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Do I need a solicitor ?

Although it is possible to handle the conveyancing and searches on the purchase of a house yourself, most people prefer to use a solicitor to reduce the hassle.

The solicitor's main job is to ensure a smooth transfer of the property and any fixtures and fittings agreed in the sale. He or she prepares the 'conveyance', which transfers legal ownership to you.

You should always ensure that your solicitor is on the approved Law Society list, a copy of which can be obtained from your Town Hall or Citizen's Advice Bureau, or online at http://www.solicitors-online.com

Often the best way of choosing a solicitor is to ask friends or relatives for recommendations, or looking online, there many firms out there that can assist you in finding a solicitor online.

Before you instruct a solicitor to act for you, we recommend that you ask for a written estimate of all fees (including VAT) and details of all disbursements payable such as Local Authority searches, Land Registry fees and Stamp Duty.

What does the solicitor actually do ?

Buying and selling
If you’re selling a property your solicitor (the vendor's solicitor) will draw up a contract for the sale, ask for the title deeds from your lender and deal with enquiries from the buyer's solicitor on your behalf.

The buyer's solicitor will organise searches, send a list of questions about the property to the vendor's solicitor and liaise with your mortgage lender.

If you’re buying a property, your solicitor will usually also act on behalf of your lender who will insist on certain searches.

Searches

On all properties, lenders will want you to have a local authority search carried out. This will show details of any planning permission given on the property you are buying and any plans to build roads within 200 metres of the property. However, it doesn't tell you about planning permission on neighbouring properties or land. You could be on the verge of getting a supermarket, garage or even a quarry on your doorstep but, unless you pay more for a plan search, you won't know about this until it’s too late. You should not rely on your solicitor carrying out a plan search unless you ask them for one.

Your lender will also insist your solicitor undertake a drainage search, detailing whether waste water goes into a public or private sewer; a land registry search to check the property hasn't changed hands; and a land charges search to ensure that the property does not have any charges against it that would stop it being sold (for example the seller may be bankrupt). The water search will be done at the same time as the local authority search, while the other two searches will be done later in the buying process.

In some areas of the country lenders will insist on other searches - in Cheshire, for example, they might ask that you have a brine search; in Cornwall, they may insist on a tin mining search and in the Midlands and Scotland on a coal mining search, other areas of the country may want a limestone search or a china clay search. These will establish whether the property is likely to be affected by any of these things under ground, a result suggesting that your new home is affected by one of these things could obviously affect any mortgage advance. You may also need to have a flood search undertaken in some parts of the county to check if the property is liable to flooding.

Surveys

At around the same time as the searches are undertaken, you should be organising to have a survey done on the property by a chartered surveyor. If the survey shows up any work that needs doing you may be able to renegotiate the price you have offered - and your solicitor will be the one to do this on your behalf. If it's a case where thousands of pounds worth of work needs to be done, they may well be able to reduce the amount you pay by a similar amount (or arrange that the work is completed by the vendor before the exhange of contracts takes place).

Exchanging and completion

Once the survey and searches have been done and you have a mortgage offer, the solicitor can organise a date for you to exchange. This is the day when contracts between you and the seller are swapped and the sale becomes certain. After this point, if either party wants to pull out, they must compensate the other. The contracts will include a date for completion - the day when you finally become the owner of the property. This used to be 28 days after exchange but nowdays is usually around two weeks after the exchange date but can be more or less if both parties agree. Of course, if there’s a chain involved, the completion date may be dictated by sellers further up or down the chain unless someone is willing to stay with friends or in rented accommodation for a while.

On the day you complete you can pick up your keys from the estate agent and move in. Your solicitor will pass on the deeds to your lender who will look after them until you pay off your mortgage (although it is possible to arrange for your lender to store the deeds after a mortgage has been paid off for a small fee), remortgage your home or move to a new home.

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