Buying or Selling your house – FAQs

Residential Property solicitors, Conveyancing, Otley, West Yorkshire

How long will it all take?

If the property is empty and the buyer does not require a mortgage, a sale or purchase can in theory be completed in a few days, but this is very unusual. That said, we have done it many times

It is more likely that a mortgage will be required, and there will be a chain of transactions, and if that is the case it will usually take 4-6 weeks to exchange contracts and then another 2-4 weeks between exchange of contracts and completion making a total of 6-10 weeks from start to finish.

All of our solicitors and staff will do everything they can to progress your transaction as quickly as possible, but we cannot offer any guarantee about how long it will take – and you should not believe anyone that does! If clients have a particular timescale in mind, especially if there is a specific reason such as emigrating, or moving to a new job, we recommend that clients say so as early as possible, as there is always the opportunity to put forward a "target" completion date to help concentrate everyone’s minds

How soon do I need to pay any money?

If you are purchasing a property, we will ask you for approximately £350.00 at the beginning to cover initial work including search fees that will be paid out on your behalf. The balance of the price and the solicitors costs will be payable shortly before completion unless you are borrowing more than 90% of the purchase price, in which case it may be required prior to exchange of contracts.

If you are just selling, you may not need to pay any money in advance. Any mortgage, as well as costs and estate agents fees, will be paid out from the sale proceeds on completion before any balance is sent to you.

Do I need a survey?

If you are obtaining a mortgage, a valuer will inspect the property on behalf of the lender. Although his report will give you an indication as to whether he thinks the property is worth the amount that you have asked to borrow you will not be able to rely on it if things go wrong because that information is provided for the lender’s benefit, not yours.

For an extra fee, you will usually be offered the option to arrange for the same valuer to carry out a more detailed "Homebuyers Report". This can be relied upon by you so if at a later date you find a problem that is not mentioned in the report you may have some redress against the valuer.

If the property is quite old, or you are particularly concerned about some aspect of its condition, you can obtain a full structural survey report which is even more detailed, but costs rather more as a result.

Always remember the golden rule is "let the buyer beware" so (provided you have not been deliberately misled) you will be responsible for any problems that you discover once you move in.

What type of survey should I have?

1. Make sure the surveyor is independent. Estate agents recommend, but have they been paid to do so? Possibly. It is an offence not to tell you.

2. Check your surveyor is up to date. There are now two levels of survey. Level 2 and Level 3. Easy. So what are you being told? Structural survey? Full survey? Building inspection? These are old and out of date descriptions.

3. Talk to your surveyor. Proper surveyors work and support YOU. If all you are told is “get it checked”, what is the point?

4. Get what you want. Tell the surveyor what you want and then compare prices. Don’t just ask for a price and a time.

5. Don’t just compare prices online. The cheapest surveys pay to get to the top of the comparison sites. All surveys are not the same. Don’t be fooled; it’s not just a tin of beans.

6. How much is the information worth? How much are you spending buying the house? Do you want a survey costing less than a washing machine service? Not a good idea – but make sure you get what you pay for.

7. Are you helping your mother/father/child buy a house? Finding professionals who will help them and advise them is the best gift you can give.

8. Who is your surveyor? They are all the same surely? No. FRICS surveyors are well qualified and a chartered building surveyor is degree trained to report on defects and problems. FRICS offers a Homebuyers Report based on a traffic light standard warning system. Building surveyors often go in to more detail.

9. The house looks good, it is almost new. What could be wrong? So, you just want to know the big items and a builder friend has looked at it? What if something is wrong? How big is the problem? Will it get worse? Will it affect the price? Buying wisdom and experience is worth every penny. Get a local, independent surveyor and find out!

How much deposit will I need?

Normally, a 10% deposit to be paid on exchange of contracts. If you are buying and selling your solicitor can usually use your buyers deposit in connection with your purchase so you will not have to find anything.

If you are just buying, the amount of the deposit may depend upon the size of your mortgage (if any). If it is less than 90% then you will usually need to find 10% as usual, but if you are borrowing more than this, we may be able to persuade the seller to accept whatever amount you are putting in (or sometimes even just the amount of the costs and disbursements only) if you are borrowing as much as 100%.

What searches are carried out and why?

