You probably don’t want to buy a new home in a quiet neighbourhood, only to find out that plans are afoot to erect a high rise apartment block next door, or that the person who you bought from had no legal right to sell the property, leaving you high and dry. This is where mortgage conveyancers are worth their weight in gold (or at least their fees), and you really should try and get a good one if you’re planning to buy a property.
Conveyancers do more than simply handle the legal documents when you buy or sell a house, and while it’s true that you can undertake the work yourself (if the mortgage lender permits it), it is much safer to use a conveyancer, or a solicitor who specialises in property matters, to do the work for you.
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What do conveyancers do?
Conveyancers or specialist solicitors liaise with your mortgage company and deal with all the legal documentation that’s required to transfer ownership of the property from the seller to you.
That’s not all they do, though. Initially, they will carry out various searches to discover any potential issues with the property and the surrounding area. They will check the local councils for relevant building works (the aforementioned high-rise building, for example), and the Environment Agency and utility companies to find out if your home is at risk of flooding, if there’s radon gas under the property, and more. The conveyancer will also check with the Land Registry and existing freehold/leasehold documents to confirm the boundaries of the property and whether the seller has the legal right to sell it.
Once all the paperwork is complete, your conveyancer will confirm how much stamp duty you must pay to the government – and once that is done, they will register you as the new owner of your property with the Land Registry.
How do you pick a conveyancer or solicitor?
Whether you choose a conveyancer or a specialist conveyancing solicitor is entirely up to you. Both are qualified and regulated: conveyancers by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC); and solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Law Society. The main difference between the two is that a conveyancer solely deals with property matters, whereas a solicitor can undertake other legal duties, should you need them.
Choosing a conveyancer, especially if you have no experience in this area, can appear daunting, but there are a few things you could consider, to make your decision easier:
- Local: Choosing a conveyancer local to the house you are going to purchase could have its advantages, as they will have a good knowledge of the surrounding area and any potential risks or planning developments.
- Recommended: There is nothing quite like a recommendation from a friend or family member, so ask around to see who other people have used. They will be able to tell you what level of service they experienced.
- Available: Ensure that the solicitor/conveyancer that you choose is available to undertake the work you need, within the timescale you require. Perhaps tell them of the completion date if you have it, and ask whether they will be able to achieve this.
- Reviews: Before you take on the services of a conveyancer, take a look at any reviews they have (or their company has). Search beyond their own website for independent reviews, as these tend to be more honest.
- Fees: With all the expenses involved in moving, cost is likely to be a real concern, so ask about the fees, what they include, and ask if you are likely to incur any other charges beyond this.
In some cases, your lender or mortgage broker may have a recommended (or required) conveyancer that you must use.
How much do conveyancers charge?
The fees that conveyancers or solicitors charge vary a great deal, not only from firm to firm, but also depending on the nature of the property you are buying or the area in which you are buying it. They can either charge a flat fee or a percentage of the property value – but in either case, you should be given an idea of the fees after your first meeting. You should expect to pay anywhere between £500 and £1,500.
Some conveyancers advertise a ‘no sale, no fee’ package, meaning that if your property falls through, then you are not left with an unnecessary fee.
In any case, be sure to ask about disbursements, and how much they are likely to amount to. Disbursements are often charged separately to the conveyancing fees, and can add up to several hundred pounds.
Anti-money laundering checks
These are simple online searches, undertaken by your conveyancer/solicitor, to confirm that you are who you claim to be. They are legally obliged to do this, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
This search is carried out through the Insolvency Register and is simply to determine whether you are bankrupt, or on the brink of bankruptcy. This is required solely by the mortgage lender; if you are a cash buyer, there is no need for a conveyancer to carry this out.
This is a search undertaken with the local authority where the property is located, and will report on whether any road schemes or other developments are being planned which may affect the property, whether the surrounding roads and paths are maintained, whether there is any contaminated land near the property, or if the property is in a conservation area, and whether there are any outstanding enforcement notices for violation of planning permission.
Drainage and water search
This is a search undertaken by a utility company or third party company, stating whether the property is connected to a public water supply and sewage system, and if the property is affected by the close proximity of any water/sewage pipes or wastewater treatment works.
Land Registry search
This type of search is a legal requirement, and is carried out to ensure that the seller of the property is the registered owner of the property.
Land Registry fee
This is the fee payable on completion for transferring the property from the seller’s name into your name.
Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)
This is the payment to the Land Registry for a copy of the deeds to your property if you are selling your home.
Telegraphic transfer fee
Also known as a CHAPS payment, this is the fee required by your conveyancer to transfer funds from your mortgage lender to the seller.
Depending on the type of property and the area in which you buy your house, other more specialist searches might have to be undertaken (and sometimes these are demanded by the lender). These may include:
This search is usually undertaken where the property is situated on or near industrial areas or other potentially polluting ground (such as a landfill site), and will report on whether there is any risk to health, or whether the value of your home will decrease because of the pollutants.
This is a much more detailed search than the local search, and reports on any development projects up to a radius of 250 metres from the property, and includes details of the crime report of the area, the performance of any local schools, and what services are available in the vicinity.
Flood risk report
As the name suggests, this report will detail any flood risk to the property (for example, whether it is situated on a flood plain).
These searches only really need to be carried out if your property is situated near a former mining area, or there are plans afoot to begin mining activity in the area. It will detail whether there is risk of subsidence (unstable ground), any risk of gaseous emissions, or any other hazards relating to the activity of mining.
This is a search to determine whether your new property could be liable to contribute funds to your local church for repairs. The origins of this law date back to medieval times, but a landmark case in 2003, which left a couple having to pay nearly £100,000 to repair a church, has left many landowners at risk of this liability. With this in mind, if there is a medieval church near to where your property is, or indeed your property sits on land owned by the church, this search is a must.
If you wish to complain about the conduct of your conveyancer or solicitor, you should initially contact the firm in question directly. If your complaint is not dealt with within a six week period, or you are not happy with the response that you receive, you should contact the Legal Ombudsman.
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