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Conveyancing In The UK Explained

10th August 2009
By CatM in Real Estate Law
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As conveyancing procedure can differ depending on where you are, this article aims to talk through how it works in the United Kingdom as simply and clearly as possible.

In law, conveyancing is the transferral of title of property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien. The term conveyancing can also be applied to the shifting of bulk materials such as water, sewerage, electricity or gas.

Your average conveyancing interaction will consist of two major landmarks. First the exchange of contracts, during which the equitable title is passed over, then is completion, in which the legal title passes. Conveyancing happens in three stages: before contract, before completion and after completion.

Anyone who wants to purchase a property must make sure they obtain a marketable ‘title' to the land. For example, that the seller is the owner of the property, and has the right to sell it, as well as making sure there are not other factors which might obstruct a mortgage or a re-sale.

The system of conveyancing itself aims to make sure that the buyer secures the title to the land as well as any rights that come with it and is made fully aware of any restrictions before purchasing it. In many older jurisdictions, conveyancing works by using a system of land registration, which relies more on public records to assure prospective buyers that they will receive a good title.

In the UK this is usually sorted out by either a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer, who may employ or supervise an unqualified conveyancer to help. The prices are very competitive in the domestic conveyancing market, as a large number of companies of solicitors and conveyancers are offering similar services, though it is possible for an individual to carry out their own conveyancing if needs be.

Law agreements are not legally binding until contracts are exchanged in the UK, this gives the advantage of freedom before contract, but also the con of the resulting wasted time and money if the deal is not successful.

Normal practice involves the buyer negotiating a price with the seller who then moves on to organizing a survey and having the solicitor/conveyancer carry out any searches and pre-contract enquiries.

Next the seller's solicitor or conveyancer will prepare a draft contract which will hopefully be approved by the buyer's solicitor, who will also collect and prepare property information which will be given to the buyer's solicitors, hopefully inkeeping with the Law Society's National Protocol for domestic conveyancing.

The average amount of time it takes to process and complete a conveyancing transaction is 10-12 weeks though some take less time, and some can take far more. This timescale is dependent on a number of things, legal, personal, social and financial.

In the time prior to the exchange of contracts (exchange being the point at which everything will become legally binding) either side can decide to drop out of the agreement, at any point and for any reason which no legal obligation whatsoever. This gives rise to a risk of gazumping (when a seller raises the agreed price of a property having informally agreed to a lower one) and its converse, gazundering (when the buyer lowers the amount previously agreed on with the seller).
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