Sometimes the legal work required to complete a sale is overlooked by sellers, so hopefully this can provide some clarification to the timescales involved, and the process.  
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Once my house is under offer, how long should it take to complete the sale?

Posted by Edward Iffla on May 12, 2021
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Sometimes the legal work required to complete a sale is overlooked by sellers, so hopefully this can provide some clarification as to the timescales involved, and the process.  

What is Conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal process that happens after you’ve either accepted an offer or you’ve had an offer accepted. It’s where the contract that contains the terms and conditions of the transfer of ownership is created. The contract is called ‘missives’. 

The conveyancing process includes additional ‘searches’ being carried-out on the property and the people involved in the transaction. The solicitors check whether there are any outstanding communal repairs, whether the property complies with local regulations, and whether any alterations are accompanied by the necessary permissions and paperwork. They also make sure that the buyer is actually getting what they think they are buying.

These steps also make sure the buyer isn’t landed with massive costs after they’ve bought the property.

What are the stages involved?

  1. Missives: Once the offer is accepted, the buyer and seller’s solicitors negotiate the terms of the contract by exchanging ‘Missives’. This includes agreeing on a Date of Entry (when the buyer pays the money and the seller hands over the keys) and any additional items included. The seller’s solicitor must send the buyer’s solicitor the Title Deeds for the property as well as a search of the Land Register to show that there is nothing that will legally prevent the seller from selling the property. The conclusion of this contract is called ‘conclusion of missives’. This is the longest of all the stages. 
  2. Transfer of Funds: The buyer will send the purchase funds to the solicitor’s bank account. The buyer’s solicitor will also request any mortgage funds from the lender, where appropriate. On the Date of Entry, the buyer’s solicitor pays the purchase price to the seller’s solicitor. The seller then gives the buyer’s solicitor the paperwork that allows the transfer of ownership of the property.
  3. Settlement: All being well, when the buyer’s solicitor confirms that they are happy with the paperwork and the seller’s solicitor confirms that they have received the purchase price, the transaction is treated as ‘settled’. The buyer often picks-up keys from the seller or from the seller’s solicitor/estate agent and can begin the process of moving into their new home! 

How long should all this take?

The difficulty is that it varies from transaction to transaction. On average, there is usually 6 to 8 weeks from the sale being agreed to the Date of Entry. This can be quicker in some instances, particularly where no mortgage application is involved. 

Apart from the either the buyer or seller wanting a specific time frame, other factors that affect the length of the conveyancing period include: 

  • The seller not owning the full extent of the property, or being legally prevented from selling the property, for example if the property is subject to legal proceedings (This was the case on a recent executory sale of ours whereby we needed to wait for the Government to issue the executor with a Certificate of Confirmation); 
  • Additional paperwork being needed that could relate to alterations. For example, in Edinburgh, ‘Statutory Notices’ applying to the property. These usually need a large amount of extra legal work to satisfy the buyer and seller that they are covered in the event of the Statutory Notice ever being enforced; 
  • Additional anti-money laundering checks being legally required before the property transaction can settle; 
  • The conveyancing process revealing that an additional party is named as an owner on the Title Deeds when the seller either hasn’t been aware or hasn’t revealed to their solicitor that this is the case.

Summary: 

Often it takes a few days for communications to pass from one solicitor to the other. With Scottish solicitors most often still negotiating Missives by exchange of physical letters, lenders taking several weeks to issue mortgage papers, and a 10 working day turnaround time before they will respond to queries, the conveyancing process takes far longer than many people might expect. 

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