Frequently Asked Questions

"What is the Land Registry and what does it do?"

The Land Registry is the Government department which has responsibility for ensuring that all property in England and Wales (with some minor exceptions) appears on the public register of land holdings.

The Land Registration Act 2002 essentially abolished the idea of “title deeds” once a property’s details have been entered onto the Land Register and instead the Land Registry issues a Title Information Document which is a paper copy of the electronic register.

The Title Information Document shows the details of the property, its ownership, often the price paid on the last sale of it, and any other matters which affect the property (such as rights of way, restrictions and covenants).

The Land Registry’s website is a good source of information about property generally and you can download various publications and details of house prices from it. Click here to go to the site.

"What is 'conveyancing'?"

Simply put, it’s the term lawyers use to describe the legal process of transferring ownership of land and any buildings built on it. It applies to sales, purchases and the grant of leases

"What is the difference between a solicitor and a licenced conveyancer?"

Firms of solicitors usually deal with many aspects of the legal system – from buying and selling property, to personal injury cases, Wills & probate, tax planning, family matters (such as divorce, issues with children, and separation), disputes and corporate matters.

Not all lawyers who work for firms of solicitors are actually qualified as solicitors – many are highly qualified executive staff, all of whom are supervised by a qualified solicitor (usually a partner or senior associate in the firm).

Most solicitors today have a degree in law and all have gone through and passed the Law Society’s examinations.

Firms of Licenced Conveyancers deal only with the buying and selling of residential property and are not qualified to deal with any other legal matters. They have their own governing body (the Council for Licenced Conveyancers) which regulates them and deals with complaints about their work or the service they provide.

Not all lawyers working for firms of Licenced Conveyancers are actually qualified as licenced conveyancers – as with firms of solicitors some lawyers are executive staff supervised by one of the licenced conveyancers in the firm.

Solicitors are usually able to take a wider view of the legal issues affecting their clients since they generally have greater experience of different aspects of the legal system rather than simply being qualified to deal with conveyancing.

"What is an estate agent and what do they do?"

Estate agents are basically property shops – they advertise and sell houses and flats on behalf of their customers.

As a profession, estate agents tend to have a poor reputation which comes in part from the fact that they are not regulated to the same extent that other professions (such as lawyers, surveyors and accountants) are. In addition, it is sometimes the case that the people employed as estate agents have very little experience and are therefore not able to offer their customers a particularly high level of expertise. Having said that, finding the right agent can make the process of selling your house or flat a much less stressful experience. Personal recommendation is always a good place to start when employing any service and the same is true for estate agents.

You should also ensure that the estate agent you choose is a member of the NAEA so that in the event of a problem or dispute you can make a complaint.

It’s always worth trying to find an estate agent who either is, or whose firm employs, a chartered surveyor since surveyors have a very high level of experience and expertise in property matters, especially when it comes to the condition or structure of a property.

"How much will it cost to buy or sell my home?"

Every firm of lawyers will operate a fixed fee for buying and selling houses and flats. The amount of the fee varies from firm to firm.

Many estate agents will recommend their “in-house” service but bear in mind that this is not truly a department of the estate agency. Instead, you will find that it is a firm of lawyers who pay the estate agents for the introduction of work. We do not pay agents to send work to us since we are of the view that the independence of lawyers who pay agents for work is compromised – that is to say there may be a potential conflict as to what is right for the client and what the agent might want to happen.

As with many things in life, the cheapest is not necessarily the best and though you may be contacting several firms for costs estimates you should bear in mind the following:

  • Do you want to deal with the same person all the way through your sale or purchase or are you happy to speak to whichever member of the team to which you’re assigned happens to be free at the time?
  • Do you want to be able to meet your lawyer in person or are you happy for everything to be done “long distance”?
  • If you are happy with “long distance” then does the firm have the facility to offer an “online meeting” where you can run through all the documents on screen?
  • Is the costs estimate you’ve received truly all inclusive? Check the small print – some firms of lawyers charge for “extras” which are not really extra! For example some charge an additional fee for dealing with paying off your old mortgage, or filing your Stamp Duty Land Tax return. These are not extra parts of a transaction and should be included within the main cost
  • Does the firm charge extra if you want to complete less than 7 days after exchange of contracts? Some do! We don’t!
  • Does the estimate you’ve obtained include all the searches, the Land Registry Fee and the Stamp Duty Land Tax figures? Make sure the estimate includes these things so as to avoid nasty surprises later!

