The process of finding and financing a place to call your own is widely acknowledged to be a fraught affair and the window of worry rarely closes when you shut the door on a final viewing or satisfy the checks that precede an agreement in principle from a mortgage provider. Those who survive the initial frustrations must still overcome the conveyancing challenge before getting hold of the keys. In an effort to ease any concerns you may have about this final, but significant, hurdle, Army&You asked a panel of solicitors for the lowdown on the legal aspects of buying a property…
Andrew Hart, Senior Partner, Batt Broadbent
Kathryn Vasey, Scotts Wright Solicitors
Anne Austin, Property Solicitor, David Gray
Helen White, Residential Conveyancer, Goughs Solicitors
Sean Reeves, Partner, Bernard Chill & Axtell
What role does a solicitor have in the process?
Anne: The conveyancing process is complex. It can be extremely stressful and cause clients a huge amount of anxiety. A solicitor will not only help to ensure the process runs smoothly, but will carry out the legal due diligence such as checking the title to the property, assessing issues with the title deeds, communicating with the other party’s solicitors regarding queries and carrying out searches on the property. A solicitor will advise you of any issues with the legal status of the property and any concerns that come about as a result of the searches. Finally, a solicitor will act on behalf of your lender and will seek to reassure your mortgage company that the property is good security for their loan.
What should I look for in a solicitor?
Andrew: We recommend that you instruct a firm in which the same person will deal with your transaction from start to finish and who will be available to speak to you and respond to your queries. The Forces Help to Buy (FHTB) scheme launched in April 2014 for three years. During this time, the Long Service Advance of Pay (LSAP) scheme has been suspended. If you are buying using FHTB, it would be a good idea to check that your solicitor has dealt with the scheme before. The same goes for the standard Help to Buy scheme and LSAP if you are buying after FHTB ends and LSAP has resumed.
Kathryn: Someone who is honest, trustworthy, approachable, organised and friendly!
Anne: You should look for a solicitor who has experience of conveyancing and property matters. If you are purchasing with the help of a mortgage, you need to ensure that the firm you are choosing is on the panel for your particular lender. This is a list of solicitors for each lender who have pre-qualified to act on behalf of the lender during the conveyancing process. You should also look for a solicitor who is accessible – one who has a direct email address or direct telephone line, rather than the contact details for a “team” within the firm. You need to be able to speak to your solicitor on a regular basis and there may be times when you need an answer to a question quickly.
What are some of the common issues?
Kathryn: There are many issues that a solicitor comes across as no two transactions are the same. In some instances, the title deeds do not accurately reflect the physical boundaries of the property. Missing documentation also causes problems, for example lack of planning permission and building regulation for works that have been carried out at a property – the list is endless!
How long does the process take?
Sean: This is the million-dollar question – how long is a piece of string? The national average time is usually eight-to-12 weeks, depending on the different variables. At Bernard Chill & Axtell, the conveyancing team offers a highly-efficient, specialised service with an aim to complete files within six-to-eight weeks (subject to third party agreements).
Andrew: Unfortunately it is very hard to give an accurate estimate as the length of the process depends on so many factors. These include whether the chain is complete; the length of time it takes for the local search to be dealt with by the local authority, as local authorities all work to different time frames; and the length of time it takes for mortgage offers to be issued. If you are buying a new build, it also depends when the property will be ready for you to move into. As a rough guide, we would hope to be able to exchange contracts within six-to-eight weeks of receiving the contract papers.
Should I expect a hefty bill?
Sean: In short, no – always be aware of any fees you need to pay upfront, and find out if there are any hidden costs. Ask for a full, comprehensive quote at the start of the conveyancing process so that you are completely aware of all prices from the beginning. The only hidden costs you may find are in areas such as the deed of variation.
Does having a partner in the Army or being a soldier myself present any problems?
Andrew: Having a partner in the Army or being a soldier yourself does not present any particular difficulties, but bear in mind that solicitors are required to check the identification documentation of all their clients. If you or your partner are unable to visit your solicitor’s office, you will need to ask a local solicitor to take certified copies of your identification documents and send them to your solicitor. Most firms of solicitors charge about £5 for this. The Post Office also offers this service.
Anne: You can also sign a Power of Attorney at the outset of the case to appoint a friend or family member here in the UK to act on your behalf.
Kathryn: No, with the developments in technology distance is not a problem. Many solicitors communicate with clients via email or telephone so not being physically present does not pose a problem.
Can I get away without using a solicitor?
Helen: If you are buying or selling a property and require or have a mortgage and/or the Forces Help to Buy scheme, then it is a requirement by your lender and MOD that a solicitor or conveyancer is instructed to act for you. Using a solicitor or conveyancer gives you peace of mind as all legal issues will have been looked into and any issues rectified. Buying a property is probably one of the largest financial investments you will make in your lifetime and it is important that your financial investment is a sound one.
If I buy overseas, can I instruct a solicitor based in the UK?
Helen: If you are buying property overseas you will need to use a solicitor who specialises in the governing law of the country in which you are buying the property.