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Do I Need a Conveyancing Solicitor When Buying a House?

11 June 2019

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Buying a new home is one of the most exciting but stressful times in your life. Spending your hard earned savings on the property of your dreams is a huge financial investment, making it essential to use the best conveyancing solicitor possible, to make the process of buying a house as seamless as it can be.

What exactly is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the term used to describe the legal transfer of a property from the seller to the buyer. The process starts from the moment an offer is accepted to when you receive the keys and ends with registration of you as the new owner of the property.

What will a conveyancer do?

A conveyancer, or property solicitor, will be instructed by yourself to ensure the transfer of the property is legally bound. They will:

  • Review the contracts and title documents prepared by the seller
  • Raise enquiries on the paperwork received – such as requesting missing paperwork and certificates, consents and planning permissions. Your solicitor will then advise you on such issues and resolve them before advising you to complete.
  • Conduct property searches and review the results.
  • Review your mortgage offer (if applicable) and report to you on the terms with paperwork to sign.
  • Prepare a full title report on the property you are purchasing and send documents for signature.
  • Assist in the agreement of a completion date to suit all parties in the chain.
  • Exchange contracts and complete your purchase of the property by transferring funds to your sellers’ solicitors.
  • Submit your Stamp Duty Land Tax return to Inland Revenue and submit payment on your behalf (if applicable).
  • Submit an application to Land Registry on your behalf to have you registered as the new owner of the property.
  • Send you a copy of the new title showing you as the new property owner.

What is involved in handling a property contract?

Once your offer has been formally accepted your solicitor will review the draft contract and supporting documents from the vendor’s solicitor. The seller’s contract pack will include the title documents for the property, a Property Information Form (TA6) and a Fittings and Contents List (TA10).

They will raise any issues of concern the solicitor of the seller. Typical enquiries usually relate to ensuring correct paperwork is available such as covenant consent, planning permissions and building regulation consent for works carried out to the property – such as extensions, loft conversions, window and boiler replacement.

It is important to know if your property is leasehold or freehold. Purchasing a leasehold property is more complex. Leasehold means that you do not own the land on which your house or flat is built.  You will instead have the right to occupy the property for a fixed period of years, called “the term”.  Leasehold properties tend to come with a long term lease, typically around 100 plus years. Lease terms can be higher and lower – any lease under 60 years is best avoided.  We will advise of any issues with regard to the lease term as soon as draft contracts are received.

What are property searches and what is involved?

Your conveyancer will complete a number of legal searches to check that there are no hidden issues that may affect you buying the property, including:

  • Local Authority Searches: It is essential that a local authority search is conducted as it includes information such as planning permission applications or breaches, if the property is in a conservation area or is a listed building (which would result in the property being subject to stringent planning controls), or if there are any proposals for new roads or railways that may affect the property.
  • Water Authority Searches: To identify the water supply to the property and if there are any public drains within the property boundaries that could impact plans for an extension or building work.
  • Environmental Search: This report will confirm if there are issues that are likely to be sufficient for the property to be described as “contaminated land” e.g. If the land is prone to flooding, how stable the land is, what current or former industry is nearby and if there is radon gas hazard.
  • Mining Search: This report will indicate if the property has suffered from past, present or future underground coal mining and if there are known coal mining entries within 20 metres of the property.

What is a Property Survey?

Your solicitor or mortgage adviser may also advise you to have a Home Buyers Survey completed. This is an additional cost payable to your chosen surveyor.   A survey is used to assess the property’s condition and will give details of any structural issues and highlight any need for major repairs. A survey isn’t mandatory but can be worth the cost – it may identify essential works are required (such as an electrical re-wiring of an entire home which could cost several thousands of pounds) which may result in a renegotiation of the purchase price.   If the survey reveals extensive structural issues then you may even decide to pull out of buying the property altogether.

There are different types of property survey, varying in cost and their level of detail. They typically cost from £300 for a Condition Report, around £450 for a Home Buyers Report and £500 plus for a Building Survey.

Checking over the details of the mortgage

If you are taking out a mortgage to pay for your new home, your solicitor will receive a copy of the mortgage offer to review the conditions.

Your mortgage provider will carry out a mortgage valuation to ensure that the property is worth the money being loaned to you. Your provider may charge you for this or offer it free of charge to attract you to choose their product.

As soon as contracts on the sale of the property have been exchanged you become responsible for the property. Your mortgage lender will therefore require that you take out buildings insurance on the new property, to cover yourself should anything happen to the property in the interim period.

Signing the Contract

Before you sign the contract your solicitor will ensure that you are happy to enter into a legally binding agreement by checking that:

  • Any disputes and enquiries have been dealt with and resolved.
  • Fixtures and fittings are as expected when you agreed to buy the property.
  • You have agreed on a completion date with the seller.
  • You will transfer the cleared funds to their account (solicitors’ client account) in time for exchange. The deposit is typically 10% of the value of the property, however a reduced deposit can be agreed. If you pull out of buying the property after exchange you will still be liable for paying 10% of the value, even if a reduced deposit has been agreed.

Exchanging Contracts

Contracts will not be exchanged until your solicitor is confident that all issues have been dealt with and you are happy to authorise the exchange.

As soon as all parties in the chain are in a position to exchange, your solicitor will arrange to exchange. Contracts are typically exchanged by telephone.  A paper copy of the contracts will be sent to the seller and the buyer’s solicitor.

Exchange can take place weeks or days before the agreed completion date – or even on the day of completion.

As soon as contracts have been exchanged all parties are legally bound to complete the property sale or purchase on the agreed completion date. If any party pulls out of the transaction there will be financial penalties.

Pre-Completion searches

Once contracts have been exchanged and before completion your solicitor will lodge a priority search with Land Registry.  This means that the property register is frozen for 30 days to give you time to pay the seller, and to lodge your application to the Land Registry to have the property transferred into your name.

Completion Day

Completion day is the day when the money is transferred and you pick up the keys to your new home. Completion usually takes place on a weekday when banks are open for the money to transfer and solicitors are at hand.

Post completion

After you have completed the process of buying and moving into your new home your solicitor will:

  • Pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (if required – first time buyers are exempt from paying stamp duty when purchasing a property up to the value of £300K) on your behalf.
  • Submit an application to Land Registry to have you registered as the new owner.
  • Send a copy of the new title register to you and your mortgage lender.
  • If you have purchased a leasehold property, your solicitor will send notice of the purchase to the freeholder so they have your contact details for future payments of ground rent and service charge.

Choosing the right property solicitor

When hiring the services of a conveyancing solicitor to purchase your new home it is important to use a law firm that offers you expert legal advice and a proactive service at a fixed cost. TRUE Solicitors residential property team offer fixed fee, stress free conveyancing, with a ‘no completion, no fee’ guarantee.

Click here for a free, no obligation conveyancing estimate.

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