The Legal Process to Sell a Property

The legal process of selling a property is known as Conveyancing and also often referred to as the Exchange of Contracts process.

Most conveyancing is done by Solicitors, although Licensed Conveyancers are also able to carry out this process.

For the vast majority of sales, where the property is registered (with the Land Registry) it is a fairly simple process and Solicitors often delegate the majority of the routine work to Legal Assistants.

The actual amount of work involved is quite small but usually takes several weeks.

An outline of the process

1. Your solicitors (or conveyancers) send the Contract Pack to the Buyer’s solicitor.

This pack contains:

  • The draft contract. This is based on a standard agreement, with added details of the Buyer and Seller, information about the property, the price, and the transaction (deposits etc.)
  • The title deeds and plan. Most properties are registered so your solicitor or conveyancers can obtain these online from the Land Registry.
  • The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

2. The Buyer’s solicitor receives and checks the draft contract and makes what are known as pre-contract enquiries.

These include checking the title, boundaries, rights of way, etc. and a number of what are known as Searches. These are:

  • Local Authority Search
  • Local Land Charges Search
  • Water and drainage search
  • Environmental search
  • Chancel search

There may be others dependent on the property, location, etc (for example in a former mining area, a mining search will be carried out). These searches are carried out to ensure there are no issues that will adversely affect the Buyer.

3. Your solicitor sends you a Property Information form and a Fixtures and Fitting form to complete.

These forms are returned to your solicitor for checking by the Buyer’s solicitor and the buyer.

On the Property Information form you will need to state, amongst other things, if you have had any building work done, such as an extension, or remedial work such as damp treatment, or double glazed windows fitted.

You will need to provide certificates, Building Control approval documents, etc. If you do not have any of these tell your solicitor as soon as possible as often copies of these can be requested from the council, but this takes time.

On the Fixtures and Fittings form you need to state what you will take from the property and what will be left.

As a general rule anything attached to the walls should remain. If you intend, for example, to take the bathroom cabinet that is attached to the wall, this needs to be stated.

Normally you will have discussed during the sale negotiations whether you are leaving carpets, curtains, etc.

It is never a good idea for your buyer to be surprised when they receive this form – the last thing you want is to lose your sale over a dispute on what is being taken.

It is important that you complete the forms carefully and accurately. The Buyer will rely on the information you provide and can subsequently seek redress if anything is misrepresented.

4. There will typically be some enquiries raised by the Buyer’s solicitor during this process.

These are usually fairly straightforward and you should answer them honestly, or if you do not have the information, state that this is the case.

5. If your Buyer is using a mortgage to fund the purchase, your solicitor will check to ensure this is in place.

It’s important that this is checked at this stage – the last thing you’d want is to discover that your Buyer doesn’t have a mortgage arranged when you’re ready to exchange.

6. Once both Solicitors are happy with everything, a date for the Exchange of Contracts can be arranged.

Once contracts are exchanged both you and the Buyer become legally bound to complete on the purchase.

On exchange, a deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) is normally paid by the Buyer to his solicitor, who holds it as security.

7. A Completion date is agreed at the same time the Exchange of Contracts date is arranged.

This is usually between 4 and 14 days after the exchange of contracts to give both parties some time to finalise removals, etc. However if required, exchange and completion can be simultaneous.

There is no time limit on the gap between the exchange of contracts and completion – it’s whatever suits both parties.

8. Once completion has taken place your solicitor will send you any funds due to you.

Usually these are sent immediately by same day transfer. This will be the sale price less:

  • The amount required to redeem your mortgage
  • Estate Agent’s fees (if applicable)
  • The solicitor’s Legal Fees

Why the Exchange of Contracts process takes time

Although often made to seem mystical and complex, the reality is that 99% of property transactions are straightforward and only rely on a series of routine checks to be made.

What surprises many people is just why the conveyancing process takes so long when the actual amount of work involved is quite small. There are 3 main reasons for this:

  1. Inefficient or overworked Solicitors. Conveyancing is a competitive business and to keep costs down to make it profitable, legal firms often work on skeleton staff, with perhaps one qualified solicitor and a number of legal assistants. It might be several days or even longer before they act on some information received.
  2. Delays in responding by Local Authorities. Many Local Authorities are very slow to respond to the search queries from solicitors. It can often take 3 weeks or more for requested information to be received.
  3. Delays in responding by the Seller. Some Sellers are uncomfortable filling in the Fixtures and Fittings and Property Information forms and delay completing them. If you want your sale to proceed as quickly as possible, don’t be one of them!

Find out more about choosing a solicitor here.

By Richard Watters

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