A first time buyer's guide to conveyancing

Many first time buyers have never even heard of conveyancing before they find their new home, while others have heard nightmare tales from friends and family. 

The first thing to know about conveyancing is that it basically means ‘the legal side of the process of passing home ownership from one person or set of people to another’.
Whether you’re buying or selling, a conveyancer checks title deeds and can help you make sure searches are complete and look into factors that could affect a property’s value in the future such as drainage, chances of flooding or if a new development is due to be built nearby. People often confuse this with surveying, which is when a surveyor visits the house you’re looking to buy to check its structural soundness.
Conveyancers also deal with the exchange of money, paying stamp duty, Land Registry fees, and give you advice on any costs you could incur.
One thing that some people forget about at the start of the buying process is that your new home is the biggest, most expensive purchase of your life so when spending six-figure sums on a property, trying to save a few hundred pounds on conveyancing can be a false economy.
Instructing a conveyancer you can trust should be seen as an investment that could save you money in the long term. If property deeds are checked properly, they can highlight any issues, such as boundary disputes, that otherwise could cause problems in future.
Searches they recommend you complete could highlight important factors you would never have considered. These factors could even give you reason to lower the price you’ve offered for a property because of a hidden issue, saving you money on your purchase straight away.
If you’re looking for a home, look for a conveyancer at the same time. That way you can get set up with them in advance so that when you find the house or apartment you want you can get things moving immediately. Remember that if you’re buying a leasehold property (like an apartment), it’s likely to take much longer than a freehold property, so it makes sense to get going as quickly as possible.
Many people see the amount of time the house buying process takes and look for a conveyancer who promises the fastest turnaround or the lowest fees. Buying a house is a huge commitment for you so, instead, think of it like surgery. Do you just want the fastest or cheapest person to work for you or the person who’s going to do the best job with the least long-term side effects?
Whoever you choose to go for, make sure they break down the costs for you up front so you know exactly what is and isn’t included to avoid unexpected costs later.
If you’re buying with a mortgage, the answer is probably no – mortgage lenders know the risks involved when people don’t use a specialised conveyancer, so they tend to stipulate that you must use one. Otherwise, they may require one of their solicitors to check what you do so that they, not you, are protected, and you’ll have to pay for this service anyway.
Conveyancing is complicated – sometimes issues come up that even experts don’t expect – but if you’re a cash buyer and really want to save some money by doing it yourself, then you should probably ask yourself:
» Is the property I’m buying a freehold?
» Is the property registered correctly at the Land Registry?
» Do I have a good enough knowledge of all aspects of the buying process?
» Do I really know how long it will take to complete each step of the process?
» Do I have the spare time to complete all of these steps, including speaking to the required estate agents & solicitors in working hours?
» Can I get insurance that will cover me if things go wrong?
» Will I save more money by doing it myself or could it cost me more in the long term?
» Do I know anyone who has ever done this themselves and do they recommend it?
» Will the conveyancer acting for the seller want to deal with an unrepresented buyer?
Unless you can honestly and confidently answer YES to every one of these questions, then you should give yourself the peace of mind that comes from getting a professional to do it for you.
Transparent, guaranteed, fixed fees and someone who offers a no completion, no fee service so that if it all goes wrong, you don’t have to pay the solicitor. For many people that means choosing someone that’s been recommended – this might be your family solicitor but nowadays is just as likely to be a solicitor who specialises in conveyancing who has been recommended online.
Think what you want rather than anyone else – you may be tempted to go with your family’s solicitor, but will they keep you up to date by email and phone and be available when you need them? And is it a firm that specialises in conveyancing? Therefore it’s important to find someone you trust and feel you could work closely with so, when you find a firm you like the look of, talk to them and make sure they’re the right choice for you.
» A conveyancing solicitor is someone who has qualified as a solicitor and has performed work in several legal areas, giving them a more rounded view of the whole legal system. A licensed conveyancer is a legal professional who has qualified to practise solely from working in conveyancing.
» Both are regulated – solicitors by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and conveyancers by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. This matters because choosing a regulated provider means that you are covered by their insurance if things go wrong.
» It’s likely that your estate agent will recommend you go for a particular company but you don’t have to be swayed by this – you can choose your own.
» Whichever you choose, it’s important you talk to them before instructing them to work for you. Ask questions to make sure they have recent experience in transactions like yours and to make sure they gain your trust; they’ll be working with you on a very emotional process, and it’s vital that you feel you can work alongside them with as little fuss as possible.
» Conveyancing is the process of legally transferring the ownership of a property or piece of land from one person or group to another and is something that can be done remotely with no need to visit a property.
» Surveying is the process of looking at any buildings, eg, the house, fl at or outbuildings, to check for any problems with them, which can only be done by visiting a property.
» Each one goes into detail – through conveyancing you’ll want to fi nd out whether the land on which your new home is built is likely to flood or whether it has been contaminated in the past. You’ll also want to know if there are any new developments planned nearby that could affect house prices or if there is a history of subsidence in the area.
» Through surveying you’ll want to fi nd out if there are any problems with the home – have any parts of the structure rotted or been damaged and need repairing? Are there any outbuildings that are structurally unsafe?
» You can choose a national conveyancing provider so they don’t need to be based close to you or the property but, as a surveyor needs to visit the property, you’ll probably want to choose someone local.

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