Finalising the sale
Once your offer has been verbally accepted, your solicitor will negotiate in detail all the conditions of sale with the seller's solicitor before ownership of the property is transferred to you. This process is called concluding the missives.
Concluding the missives
Before the offer can be finalised, the solicitors on both sides must sort out any conditions of the sale (for example, what fittings and fixtures are included). They will exchange formal letters (called missives) until all these details are sorted out. Your solicitor will also examine the title deeds to the property on your behalf and report to you on anything of significance before missives are concluded.
Once both parties are satisfied with all the terms and conditions, the missives will be signed and the offer will be finalised. This process is called concluding the missives and can take any length of time from two weeks to a few months, depending on how complicated the sale is.
Once the missives are concluded, the contract (or bargain) becomes legally binding. Now neither you nor the seller can withdraw from the contract or vary the terms at all, unless the other party agrees or there is something in the missives that allows you to do so. Even if the property burns to the ground, you will still be legally bound to go through with the sale. This is why it's very important that you have a formal mortgage offer by this stage: if you can't afford to pay for the home, the seller can take you to court.
I want to withdraw my offer
It is legally possible to withdraw your offer at any point until missives are concluded. To be safe, it is best to get your solicitor to formally withdraw your offer in writing and send this to the seller's solicitor urgently. However, in practice, it is not a good idea to withdraw your offer lightly. The important thing to bear in mind is that you shouldn't submit an offer unless you're really serious about buying a property and you know for sure that you can afford it and will be able to get a mortgage if necessary.
If you want to withdraw after missives have been concluded, the seller can take you to court as you will be in breach of contract. This could potentially cost you a lot of money and you may also have to pay the sellers' expenses (this might include paying high interest rates on bridging loans for example). However, if it is impossible for you to do this (for example, because you don't have the money), the seller may ask you to compensate them for the costs of finding another buyer instead. Speak to your solicitor immediately if you're in this position.
The seller wants to back out
If the seller asks you if they can withdraw or change the terms, don't agree to anything until you've spoken to your solicitor.
If they do want to back out, you have two options. You can either:
Court - take them to court and force them to go through with the sale, or
Settle - make a settlement so that they pay you compensation to cover your expenses and the inconvenience caused.
Your solicitor will help you decide what to do in this situation.
Getting your new home insured
You will usually become responsible for the upkeep of the property at the date of entry, so you'll need to get it insured. You can ask your solicitor or lender for help with getting buildings insurance, but remember, you don't have to use your lender's insurance - shop around to find the best deal for you.
Checking the title deeds
Your solicitor will now arrange to transfer ownership (or title) of the home to you. This process is called conveyancing. Your solicitor will receive the title deeds to the property from the seller's solicitor and will check that there are no problems in transferring ownership to you.
Checking for problems
At this point your solicitor should check:
that the person selling the property to you actually owns it (in other words, that they have 'title' to the property)
that the boundaries on the plot plan attached to the title deeds match the area you are buying (this is particularly important if the home has a drive or garden)
whether there is any major repair work planned for the future (if so, this could cost you thousands of pounds)
that the proper paperwork is in order for any extensions or alterations carried out to the property.
Checking the burdens
Burdens are obligations on you, as the owner of the property, to do (or not do) certain things. Burdens can cover a variety of different things, including the following:
Repair and maintenance responsibilities for common areas around your property, such as the stairwell or roof - for example, the deeds may state whether there is a factor in charge of arranging repairs and maintenance, or whether responsibility is divided between the residents. The deeds may also state what proportion of any repairs you have to pay for.
Access rights to and from the property and any communal areas - for example, whether you own any paths or roads that lead to your property
any restrictions on alterations you can make to the property or building work you can do.
Any other restrictions, for example, that you're not allowed to run a business from the home, keep certain pets on the property, or park a caravan in your driveway.
It's very important that you understand what the burdens are before you are legally bound into the contract to buy the house - some burdens could affect whether or not you want to go ahead with the purchase (for example, if you have plans to extend the house but there are burdens stopping you doing that). In some cases it may be possible to change the burdens - this will depend on how old the burden is, and who else it affects. Read the page on title deeds to find out more.
What if there's a problem?
If your solicitor discovers a serious problem which would threaten your security as owner of the property or which breaks any conditions in the concluded missives, you could back out at this stage, despite the binding contract.
Finalising the sale
Once your solicitor has examined the title deeds, they will:
draw up a disposition, a legal document that transfers ownership of the property to you
prepare a standard security, the legal agreement between you and your mortgage lender - this gives the lender certain rights over the property, including the right to repossess and sell the home if you can't meet your mortgage payments
arrange payment of any Land and Building Transaction Tax.
Your mortgage lender will then transfer the money to your solicitor, who will pay the seller's solicitor for the property in exchange for the keys, the disposition in your name and some other legal documents. You solicitor will check that everything is in order before agreeing to hand over your money. When your solicitor is happy with all the legal documents and the mortgage money has gone through, you will get the keys to your new house (this is called 'settlement'). You can now break open the champagne because you've just bought yourself a new home!
Once the sale is completed, your solicitor will either register or record your ownership of the property in the relevant land register. Your solicitor will also register/record the standard security (mortgage deed) if you have a mortgage. There is a charge for this. You will usually have to pay this money to your solicitor who will pay the charge on your behalf.
Read the page on title deeds to find out more about where the deeds are kept and what you need to do if you want to see them in the future.
Should I make a Will?
It is always worth making a Will even if you think you have nothing worth leaving to anyone. However, once you own your own home, it's even more important. Many people assume that when they die, their home and possessions will automatically go to their wife or husband, their partner or their children, but this is not always the case.
Last updated: 31 March 2015