The House Buying Process: What Does a Lawyer Do?

Posted on 28 November 2022

Shelves full of legal books

How does a lawyer help you buy your home? From ownership to investigations – we break it down.

Why do you need a lawyer when buying a house?

Buying a house is never easy. Swamped in legal jargon from ‘property chains’ to ‘gazumping’, first-time buyers can easily feel out of their depth due to the technical and legal language of a property purchase. With house prices now 9x the average earnings, buying a house is one of the most expensive investments that we will make in our lifetime.

Therefore, it is no surprise that we often require the expertise of a legal professional to ensure that everything is watertight. These legal professionals carry out a myriad of tasks along your journey towards that initial property purchase, ranging from ‘authority searches’ right through to ‘exchanging contracts’, and more.

Still not familiar with these terms? Read on to understand precisely what these mean, and why hiring a lawyer in the home-buying process will prove crucial in turning that dream home of yours into a concrete reality.

Searching for a property lawyer

There are multiple ways to finding the right legal representation for you. Whether through friends, online, or even estate agents, make sure that your chosen property specialist is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales. After all, you want to ensure that the transfer of your future house is handled with a safe pair hands.

What is the difference between a conveyancer and a solicitor?

A conveyancer is a specialised property lawyer focused on the buying and selling of residential properties.

A solicitor is also a qualified property lawyer. However, unlike a conveyancer, they offer a fuller range of legal services that go beyond the scope of simply home buying and selling. Whilst a solicitor’s fees may cost more than a conveyancer, they can prove particularly helpful if complications arise.

Remember, if you are searching online, always check the reviews. Helpful sites include ‘The Law Superstore’ and ‘Review Solicitors’.  

Often these lawyers will: 

  • Explain how the home-buying process works
  • Handle the process on your behalf
  • Give advice at every stage (remember to keep checking in!)
  • Communicate with the seller’s solicitor
  • Resolve any legal issues (including renegotiation of price)

What are the fees for a conveyancer or a solicitor?

The fees for either a conveyancer or a solicitor can range anywhere from £500-£3000 depending on what you want. And, whilst there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice, it’s important to make sure that you choose the right one for your property needs.

How does a lawyer help you to buy a house?

After your offer has been accepted, your chosen legal representative will often carry out some essential property searches on your future home in order to make sure that everything is above board. These are vital to ensure that there will be no issues which could pose a problem for you down the line.

These include:

  • Local Authority Searches (a property-specific search of the house and the land to assure that neither will lose their value in the future)
  • Land Registry Searches (helps you to protect your land from fraud and declares your ownership of the property area)
  • Water Authority Searches
  • Environmental Searches

As well as this, your lawyer could also raise enquiries about:

  • Gas boiler certificates
  • Vacant possession
  • Planning permissions
  • The length and terms of the lease (if you’re buying a leasehold)

A property solicitor or a conveyancer will also undertake a review of the legal titles to assess if there are any issues that could stop you from buying the property, reselling it again in the future, or from registering a charge over the title.

Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common?

Do not be surprised when your lawyer asks you questions as to how you want to own your property. There are two types of property ownership: joint tenants and tenants in common. How you choose to own the property can affect how the net sale proceeds are divided as well as what happens to the interest in your property in the event of a death. Yet, what is the difference?

What is ‘Joint Tenants’?

Joint tenants is when partners co-own the whole property. They can range anywhere from 2 to 4 people; however, this arrangement is most commonly used by couples. Co-owners are considered as one owner, and all have an equal right to the property. Also, this means that owners must collectively make the decision to sell the property – or it cannot be done.

In the unfortunate event of one owner dying, the other owner/owners receives their share of the property.

What is ‘Tenants in Common’?

Tenants in common is when each partner owns a specific share of the property. Whilst they may purchase the property together, they can co-own separate shares of the purchase which may not always be equal.

 Because of this separation of assets, you are able to leave your shares of the property in a will (unlike joint tenants).

For more information, check out our other articles on buying a house with a partner or buying with friends and family to ensure that you understand the best options for you.  

What is a Deed of Trust?

A Deed of Trust is a legally binding document that records the financial arrangements of everyone who has a monetary interest in the property. Fundamentally, it ensures that everyone gets their fair share back once co-habitants have moved on or the house is sold.

 A Deed of Trust then safeguards everyone’s interests of the collective property purchase, and removes uncertainty as to what will happen to each person’s financial investment in the property – reducing both risk and future disagreements.

Whilst these are normally £150, MaryR provide them as part of our service. Saving you both money and headaches in the process.

How does a lawyer help finalise your property purchase?

Once all the necessary checks have been made on your property and your lawyer is satisfied with the results there are a few final tasks that need to be carried out. These include ‘exchanging contracts’ and house ‘completion’.

What is the ‘Exchange’ of contracts?

In England and Wales, the ‘exchange of contracts’ will occur once the legal representative is satisfied with all the necessary checks of the property. After this, both parties swap and sign contracts with regards to the property purchase. Deposits are usually paid at this stage and the contract becomes legally binding.

Both parties are contractually bound to finalise the purchase on the agreed completion date – which is also usually the moving in date, and can take place anywhere from one to four weeks after the exchange of contracts.

Remember to be patient and flexible as everyone in the property chain will have to agree on a date.

What is the ‘Completion’?

With the finish line to your new home in sight, your lawyer will still need to finalise a few tasks in order to give you those keys.

Between exchange and completion your solicitor will send you a final statement showing you how much money that you need to pay.

They will transfer all the relevant funds to the seller’s solicitor and only when the funds are received will the estate agent release those keys. If you’re higher up the chain you may have to wait a while for confirmation BUT don’t be afraid to check up on the progress. Once you have the keys to your new home your lawyer will pay Stamp Duty for you (from funds provided by you), and send legal documents to the Land Registry in order to confirm you as the new owner of the property. You should receive these within three weeks

Whilst the road to your new home may feel arduous, the help of the right lawyer can make your journey much easier. For more advice on how you can best get a foot into the property door, check out our website for more information.

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