Why has the relatively simple act of buying and selling a house seemingly become so complicated, involving umpteen forms and questionnaires?
I started my working life in a London solicitors’ office in the 1950s and was employed in its conveyancing department.
If memory serves me right, we started off with an abstract of title, which was basically a precis of all the deeds and documents relating to the property. Obviously with a new property, this would not be the case. Stage two would be a printed form of contract to be approved by the purchaser’s solicitor. Stage three would be a draft conveyance; once again for approval or alteration by the purchaser’s solicitor.
Meanwhile, we dealt with preliminary enquiries and the purchaser’s solicitor would send out local searches to be completed by county, borough or city councils. These would indicate, among other things, whether there were any future planning matters which would affect the property. During this time, contracts were exchanged and eventually the conveyance was ‘engrossed’, which meant it was transferred to a formal document, on very heavy paper, often with a linen plan sewn into the document.
There was a printed scale of charges, so clients would be aware of the financial implications of the transaction.
The purchaser might have employed a surveyor to ensure that the property was in a fit state and would probably also have a mortgage which would be dealt with by the solicitor. Finally, completion took place, with documents signed and cheques handed over.
Nowadays we have to deal with endless questions about energy rating, energy providers, sewers, insulation of the property, proximity of telegraph poles and even chancel repair liability – the list is endless. In my case, as executor of an estate, I had had to furnish the purchaser’s solicitor with proof of my identity, including photo ID.
My question, therefore, is why, in this electronic age, has conveyancing become so complex? And, being a bit of an old cynic, I do wonder if solicitors benefit financially from this long, drawn-out process.
Janet Turner, Frome, Somerset