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House buying enquiries – what are they and how long do they take?

By Sarah Cookson

Published In: Residential Conveyancing

When you buy a house your solicitor will raise enquiries, but what are they and how important are they can often be a mystery. Sarah Cookson demystifies the role conveyancing enquiries play in the house buying process.

couple hugging, keys in hand and boxes in background.

What are enquiries?

When you buy a property part of the sale and purchase process includes conveyancing enquiries (sometimes called pre-contract enquiries). These enquiries are asked to learn more about the property, so you know what it is you are buying. These enquiries are asked (or raised) buy the buyer’s solicitor and answered by the seller’s solicitor.

By raising enquiries, you can be sure you know what you are buying and that you won’t stumble across any unplanned costs when you move into your new home. This process can take a while as questions go back and forth but it is an important step in the process. It is really important that this is done thoroughly though so you know what you are buying before you’re legally tied to the purchase.


What enquiries are asked?

Below are some of the necessary and most common enquiries raised:

  • Confirming the property’s boundaries and who’s responsible for maintaining them
  • Questions about the property’s title and deeds
  • Checking if there’s been any building work done and that it had the necessary planning permission, this ensures that you don’t get caught up in a legal battle at a later date for work you didn’t do
  • Making sure you are connected to gas, electric and water
  • Disputes - are there any disputes or any complaints about the property, this can be a large tree overhanging a neighbours property
  • Easements and covenants - does anyone else have a right of way through your property, or are there any restrictions on what you can do with the property? It also checks that you have the right of way on your property and that services like gas and electrics are properly supplied to the property
  • Environmental enquiries – making sure the land the property is on hasn’t had any previous contamination that could affect your enjoyment of your new home
  • Fixtures and fittings - this is listing out what is included in the sale, for example curtain poles, a freestanding dishwasher. You may agree with the current property owner when you visit the property that they’ll leave the fridge, but this needs to be agreed in your contracts otherwise it’s not guaranteed, and you could be left without a fridge
  • Leasehold enquiries – for a leasehold home we check how long the lease has left. We ensure that you know and understand who is responsible for what as defined by the lease, for example in a flat it may be that all flat owners in the building are responsible for the maintenance of the roof
  • Local authority searches – this lets us check if there are any planning permissions submitted that could affect the property e.g., a new through road being planned at the end of the back garden would create a lot of noise that you would want to know about
  • Ownership verification - ensuring the seller legally owns the property and can sell it
  • Structural enquiries – finding out if there are any known structural issues (such as damp)

When do we raise enquiries?

Typically, enquiries are raised after an offer has been accepted and a draft contract has been sent by the sellers solicitor. Alongside the draft contract is the property’s title deeds. Normally this is early on in the process and should happen before contracts are exchanged so you can ensure you know what you are buying. After the contract, deeds and other paperwork about the property is sent by the sellers solicitor we review all the paperwork and then begin asking our questions.

When we receive the contracts we’ll also ask for the searches to be carried out on the property being bought. This includes the local authority, environmental, drainage and any other searches that are needed based on location, for example this might include a mining search. If the searches bring anything up, then we’ll ask more questions and continue until all queries are satisfied.

When the buyer is happy with all of the answers on their property, we begin the next steps (e.g., checking the mortgage offer). After all this is completed, we can exchange contracts.


How long do enquiries take?

This is a time-consuming process and takes a lot of back and forth between the two sides. If you are buying in a chain (where someone is buying your property, you are buying the next property and they are buying another property and so on) then this can take even longer as it relies on everyone communicating effectively. However, this is what we as conveyancing solicitors deal with day in day out and we’re experienced in the process which does help speed it up.

Although this is slow a good conveyancer will keep you in the loop about progress. We’ll also answer any questions you have as we go. Our focus is making your house buying a success and ensuring you get the best out of your property.


What if enquiries raise something I don’t like?

Thankfully this is an uncommon occurrence. However, in some instances you may want to renegotiate the price being paid if you know you will have to pay for something to be fixed when you move in. In others there may be things negotiated in the contract. In the worst case scenario, you may decide you no longer want to buy the house and the process begins again when you find another property.


How long after enquiries to exchange contracts?

This is a very varied timescale. In many cases it can happen in a week or two, but if the mortgage offer is slow to come back then this can cause a delay. We will always keep you in the loop about this stage ensuring you know where we are in the process and if there are any delays you need to prepare for.

Want to know more or ready to start your house buying journey? Just give us a ring on 0800 138 0458 or contact us through our website

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Sarah has over 20 years’ experience as a Solicitor. She is also a Director and Head of our Residential Conveyancing team.

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