Instructing a property solicitor
There are a number of legal documents and procedures that must be completed when buying a property. For the transaction to move as quickly as possible, you will need a reliable property solicitor or conveyancer to take care of the legal and administrative details.
You should begin your search for a solicitor early in the process, as finding a professional that you feel comfortable with is important. The conveyancing market is large but each firm is different and the speed and quality of the service offered varies greatly, even between solicitors at the same firm.
What does the buyer’s solicitor or conveyancer do?
- Obtain the client’s formal instruction and verify their identity
- Check the details and terms of the contract bundle when received from the seller’s solicitor making sure that the details match the buyer’s expectations of the transaction. The contract bundle includes the draft contract, official copies of Land Registry Title documents, lease (if applicable), management information pack (if applicable), the seller’s property information and fixtures forms, building regulation documents, and any other documents that may be relevant and taking appropriate action based on their findings
- Check the boundaries of the property, access and any restrictions
- Undertake searches, assessing the results and raising additional enquiries if necessary. Searches are checks of: the Local Authority planning department for future plans or preservation orders affecting the property; the surrounding environment to check for contamination; church repair (chancel) liability; the water and drainage connections and any location specific searches such as a coal mining search
- Assess the results of any survey report and advise their client accordingly
- Raise enquiries / questions on any aspect of the property or transaction that need clarification such as requesting correct building regulations or planning permission documentation for extensions, or other works
- Act for the buyer’s mortgage lender making sure all their financial and administrative requirements are fulfilled
- Write reports based on the information received both for the buyer and their mortgage lender
- Liaise with all parties
- Manage the transfer of monies
- Negotiate exchange and completion dates
- Manage the payment of the Land registry fees and stamp duty
- Register the new buyer with the Land Registry
- Undertake post exchange searches to ensure the property is clear of any legal charge
- Any other legal work that may be required as part of the transaction (such as a Declaration of Trust)
Types of conveyancing searches
There are two types of conveyancing searches that will be undertaken for the buyer. The first is personal searches, where all the required information is in the public domain. The second type is official searches, which need to be carried out by somebody within the council. Personal searches are the most common, but some mortgage lenders may require official searches for certain properties.
There are several searches that can be carried out – some of which, such as brine searches, coal searches and clay and tin mining searches, are not relevant to all London properties. The following, however, may be required:
- Local Authority Search: This search will highlight whether or not:
- adjoining roads and footpaths require upkeep
- there are planned changes for nearby roads
- the property is near or on contaminated land
- the property is in a conservation area
- there are any tree preservation orders on the property
- there is a compulsory purchase order for the property
- there are any enforcement notifications that have been served for breaches in planning permission
- there are any debts associated with the property, such as ongoing Green Deal payments
- Water and drainage search: This explains how the water drainage system works and who is responsible for its upkeep
- Environmental search: This will highlight any previous uses of the property, and whether or not the land has been contaminated
- Flood risk search: This search will assess if the property is at risk of flood risk
- Chancel repair liability search: This will establish whether the owner of the property is obliged to make contributions towards the upkeep of the local church
These searches will take place pre completion:
- Land Registry priority search: This looks into the latest documentation held on the property at The Land Registry Office
- Bankruptcy search: This ascertains whether or not an individual has been declared bankrupt, which may reduce their ability to borrow money from a mortgage lender
How much will a solicitor cost?
There are two types of costs in conveyancing quotations: the legal fees (which are the fees charged by the solicitor or conveyancer for their time spent doing the work), and the disbursements, which are the unavoidable 3rd party costs undertaken by the solicitor but paid for by the client such as Searches, Land Registry fees and Stamp Duty.
Some solicitors or conveyancers (including Londonwide Conveyancing), offer a ‘no move, no fee’ guarantee, which means if your purchase falls through before the exchange of contracts for any reason, you will not pay the legal fee. Solicitors might offer fixed fees, charge by the hour, or take a percentage of the property value so it is important to know what the fees are likely to be from the beginning to avoid an unexpectedly high bill at the end.
The cost of the work should be taken into consideration, but you shouldn’t let this completely govern your decision. A fully qualified reputable conveyancing solicitor in London charging a fixed fee is likely to come in between £750 and £1250 depending on their seniority and experience. If additional legal work is required beyond the remit of the standard conveyancing process additional fees would be payable. A good rule of thumb for seeking any professional service is to get at least three quotes before entering a contract but beware – conveyancing quotations can be difficult to understand at best and misleading at worst so make sure the quotes you get are fixed and include everything.
Choosing the right solicitor
Buying and selling property in London takes knowledge and expertise and it will be important for you to choose a solicitor that is experienced in the legal and administrative aspects of buying and selling property, especially in London.
A good mark of a quality conveyancer is the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) certificate awarded by the Law Society for those who offer a high standard of work.
Below are some questions to consider asking a conveyancing solicitor before you instruct them:
Are your fees fixed? Most solicitors provide an estimate on fees because at the beginning it is not known how complex and therefore how time consuming your purchase will be. Beware of law firms offering estimated fees or hourly rate fees as these can quickly rise and become very expensive.
Do you offer a ‘no move no fee’ guarantee? You do not want to be charged fees if the purchase falls through.
Does your quote include everything? Many conveyancing quotes miss off essentials such as VAT, bank transfer fees or other disbursements with the aim of making the quote seem less expensive and therefore more attractive. Make sure you are getting a fully inclusive quote so from the beginning you know what the end cost is likely to be.
How busy are you at the moment? A busy solicitor will be slower at getting back to you.
Do you use email rather than the post? There are some who still do not.
Will I be dealing with my solicitor directly? Receiving a personalised service can mean less stress
Can you conduct meetings via Skype (or similar) if necessary? If they do not offer this it could be inconvenient as you may have to take time off work or arrange childcare.
Are you happy to work closely with my estate agent? When solicitors are happy to work closely with your estate agent, the process will be smoother and less stressful.
How much experience have you had working on this type of purchase? There are many type of purchase that could be complex, such Leasehold properties, unusual conversions, houseboats, new developments, and you should check your solicitor is experienced in the right area
Do you have any holidays booked and if so what cover is in place for your work? This may seem a strange question but it is very common for conveyancing to slow down or stop all together due to the solicitor being on holiday and nobody else taking over their work on their absence.