If you’d like a costs estimate for buying or selling a property then please click here to send us an email or click here for telephone contact details.

"Are there any hidden extras?"

We have noticed recently that some forms of lawyers are giving clients what appear to be extremely cheap prices for conveyancing in order to win the work. Please do be extremely cautious if you receive such a quote and ensure that the quote includes everything which those lawyers would need to do on your behalf.

For example, some firms charge extra for submitting the Stamp Duty Land Tax Return, for storing your papers after completion, for paying off more than one mortgage for you and even an extra fee if you want to complete within a very short time period from exchange of contracts.

We think that if you ask for a price, you ought to be given an "all inclusive" price up front so that you don't get any nasty shocks further down the line when you may not have any option but to pay those additional fees.

If you ask us for a quote for our conveyancing service, it will be all inclusive. Our fee for dealing with the work for you will not change.

"How long does it take?"

There are so many factors involved in buying and selling property that it’s almost impossible to give an answer to this question – but it’s one of the most common questions we get asked. The quickest we’ve ever done a property purchase was in the space of a working week – we were instructed on a Monday morning and we completed on the Friday lunchtime. That is, though, rather an exception!

Generally speaking the speed of the transaction will depend on how quickly mortgage offers are made, whether there are any problems with the title to the property, what the position of the other parties in the chain are and how quickly they can proceed – and, of course, how efficiently the lawyers deal with it! As a rule of thumb we always say that if you’re buying and selling then you should allow anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks as an average.

"Why do lawyers use jargon and terminology I don’t understand?"

Good question! The answer is that some lawyers use legal terminology because they always have and it’s force of habit. We take a different view – we try to use language that everyone can understand. Sometimes the title deeds to a property contain legal jargon – we will always try our best to explain those documents to you without using the same jargon.

It’s a fact of the English legal system that sometimes we have to use language which, unless you’re a lawyer, you’re unlikely to have come across before, but when that is absolutely necessary we will, again, make sure that it’s explained to you in full so that you know exactly what the effect of that language is.

When we send you the written report on the property you’re buying we’ll use plain straightforward language wherever possible.

"What does 'subject to contract' mean?"

Actually, it means much less than it used to. In fact the legal effect of “subject to contract” on an estate agent’s notice board is very little.

Before 1989 the phrase was used to prevent a binding contract being formed between the seller and buyer by accident. In 1989 Parliament passed legislation to prevent that from happening so the wording is in reality redundant. However, many estate agents and lawyers still use “subject to contract” to make sure that everyone is aware that whilst an offer has been made on the property and the legal process is being dealt with, there is actually no binding contract in force.

"What is an Energy Performance Certificate?"

Also known as an EPC, these are documents which provide buyers with details of how efficient a property is in terms of its energy consumption.

An EPC consists of a certificate (exactly the same as the energy ratings stickers which you see on the front of fridges, freezers and other electrical appliances) and a report making suggestions of how energy efficiency could be improved. In our experience, not many buyers take a huge amount of notice of the EPC!

"What is a holding deposit?"

This is also sometimes known as a reservation fee or a goodwill deposit. Basically it’s an amount of money which the estate agent asks the potential buyer to put down when making an offer to buy a property in order to show the seller that the buyer is serious about proceeding with the purchase.

Unless you are putting an offer in on a brand new property (when it’s the norm for a reservation fee of around £500.00 to be required) we would strongly recommend that you consult us before placing any money with the estate agent since if the purchase does not proceed it can be extremely difficult to recover the money on your behalf unless it has been properly protected in the first place.

"What is a 'drive-by' valuation?"

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Most mortgage lenders used to have a proper valuation carried out before lending on a property. Nowadays, their valuers usually either drive past the property without stopping or sit behind their computer and deal with the valuation from information which can be found online – it’s another reason why you should always have an independent survey carried out.

