Do I Need a Solicitor To Buy A House?

As a property investor, it’s always tempting to save money by doing as much of the work ourselves. I’m no stranger to a spot of painting and decorating, and you might be wondering if you can also save money by investing without a solicitor, do you actually need one to buy a house?

It is not a legal requirement you appoint a solicitor when buying a property, but it is highly recommended you use a qualified professional to complete the process as efficiently as possible.

Unless you happen to be a qualified solicitor, I’d strongly suggest not going down the DIY route, in the long run it could lead to the overall process taking much longer, and potentially costing more if things go wrong.

Natalie Bradley, partner in the conveyancing department at Stephensons:

“Buying a property is the biggest investment many of us will ever make and often an incredibly complex one, with lots of legal hurdles to overcome. It’s crucial therefore that it all goes smoothly. Purchasing a property without the expert assistance of a solicitor or conveyancer would be extremely difficult and if you aren’t a cash buyer, impossible, given mortgage lenders insist you use a professional to protect their interests.

“It’s important to remember that if you do your own conveyancing and something goes wrong, you won’t be covered for any losses. If you use a professional conveyancer, or solicitor you’ll be covered by their professional insurance.”

Contact Stephensons for a conveyancing quote.

And you absolutely should have one if your purchasing situation is a little unusual, for example you’re purchasing with someone else, or you’re gaining the finances required from an individual rather than bank.

When it comes to property sales you’re best using a “Conveyance Solicitor”, a specific solicitor qualified to handle the legal matters involved with property ownership transfer.

What is conveyancing?

When making a property transaction, you go through the process of conveyancing, but what does that mean?

Conveyancing is the process of transferring the ownership of a property from one person to another. The person transferring the property is called the conveyor and the person receiving the property is called the receiver.

As with any legal process, conveyancing can be very complicated, and you’ll find there are specialist solicitors who only deal with this area of work, but will likely work alongside others who deal with other areas of law.

What does a conveyancing solicitor do?

Appointing a specialist is a good investment, a conveyancing service will help with:

  • Assist in arranging a mortgage;
  • Dealing with the Land Registry;
  • Drawing up contracts and confirming the purchase price;
  • Liaising with other parties’ solicitor;
  • Liaising with estate agents;
  • Transfer cash between parties;
  • Ensuring legal transfer of ownership of the property passes from the seller to the buyer.

The checks carried out by a conveyancing solicitor are vital as they provide you with the information you will eventually need when it’s time to sell the property.

Conveyancing solicitor conducting land search.

From first-time buyers to seasoned investors, everyone can benefit from professional legal advice.  There are so many questions that arise around stamp duty, the draft contract, results from a property search, communication with mortgage lenders and so on that having an expert in your team can help reduce the stress of the process.

Keep in mind that licensed conveyancers are there to assist with the transaction, they’re not there to give you financial advice on areas such as if you’re paying a good purchase price. 

Generally, sales go ahead very smoothly, but I’m always very glad to have an experienced solicitor on the team for those times problems occur.

When things go wrong!

It is always useful to have a solicitor on your side when things go wrong or take an unexpected turn.

We were selling our residential property during a very buoyant market. We had 1 viewing and they said they would give £10K over the asking price if we didn’t let anyone else see the property. We had already found our dream property so we agreed.

It was all going well but they were delaying getting the survey done on our property. We started to get concerned at this point. We were getting very close to the exchange date when they finally booked the survey.

The survey came back with a slight issue with the porch and the gable wall. We then went out and got our own reports done. There was nothing really wrong with them but we had a few things done.

Needless to say, we were shocked when on the day before the exchange the solicitor called us to say the buyers wanted £20K off the asking price due to the issues with the porch and the gable wall. We were absolutely fuming! It was obviously a tactical move that they had been planning.

We were very close to telling them that the sale was off but our estate agent reminded us about the great house we were buying and we could lose it if we didn’t go ahead. We negotiated and agreed to take £12K off the asking price. This left a bitter taste in our mouths but at least we were able to go through with the purchase and buy our new home.

Funnily enough, they had said that the porch was about to fall down and would need to be totally replaced. 5 years on and the same porch is still standing!

Buying and selling property is such an emotional and stressful process. I think it’s important to have a solicitor on your side in case any issues crop up during the sale.

