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While in the middle of buying or selling property, have you ever asked yourself ‘do I actually need a solicitor to buy a house?' Maybe you considered selling your last house without a solicitor, but you were unsure if it was possible.  

Here's a little secret: anyone can do their own conveyancing. Yes, DIY conveyancing is possible, and you do not have to have a solicitor, despite what some people might tell you. However, it's always better to have a legal professional on your side.

If you are thinking of buying a property or putting your house on the market without the help of a conveyancer, read on. We've created a guide to buying and selling a house without a solicitor so you can weigh up the pros and cons and get an idea of the role the conveyancing expert plays in the process.

Can I save money by buying a house without a conveyancing solicitor?

If you are considering going ahead and buying a house without legal guidance from a solicitor you need to understand the pros and cons.

Saving money is one of the most common reasons for a house buyer - or seller - to not appoint a conveyancing solicitor. However as the only money you save will be the solicitor's own costs including VAT, it doesn't always turn out to be the most sensible or cheapest option for you.

Here is an overview of the costs that you'll still have to factor in if you decide to buy without conveyancing guidance: 

  • You will have to pay for any searches you need to carry out (more on that below).
  • You will also have to pay a fee to the Land Registry for the property's title to be transferred into your name.
  • You should still consider having a professional building survey done.
  • Another fee to be aware of is the stamp duty. This tax applies if you are buying a home that costs £500,000 or more. The government temporarily increased the amount at which stamp duty to £500,000, for property sales in England and Northern Ireland. This was due to end on 31 March, but it was announced in the 2021 Budget that it will now end on 30 June. After this date, the starting rate of stamp duty will be £250,000 until the end of September. Stamp duty will then return to the level of £125,000.

There is also the unseen cost and time of making potential mistakes, such as misinterpreting documents or ordering unnecessary searches which could cost you more in the long term. An experienced conveyancer will have the knowledge to support you and ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Do I need a solicitor to buy a house if I'm buying with a mortgage?  

You don't need a solicitor to buy a house if you are buying with a mortgage, but your lender will appoint their own conveyancing solicitor to act for them. This is to make sure that their mortgage is properly registered against your title after completion. The lender will expect you to pay their solicitor's costs, so you will still end up paying some legal fees. Therefore, you might find you save little or nothing at the end of the purchase.

So, if the potential to save money is the reason that you're asking yourself ‘do I really need a solicitor to buy a house?', then you might be surprised to find that you aren't saving as much as you'd think in the long run. 

Another thing to bear in mind is that if anything goes wrong on the legal side, you won't have anyone else to blame. If you have a property lawyer, they will have professional indemnity insurance against errors on their part.

Sounding a little too much at this stage? Before you go ahead with doing your own conveyancing to try to save some money, why not get a quick quote today? You can view your quote instantly online to see how much it will be and you may be surprised at the low cost.


How do I go about buying a house without a solicitor? 

Are you still asking why do I need a solicitor to buy a house? If you are keen to try going ahead without expert guidance, here is an outline of the work involved in buying a house without appointing a conveyancing solicitor. 

This 12-step outline assumes that you are a cash buyer and do not need a mortgage. It also assumes you are buying a freehold property with a registered title:

