Instructing a solicitor when buying a house or flat
Instruct a solicitor (or conveyancer) as soon as a sale has been agreed.
Obtain a written quotation from the solicitor 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.
The 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 with all legal aspects on your behalf.
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 to buy the property 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 – see Is a Mortgage Valuation the same as a Survey), your solicitor should check whether the surveyor has identified any matters which require further enquires to be made or any other legal input. Remember, your solicitor is not likely to have been to the property and may not be aware of issues 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.
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.
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 solcitor should also check the length of remaining lease. If the lease is “short” this may not be acceptable to mortgage lenders, and may reduce saleability and value of the property. The majority of leasehold properties are flats, but some houses are leasehold and some flats are freehold.
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 where applicable:
- Ownership/liability of any private roads and/or shared access roads.
- Location and route of the drains.
See also Mortgage Valuation and Survey