Buying a home is likely to be the biggest purchase of your life. It will involve large sums of money and could be very stressful.
With house prices still rising, getting good legal advice is more important than ever.
If you are a first-time buyer – you haven’t bought a home before – getting good legal advice from the outset might be vital.
Buying a home means thinking about lots of different things. You need to be able to trust the person who is advising you and acting for you. A legal professional can oversee and advise you on things like:
- stamp duty (in England) or land transaction tax (in Wales)
- money transfers.
Conveyancers and solicitors can help you to buy a home. Licensed conveyancers and CILEX Conveyancing Practitioners are specialist property lawyers. Solicitors offer a wider range of legal services. If you think your purchase is going to involve an issue like a boundary dispute, try to find out if the adviser you plan to use has experience with this type of work.
Online conveyancing services have become more common in recent years. Clients deal online, by email and by phone with legal professionals acting for them in a house purchase. While online options can be cheaper, they may not offer the level of personal service that some people expect.
Contact is key
Buying a home can take a long time. It can also be confusing and will involve a lot of questions that need to be answered. Having the help of a legal professional who can explain things clearly to you when you need it can make a big difference.
Make sure you’re comfortable talking to whoever you choose to handle your house purchase. You need to know how and when you can get hold of them, and what to do if your named contact is not around. Ask them if they have an online system you can use to track how everything is going.
Mortgage advisers might put forward the name of a legal adviser to handle your house purchase. But make sure you talk to people you know well like friends, family and colleagues. They might have had experience with legal professionals acting for them in a house purchase. And they could point you in the right direction.
Your estate agent may also mention a legal adviser they use on a regular basis. It’s wise to make checks before deciding who to use. And many legal professionals are now the subject of online reviews.
Check with your lender
If you need a mortgage to buy a home, choosing a legal adviser who is on your mortgage lender’s approved panel might save you time and money.
Local know-how counts
Legal professionals who know the local area well may be better able to help you with your house purchase than someone based elsewhere. Local advisers will know about recurring local legal issues. And that could speed up the whole process.
What about fees?
House purchases can take a long time. Knowing how much you will be charged for conveyancing fees up front is important, however long the process takes.
Make sure that whoever you choose to act for you in your purchase gives you a full breakdown of their charges.
Conveyancing fees are split into two parts:
- legal fees, what the legal professional charges
- disbursements, what third parties charge.
There are different fees for sellers and buyers.
Conveyancing fees vary. This might be because of where the property is. If the property is near a river, special checks might be needed before a buyer can understand the risks of buying the property. And fees for buying leasehold properties such as flats are often higher as they may involve more paperwork.
Some advisers work for a fixed fee. Others charge a percentage of the property’s value.
There is a guide to how much conveyancing fees should be on the HomeOwners Alliance website.
How long will it take?
The conveyancing process starts when you make or accept an offer on a property.
The main steps in the process are:
- pre-contract work
- mortgage offer
- draft contract
- exchange of contracts to completion.
The process normally takes around 12 weeks but can take longer.
The most common delays are caused by people being slow to respond to questions. This is most true in a housing chain. A single transaction in the chain can delay everyone.
- Government guidance about buying a home
- Government guidance about selling a home
- Using a conveyancing lawyer: Ten helpful tips (PDF)
- Advice about moving home
- Legal Ombudsman guidance on: using a conveyancing lawyer (PDF)
- Legal Ombudsman guide for: first time buyers (PDF)
Good to know
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