Do I need a solicitor to buy a BTL property?

Buying a buy to let property follows a similar process to the purchase of your residential home, so my advice remains the same, while you don’t legally need a solicitor to purchase a BTL property, it’s in your interest to use one.

The saying time is money is very true in the property investment business, the longer you’re tied up at the purchase stage the longer the wait to gain an income.

How much does it cost to use a Conveyancing Solicitor?

Unfortunately, there is no set answer, it depends on the cost of the transaction, the location, and how complicated the conveyancing process is.

Expect to pay £850 to £1500 to a specialist conveyancing solicitor to complete the transfer.

FEEAMOUNTBUYINGSELLING
Anti-money laundering checks£6 – £20xx
Bankruptcy search£4x
Title deeds copy£6x
Local authority searches£250-450x
Property fraud check£10x
Transferring of ownership£200 – £300x
Bank transfer fees£20 – £30x
Stamp Duty Land Tax0-12%x
Help to Buy supplement£200 – £300x
Gifted deposit£50 – £100x
Lifetime/Help to Buy ISA£60x
Average conveyancing feesBetween £850 and £1,500
Source – Home Owners Alliance

To find out more, contact our expert at Stephensons Solicitors to discuss your situation.

Alternatively, you can gain recommendations from family or friends on who to use. Estate agents often have recommendations as well, people they know will complete the transfer quickly and efficiently.

Keep in mind the estate agent is acting on behalf of the seller and will likely have provided them with their top recommendation. Still, they want the sales to be completed quickly and painlessly and should either give you a good contact or say the seller is already using the person they’d recommend.

How long does conveyancing take?

Making use of an expert can mean the entire process can be wrapped up in just 4 weeks. This assumes there are no complex issues and that there is no chain involved.

Unfortunately, where complex issues arise, or delays are caused by the sellers, this time can be extended up to 18+ months! But that is very unusual.

Do it Yourself conveyancing

I really don’t recommend this option, but if you decide you’d like to try it yourself these are the areas you’ll need to cover:

  • Obtain copies of the seller’s registered title and property plan;
  • Conduct a Local Authority search to learn about issues relating to the property and the surrounding area, from planning and building permission to conservation area status and tree preservation orders;
  • Conduct environmental searches to learn about any toxic substances in the ground beneath a property from past industrial use;
  • Conduct a water authority search to locate the source of water for the property, and whether any public water infrastructure exists on the plot.
  • Conduct Land Registry searches to verify the legal owner of the property and check for onerous provisions or restrictions
  • Review and approve the draft contract of sale
  • Arrange for the exchange of contracts
  • Arrange for the exchange of funds once contract exchanged

You can see now why I recommend consulting an expert to do this work on your behalf! It is a very complex process and you need to understand all the steps involved. Also, a lot of lenders will insist that you hire a conveyancing solicitor too. It could end in disaster if you have not spotted something, like a boundary dispute for example.

Should I wait for mortgage offer before instructing a solicitor?

Assuming you’re not cash buyers, and you plan to appoint licensed conveyancers, you might be wondering when you should hire a solicitor.

You should hire a solicitor when you begin your property searches.  If you wait until the point you’ve made an offer the delay could give others the opportunity to gazump you.

In my experience, people looking to sell a house are looking to complete the process as quickly as possible.  If you can minimise any part of the process, it will work in your favour.

Keep in mind the mortgage application process can also take time.  The good news is that you can get pre-approval for a mortgage without actually applying for one.

In order to get pre-approved for a mortgage, you need to fill out a simple application form. You then need to provide information about your income, savings, debts, and credit history. Once this has been done, you will receive a letter stating whether you qualify for a mortgage.

If you do qualify, you can then go ahead and apply for a mortgage once you’ve found the property you wish to invest in.

Appoint a solicitor

So, to wrap up, while you don’t have to appoint a solicitor, my view is that If you are buying a house then you will need to get a solicitor involved.  First-time buyers or experienced investors will all benefit from someone who knows the law and can help you through the entire process, helping resolve any legal issues that crop up, they’re worth the conveyancing fee to ensure the smooth transition of legal ownership to your name.

Written by Julie Hanson

Julie is passionate about property – development, investment and portfolio planning. Along with husband Alec, Julie is actively building a property portfolio while helping others to do the same.

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