There are six main types of search that can be carried out and we will decide which of them is necessary in your case:

•  Local Authority Search

This reveals details of the planning history for the property and whether the Council are aware of any breaches of planning, also any proposals for new roads or traffic schemes, tree preservation orders, conservation areas and any other matters within the Council’s control that may affect the property.

•  Drainage Search

This will show whether or not the surface and/or foul water drains run into a public or private sewer.

•  Environmental Search

It has more recently been recommended that the buyers solicitor should also carry out an environmental search to see if there are any landfill or waste disposal sites in the area, if the property has been built on an old industrial site and whether there are any risks from contaminated land,toxic emissions, flooding, subsidence etc.

•  Land Registry Search

This is carried out just before completion in order to find out if there are new mortgages registered against the property that have not previously been disclosed. If there are then the buyers solicitor will obviously require confirmation that these will be repaid.

•  Land Charges Search

If you are obtaining a mortgage the lender will ask your solicitor to carry out a search to make sure that are you are not bankrupt! Quite often this search will show an entry against someone else with a similar name. If so you will be asked to sign a copy of the result to confirm that it does not relate to you.

•  Chancel Search

This can be a complicated area, and to make life simpler, as well as giving the best protection against possible liability, we advise clients to obtain insurance as a matter of routine, as the cost is usually less that it costs to investigate this area fully.

Can I exchange contracts before I receive my mortgage offer?

If for any reason the mortgage offer is declined or delayed or it contains any conditions that you cannot comply with the money may not be available when required so it would be extremely dangerous to exchange contracts without it, we would strongly advise you not to do so.

What happens on exchange of contracts?

Exchange of contracts takes place between the buyer’s solicitor and the seller’s solicitor, usually over the telephone. They check that their clients have signed identical contracts, agree the completion date and agree to send each other the contracts signed by their respective clients straight away. The buyer is normally expected to pay up to 10% of the purchase price at this stage as a deposit – this is normally held by the seller’s solicitor pending completion. We recommend that you don’t book removals or give notice to quit rented property until exchange of contracts has actually taken place.

When does exchange of contracts take place?

Only when contracts have been exchanged is the transaction legally binding. Until then, either seller or buyer could try to renegotiate the purchase price, completion date, or other agreed terms, or can pull out of the transaction altogether, and without any obligation or liability to compensate the other party. That’s how the law currently is.

Once exchange of contracts has happened, everyone knows where they stand, when they will be completing (the moving day) and when they need to transfer money, sign documents and confirm their moving arrangements. Do not be tempted to leave exchange until just before, or even the same day as, the completion date you are aiming for. We recommend that you allow 7-10 working days between exchange of contracts and completion. In practice this period can sometimes be shorter, but there is an increased risk of something going wrong because someone does not have time to get organised.

The buyer’s solicitor will not exchange contracts until they are satisfied with the results of all their legal searches and enquiries, any conditions and legal requirements on the buyer’s mortgage offer have been satisfied, and the buyer is happy with their survey results.

If either the buyer is dependent on the sale of another property, or the seller is dependent on another purchase, they will need to exchange contracts simultaneously on the dependent transactions.

What happens on Completion?

Completion is the point where the buyer’s solicitor transfers the purchase money from their bank account to the seller’s solicitor’s bank account, the ownership of the property is transferred to the buyer, and the seller’s solicitor arranges for the keys to be handed over to the buyer. This all happens on the same day. The legal completion date was agreed prior to exchange of contracts and the date forms part of the contract itself.

What are the common causes of delay?

You can rest assured that we will always endeavour to drive the transaction forward and chase-up other solicitors, conveyancers and third parties who are holding things up. However, we cannot provide any guarantee at the outset that everything will be in place to complete by any particular date, and advise you to be very wary of anyone who thinks they can. These are some common causes of delay:

  • Length of the chain involved – a delay at one point in the chain will delay everyone else
  • Mortgage application taking longer than normal, perhaps because a reference or credit check is required by the lender and not forthcoming, or sometimes just because the mortgage lender is unusually busy
  • Mortgage offer issued with unforeseen conditions
  • Surveys, searches or enquiries revealing something unexpected
  • Someone else in the chain not wanting to proceed as quickly as the others – despite what they may say!

When can I book my removals?

It is best to avoid booking your removals until after contracts have been exchanged because before that time the moving date is not definite and you may end up losing money if the date changes after you have made the booking.

Can I move at the weekend?

Unfortunately the banking system used for the electronic transfer of the funds cannot be used at the week-end and therefore your move has to take place between Monday and Friday.

