What Does A Seller’s Solicitor Do?
A property solicitor is the person you employ or ‘instruct’ to carry out the legal process of transferring the property title from one person’s name to another. This is what is known as conveyancing. The conveyancing work a solicitor undertakes depends on whether they are acting for the buyer or the seller. In this article we will explain what a conveyancing solicitor does on behalf of the seller.
If you are selling your home and are about to embark upon the conveyancing process, you will have already engaged an estate agent, agreed a sale price and accepted an offer. It is now that you need to ‘instruct’ a conveyancing solicitor who will initiate the conveyancing process and carry out the legal process of property sale effectively. You must let your solicitor know from the outset if you are also buying a property as it is more time and money efficient if the transactions are tied together.
Your solicitor will provide you with their terms of engagement which will include their fees and the deposits you need to pay for their work to begin. You should sign and return this as soon as possible so that they can start work. Once your solicitor has been formally instructed they will, if necessary, obtain the title deeds from your lender. Your solicitor will contact your buyers solicitor to obtain a draft contract and the necessary forms and other documents.
Ideally, you would have began thinking about which solicitor or conveyancer you want to use around the time you put your house on the market. Once you have compared conveyancing quotes and found the right conveyancing solicitor for you, you should make contact and inform them you want to sell a property and agree conveyancing fees. However, the instruction begins only when a formal offer has been accepted on your property.
One of the initial tasks your conveyancer will ask you to do is complete a number of detailed questionnaires about the property. These will ask about what you intend to include with the sale (such as fixtures and fittings). Once received, your solicitor will send the completed questionnaires to the buyer’s solicitor.
Here is a list of forms you may be asked to complete upon the sale of a property:
- TA6: This is a general questionnaire asking questions about boundaries, disputes and complaints. For example, if you have had a dispute with a neighbour about a fence or a tree you must declare it so that the buyers are aware. Other things such as noisy neighbour complaints, boundary disputes, known proposed developments like motorways or new builds should be included. Questions about council tax, utilities, sewerage and contact details will be asked. The questionnaire is very self explanatory and the questions are very clear.
- TA7 or TA9: If you do not own the freehold to the property you are selling you should provide information on either the leasehold (TA 7) or the commonhold (TA9).
- TA 10. This is the form you fill in to provide details of which fittings and fixtures you would like to include with the property. From carpets to light fittings this form will ask you in detail about what you intend to leave behind.
- TA 13. This form is more technical and includes finalisation details such as arrangements for handing over the keys, when, where and how you will complete, and ensuring that the house is free of all mortgages and liability claims.
These forms must be filled out truthfully as they are legally binding documents. If you are found out to have provided false information you could be sued for compensation. If falsehoods are discovered before exchange of contracts, the buyers may question your integrity which puts the sale of your property in jeopardy.
Once your buyer’s solicitor has examined the paperwork they my need to seek clarification on certain points. This is normal and expected. They are entitled to raise enquiries with your solicitor who may need to liaise with you to provide the information requested. The buyer will rely upon any information that is supplied on your behalf so it is important that what you provide is accurate and that you make full disclosure of any relevant information requested about your property.
Draft Contract And Negotiations
Your solicitor will use the above questionnaire information to draw up a draft contract. This will then be sent to the buyer for approval.
Your solicitor will then lead negotiations concerning the draft contract. Things to agree upon include:
- Date of completion (this is usually 7-28 days after exchange of contracts)
- The fixtures and fittings to be included in the sale price
- A price agreed on other fixtures and fittings to be left
- Liability for any issues raised in the buyer’s survey, or a re-negotiation of the sale price reflecting the outcome of the survey
Freehold or Leasehold
Your solicitor will examine the draft contract and documents to see what needs to be investigated further. An important factor for your buyer is whether the property is freehold or leasehold. Leasehold means that someone else owns the land on which your property stands, meaning ownership can pass to them if and when the lease expires should it not be renewed. (For any lease under 80 years, there is a problem, while under 60 years is best avoided altogether – this would be a problem for your buyer, and also you if it means your house becomes unsaleable).
Pay Off Your Mortgage
Before you can exchange contracts with your buyer, your solicitor will arrange for the mortgage on the property to be paid off in full. Your lender will supply an up to date mortgage statement to your solicitor detailing the amount which is required to repay your mortgage. This must be cleared in full before you are released from the obligation of the property.
You should also provide your solicitor with details of any loans secured against your property as these must be repaid upon completion of your sale.
In England and Wales, the ‘exchange of contracts’ occurs when both sets of solicitors are satisfied that their searches have shown no problems. Deposits are usually paid at this point and the contract becomes legally binding.
In Scotland, property law is slightly different: contracts become binding at an earlier stage and can be signed on an ‘offers over’ basis, a ‘fixed price’ basis or ‘subject to survey’ basis.
So, a date and time for exchange of contracts has by now been agreed. Your solicitor will carry out this process for you in conjunction with the buyers solicitor. Both solicitors will make sure the contracts are identical and immediately send them to one another in the post.
If either you or your buyers are in a chain, all the solicitors/conveyancers in the chain will do the same thing, at the same time. If one person pulls out or delays, then this causes big problems for everyone else in the chain and the process is either halted or significantly held up.
Once contracts have been exchanged, you are in a legally binding contract and must sell your property. If your buyer pulls out, you will most likely retain their deposit. You will also have the right to sue them. If you pull out of the sale, the same applies and they can sue you.
Between Exchange And Completion
The moment exchange of contracts has occurred, you should receive the buyer’s deposit. You still maintain legal ownership of the property until completion day so there is no need to do anything or leave the property before then. Chances are though, you will want to plan your departure and pack/arrange removals in the meantime. Also, ensure that everything on the fixtures and fittings inventory list is still in the property or you have a problem.
Upon completion, your solicitor will pay off your outstanding mortgage and any other expenses, give an undertaking to your buyer’s solicitor to send your lender’s formal release of mortgage and send the title deeds and signed transfer to your buyer’s solicitor. Once your solicitor confirms the remaining balance has arrived, your sale has completed. You will now release the keys to the buyer via the estate agent. Any spare sets usually get left in the property.
Your solicitor will now bill you for their work.
If you’re also buying a house you may be interested in what your solicitor will do in the buying process. Read more here