If you research house buying online you will find many websites and blogs give helpful advice on the practical aspects but don’t explain the process after you have found the property you want to call home. Instead, they often simply refer to the ‘complicated legal stuff’ when advising you to instruct a solicitor.

Essentially, you need a solicitor to assist you in making the property officially yours. It can be a confusing process filled with legal jargon and whilst the system can appear archaic and back to front (having to spend money investigating the property title, instructing a survey and obtaining mortgage finance before either you or the Seller commit to the purchase) this article is intended to help simplify what your solicitor is doing for you.

  • The Seller, through their solicitor, provides evidence they own the house, along with a plan showing the area they are selling, together with details of any rights the property enjoys or is subject to, and any obligations you will need to comply with whilst you live there;
  • The Seller also provides forms giving more practical details of the property (known as the Property Information Form) which includes information on such matters as boundary responsibility, alterations, occupiers, utility providers and a list of items they will be leaving at the Property (called the Fittings & Contents Form);
  • Your solicitor will check these forms and documents to ensure any relevant documentation to supplement or evidence the information is provided or obtained, and that the information does not reveal anything to cause concern;
  • Your solicitor will carry out relevant searches with Local Authorities, Water Companies, Environmental consultants and any other third parties to provide further information about the property, its services and locality held on various registers;
  • Your solicitor will make any further enquiries of the Seller arising from the information supplied, or ask for information omitted, or raise any enquiries or concerns that you may have; and
  • If you are buying with a mortgage, your solicitor will check the offer and that the property meets the lender’s criteria as suitable security.

This investigation period can take, on average, about four to six weeks, but varies on the expediency of the various authorities contacted and the seller themselves.  Once your solicitor is happy with the information provided, you will be advised that exchange of contracts is now imminent.  This is the exciting time when both you and the Seller commit to the purchase and a legally binding contract comes into force.  It is also when you pay over your exchange deposit.  Before doing so, your solicitor will provide you with explanations of their investigations and summarise the information for you in plain English.  This is when you can ask questions to make sure you understand what you are about to buy and any financial or other commitments you will become responsible for before you sign any documents.

Once you are happy you want to go ahead, the solicitor is satisfied the title is good and any issues have been resolved or managed, you then pay over the deposit money to your solicitor, sign the Contract, and any other forms, and agree a completion date with the Seller.  Typically, a completion takes place about two weeks after exchange to allow you to make necessary arrangements such as hiring removals, obtaining finance and contacting utility/web suppliers.

Once you and the Seller (and any other parties in the chain) are happy to go ahead, then the solicitors involved will agree an exchange of contracts on your behalf and the completion date (more excitingly known as the ‘move-in date’) will be agreed.  Although it might seem an anxious wait for confirmation the deal has gone through, you will be told the good news as soon as the solicitors have finalised the technicalities on your behalf.  All in all, a typical time line from the first steps above to when you can collect the keys is approximately two months.

Whilst the solicitor will still be busy carrying out the final pre-completion checks, arranging the transfer of funds and then attending to the post-completion formalities for you, your wait is nearly over – you will soon be a proud homeowner and can start planning that house warming party.

 (Based on a freehold purchase)

Author – Rachel Craddy, Associate in our Conveyancing Team, Exeter