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In this modern era of convenience shopping, buying a house is probably the most longwinded purchase you'll ever make. This is not just to deter impulse buyers, though part of the time does elapse as a result of due diligence by the lenders of the mortgage. One of the major time-eaters is the conveyancing process, which can easily take two or even three months to complete.

You will need to use a solicitor or licensed conveyor to carry out all the legal work involved with buying and selling a property. Make sure that whoever you choose has experience in this kind of work.

The conveyancing process essentially involves the transfer of "good" title (meaning that the vendor is actually in a legal position to sell) or ownership from one party to another. It sounds very simple, but to be fair, there is quite a bit of work involved. Considering you are unlikely to bear witness to any physical evidence of their work, it can be a little reassuring to know what exactly they are up to all that time:

The process begins in earnest once an offer has been made and accepted on a property and both parties have exchanged details of their solicitors. Your solicitor then liases with the seller's solicitor at the lightening pace of a snail on a tea break to complete all of the legal documentation involved in transferring ownership of a property from the seller to your very good self.

The work that your solicitor undertakes includes:

  • Untangling the legal jargon that you find in the title deeds, which would be complicated and time consuming to understand (at best) without the proper knowledge and experience.

  • Checking the background of your property with the local authority and title searches.

  • Examining the legality of contracts and leases for leasehold properties.

  • Preparation of the contract for sale, which is the culmination of the legal process. The contract contains details of the property, the identity of the buyers and sellers, the price and details of anything that is included with the sale, and the date on which the transaction will take place, also known as the completion date.

  • In the event of their work identifying certain problems or aspects of the sale that are not quite what you wanted, your solicitor may also be of help if you decide to renegotiate the price.

Why use a solicitor? Can it really be that hard? Well, if your lender permits it (which many won't unless you are qualified), and have the time, confidence, intellectual capability and really want to, then you can do it yourself. However, it is very important that the work is all carried out correctly and be prepared for a fair amount of detailed work involved. Remember that if you take on the responsibility yourself and get it wrong, you will have no redress. It will be on your head. Consider this worst-case scenario:

You're buying a flat in an up and coming part of London. You are stretched a bit financially so you decide to have a bash at the conveyancing work. You whiz over all the documents without knowing what you're looking for or how to interpret the results, but you're basically pretty resourceful and everything seems to be in order. The sale goes through. Oh dear oh dear. What have you done? Without knowing it, you have actually just paid one hundred and forty thousand pounds, not for the lease on the lovely flat overlooking the allotments, but the ramshackle shed that occupies those very same vegetable patches. Not only that, you actually share the ownership with Mrs. Quiggins at no. 43 and to make matters worse, you have failed to notice that the lease expires in 2007, at which point the whole area is to be steamrollered to make way for a fruit and vegetable them park. Not your wisest ever purchase really.

OK, so things are not likely to get this bad, but if you miss some important details, such as escalating ground rent, or the existence of a public right of way through your front garden, you could end up pretty annoyed at a later date. The point is, solicitors and conveyancers are trained in what they do, and unless you are absolutely sure you are not going to make a mess of things, you should probably leave it up to them.

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