Buying a house can be a complex process, and it’s important to ask the right questions as part of the conveyancing process so that you don’t end up with any surprises down the road.
Conveyancing is the legal process of transferring ownership of a property from one person to another, which is why it’s important to make enquiries about the property before you buy.
With our experience of buying and selling several houses, we take a closer look at the type of enquiries that your conveyancing solicitor will undertake – and why.
What are enquiries when buying a house?
Enquiries, which are also known as conveyancing enquiries, describe the part of the conveyancing process that sees a buyer’s solicitor asking questions of the house seller.
This is a normal part of the process to find out whether there are any potential issues with the property before contracts are exchanged.
The process takes place in two stages:
- Once the buyer’s conveyancing solicitor receives the draft contract, along with the property seller’s information form, a copy of the deeds, and the surveyor’s report, they will check the papers carefully and ask questions (if required).
- The searches will then be ordered for the property once the solicitor is happy – and if there are issues from the searches then more enquiries will be made with the seller.
Only after both stages have been completed satisfactorily will the buyer’s conveyancing solicitor move forward with the contract exchange and completion process.
How long does raising enquiries take?
The time it takes to raise enquiries can depend on several factors. If the house is being sold by a company or is a probate property, for example, then there may be more documentation to go through which could slow down the process.
Enquiries can also take longer if there are any potential problems with the property that need to be investigated further. For example, the buyer’s solicitor may not be happy with an answer given by the seller.
However, as a rule, the enquiries phase usually takes between one and four weeks – and up to eight weeks – to complete the process. This includes the time it takes to exchange contracts and for the buyer to move into the property.
When we bought our last house, the enquiries stage took quite a bit longer than usual, because the seller converted the loft space. They did have planning permission, but changed things after this was granted.
This meant they had to reapply to get covered for the changes they made. This caused some confusion, because the paperwork looked like they didn’t have planning permission.
An added complication was that they didn’t install extractor fans in the en-suite bathrooms, which was a requirement for planning permission. It got so confusing that we had to contact the council ourselves to understand what was going on.
In the end, we could establish that the loft conversion had planning permission, but to get the final certificate, we had to install the vents in the bathrooms and get it checked by a planning officer.
Our mortgage company also made it a requirement of the mortgage that the extractor fans were installed and a building regulation certificate was issued within 6 months of us moving in. So the impact can go beyond delaying the conveyancing process!
So if you are planning to do an extension, make sure you get all the permissions and certificates you need, as this will ensure that when you come to sell the house, there won’t be any delays at the enquiries stage.
What type of enquiries are raised when buying a house?
The types of enquiries raised will depend on the property itself and the buyer’s requirements.
However, there are some common enquiries that are often raised during the conveyancing process, which include:
- Questions about the property’s title and deeds;
- Checking whether there is anything attached to the property that could affect its value (such as a right of way);
- Asking for proof that the vendor has the right to sell the property;
- Enquiries about any planning permission that has been granted for the property;
- Checking whether there are any outstanding repairs that need to be carried out on the property;
- Asking for confirmation that all services (such as gas, electricity, and water) are connected.
The bottom line is that enquiries are a normal and essential part of the conveyancing process, so don’t be alarmed if your solicitor asks you to sign off on a few of them.
Depending on your property, you might not even see these enquiries. When we sold our first home, everything was straight forward. So the solicitor could answer all the enquiries without us.
However, most sales aren’t straight forward. In our experience, the best way to ensure that enquiries don’t prolong the process is to have all relevant documents together and sent to your solicitor.
If you know that there might be an issue, such as not having had planning permission for an extension, talk to your solicitor and ask how it can be resolved. It could be a simple thing like taking out insurance, which isn’t expensive.
We have done that before in order to prevent it becoming an issue that might prolong this stage of the process.
Will I have to pay for enquiries?
In most cases, the fees for enquiries are paid by the buyer as part of their solicitor’s conveyancing fee.
This means, if you’re paying your solicitor by the hour, the more enquiries there are, the more it will cost you.
Are enquiries just like searches?
No – there is a big difference between searches and enquiries.