"What is a Homebuyer’s Report?"

This is a report prepared for a buyer of a property by a qualified surveyor. It’s not a full structural survey (which is far more involved and is far more expensive) but it does give you as a buyer quite detailed information about the state and condition of the property and whether there are any items of maintenance which might need to be taken into account when coming to an agreement with the seller about the purchase price.

We can recommend a surveyor to carry out a Homebuyer’s Report for you or you can go to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to find a surveyor local to you.

We would recommend though that you do not use a surveyor from the firm of estate agents who act for the seller of the property since there may be a conflict of interest.

"What does 'caveat emptor' mean?"

It’s a bit of legal jargon which lawyers still like to use and literally translates to mean “buyer beware”. It is one of the cornerstones of the way the English property system works that although the seller is obliged to disclose any information about the property in his possession, it’s still the responsibility of the buyer to ensure that he is fully aware of the state and condition of the property before agreeing to buy it.

If matters arise after exchange of contracts which the buyer should have made himself aware of before exchange then it’s unlikely (unless the seller has been fraudulent) that the buyer will have any action against the seller. It’s the main reason that we strongly recommend that buyers have a Homebuyer's Report carried out before exchange of contracts.

"What are title deeds?"

They are the documents which prove you own the property you say you own. Since it has become compulsory to register property at the Land Registry the days of having bundles of title deeds have become a thing of the past – usually now the title deeds consist of a copy of the electronic registers held at the Land Registry.

"What are searches?"

Searches are enquiries made of various statutory bodies. If you are buying a property with the aid of a mortgage then your lender will insist on various searches being carried out before it will lend any money.

Even if you are not having a mortgage, we strongly advise that you have searches carried out – because once you own the property you will be bound by any matters which affect the property and would have been revealed by those searches, whether you knew about them or not!

The usual searches we would carry out are:

Local Authority Search

This is done with the local Council and reveals things such as whether the property is a listed building, whether it’s in a conservation area, whether planning permission has been granted in the past for extensions and alterations, whether there are any breaches of planning permission, whether there are any planned road or traffic schemes in the area and whether the property is potentially affected by radon gas.

Water Authority Search

This is done with the local water and drainage company and reveals not only whether the property is connected to mains water supply and mains drains but also whether a water meter is fitted and perhaps more importantly whether any mains sewers run either near the property or indeed through the garden (since if they do it can affect what you are able to do in terms of extensions and garden planting).

Environment Search

As the name suggests, this search reveals any environmental issues which may affect the property – such as potential flood risks, nearby landfill sites, potentially contaminative businesses in the locality and so forth.

Chancel Repair Search

This search reveals whether the property is in a parish which has a historic liability to contribute towards the repair of the local church. If it is, then there is the possibility that the property has inherited some of that liability. Unless the liability is revealed somewhere in the title deeds then the risk is small but church records can sometimes reveal a liability which does not appear in those deeds.

The church has until 2014 to prove any claims it thinks it may have for properties to make financial contributions to it, after which time if the church has not registered those claims, they fall away. Until then, it is possible to obtain insurance against that liability for a relatively modest one off payment with a number of insurance companies – we can discuss that with you should the need arise.

In addition to the above searches which are carried out before exchange of contracts there are also some searches which have to be carried out after exchange and before completion. These are:

Land Registry Search

This is carried out to confirm that between the seller’s solicitors providing copies of the title and the date of exchange of contracts, no-one has registered anything against the property which might affect the buyer. In addition it has the effect of freezing the land register for a number of weeks so that it is impossible for anyone to register anything adverse to the buyer.

Bankruptcy Searches

Only applicable if you’re having a mortgage but if you are then your mortgage lender will expect us to be able to confirm that you are not bankrupt and that you are not going through bankruptcy proceedings.

"What is a mortgage offer?"

This is an offer usually made by a bank or building society, to lend money to someone to assist in the purchase of a house or flat.

