First things first – buckle up – this is probably going to be a tough journey! Many things can go wrong, many people or organisations will probably frustrate you so it’s important to go into it with a calm head, and accept that things will probably go wrong at some point. Managing your house sale is essential, and good friends can help out here by being a sounding board, or by offering you practical advice and support!
You can actually take on the legal responsibilities of selling your house yourself, but you will need a lot of time, be the sort of person who thrives on detail, and be really persistent. It’s not something I would ever do, having sold three properties and had a solicitor each time – it’s well worth the money. You can use a solicitor, or a firm of conveyancers to deal with your sale (and purchase, if you’re buying somewhere new). It’s highly recommended to use the same firm (I would say essential) to manage the sale and purchase. The buyer will of course also have a solicitor, and the two firms should be in contact with each other regularly through the process.
If you use a solicitor, it’s really important to ensure you use one who is experienced in conveyancing. Again, personal recommendation is best – if you can’t get that, then do your research online by looking at reviews, post a question to your friends on social media, ask work colleagues. This decision is another one which is one of the most important to get right! And unlike estate agents, it is not easy to change solicitor once you are in the process, and there may well be fees to pay if you do change – a new solicitor will probably want to conduct new searches rather than use any searches from the first one. Fees can vary enormously; there will be statutory fees such as searches etc, but the firm will also make a charge for their services.
There can be lots of things that go wrong, or go slowly with solicitors, whether that’s using local firms or using online specialist conveyancers. Not processing things as quickly as they should, not being contactable or replying to emails, and in some instances not actually knowing the right thing to do! I think this is one area where your research will be invaluable – but not foolproof. I think there is a lot to be said about using a local firm – if only because if things get really bad you can at least turn up on their doorstep to speak to them – and of course going into the office is easier to sign documents, etc.
What does the solicitor do?
In a nutshell, the solicitor (or conveyancer) does the legal work to transfer ownership of your property. When you are selling, this includes dealing with your buyer’s solicitor and fielding any enquiries from them, checking how your buyer is funding their purchase, send you forms to complete about your home (fixtures and fittings list, property information form) and so on. They will also liaise with your mortgage provider to obtain a redemption statement, if you currently have a mortgage on your home. This will state how much is owed on your mortgage (the redemption figure) as that will need to be paid to the mortgage provider once the home is sold. Your solicitor will transfer those funds once they have received the money from your buyer’s solicitor.
You can prepare for the sale process by getting your important house documents together – e.g. installation certificates for double glazing, certificates for electrical work, any paperwork if you have had an extension or building work done, as these will probably be requested by the buyer’s solicitor.
The fixtures and fittings form lists all the items associated with the house (garden shed, kitchen cabinets, light fittings etc) and you will go through it and indicate which ones you are leaving and which ones are not included. The property information form asks about what work you’ve had done to the house, whether it’s ever been flooded and so on.
When you are buying a new home, the solicitor will conduct the required searches (such as check a mining report, a water company search which checks if you are in danger of being flooded etc), check the title on your new property (e.g. that the person selling is actually the person who owns it!), ensure you receive the fixtures and fittings and property information forms, forward on any queries you may have and identify queries of their own; e.g. if there have been alterations to the property, making sure these were all done legally and with the appropriate checks.
They will be liaising with your mortgage provider (if you’re having a mortgage), or they will check with you about your source of funding – to ensure they are complying with money laundering legislation. The solicitor will also arrange for the deposit to be paid at exchange stage (which usually comes from your mortgage deposit) and will arrange for the funds to be transferred to the seller and the mortgage provider on completion of the transaction. They will manage the risk if there is an issue such as a sewer under your property (which happened to me!). This may involve you purchasing indemnity insurance or asking the seller to buy this. They will ultimately make sure you actually own the correct property!
A key piece of advice is to get to know the person managing your account, and build a relationship with them if you can. In fact this applies to the whole process – building and maintaining relationships is key.
Keeping on top of things
From my experience, the really important thing to do is to keep on top of your solicitor and your estate agent. Although their job is to follow the process through and deal with things in a timely manner, in reality they will be managing many other transactions at the same time, and yours won’t rise to the top of the priority list until you are near to exchange or completion. Your sale or purchase is not as important to anyone else as it is to you. A regular call (fortnightly/weekly) to the estate agent, and the same to your solicitor, makes sure that things are progressing as they should. Once you are further through the process, a weekly (and potentially daily!) call may be needed to make sure everything is moving along. Keeping a short record of the calls/emails is very useful, just jotting down the date and brief details of what was discussed/agreed. If you need to do anything, make sure you do it as quickly as possible – for example if you need to find a copy of an invoice you had for some work done on the house, or if you need to speak to your solicitor about a query that your buyer has raised.
I learned this the hard way, when during the first few weeks of my own house sale/purchase, I assumed my solicitor was conducting the searches because I’d transferred the money to them. What had happened was that the transfer had one digit missing from the reference and so the funds hadn’t been applied to my account. The solicitor hadn’t chased me up or identified that these funds belonged to me, and therefore did nothing. It was only when I checked in two weeks later that I found nothing had happened. Lesson learned!
Exchange and Completion
Once all the forms have been returned, the searches are in and the queries from each solicitor dealt with, the legal forms should be drawn up ready for exchange of contracts – once you have signed a contract and this has been exchanged with the buyer they’ve paid the deposit, both sides are legally committed to go through with the transaction. If the buyer pulls out, you can keep their deposit. If you pull out you may be sued. Completion of the sale happens at a point to be agreed between both parties – this can either be the same day as exchange (very stressful!) or between 7 and 28 days after exchange. The day the property sale completes is the day your buyer owns your house, and obviously this means you must leave it. You are legally obliged to comply with the information you gave to your solicitor about what fixtures and fittings you are leaving and which you are taking with you – don’t suddenly decide to take all the light fittings if you said you were leaving them behind!
Managing the sale process can be a very stressful time, as well as the potential emotional impact of leaving somewhere you have lived, possibly for a number of years. I hope the information I’ve included has given you some helpful advice to make it a smoother process overall!