The information contained here is intended to provide UK expats with a comprehensive understanding of the legal processes associated with acquiring or disposing of property within the UK. Although this is specific to the UK, the processes although different, will generally follow similar procedures.
At expatriates.co.uk we know that property ownership and how it is handled from a legal perspective is very important to our expat clients and therefore we have taken steps to ensure that our legal partner firms are all conversant with dealing with expats and work to the highest professional standards.
Please note that this information has been written based on the laws of England and may change slightly for other UK regions.
Selling a property
- Instruction and contract – when instruct a solicitor to sell your property they should begin by opening a new file specifically for your case. You will be asked to complete a number of forms and to provide certain information, some of which is shown below.
- Fixtures and fittings – this will list the items remaining with the property after sale.
- Sellers property information form
- Sale questionnaire
- pre-registration documents
- Property guarantees
- Certificates of planning/building regulations relating to your property
- Evidence of identity and a payment on account.
Once this is to hand, the solicitor will obtain an up to date copy of your registered title deeds and then issue a contract pack to your buyers solicitors.
- Enquiries and discussing a Completion Date – The buyers solicitors will check the paperwork that has been provided to them with and will generally ask some questions. Your solicitor will discuss these with you and then reply accordingly. Once the buyers solicitors are happy with those responses and are in receipt of any search results and a mortgage offer (if needed), they will look to report to their clients. After that it will be a matter of agreeing a possible completion date and moving out date. Once a date has been agreed by all parties, your solicitor will then apply for a repayment figure from your mortgage Lender (if applicable) and obtain your estate agents account (if applicable) and provide you with a completion Statement showing the breakdown of the equity funds remaining. At this point it would be advisable to contact a removal company to check availability but not to book them until exchange has taken place.
- Exchange of contracts – Before contracts are exchanged, your solicitor should contact you to ensure that they have your permission to set this date in stone because once exchange of contracts takes place, the completion date/moving out date is final and you are legally bound by the contract to vacate the property by no later than 2pm (unless this time is varied) that day. Once your solicitor confirms that exchange has taken place, you must then finalise your arrangements for moving out.
- Completion – On the day of completion, the buyers Solicitors will usually send the sale monies via bank transfer to your solicitor but this means that there is no set time when the monies may arrive. Once receipt is confirmed your solicitor should confirm that completion has taken place and then arrange repayment of your current mortgage (if applicable), pay your estate agents Fees (if applicable) and release any balance funds to you. All keys for the property and any alarm codes must be given to the estate agents (if any) by 1pm that day. Your solicitor should contact your estate agents and allow them to release the keys. Your solicitor will then release any original deeds, certificates and documents relating to the property along with your signed transfer deed to the buyer’s solicitors.
Buying a property
- Instructions and searches – when you instruct a solicitor to arrange the purchase of a property for you, a new file should be opened and a client care letter and a purchase questionnaire should be sent to you to complete. Your solicitor will normally require a payment on account to cover the cost of any searches (the amount will be set out in your letter) and your evidence of identity. With that completed your solicitor will contact the sellers solicitor to obtain their contract papers.
Once these contract papers arrive and your solicitor has the information listed below, he or she can proceed to check contracts.
- Your formal signed instructions
- Your evidence of identity
- Your payment on account
- The contract papers from the Sellers Solicitor
- Your permission to apply for the property searches. Note that once these have been applied for the cost is non-refundable.
- Reports and Enquiries – Your solicitor will check the contract papers and ask the Seller’s Solicitors some questions. These questions will be usually be dealt with quickly by email where possible and you will be provided with a copy. Your solicitor will then prepare an initial report for you and enclosed with it, a number of documents such as
- A contract
- Transfer of property plan
- Stamp duty land tax form
- Confirmation of approval form for you to sign.
These documents should be clearly marked so that it is evident which of them you will need to return to your solicitor. Should you have any concerns regarding the property or these documents you should raise them with your solicitor. Once the Search results have been received by your solicitor, they will be checked and you should be sent a search report explaining the findings.
Once your mortgage offer is received (if applicable) it will be checked and you should be sent a mortgage report explaining the mortgage in straight forward terms. There will also be a mortgage deed for you to sign which must be witnessed by an independent party (not by your partner or a family member). Your solicitor should check the survey report (if provided) and raise any issues that may be evident within the report. Once you and your solicitor are content with the replies to the questions raised with the sellers solicitor you should be issued with a final report along with a completion statement detailing the balance funds that are required from you.
Once you have provided satisfactory proof of funds (this will include bank statements and any other means of evidence of funds to stipulate where the funds originated from) your solicitor will arrange to take the balance payment from you when that payment has cleared they will discuss a completion date and moving in date with you and the chain, if one applies.
- Exchange of Contracts – Once a date has been discussed and agreed in principle with any chain (if Applicable) your solicitor will apply for your mortgage funds (if applicable). An exchange of contracts can then take place after which the completion date and moving in date will become definite. Once exchange has taken place your contract becomes legally binding and you are free to make your moving in arrangements. Your solicitor should let you know once exchange has occurred and at this point your Buildings Insurance must be in place and your solicitor will require a copy of your buildings insurance. Any final searches will now be carried out and your file will be set up for in preparation for the completion day.
- Completion – On the day of completion (the move date) your solicitor should arrange for your purchase monies to be sent via bank transfer to the sellers solicitors. This means that there is no set time for your keys to be released and for you to arrange collection. Once the sellers solicitor confirms that the money has arrived your solicitor should let you know.
The sellers of the property normally have until 2pm (unless varied) to move out of the property and the keys will either be collected from the estate agents or from the seller directly. At this stage you will become the new owner of the property and your solicitor will apply to the Land Registry to formally arrange for the property to be registered in your name. Your solicitor will also arrange for payment of stamp duty and put in place any policies and serve any necessary notices. Once the property has been formally registered (which will take a few weeks or longer if unregistered) you should receive a copy of the title information document which is usually kept by your solicitor in a deed store for safe keeping.
Purchase of Freehold
If you own the leasehold title of your property the landlord or freeholder may sell their freehold title to you. Should you wish to do this the landlord will arrange for the value of the freehold to be calculated and then you will be given an opportunity to purchase this from them. It is usual practice that you (as the leaseholder) will be responsible for yours and the landlords legal fees and both parties must instruct their own solicitor. Once you own the freehold title you are in essence your own landlord and you are then usually no longer bound by the strict terms of the Lease such as paying ground rent or obtaining the landlords prior consent before making structural alterations or additions to your property.
Re-mortgaging a property
A re-mortgage is the process of paying off one mortgage with the proceeds from a new mortgage using the same property as security. The process of re-mortgaging does not usually involve moving home or taking out a second mortgage on the property as it is in effect the transfer of a mortgage from one lender to another.
Change of ownership
If you currently own a property which is in your name only and you wish to add your partner or another party so they own the property with you, you will require a transfer of equity deed. If you do not have a mortgage this process is straight forward as you will not nered the consent of the mortgage lender. If you have a mortgage on the property you should contact your mortgage lender first to obtain their permission. Each mortgage lender has different processes but usually there will be a form to complete and an administration fee to pay. Once the mortgage lender agrees to the other party joining the current mortgage, you must instruct a conveyancing firm to act on your behalf.
If you own a property jointly and you wish to remove one party’s name from the title you will need a transfer of equity deed. If you do not have a mortgage the process will be straight forward but remember that the same solicitor cannot act for both parties. It is strongly advisable for both parties to seek independent legal advice before proceeding with this process. If there is a mortgage registered against the property you must first obtain the mortgage lenders prior approval for the change and the consent of the party being released their mortgage obligations.