There are many ways to apply for a mortgage but don’t assume that you have to use the estate agent's mortgage adviser (even if that’s what the estate agent tells you). We would always advise that you choose an independent mortgage adviser who can look at all products available from all lenders and who can advise you which might be the best product to suit your individual circumstances.

"Do I have to meet my lawyer face to face?"

In an ideal world we do like to sit down with our clients because no matter how good technology is, and no matter how comprehensively a written report deals with issues affecting a property, in our experience there is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation because it can bring out other matters which our clients might be worried about but which may not come across by dealing with them in another way. However, we do not live in an ideal world. There may be a very good reason why it’s impossible to have a face-to-face meeting – for example if our clients live a considerable distance away from the office.

We do not subscribe to the theory that our clients should meet us only when it’s convenient to use – which is why our offices are open until 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 9.30am to 3.30pm on Saturdays.

In addition, if you have a webcam attached to your PC we can arrange to meet you “online”. You will be able to see your lawyer and chat through the microphone attached to your PC. You’ll also be able to see all the documents your lawyer would have gone through with you if you were sitting in our offices because they will appear on your computer screen in the same way they appear on your lawyer’s computer screen. It’s just one of the ways we try to offer our clients as much choice and flexibility in their dealings with us as possible – at the end of the day, we’re here when it’s convenient for you, not the other way around.

"What is the 'completion date'?"

This is the date on which you entitled to move in to the property. It doesn’t matter whether you actually move in on that day, but it’s the day on which your ownership of the property starts.

"What is a 'deposit'?"

Under English law a contract (be it for the purchase of a house or flat or any other goods or services) can only be enforced if some form of payment is made when it’s entered into.

In property transactions, the deposit is traditionally 10% of the purchase price – but there’s no reason that it can’t be as little as £1.00 (if the seller agrees!)

"What is a 'covenant'?"

Also sometimes referred to as “restrictions” these are provisions in the title deeds which either prevent you from doing something with the property (for example changing the use of it, or extending it without the consent of the builder) or require you to do something (such as erecting and maintaining fences). We will ensure that you are aware of all such matters affecting the property before committing you to buy it.

"What is a 'right of way'?"

Also sometimes referred to as “easements” these are provisions in the title deeds which give certain rights for the owner of the property over neighbouring or nearby property. For example there may be a right of way over a private road or driveway in order to gain access to the property. There may be rights for the drains, electricity cables and other services to cross neighbouring land in order to reach the property. We will ensure that the property you purchase has all necessary rights of way in place before committing you to buy it.

"What is 'exchange of contracts'?"

This is the date on which the buyer becomes legally obliged to buy the property and the seller becomes legally obliged to sell it on the completion date.

"What happens if the buyer or seller doesn’t complete on the agreed completion date?"

On the basis that contracts have been exchanged then the party who is ready willing and able to complete will serve a notice on the defaulting party. That notice will give the defaulting party 10 days to complete in line with the provisions of the contract and will start interest running on the outstanding purchase price until actual completion takes place. If after the 10 days has expired completion still has not taken place then the party who has served the notice is able to rescind (or cancel) the contract and there will be a financial penalty on the defaulting party.

If the buyer is in default then the penalty will be the loss of the 10% deposit and perhaps further compensation if the seller has suffered any further loss. If the defaulting party is the seller then compensation will be payable to the buyer based on the losses that the buyer has suffered.

It is very unlikely that the parties will be ordered to actually perform the contract – that is to say it is very rare for a judge to order the buyer to actually buy or the seller to actually sell.

"What is Stamp Duty Land Tax?"

This used to be called “Stamp Duty” and is also now referred to as SDLT. It is the tax that the Government levies on the purchase of land – including houses and flats. If the purchase price is in excess of £125,000.00 then SDLT becomes payable at 1% of the total purchase price. If the price exceeds £250,000.00 then the rate increases to 3%. At £500,000.00 the rate increases to 4% and for properties with a price of over £1m the rate is 5%.

There are some exemptions for first time buyers and for properties in depressed housing areas – we can advise if you qualify for any of the exemptions or reliefs available.

"What Land Registry Fee is payable on my purchase?"

Visit the Land Registry’s website to see the Land Registry’s latest fees.