Your solicitor contacts the seller's solicitor
Once the sellers have accepted your offer, you exchange solicitors' details with them. Your solicitor will then contact the seller's solicitor and receive the draft contract.
Your solicitor receives and negotiates the draft contract
The draft contract contains details of prices, the two parties, other information about the transaction such as deposits, and information from the seller's title deeds.
Your solicitor makes pre-contract enquiries
Your solicitor should send you a property information form or a copy of the draft contract for you to check
A property information form may be included if the solicitors are operating the TransAction Protocol. This is a Law Society scheme which is used by many solicitors in the conveyancing process. If your solicitor is operating this scheme, the seller's solicitor provides a package at the beginning of the process which includes:
- the draft contract
- copies of previous title deeds (registered/unregistered?)
- a property information form, giving key property information (this saves the solicitor from many of the preliminary enquiries)
- fixtures, fittings and contents form, telling you what fixtures, fittings and other items are included in the price and which will be removed. You should agree with the seller what is to be included, and make sure everything is included in the form
Your solicitor will check the details of the draft contract and negotiate it with the seller's solicitor.
It is a good idea to check through the draft contract yourself in case anything has been missed out, such as any agreements you had made with the seller, so ask your solicitor for a copy if you have not been sent one.
Your solicitor applies to local council for local searches, checks the title, contract and papers, and raises queries with the seller's solicitor.
It is the solicitor or conveyancer's job to make all the necessary enquiries to ensure that there is no reason why you might want to change your mind about buying the property. For example, it is vital to guarantee that the seller really owns and has the right to sell it.
The main standard searches are:
Local Authority Searches
Enquiries are sent to the local authority such as whether there are any plans for a major road to be built nearby, or whether there are any problems with the property which you would need to rectify. Your solicitor should also get checks done on nearby buildings or empty land - do they have planning permission for more buildings or development?
Enquiries To The Seller's Solicitor (the 'preliminary enquiries')
Your solicitor will send a standard set of enquiries to the seller's solicitor which will include:
- Disputes: whether there are any disputes relating to the property, such as disputes with neighbours.
- Boundaries: what exactly are the boundaries of the property and who has responsibility for the maintenance of hedges and fences. Arguments over boundaries sometimes even escalate to court cases between neighbours, so it is important to establish this now.
- Planning constraints and permissions: whether any additions or alterations that have been made to the property have met local planning requirements and that building regulation consent was received.
- Rights of way: checking that there is no right of way or footpath through the property, and on shared rights of access with a neighbour such as a garden or driveway.
- Restrictive covenants: whether the deeds specify that certain things are forbidden, for example keeping pets, or specifying that the house cannot be painted a different colour from other houses on the street.
- Guarantees or insurance policies: for example whether the property is covered by the NHBC guarantee or the woodrot treatment guarantee
- Services: whether the property's utilities (gas, water, electricity) reach it via a neighbour's property or are shared with a neighbour
- List of contents included in the sale: you must make sure that you have reached a clear understanding with the seller about what is and what is not to be included and listed it clearly.
- If it is a leasehold, they will ask who the managing agent is, who the freeholder is and whether the seller is up to date with ground rent and services charges.
- You may want to consider asking your own additional enquiries via your solicitor, these might include questions such as whether the property has been burgled, additional questions about the neighbours or more information about any known building works.
A set of standard questions is also sent to the water authority. There are additional searches which may be carried out if necessary, for example commons searches, coal mining searches and so on.
If you are buying a newly built house there are particular checks which must be carried out by your solicitor.
Your solicitor will then check through the draft contract and send anything that needs changing to the seller's solicitor.
The contract is negotiated and agreed. A completion date is agreed.
There is often a fair bit of correspondence between the two solicitors so finalising the draft contract can take some time. Make sure your solicitor knows about any agreements you have made with the seller.
The day for the completion of the transaction (ie the day when the deal is finalised) must be agreed upon before the contracts are exchanged. It normally takes about two weeks from exchange of contracts to completion day, although it can be more or less. Some people arrange for exchange of contracts and completion to take place on the same day, but this is not always possible. Note that if you are part of a chain of sales, the completion date will probably need to be agreed with more than two parties.
You get a formal mortgage offer (if you are getting a mortgage) on this property, not just an agreement in principle. Your solicitor will send you a mortgage deed to sign.
The formal mortgage offer for this particular property which you obtain at this stage is distinct from an agreement in principle (which you should have obtained earlier). At this stage you also need to have received the results of your survey if you are having one done, and accepted these results. If you are not satisfied with the results of the survey, you need to address any problems at this stage, not after the exchange of contracts when you are legally bound to buying the house. Make sure that the two parties have agreed all the terms of the contract and that any disagreements or any matters that are unclear have been resolved.
Pre-Stage Two Check List
Before exchanging contracts, check that all is in order:
- You have received and are satisfied with the survey report
- You have received your formal mortgage offer, and are happy with it
- The deposit sum has been agreed and you have the money available
- You have arranged life and property insurance and they are ready to begin on completion
- The completion date has been agreed with all parties
- The terms of the contract have been checked and finalised by all involved
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