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Search for my bill

I have been checking my solicitor's invoice after buying my new home. Can you explain what a local authority search is?

J Bradshaw

Moulton, Northamptonshire

It is an investigation carried out by your solicitor to uncover any information held in council records which affects the property you intend to buy. For example, it may reveal that an extension on the property has been built in breach of buildings regulations or planning permission. It will also pick up whether the nearest road is maintained by the council or if any road widening is planned. The search will not provide any information about proposals affecting neighbouring properties

Saturday sale

I have recently changed jobs which has meant a move to London. Finding a flat wasn't difficult, but work commitments and preparations for the move meant I had little spare time in the week. Why does completion have to take place between Monday and Friday, when many people would find it a lot easier to sort out at the weekend?

Kay Singleton

London E8

When the mortgage funds are transferred to the seller's solicitor or conveyancer, the buyer and the lender expect to get a vacant property on the same day. Financial institutions are not able to transfer money electronically at the weekend, so this transaction needs to be completed on a weekday. This does not mean that you have to physically move in on this day. You can wait until a weekend if it would be more convenient.

Marsh for sale

The farmer whose land is next to mine has asked if I would sell him an area of marshland on the edge of my property. Do I need to let my mortgage company know? If I do, what other information would they require?

Peter Robinson

Consett, Durham

Yes, you will require your lender's consent, under the terms of the mortgage, to sell or exchange land.

Your first step should be to instruct a solicitor to undertake the work involved, to make sure that everything is done by the book. The lender will also consider whether the deal will adversely affect the value of your property.

They will also look at the size of the plot and its sale price, and will probably request a plan showing the land to be sold. At this stage they may request a re-valuation of the property taking into account the changes included in the proposed sale or exchange.

Finally, the equity margin after the sale will be considered, and a decision made. Depending on the terms of your mortgage, you may have to put all, or part of, the proceeds towards paying off some of the outstanding mortgage.

What happens next?

I am in the middle of the process of buying a house and would like to know what actually happens when contracts are exchanged.

J Hawkins

Whitstable, Kent

The legal formalities of buying and selling properties usually fall into two parts - those leading up to exchange of contracts and those following exchange up to completion of the transaction.

In the first instance, up to the exchange of contacts, two identical contracts are drawn up, one to be signed by the buyer and the other to be signed by the seller. When everything has been agreed and both sides are ready to commit themselves to sell and to buy, the two signed contracts are dated and swapped over between the conveyancers. At this point the contract becomes binding, which means you are legally obliged to purchase or sell the property. At the same time the date for completing the transaction is agreed. Completion is the date when the keys and deeds are handed over in return for the sale money, allowing you to move in.

George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

Send your queries on practical property issues to: Home Truths, Travel & Money, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL Fax: 0171-293 2043; e-mail: