Threshold Mortgage Advice

Home buying guide, part 4: Solicitors and exchange of contracts

Once you’ve had an offer accepted on a property, it might seem like all the hard work on your part is over. Before you start planning your home’s colour scheme on Pinterest, however, there’s just one more important thing you need to do first: appoint a solicitor.

In this fourth instalment to our Threshold guide to buying your first home, we take you through what to consider when selecting a solicitor to represent you in your property purchase and what to expect from the conveyancing process.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the process of transferring property ownership from one person to another and it’s what makes your home purchase legal and official.

For that reason, the conveyancing has to be handled by a specialist solicitor who is qualified in residential property law in the UK.

What does a conveyancing solicitor do?

A conveyancing solicitor will handle all of the legal aspects of buying your home.

They’ll action what are known as ‘searches’ on the property. These are a series of checks that look into the immediate area the property occupies and the wider catchment around it.

Searches investigate environmental factors, like historic flooding and land contamination, but also any future development plans, to determine if these pose a risk to your property that could affect its value in the future.

A conveyancer will also communicate with the solicitor acting on behalf of the person selling the property you’re purchasing.

If a property is a flat, they’ll review the lease wording, maintenance and ground rent charges, and highlight any clauses you should be aware of.

They’ll also take care of all the legalities in terms of land registry, exchanging contracts and completion, including any stamp duty payments you owe the government.

Essentially your solicitor acts as a mediator between you and the seller of the property you’re buying to protect your interests. It’s their job to alert you to anything that doesn’t look quite right, and to ensure that everything to do with your home purchase is legal and above board.

How much does property conveyancing cost?

There’s no fixed price for residential conveyancing. How much you’ll pay will be determined by a number of different factors.
These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • The fees your solicitor charges for their services
  • How many searches you order
  • If the property is leasehold or freehold
  • Whether you’re a cash buyer or using a mortgage
  • The purchase price of the property you’re buying
  • If you’re buying through an affordable home ownership scheme, for example, Shared Ownership or First Homes
  • Any fees for Land Registry or Stamp Duty
  • Any charges for bank transfers

In all cases, you should expect a bill upwards of £1000-£2000.

Some solicitors may also ask for a portion of this payment upfront to open your account and begin work – usually in the region of a few hundred pounds.

How do I choose a conveyancing solicitor?

When deciding on a conveyancing solicitor it’s perfectly normal to ‘shop around’ before making a decision.

Just as you would do if you were purchasing a sofa for your home, you’d compare prices, styles, and customer reviews to help you make up your mind. Choosing a solicitor is no different.

You should do your own research and ask for quotes from a few different firms before selecting whom to appoint.

Start by doing an internet search for conveyancing solicitors in your local area. Have a look at their websites and either call or email for a breakdown of their costs. This doesn’t commit you, but it does give you a point of comparison to benchmark against other solicitors you’re considering.

Do your homework before committing. Take a look at customer reviews on sites like Trustpilot, Google and reviewsolitcitors to see how others rate their services, and don’t be pressured into going with a solicitor you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s your money at the end of the day.

What happens when you exchange contracts?

Only when you exchange contracts on the property does the purchase become legally binding.

Up until this point, either party is free to pull out of the transaction without consequence (although you would still be liable for any solicitor’s fees incurred up to that point).

Once you exchange contracts, however, you’re tied in to the purchase. To change your mind at this point would incur serious financial penalties, and it’s very rare for a property sale or purchase to collapse after exchange of contracts.

You’ll need to have buildings insurance on the property from the day of exchange if you are purchasing a second hand property, and from completion if you are purchasing a new build property.

At this point you are very near to finally owning your home. The next step is completion, when the funds are transferred and you can finally collect your keys – we go into more detail on this in part 5 of our Threshold Property Buying Guide.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about buying your first home and you’d like to get an idea of what you could afford, contact Threshold today.

Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

Conveyancing and solicitors are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority

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