Once an offer is made and accepted, the respective parties nominate their solicitors. The solicitors handle all the legal stuff, including the buyer’s solicitor doing a ‘search’ with the local council. This search should tell the buyer if there are any planned works in the area, so they can back out if it turns out there’s a major highway being put in front of their house or some other major undesirable in the pipeline. Again, there is no timeframe on this process. Search times vary depending on council and workflow. In our case, Tower Hamlets were working on a 3- working day (ie 6 week) backlog, so we wanted them put in immediately. Annoyingly, sellers have no way to confirm when this is done, and a combination of our seller and her solicitor each being away on holiday as well as national bank holidays meant we spent 2 weeks anxiously wondering whether these had been submitted. We’d initially told the estate agent, buyer and solicitors we were targeting a move date of mid-July, which would allow us to be out of London before Olympic chaos set in, but still give us a week or two to pack up the flat after we finished work on 3rd July. Thankfully by mid-May, we finally heard the searches had been put in (and were due back in the next week or two), as otherwise completion would easily slip into at least August. Phew!
During this time, we also had to obtain a pre-sales pack from our building’s managing agent. In the UK, land is either ‘freehold’ (ie owned by the person who owns the building) or ‘leasehold’ (ie owned by someone else, but leases on the land are typically upwards of 100 yrs). Because we live in a shared building (flats/condos), our land is a ‘share of leasehold’ – that is, we share the lease (originally 125 yrs, with 96 yrs remaining) with all the other flat owners in the building. Subsequently, an association is formed of all homeowners which determines the covenants for the building and we each pay about 10 quid a year to ‘rent’ the land. All of this, as well as collecting a hefty monthly fee for each flat to cover insurance, maintenance and salaries for our porter and gardener, is managed by a professional property manager. Said manager, in addition to their monthly fee, seems to do fairly well out of the buying and selling process. They are paid an additional fee for the effort to print off some documents – financials, notices of works, etc. – and post them to the solicitor. The fee was a bit of an annoyance to discover(particularly knowing the buyer will also have to pay another fee after completion to cover things like connecting the main door buzzer to her telephone and getting a certificate to say she owns part of the building), but it is what it is.
Thankfully, because of the ‘demand’ for flats like ours in our location, we didn’t need to entertain the concept of a ‘chain’. A chain is what happens when one or more of the parties is buying and selling a home concurrently, and one is dependent on the other. At any point in the process, one of the sales could fall through, and cause delays or cancellations to the other parts. In the States, offers can be made ‘contingent to the sale of another home’, but there is a date specified at which point said property must be sold, otherwise the buyer must proceed to buy anyway or call it off. None of this waiting until the last minute to breathe relief malarkey.
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