Instructing a solicitor when buying a house or flat

When buying a house or flat it is important to contact a solicitor as soon as a sale has been agreed.

Before instructing a solicitor, obtain a written quotation with a breakdown of costs.  The costs are likely to include a fee for time spent, plus office expenses and any expenses which may be made on your behalf and passed onto you, such as Stamp Duty, Land Registry fees, etc.   Before instructing a solicitor, ask friends and family for recommendations and don’t make a decision solely on price.

Before instructing a solicitor, visit:  

What will my solicitor do?

Your solicitor will prepare terms of engagement setting out what they will do and confirm their charges.  They will deal directly with the vendor’s solicitor.

The two solicitors will prepare a draft contract.  This will include details of what is included in the sale.  For example, you may wish to take your greenhouse to your new garden but your purchaser may be under the impression that this will form part of the sale.  You may expect the vendor of your new home to take up and clear away all the carpets ready for new floor coverings but they may find it easier to leave them behind.   The contract will form a legal document and must be accurate.

If you are taking out a mortgage, your solicitor will check the offer made by the mortgage company.  The mortgage company may request further investigations/reports/estimates as a condition of the loan.

If you have had a survey carried out on your behalf (not to be confused with the lender’s valuation) your solicitor should check whether the surveyor has identified any matters which require further enquires to be made or any legal input.  Remember that a mortgage valuation is not a survey.   Bear in mind that your solicitor is not likely to have been to the property and may not be aware of some issues with the property, including:

  • Flying/submerged freeholds.
  • Whether any parts of the property trespass, ie, trees, gutters, satellite dishes, etc.
  • Whether there are any extensions/alterations which may have required Local Authority approval/s.

Exchange of Contracts occurs when everything has been agreed, including a Completion date.  The buyer will pay a deposit to secure the sale.  When contracts have been exchanged you will be committed to the purchase/sale and there will normally be financial/legal consequences if you do not proceed.

Completion is when the property is legally transferred and you will be registered with Land Registry as the new owner.  This is the date when the sale is completed, ie, the day when you will obtain the keys and will be able to move in.

Land Registry

Your solicitor will check the title of the property and whether the property has been registered with Land Registry.   If a property is registered this means that it is registered with Land Registry and ownership is guaranteed by the state.  If a property is unregistered it is possible there could be a dispute about ownership.  The property will need to be registered with Land Registry.  Your solicitor will advise in this respect and this may incur an additional fee.

Your legal adviser will also check whether the property is in a Conservation Area or whether it is a Listed Building.


Your solicitor will check the tenure of the property.

If the property is freehold, the owner of the property will own the property outright and will be fully responsible for all repairs and maintenance.  Some houses which are freehold may have a garage which is leasehold, particularly if it is located beyond the curtilage of the site.

If the property is leasehold you will own the property for the length stated in the lease.  The terms of the lease will set out responsibilities for occupying and maintaining the property.  There may also be a requirement to pay ground rent to the freeholder, this is typically a small sum paid annually.  Your solicitor will check the terms of the lease and confirm payments for ground rent are up to date.  Your solicitor should also check the length of remaining lease.  If the lease is “short” this may not be acceptable to some mortgage lenders, and may reduce saleability and value of the property.


Your solicitor will carry out property searches to establish whether there are any factors which may affect the property which may not otherwise be evident, which may include:

  • Local Authority search
  • Environmental search
  • Flood risk
  • Water Authority search
  • Mining search

They will also confirm other matters particular to the property you are buying including ownership and liability of any private roads and/or shared access roads/paths and location and route of the drains.


buying and selling a house

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Buying a modern house – garages, parking spaces, paths and highways

Most people choose to buy a modern house so that they can move straight in and unpack without the bother of having to deal with major repairs.  But there are some issues with modern houses which can easily be overlooked, particularly relating to garages, parking spaces and paths, some of which may have additional costs of ownership.


Some houses on modern housing estates have garages which are leasehold, even though the house itself may be freehold.  When buying a modern house, the garage may be in a rank beyond the curtilage of the plot and may have residential accommodation above (a coach house above a rank of garages is a common feature of many modern housing estates).  Even if a garage and parking apace are situated alongside the house, if they form part of a rank then there is a possibility that the garage is leasehold.  Your solicitor should confirm tenure, and if leasehold, obtain details of the lease to establish whether any charges are payable, and confirm responsibility for repairs, etc.

Parking space/s

As with garages, if a parking space is situated beyond the curtilage of the plot your solicitor must check the tenure, details of rights of way, responsibility for maintenance, etc.


If there are footpaths in the vicinity of the house, then your solicitor should confirm ownership, rights of way, details for maintenance and whether there is a charge for maintenance.


If the public highway and pavements have not yet been adopted by the Local Authority then your solicitor should confirm details for adoption and whether any areas will be privately owned.


The items above should form part of a solicitor’s routine enquiries but it is useful for a potential house purchaser to be aware of such issues at an early stage in the house buying process particularly if there are additional costs of ownership. These may require clarification by a mortgage lender before a mortgage offer is confirmed.

See also House viewing tips:  things to consider when viewing a house  

and if you are buying the property to let then see also Buy to let property:  choosing, managing, student lets and landlord’s responsibilities. 

buying and selling a house

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