  1. Make sure that the seller's agent passes your contact details on to the conveyancing solicitor acting for the sellers.
  2. The seller's solicitor should send you a draft contract for approval, together with a copy of their client's registered title and property plan. They may also send a Property Information Form completed by the seller, together with a list of fixtures, fittings and other items being included in the sale.
  3. Some law firms are reluctant to deal with buyers acting for themselves. However, there is no reason for them not to. You can refer them to the Law Society's advice on this issue. The law firms are not there to give you any advice, but on the other hand, they should not take unfair advantage of your lack of legal knowledge.
  4. You will need to check the details of the contract to make sure that it is satisfactory and does not include any unreasonable conditions. Residential property contracts usually incorporate the Law Society's Standard Conditions of Sale, but these are not always set out in full. You will need to read these through as they regulate the legal obligations of the buyer and seller.
  5. Also check the land registry title. These titles can be very simple or cover several pages. You will need to check that the title is for the correct property and that the plan shows the property you are expecting to purchase. You will also need to check whether the registered proprietor is the same as the seller named in the contract - if not, you will have to find out why.
  6. If there is anything on the title or in the contract that you don't understand, you will need to consult appropriate legal textbooks. Don't expect the seller's solicitor or the land registry to help you. You might find something suitable in your local library, but be careful, library books are often years old and out of date. The same can also apply to some websites. This is the stage in the process that can become especially tricky. As you are not a legal expert, you might find that even with guidance from relevant textbooks, the language used is confusing. This is where buying a house without help from a conveyancing solicitor can become complex. 
  7. Having checked the information you have received, you will probably have some further questions, either about the property itself or the contents of the documents. If you have already received information forms completed by the seller, any further questions can be raised in a letter or email. If you haven't had these forms, you could ask the seller's lawyer to complete the standard forms; otherwise, you would have to try and obtain copies to send to them. You can see the standard forms (usually TA6 and TA10) on the Law Society's website, but you can't print or download them.
  8. Next, you need to decide if you want any searches. If you are a cash buyer you can decide not to bother with searches. However, this can be a risk and you might find that later down the line you have to handle something that might have been flagged through the searches process.
  9. If you carry out a local search, you will find information about search fees and how to make an application on the local council's website. Sometimes this will be under the heading ‘Local Land Charges.' You can also go to the council offices to make a personal search. There are also several companies that carry out local searches and any other searches that you might need. If you do have searches carried out, you will need to check the replies carefully. You should also ask the council how long they take.
  10. Sometimes you might need to ask the seller for more information or to supply copies of documents, such as planning consent forms.
  11. When you have received replies to all your enquiries and are satisfied that the seller's title is in order, you can agree a completion date. This is the date that the property will change hands.
  12. You can then sign one copy of the contract and arrange to exchange contracts. You will be expected to provide a deposit on exchange, normally 10 percent of the price, which will be held by the seller's lawyer until completion.

Does this sound a bit much? Are you no longer wondering ‘do I need a solicitor to buy a house?' Get a quote for purchase conveyancing and take the stress out of the legal process of buying a property.


How do I go about selling a house without a solicitor? 

But what if you are trying to sell? Do you need a solicitor to sell a house? Again, it is possible to carry out your own conveyancing. However, it is not advisable.

There is one situation where selling a house without the help of a solicitor is not possible. If you are selling up but you have an outstanding mortgage on the property, it is unlikely that the lender will issue the discharge documents. These are needed to remove the record of the charge at the Land Registry and will only be issued after the sale proceeds have been received. The redemption funds must also have been repaid. 

In this case, a conveyancing solicitor is the impartial, trusted go-between in the sale. They hold the sale proceeds for the lender until the mortgage provider has authorised the removal of the charge. So, if this is the case for you as the seller, you won't be able to proceed without hiring a solicitor.  

If you are still questioning whether you really need a solicitor to sell your house, here is an overview of some of the key stages in the conveyancing process that you or your chosen solicitor will need to complete: 

  1. Once you have accepted the offer from the buyer, make sure that you have the buyer's contact details. This is to work out the particulars of the sale. 
  2. You will need to arrange a draft contract for approval, and a copy of your registered title and property plan. The contract contains details about the sale price, property boundaries, and any fixtures and fittings included. It also includes legal restrictions or rights, any planning restrictions, and services to the property, like drainage and gas. At this stage, you can also include a property information form and a list of fixtures, fittings, and anything else you are happy to include in the sale.
  3. The buyer's conveyancing solicitor will check the contract, forms and other details you supply for the buyer.If you have chosen to move forward without a conveyancing solicitor, you might have to research any answers to questions the buyer's conveyancer asks you.
  4. You will also need to liaise with the buyer's solicitor to confirm that the funds for the sale are in place, negotiate with them about the price, and work out the completion date with them.
  5. Once all of this is complete, you will need to agree on the exchange of contracts with the buyer's solicitor.  

At this point you will be ready to exchange contracts. This is when the transaction becomes binding, and you will be committed to completing the purchase or sale. Solicitors exchange contracts on the phone, in accordance with a protocol set by the Law Society.

