Typically the legal side of buying a home is the longest and most frustrating part of the journey. Read on to find out why it causes so many difficulties, and what you can do to make the ride a little smoother.
The legal process only starts once your offer on a property has been accepted by the seller.
What’s involved in the legal process of buying a home?
- Receiving and agreeing the contract for the property purchase
- Updating the national record of land ownership (held by the Land Registry)
- Making certain checks on the property records relating to utilities and future planning permission
- Transferring the funds to pay for your home
- Arranging the stamp duty payment on your behalf
A typical timeline to get through these and the necessary documentation is around 6 weeks, but it can often be extended to 10 or 15 weeks! This can be the result of delays from the seller’s side, your side, or just a backlog of checks to be done by the relevant parties.
Who should help me with the legal side?
You should choose and “instruct” a qualified legal professional to act on your behalf. This could be:
- A conveyancer - a specialist, qualified to take on cases related to property buying or selling
- A solicitor - a legal generalist, qualified for property cases, but also other matters such as business, divorce, inheritance and much more
Generally conveyancers provide cheaper rates, and will be more familiar with the processes and challenges involved in purchasing a property. The majority of first-time buyers will find that a conveyancer is appropriately qualified for the services required.
If there are any complications to the matter - for example, if you are using inherited funds to pay for some of the property, it may be in your interest to use a generalist solicitor as they will be able to advise you and act on your behalf on additional areas of the law. If you have additional legal circumstances, for example setting up your own business, you may wish to use the same solicitor as they will already be a familiar contact to you.
Always ask for a full summary of fees that will be applicable for the home purchase, and find out when payment is required. It is normal to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure the services of the legal representative - but you should check and be clear with exactly what is and isn’t refundable if the house purchase falls through.
How do I find a solicitor or conveyancer?
Although estate agents are very happy to give recommendations, be warned that introductions are usually made on a commission basis, which is neither a guarantee of quality, nor of value. Most first time buyers are better off asking friends, family, or their lender. Many lenders have a panel of recognised legal professionals, so this could be a good starting point. Choosing a firm that is highly rated on an independent site (eg. on Trustpilot) will help ensure a higher level of satisfaction.
How do I know that my legal representative is qualified?
All qualified conveyancers and solicitors are regulated by the CLC (Council for Licensed Conveyancers). If in doubt, ask the firm to provide their regulatory number and paperwork. You can check their reference directly online with the appropriate regulator. The CLC is also a useful resource for finding a legal representative if you’re not sure where to start.
Why does conveyancing take so long and what can I do to speed it up?
Conveyancing is a lengthy process partly because the legal system is based on a traditional records system. Your legal representative relies on receiving communication from the seller’s solicitor, from your lender, and of course they must wait to have the search results from the Local Authority. If demand for searches is high, they will take longer to process.
Delays are frustrating because they are beyond the buyers’ control. The best way to smooth along the process is to act quickly. Instruct a solicitor as soon as you can, and be over-organised with your paperwork. Become your solicitor’s best friend by prioritising getting together bank statements, proof of identity and documentation from your lender. Ensure that you respond to any messages or requests in a timely manner. Getting on the phone to them with a pleasant message, or sending them a cheeky email every week or so could be another way to nudge them into prioritising your case.
However, do be considerate and mindful of the heavy caseload that they may be experiencing. Better to be their best friend than their worst enemy! One way to approach your representative could be “I know you’re busy right now, but when can I expect an update on x, y and z?”. This will help to set expectations on both sides.
Most importantly, be patient. Buying a home is a rollercoaster, rather than a journey. With a bit of organisation and research, you’ll get there, and it will be well worth the wait.