Buying a home: Getting a solicitor
When buying your first home, you’ll need the help of a legal specialist. This could either be a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer. So, what do solicitors and conveyancers do? When do you need them? And how do you find a good one?
Conveyancing is the legal transfer of home ownership from the seller to the buyer. Your property solicitor or conveyancer is a specialist professional who takes care of all the legal paperwork involved in transferring a property from one person to another.
While reading about the home-buying process, you may see the terms ‘solicitor’ and ‘conveyancer’ used interchangeably. There is a difference though:
- Licensed conveyancers are specialists in property, but may not be able to help with more complex legal issues.
- Solicitors are legally qualified, and can help with both conveyancing and any other legal issues which may arise. However, they’re likely to be more expensive.
A solicitor or conveyancer will fulfil a number of important roles in the home-buying process.
They’ll deal with the details of the contracts, request a draft contract from the seller’s conveyancer or solicitor, get copies of the seller’s title documents (which show legal proof of ownership), and the property’s fixtures and contents form – which tells you what the house comes with, and what it doesn’t. Your solicitor will also deal with your mortgage lender, and sometimes carry out legal work on their behalf. Finally they’ll handle the exchange of contracts, and the completion of the buying process.
Find out information from the seller
Your solicitor will ask the seller questions which might reveal whether there are any issues with the property. For example, this may bring to light any boundary disputes. They’ll keep a record of the responses, which may be useful if in future you find the property has been misrepresented to you.
Carry out searches
To further make sure everything’s above board with the property, a solicitor or conveyancer will do a bit of research. Your solicitor or conveyancer will carry out various searches to check things like whether the property is connected to sewers, who owns any access roads, whether the land its built on is contaminated, and whether there’s anything you need to know about like nearby new road schemes or enforcement actions the local council are taking. Each of these searches will come with a fee, which the solicitor will usually collect upfront.
Deal with HM Land Registry
When the sale is completed your solicitor or conveyancer will register your details with the Land Registry to register your ownership of the house. The cost depends on how much the property is worth. Land and property are dealt with by HM Land Registry in England and Wales, Registers of Scotland in Scotland, and Land and Property Services in Northern Ireland. The cost of the searches (and registration) are fixed, and they’re important because they help you understand all the information about the property before you commit to buying it.
Provide you with legal advice
If any legal issues arise, then a solicitor is qualified to provide you with advice. This can be really helpful, and not something you’ll necessarily be able to get if you choose to hire a conveyancer.
Transfer the money to pay for your property
Your solicitor deals with the financial transactions including the transfer of funds for the property, and payment of stamp duty in England or Land Transaction Tax in Wales, if you need to pay them.
The process of conveyancing begins after the offer you’ve made on the property has been accepted.
The sooner you can exchange contracts after having your offer accepted, the less likely you are to be ‘gazumped’. This is when you’ve already had your offer accepted, but the seller accepts a higher offer from someone else.
So it’s not a bad idea to have your solicitor or conveyancer lined up already, to prevent any delays. If you have someone ready to go, they can begin their work more quickly once you have an offer accepted.
It’s worth taking a time to do your research. Take advantage of ratings, reviews, and recommendations from people you trust – like friends, family, your mortgage advisor, or your broker. Bear in mind your lender may have an approved list of solicitors they deal with.
Choosing a solicitor local to the property you’re buying might mean they have better knowledge of the area – but you’re not obligated to do this. Your solicitor can be based anywhere in the country.
Before you choose which solicitor or conveyancer to use, get some quotes and compare prices. Some may charge a single fee, others may charge an hourly rate, and some may even ask for a percentage of the property value.