When do I need to arrange buildings insurance?

Unless the building insurance is being arranged by your lender or it is a leasehold property and the insurance is dealt with by the freeholder you must arrange buildings insurance from exchange of contracts as the property will be at your risk from that time.

The amount of cover should be the estimated cost of re-building the property if it burns to the ground which is not necessarily the same as the current market value. If you had a survey or you are obtaining a mortgage your surveyor or the lenders valuer will usually have suggested a minimum amount of cover in their report.

What do we need to know if we are buying in joint names?

Most couples who are married or in a stable relationship purchase as "joint tenants" which means that upon the death of one or other of them that persons half share will automatically pass to the other.

The alternative is to hold the property as "tenants in common" which means that each persons half share is treated as being separate so that upon the death of one or other of them his or her share will not automatically go to the other but to whoever it has been left to in the deceased persons will or, if there is no will, to his or her next of kin.

If you are putting unequal amounts into the property the person who is paying the larger amount can and often should be protected by a "trust deed" which sets out your respective shares so that in the event of any dispute or upon the death of one or other of you in the future your original intentions will be clearly recorded. Once you have considered the above options and/or if you require further advice you should tell your solicitor so that he or she can make sure that your wishes are carried out.

Should I cancel my existing direct debit before completion?

Following exchange of contracts, but never before then, we may advise clients to cancel any existing direct debit payments. The reason for this is that we will obtain a note of the outstanding balance (or redemption figure) from the existing lender which is calculated up to the completion date. If any direct debit payment is sent to the lender in the meantime it will result in an overpayment and it may take a short while for this to be repaid.

When do I make the first payment under my new mortgage?

When completing the mortgage application form you would have been asked to specify a particular day in the month for your Direct Debit. However the lender will usually also contact you shortly after completion to let you know the first payment amount and day on which it will be collected. You should be aware that because of the way in which the interest is calculated if you complete in the middle of a month your first payment may be slightly larger then normal.

What happens with the keys?

These are usually left with the estate agents (if any) and the buyer collects them once the money has been paid over on the day of completion. If there are no estate agents (or this is not convenient) then the seller will hand them direct to the buyer.

Either way it is important that arrangements are made in advance to prevent the possibility of the buyer having to wait outside with the removal van!

Although your solicitor will always try to ensure that everything is finalised as early as possible on the day of completion – and usually this is dealt with by mid-day – there can sometimes be a delay if, for example, your solicitor is still waiting for the mortgage monies to arrive or there is a particularly long chain. If this happens please don’t panic or become upset because your solicitor will invariably resolve the problem by early afternoon – if not sooner !

What can I do if there are any unwanted items left at the property?

Unfortunately when some buyers go to their new property for the first time they find that the seller has left rubbish and/or unwanted items. Apart from taking legal action against the seller which will almost certainly take too long and be too expensive, the only practical alternative is for you to visit the property just before completion to check for yourself that everything has been removed.

When will I get any money due to me?

If you are just selling or there is a surplus due back to you after the completion of your sale and purchase your solicitor will always try to send this out to you on the actual day of completion but if not, on the next working day.

Payment is usually made by cheque but for larger amounts your solicitor can transfer the money direct to your bank if you request this in advance and provide them with your account details. There will be an additional bank transfer fee for this.

Who will look after my interests?

When you instruct us to act for you, we will let you know the name and contact details of the lawyer who will be acting for you, who will ensure that the transaction is progressed to suit your best interests, negotiating on any legal issues as appropriate on your behalf and ensuring all required legal documents are drawn up and signed and sent to the appropriate place within the necessary timescales.

If at any time your solicitor is on holiday or absent from the office, we will delegate another member of the firm to act on your behalf and keep you informed of progress. If your solicitor is busy when you ring, which happens frequently in practise, his or her personal secretary can give you an update on the transaction and explain what is due to happen next. Remember that staff are neither trained nor able to give legal advice.

Where can I get a surveyor?

We have a number of professional surveyor contacts in our local area. Please let us know if you would like us to recommend someone, but please be aware that we act independently, and entirely in your interest. We do not, in any circumstances pay a referral fee or accept a commission from any third party who we recommend to you.

Can you recommend an estate agent to sell my property?

Yes! Please contact us at the details given below, but the same applies as above. We don’t pay referral fees or accept commission from anyone.


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