Buying a flat, the conveyancing process
5 January 2017
On average, a typical home purchase takes between six and ten weeks. However, if you are buying a flat, your purchase may take a little longer because of the extra complexities associated with leases.
Stage one, offer to exchange of contracts
You may have breathed a sigh of relief when the seller accepted your offer. However, until exchange of contracts, there is no legally binding agreement in place. Before then, you, or your seller, could simply decide to pull out.
Understandably, this may make you anxious to exchange contracts as soon as possible. However, before committing yourself, it is important to be sure you will have sufficient funds to complete your purchase. Your conveyancer will also need to check that the seller has good title to the property, and that there are no matters that would adversely affect its value or use.
A lot, therefore, needs to happen before exchange. You will need to instruct a conveyancer, arrange finance, obtain a formal mortgage offer, and a survey. Your conveyancer will need to agree the sale contract, and make a number of searches and enquiries.
What makes buying a flat different
Most of these enquiries will be the same, whether you are buying a house or buying a flat. However, if you are buying a flat, your conveyancer will need some additional information. They will check that the ground rent is paid up-to-date, the provisions for insuring and repairing common parts, the details of any management company and service charge arrangements.
They will also need to obtain a copy of the lease, and consider its terms. Some leases contain provisions which restrict how you can use your flat, or who you may transfer, or sublet it to, in the future. In some cases, the transfer to you will require the landlord’s consent, or for you to enter into direct covenants with the landlord.
Getting to exchange typically can take four to six weeks. However, it may take longer if you are in a chain, or the landlord, or any management company, is slow in responding to requests.
Stage two, exchange to completion
On exchange of contracts, you and the seller will agree a date for completion. Usually this will be in one to four weeks’ time. During this period, your conveyancer will prepare the form of transfer, and agree a provisional apportionment of rent and any service charge. They will make a number of pre-completion searches and enquires, just as they would if you were buying a house. In addition, they will ensure the landlord’s consent to the transfer, if required, is obtained.
On completion, you pay the balance of the purchase price, and the seller transfers their title to the property to you. The estate agent releases the keys and you can finally move in!
Stage three, post completion
Ensconced in your new home, post-completion legal formalities may be the last thing on your mind. However, your conveyancer will be busy making sure the correct amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax is paid, and that the transfer to you is registered at the Land Registry. Your lender will require this, and you will also need it to prove your title when you come to sell.
Buying a flat, there will probably be additional formalities. Your conveyancer may need to give notice of the transfer to the landlord, register the transfer of shares in any management company and make adjustments to the provisional apportionments of rent or service charge.
Buying a flat, making sure the conveyancing runs smoothly
Instructing a conveyancer who is experienced in leasehold conveyancing will ensure your purchase runs as smoothly as possible.
Discuss your plans with them early on, ideally before making an offer. They can advise you what to look out for. For example, many lenders require a lease to have a minimum term of at least 85 years left to run. Asking prospective sellers about the service charge, and whether they know of any anticipated expenditure, can also pre-empt some nasty surprises later on.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances