purchase. This will include the costs incurred by your solicitor (known as disbursements such as search fees), legal fees, deposits already paid, money received from your mortgage company, registration fee and stamp duty land tax. You will need to ensure that the full balance monies are received into your solicitor’s bank account in cleared funds by the working day before completion at the latest.

11. On the day of completion, your solicitor will send the remaining purchase monies (purchase price less deposit plus any apportionments) to the seller’s solicitors and, on receipt of these, the seller’s solicitors will release the keys meaning that completion has taken place. The seller’s solicitor will then repay any mortgage outstanding on the property to ensure that you are not taking on a property which still has an outstanding mortgage hanging over it.

12. At this point, you are now the new legal owner of the property. In order to complete the legal purchase process, your solicitor pays any Stamp Duty Land Tax which you owe to HMRC and registers your purchase with the Land Registry. 

13. Move in and enjoy living in your new property!

This article is written by Tim Bishop of Solicitors Bonallack and Bishop who run the specialist and property law websites.

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