If you’re planning a house move, it’s important to factor in the extra costs. Alongside stamp duty land tax, legal fees can be a significant addition the cost of buying a property. But is there a way to cut these costs?
Known as conveyancing, the legal process involved in a house sale is an 11-stage transfer of property from seller to buyer. Usually a solicitor, licensed conveyancer or legal executive will carry out the work.
Could you do it yourself?
If you’ve bought and sold property before, the conveyancing process may seem like simply filling in a few forms – but in reality, there is much more to it.
Many buyers wonder if they can save on legal fees by carrying out their own conveyancing. While technically the answer is yes, there are several things to bear in mind as any mistakes in the necessary searches and formal enquiries will lead to big problems later on.
There are often unexpected issues too – someone other than the current owner with an interest in the property, for example. You will need to have your identity verified, something a solicitor would otherwise take care of. And, if you are taking out a mortgage, your lender will almost certainly insist that a solicitor is used.
According to the Land Registry: “If you do your own conveyancing and something goes wrong, then normally you’ll have no cover. If you use a professional conveyancer, you’ll be covered by their professional insurance. This is why the vast majority of land transactions are handled by professional conveyancers, like solicitors.”
The price you pay for conveyancing will vary depending on factors including location, and whether some additional searches are required – because the property is close to a river, for example. Legal fees for leasehold properties are likely to be more.
However, costs can also vary from one solicitor to another, so it’s advisable to shop around and get quotes. This has been made easier by new rules, introduced in December 2018, which aim to make the process simpler, and fees more transparent.
Solicitors in England and Wales must now publish their conveyancing fees on their websites. Previously it was difficult for buyers to compare costs for legal services. At a minimum, solicitors are required to publish their hourly rates along with timescales and fees for additional services. However, many will include an online calculator to work out the cost– just type in the address and you’ll receive an estimate of your final bill.
While the new rules could help you save money, it’s important to look at more than cost alone when choosing a solicitor. The Law Society advises checking the solicitor is part of its Conveyancing Quality Scheme – the recognised quality mark for legal experts in buying or selling property. Scheme members are assessed annually, and you should expect them to clearly explain the steps in buying or selling a home and be transparent about their services and the costs. They should also keep you well informed through the process.
It’s also worth checking whether your solicitor is registered with the specialist property law regulator, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC)
If you’re unsure, asking friends or colleagues who’ve bought and sold in the area for personal recommendations is a good idea too.
What about online services?
If you search the internet for a conveyancing solicitor, you’ll probably find numerous online services, which may seem very affordable. While it’s possible to use them successfully, the same warnings apply as for the DIY approach. You will need to comfortable with the lack of personal contact. You may only be able to interact with the solicitor online or through a call centre, rather than having a dedicated lawyer working on your case, and they are unlikely to have much local knowledge.
If you do go down this route, the Home Owners Alliance recommends carefully checking online reviews first, getting several conveyancing quotes and looking out for hidden costs that will push up the final bill.
Other ways to save
Your conveyancer may offer a “no sale, no legal fees” guarantee – useful if the worse happens and your transaction falls through. You will still have to pay the cost of completed searches, however. Make sure you are clear on this, and any other fees and charges, from the outset.
If you are taking out a mortgage, some lenders in England and Wales will cover your fees, provided you use their chosen conveyancing solicitor – others may offer you cashback instead.
Once you start looking for a property, it’s a good idea to get organised, with important documents, such as information about home improvement works and gas and electrical certificates, ready at hand. This will speed up the process, making it painless and efficient, and possibly saving money too.
With the need to pay stamp duty, removals costs and other expenses it’s tempting to try and save money on conveyancing. But this is a vital part of the buying process so it’s important you feel comfortable with your solicitor; that they’ll do a competent job and keep you well informed at every stage.
Remember, if you’re selling in Wimbledon, Richmond, Coombe and around, it’s likely that your property’s rise in value will more than cover your selling costs.
To find out more about how much your home could be worth today, and about the stunning properties we have for sale, get in touch today.