Enquiries are questions that your solicitor will ask the seller about the property. Searches, on the other hand, are carried out by local councils or other organisations to check for any potential problems with the property, such as whether it is at risk of flooding, if there is a new road being planned for the area, or even a potential mine collapse.
However, sometimes enquiries will be linked to the results of a search if the solicitor needs more information about what the search has shown up.
What enquiries are necessary?
The types of enquiries made will differ from property to property and depend on several factors, such as:
- The type of property;
- Its location;
- The age of the property;
- Whether the property is leasehold or freehold;
- The condition of the property.
Your solicitor should be able to advise you as to which enquiries are essential and which you could potentially let slide. Though you’ll likely find they advise to raise all enquiries anyway to be safe.
If you ask them not to raise an enquiry, they may ask you to sign a waiver to confirm you understand the risks but have decided to ignore their advice.
Do you need a conveyancing solicitor for enquiries?
You are not legally required to use a conveyancing solicitor when buying a house, but the process can be complicated, and we would always recommend using one.
Using the best conveyancing solicitor will make sure that all the necessary enquiries are made on your behalf and will offer you peace of mind that the process is being handled by a professional.
Not having a conveyancing solicitor means you may not make the right enquiries about the home you want to buy.
In our experience, buying a house can involve complex issues. Things like planning permissions or building regulations can be complicated and without an experienced solicitor you might miss important issues.
Not only can these be costly, but it could ruin your dream home.
What questions will a buyer’s solicitor ask the house seller?
The questions asked will depend on the type of property being bought, but they may include:
- What fixtures and fittings are included in the sale?
- What is the current situation with any planning permissions or building regulations?
- What is the state of repair of the property?
- Are there any outstanding repairs that need to be carried out?
- What is the history of the property?
- Have there been any disputes with neighbours?
- What are the boundaries of the property?
- What is the length of the lease (if applicable)?
- What are the service charges and ground rent (if applicable)?
The list of questions is not exhaustive but gives an idea of the type of information that a buyer’s solicitor may need from the seller.
It’s important to note that the onus is on the house seller to provide accurate and up-to-date information in response to any enquiries. They have a legal obligation to be honest – or face legal action in the future from the buyer.
In our experience, there are certain enquiries that can be a stumble block. These include the lack of relevant certificates for works carried out, such as FENSA certificates for replaced windows or certificates for electrical work.
After buying our first home, we refurbished the bathroom and put electrical underfloor heating in. The workman who did it wasn’t a certified electrician. So we didn’t get a certificate to show that the work was carried out according to regulations.
We were young and didn’t have much knowledge about these things. But when we came to tell the house, it came back to bite us. We had to get a certified electrician in to check the work and provide us with a certificate.
Of course, this came at a cost. So take it from us, it is very important that you always get qualified tradesmen in to undertake any work for you and make sure you get these important certificates.
However, most of the answers should be on the property seller’s information form.
What is the property seller’s information form?
The property seller’s information form (TA6) is a document that contains information about the property being sold. It should include things like:
- A description of the property;
- The full address, including postcode;
- The asking price;
- What fixtures and fittings are included in the sale.
The form should also include information about any planning permission or building regulation consents that have been granted, as well as any disputes with neighbours.
The property seller’s information form is an important document as it forms the basis of the contract between the buyer and the seller.
The information on the form must be accurate and up to date since the buyer will be relying on it when making their purchase.
If you’re selling a property, it’s important to get professional help to ensure that your property seller’s information form is accurate – and honest!
Your conveyancing solicitor can help with this, as well as advising you on any other legal aspects of selling your property.
We’ve always found ourselves checking our responses with our solicitor before we send the form back. Often there’s a certificate missing or something we are not sure on. Since our solicitor is there to act in our best interests, we always knew we would get honest reliable advice.
Why is it important to make enquiries before you buy a property?
Making enquiries is an important part of the conveyancing process, as it helps to ensure that there are no potential problems with the property before contracts are exchanged.
It also gives the buyer peace of mind that they are getting what they expect from the purchase.
Asking questions also allows the buyer to find out more about the property and its history. For example, if the property is leasehold, the buyer will need to know how long the lease has left to run.
