Do you need a solicitor to buy a house?

Do you need a solicitor to buy a house?

Do you need a solicitor to buy a house?

There is no legal requirement to use a solicitor or licensed conveyancer to buy a house, but it’s generally agreed that using one will likely save you a lot of time, money, and stress. Buying a house is a big financial investment, and it's important to make sure that all of the necessary paperwork is completed and legal processes are followed properly. If you were to miss a legal issue at some point in the buying process, it’s possible that you could have serious problems if you ever decided to sell your house.

Buying a house also involves lots of different people and governing bodies: estate agents, mortgage providers, mortgage brokers, the Land Registry, surveyors, HMRC, the seller, and the seller’s solicitor. Solicitors and conveyancers are trained to communicate with all these people, provide them with the right information, and ensure that all the right questions are asked. Taking all of that on yourself can add a lot of pressure to the already potentially stressful process of buying a house.

For more information on the whole house buying process, you can check out our blog ‘How long does it take to get a mortgage?

Do you need a solicitor to sell a house?

There’s no legal requirement to use a solicitor when you’re selling your house. However, just as with buying a house, it tends to be recommended, for many of the same reasons. Selling a house can be stressful, and there are lots of legal processes to follow to make sure that the sale goes to plan. A sale falling through due to poorly filed paperwork could cost much more money than the cost of hiring a solicitor, so it’s usually a good idea to use one. And, if you’re selling a leasehold property, it’s possible that the freeholder will require you to use legal representation. They’ll usually want to make sure that their rights as the freeholder are protected and passed on to the new owner.

What does a solicitor do when you buy or sell a house?

When you’re buying a house, there is a long list of things that your solicitor will take care of for you. This is everything you might expect your solicitor to help you with:

  • Guide you through the house buying process
  • Help you to find a surveyor to carry out property surveys
  • Advise you on questions to ask the seller
  • Report all the legal aspects of the property, like the land boundary and any disputes
  • Pay any stamp duty
  • Report to your mortgage provider and help with transferring mortgage funds
  • Coordinate the exchange of contracts
  • Oversee completion
  • Register you as the new owner with the Land Registry

When you’re selling a house, the list of jobs for the solicitor is just as long. This is everything you might expect your solicitor to take care of when selling a house:

  • Obtain your title deeds and help you with filling in the questionnaires
  • Prepare a contract of sale and make sure it gets to the right people
  • Request a settlement figure for your mortgage
  • Work with the buyer’s solicitor to negotiate key dates (For example exchange of contracts, completion, and moving day)
  • Receive the deposit for the house between exchange of contracts and completion
  • Organise your accounts and prepare a final settlement
  • Approve the deed of transfer
  • Pay off any remaining mortgage
  • Hand over your property deeds

For more information on solicitor’s roles in the process, you can check out our blog ‘How much are solicitor’s fees when buying a house?

What are the alternatives to using a solicitor?

If you don’t want to use a solicitor when you’re buying a house, you have a couple of options. If you’d still like representation of some kind, you can use a licensed conveyancer. Otherwise, you are legally allowed to represent yourself and take care of everything on your own.

Option 1: Licensed conveyancer

Conveyancers are regulated in pretty much the same way as solicitors, but they’re not governed by the Law Society. Instead, conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC). Other than their governing bodies, these are the main differences between conveyancers and solicitors:

  • Conveyancers can act for the buyer and the seller of the same property transaction at the same time.
  • Conveyancers don’t have to tell you if they get a referral fee from an estate agent or a mortgage provider, but solicitors do.
  • Conveyancers tend to focus only on property transactions, and are unlikely to work for a firm working in different legal areas (like family law or tax law). This means that if any external factors affect your buying process, they might have to ask a solicitor for help anyway.
  • Conveyancers tend to be slightly cheaper than solicitors, but only by a small margin in most cases. It’s a good idea to do your research on any conveyancer or solicitor before you use them to make sure you get a good deal.

Option 2: Doing it yourself

Taking care of your own conveyancing can work, and if you think you can do it, you're legally allowed to. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about doing your own conveyancing:

  • You’ll be required to do everything a solicitor normally would as part of the transaction process, just as we’ve listed above.
  • Freeholders or mortgage providers might insist that you use a solicitor or conveyancer to make sure their interests are protected.
  • Legal firms and conveyancers are often insured against the impacts of mistakes made in the conveyancing process. If you make mistakes on key paperwork without being insured, you could find yourself in court, facing delays and legal fees.
  • If you have an outstanding mortgage when selling your house, you’ll usually need to give your mortgage provider a guarantee that you’ll use the money from the sale to pay off the remaining mortgage (this is called an ‘undertaking’). Mortgage providers often don’t accept undertakings from people without any legal representation, so you might need to turn to a solicitor for that.

For more information on mortgages, you can check out our blog ‘What stops you getting a mortgage?

A few final tips…

Here are a few final things to consider when you’re deciding whether or not to use a solicitor when buying a house:

  • It usually costs around £500-£1500 to hire a solicitor, whether you’re buying or selling a house. If you consider how much money is being transferred as part of a house sale, this  isn’t a huge amount to make sure that it all goes well.
  • Completing mortgage documents can be complicated and time-consuming. Trying to do the whole process without support could contribute to getting rejected for a mortgage and affect your credit score.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.