Buying a house is likely to be one of the biggest and most significant purchases of your lifetime. But it can prove baffling.

Here Attwells’ property partner Lisa Nyland takes you through the ‘who’s who’ of property transactions and gives conveyancing jargon a busting.

It’s easy to peruse properties online, lovingly admiring interior décor, rating kerb appeal and booking viewings to find your dream home.

But what happens when you find that perfect property?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as handing over a cheque and waltzing off with the keys.

In fact, the process of a property transaction is complex and extensive and there is a lengthy chain of activities and a vast number of people who all play a part.

Who’s who

The main players are the seller and the buyer.

The seller is the property owner.

The buyer is the person who puts in an offer to purchase.

The seller usually appoints a seller’s agent – an estate agent – to market and sell the property on their behalf at an agreed fee.

Most estate agents calculate their fees as a percentage of the final selling price of the property. This is known as the rate of commission.

When the seller has accepted an offer from the buyer, the seller – or the estate agent – needs to inform whoever is doing the legal work.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal work. It is the branch of law concerned with the preparation of documents for the conveyance of property.

It involves legally transferring home ownership from the seller to the buyer and starts when your offer on a house is accepted and finishes when you are registered at the Land Registry as the owner of the property.

Most firms of solicitors offer a conveyancing service.

But although all solicitors can legally do conveyancing, it is advisable to choose a solicitor who has experience of this work.

What happens next?

Your appointed conveyancer agrees their terms with you, setting out their fees and the other costs involved.

They will then write to the seller’s solicitor introducing themselves and request a copy of the draft contract and any other details, such as the property’s title and the standard forms.

Your solicitor will examine the draft contract and supporting documents and raise enquiries with the seller’s solicitor.

This will include things like whether the property is leasehold or freehold (you should look at our blog on this subject for more clarification on these terms and what they mean).

To buy the property, you will need to get your mortgage in place.

Your solicitor will receive a copy of the offer and go through the conditions.

You will need to ensure that you have sufficient funds available to make up the difference between the mortgage and the purchase price.

Property searches

There are things you may not know about the property just from viewing it with estate agents or even getting a survey.

The conveyancer will do a set of legal searches to find out more about the property.

Some searches will be recommended by the solicitor for all purchases and others will be required by the mortgage lender to protect them from any liabilities that the property may have.

Searches include:

  • Local authority searches – which usually take 1-2 weeks and look at plans for new developments or changes to infrastructure. It will show up plans for a motorway in your new garden, for example.
  • Checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry – these are the legal documents proving the seller’s ownership.
  • Checking flood risk – this can also be done at the Land Registry. If you are already getting an environmental search, you might not buy this one separately.
  • Water authority searches – find out how you get your water and if any public drains on the property might affect extensions or building work.
  • Chancel repair search – to ensure there are no potential leftover medieval liabilities on the property to help pay for church repairs. This is a necessity.
  • Environmental Search – this report is used on the vast majority of transactions and is provided by either Landmark or Groundsure.
  • Optional and location specific searches – sometimes extra searches are required or recommended depending on the location or type of property or due to particular concerns raised by the information given by the buyer for example a radon gas, or coal mining search.

Taking possession

Before signing the contract so you can take ownership of the property, your solicitor will need to ensure:

That all enquiries have been returned and are satisfactory

That fixtures and fittings included in the purchase are what you expected

A completion date has been agreed between the two parties

That you have made arrangements to transfer the deposit into your solicitors account so that it is cleared in time for an exchange.

Exchanging contracts

Your solicitor will exchange contracts for you.

This is usually done by both solicitors/conveyancers reading out the contracts over the phone to make sure the contracts are identical, and then immediately sending them to one another in the post.

Once you have exchanged contracts you will be in a legally binding contract to buy the property with a fixed date for moving.

Completion is normally set around lunchtime on the specified date although in practice takes place when the seller’s solicitor confirms that they have received all the money that is due. Once this happens the seller should drop the keys at the estate agents for your collection. You can then move in.