It is unlikely that you will be allowed to do this, as the protocol requires undertakings to be given by legal professionals. So, if you are the buyer, you might have to go to the seller's solicitor's office, or if you are the seller acting without a conveyancer, you might have to go to the buyer's solicitor's office to do the exchange in person. 

Alternatively, if you are the buyer, you could send the other party your copy of the contract and cheque for the deposit and ask them to hold these to your order until you agree an exchange with them over the phone.


Question?

Once the contracts are exchanged, this is the process that will take place: 

  1. If you are buying a house without a conveyancing solicitor, you should receive the copy of the contract signed by the sellers. You will need to make sure that this is identical to the one you signed, and has the correct completion date. If you are a seller who is carrying out the conveyancing, you might hear from the buyer's solicitor if the contracts do not match up. 
  2. As the buyer, you will need to send a completion information form (TA13 from the Law Society's website), although you might be able to ask the seller's law firm to let you have replies to the standard form.
  3. It is also customary for the buyer's conveyancing solicitor to prepare a draft Land Registry transfer, so you may need to do this. The form can be downloaded from the Land Registry's website for free. The form usually required is TR1, but other forms may be needed in some cases. Complete the form as necessary and send it to the seller's lawyers for checking and signing. If you are the seller, the buyer's conveyancing solicitor will handle the draft transfer and you should receive the form that needs to be checked and signed.
  4. If the seller has a mortgage on the property, or any other financial charges, you, as the buyer, will want to make sure that necessary undertakings are given to discharge them immediately on completion.
  5. Before completion, the buyer acting on their own behalf will need to make a Land Registry search on form OS1 to check that there have not been any changes to the seller's registered title. This also "freezes" the register so no further changes will be made until you submit the application for the transfer (which has to be done within the specified priority period.) See the Land Registry's website for more information on how to do this.
  6. Whether you are the buyer or seller, you could arrange to complete in person, but normally this is done through the post. On the day of completion, you will have to arrange with your bank to send the balance of the purchase money by CHAPS transfer (often called telegraphic transfer.) 

When the money has been received, the keys should be released to the buyer so if you have made the purchase, you can move in. If you are the seller, you will need to release the keys to the buyer upon completion. 


What happens after completion?

If you have sold your property without help from a conveyancing solicitor, you will need to wait until the money has been received and then use the funds to pay off any outstanding mortgage on the property. From there, the conveyancing process for you is complete. 

As the purchaser, you might have completed buying a house without a solicitor, but there are some more steps to be aware of before the conveyancing side of the purchase is over: 

  1. You should receive the transfer signed by the seller (and any other title deeds) within a day or so. If not, chase it up.
  2. You will also need confirmation that any existing mortgage has been discharged. You may just get a letter confirming this has been done electronically or you may be sent a form signed by the lender.
  3. You will have to complete a return form for Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) and pay any duty. For full details on this, see the HMRC website.
  4. When you have obtained confirmation of payment of the SDLT, you can send your application for registration of transfer to the Land Registry, together with the signed transfer, the correct fee and any mortgage discharge form. The form to use for this is AP1. You will be required to provide evidence of your identity as mentioned on the form.
  5. If all is well, you should receive back a copy of the revised register showing your name as the new owner. If not, the registry may send you "requisitions" requiring further information or for documents to be amended.

So, do I need a solicitor to buy or sell a house?

Well, the answer is still no, you do not necessarily need a solicitor to buy or sell your house. You can do your own conveyancing.

This outline is only intended to give a brief guide to the steps involved in an ordinary house purchase, however. There may be much more involved in complex cases or leasehold properties. You would be advised to learn parts of basic land law and contract law to have a better understanding of what is involved.

If you are buying jointly with someone else, there are other issues in connection with joint ownership that you would need to consider. 

The Land Registry has published some useful general guides for the public, as well as much more detailed practice guides aimed at legal professionals. All these can be accessed from their website, and all the registry forms can be freely downloaded.

Before you decide to try conveyancing for yourself, why not get in touch with Homeward Legal for a quote for conveyancing costs? You may be pleasantly surprised by how affordable it is to get the services of a fully qualified solicitor who will save you the hassle of handling all the legal work.


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