They will also need to be aware of any service charges or ground rent that may be payable.
What happens if you don’t make enquiries before buying a property?
If you don’t make enquiries before buying a property, you could end up with a property that doesn’t meet your requirements.
For example, if you’re not aware of the length of the lease, you could find yourself having to move out of the property sooner than you expected.
You could also end up paying more in service charges and ground rent than you anticipated.
Making enquiries is an important part of the conveyancing process, so you must take the time to do it properly.
From our experience we can tell you that failing to make enquiries could also be costly. One of the houses we bought had an extension that didn’t have planning permission. We asked our solicitor what the consequences of this could be.
He said that the council could order us to demolish the extension as it was built without permission. If that was to happen, we would have to pay for the demolishing and the rebuilding it after we received planning permission.
Not only would that be very costly, it would also mean a lot of upheaval. And if planning permission wouldn’t be granted, we would lose the extension, which would likely affect the value of the house.
While such a scenario is rather unlikely, as most councils wouldn’t request this, it is a possibility, and it is important that you are aware of it. You can protect yourself against the cost, by taking out an insurance. Or request that the seller take it out.
These insurances aren’t expensive because the likelihood of it being needed is low. However, it does give you peace of mind that if it happens, at least you don’t have to worry about the costs. We decided to take out the insurance as protection.
Will my solicitor advise me on whether to purchase the property?
After making enquiries, your conveyancer is not obliged to advise you on whether to purchase the property.
However, they should give you an honest opinion on whether the property is suitable for your needs.
They will also be able to answer any questions you have about the conveyancing process.
Why does the enquiries part of conveyancing take so long?
The enquiry part of conveyancing can take some time because there are a lot of different things that need to be checked.
For example, your solicitor will need to check the title deeds to make sure that the property is freehold or leasehold.
In our experience, there are several reasons why the enquires stage can take longer. But one of the most common is unprepared or unorganised sellers.
If a seller doesn’t have all their documents and certificates in order, it could take longer for them to answer the queries the buyer’s solicitor makes. We have had it where the seller even gave up and said they didn’t know and provided all the information they had.
This is obviously a problem, because unless the enquiry is solved satisfactorily the solicitor will advise the buyer not to go ahead with the sale unless there is something the buyer could do, like taking out insurance.
We ended up contacting the planning department of the council ourselves to try and figure out what the situation was and how we can resolve it.
Can I speed up the enquiries process?
There are several things you can do to speed up the enquiry process. For example, you can:
- Check that all the information on the property seller’s information form is accurate;
- Ask your solicitor to chase up any outstanding enquiries;
- Make sure you have all the necessary documentation ready;
- Be responsive to any requests for information from your solicitor.
Following these tips should help to speed up the enquiry process and help you to move into your new home as soon as possible.
In our experience as a seller, the best way to speed up this process is by being organised This means you have all the relevant documentation and passed it on to your solicitor.
If there is anything missing, such as a certificate, try and get it. Either by contacting the workman who carried out the work initially or by asking another qualified professional to check the work and issue you with a certificate.
As a buyer, there isn’t too much you can do. We found that asking our solicitor to chase for outstanding enquiries can help, but there is only so much they can do. If they don’t get a reply, there is no way for them to force one.
However, one thing we found did help was having direct contact with the seller. Putting pressure directly on them most of the time yielded the desired effect.
Especially if we pointed out that our buyer was getting pushy and that we needed to progress this sale, otherwise we might lose our buyer. This worked for us. However, you have to be careful not to push too hard and it helps if you have built a good relationship with your seller.
The conveyancing process: what are enquiries when buying a house?
Overall, the conveyancing process can be complex and lengthy. One of the key steps is making enquiries.
Enquiries are questions that you need to ask about the property to check that it meets your requirements. It is important to make enquiries before buying a property so that you are aware of any potential problems and that you are getting what you expect from the purchase.
Your conveyancing solicitor can help you with making enquiries and advise you on any other legal aspects of buying a property. This can be a crucial part of buying a home you love – or buying one that you regret.
This article is intended as general guidance, and you should always speak to a conveyancing solicitor for specific advice on your circumstances.