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Post-Brexit Conveyancing: What Certainties Remain?

No one would claim the UK’s Brexit referendum vote, to leave the European Union (EU), created immediate political and economic stability across the country. We’ve watched weeks of high-profile political ‘musical chairs’ and the game may not be over yet. In the residential property market, experts are still divided on the long-term impact of Brexit. (In fact, many experts – from estate agents to mortgage advisers – are still divided on the short-term impact of Brexit.) The Bank of England this month referenced survey data pointing to a “significant weakening in expected activity” in the housing market since the referendum. If the property market is indeed quieter than usual this summer, is now a good time to buy? Are buyers in strong negotiating positions?

28 July 2016
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In the midst of the uncertainty, don’t panic. Even in a post-Brexit world, the fundamental principles of good conveyancing – the legal process of transferring property from one owner to another owner – will remain true. If you are planning to buy residential property, therefore, here are seven points to remember:

  • Engage a solicitor. If problems emerge, you will need the correct legal paperwork. Remarkably, first-time buyers have been known to start down the road of buying a property without realising the need for conveyancing. Buying a home without help from an experienced and skilled conveyancing solicitor is extremely risky.
  • Take thorough precautions to understand the condition of the property you are considering buying. Inspect your potential future home carefully. Don’t be afraid to be difficult. Run taps. Flush toilets. If new or used kitchen appliances are included in the purchase, check they work. For peace of mind, you should also hire a specialist surveyor to identify any problems with your potential new home, such as structural issues or damp. If problems do emerge, but you still want to buy the property, you should feel entitled to negotiate on price.
  • Ensure your solicitor carries out ‘searches’ (enquiries with authorities) into issues that might affect the property, such as flood risk or planning constraints.
  • If buying a new-build home, employ a professional ‘snagging’ inspector. (‘Snagging’ is the process of identifying and resolving defects in a building.) Do not assume the property developer has carried out comprehensive snagging. That assumption could be a frustrating and expensive mistake. You have just spent a six- or seven-figure sum on a new home. Why is the paintwork damaged? Why does that door stick? Why don’t the window locks work? Snagging is an all-too-common source of conflict between buyers and property developers. Your conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise you on how best to approach matters around snagging.
  • Check if the tenure of the property (essentially meaning how the property is owned) is, for example, leasehold (effectively a fixed term of ownership of a property) or freehold (basically permanent and absolute ownership of a property or land).
  • If you don’t trust the seller, think twice. Your instincts are probably right. Look elsewhere. There are always other options. Better to walk away from that particular property than to make a regrettable, irreversible commitment.
  • When signed contracts have been exchanged between buyer and seller, they become legally binding. If you then pull out of the deal, there may be heavy financial penalties.

Your home may well be the most expensive purchase you ever make. With thorough planning and a good conveyancing solicitor on your side, though, your home can also be the best purchase you ever make.

If you have any concerns regarding your property, contact our property conveyancing team for more advice and guidance from expert solicitors.