Solicitors fees & surveys

Solicitors, property surveys and surveyors

Finding the right solicitor can mark the difference between a smooth and a stressful move. Here are some guidelines to help you make the right choice, including advice on ensuring that the property you want to buy is up to scratch.
 
In this article
 Solicitors
 Solicitors' fees
 Property Surveys
 Homebuyer's Report
 Building Survey
 Choosing a surveyor
 Home Information Pack (sellers pack)


Solicitors
As soon as you place an offer on a property, your estate agent will ask for your solicitor's details to pass onto the seller's solicitor. It's therefore wise to establish contact with a solicitor before you start looking for a property to avoid having to make this important decision in a rush.
The legal process of buying and selling a property is called conveyancing. (Your solicitor must be qualified in conveyancing as it's a specialist area of law.) All solicitors practising law in England and Wales must also be registered with the Law Society. There are separate societies for Northern Ireland and Scotland. A solicitor's job is to take care of all legal aspects of moving house, which include:
 Local Search
 Land Charges Search
 Land Registry
 Stamp Duty


One of the best means of finding a suitable solicitor is through a personal recommendation, so ask friends and family who have bought a property in the area or the estate agent or mortgage broker.
Apart from the conveyancing work there is also the lender's legal work to be done. Your solicitor could act for the lender, which should save you money. The principal task is to draw up a mortgage deed, which sets out the conditions of your loan. The lender will hold this and the title deeds of your property until the loan is paid in full.

Solicitors' fees
Fees for conveyancing work vary, so it's a good idea to obtain at least three quotes from different companies. Make sure that you know what costs the quote includes. You will usually be charged for the solicitor's time, phone calls, letters and faxes and their indemnity fee. They may state that if any unforeseen problems arise these will be dealt with through an extra charge.
For a property costing 100,000, you should expect to pay about 550 in solicitor's fees. However, the cost will also depend on whether your property is leasehold or freehold. Leasehold properties will cost more as they involve additional work checking the lease.
Most solicitors will ask for payment of land registry and local authority search fees in advance. The balance will be due when you've completed on your home.
Don't be tempted to opt for solicitors that are offering a 'cheap deal'. This could mean that they are dealing with many clients, which will more often than not result in a slow service.
Once you've chosen a solicitor they will ask to see some form of identification, such as a passport or driving licence, and your mortgage lender's details. Most importantly, you will also need your chequebook.

Property Surveys
It is estimated that on average only 20% of all homebuyers commission a professional survey. This is somewhat surprising considering that buying a property is probably the biggest purchase in most people's lives. One explanation for this low take up, is that many homebuyers believe the mortgage lender's survey is sufficient.
In fact, the lender's survey is simply a mortgage valuation, a property inspection to establish the amount and terms of the loan. This survey will not tell you if the property is worth the price you're paying for it, nor point out any structural defects. To obtain this vitally important information you'll need to get a professional opinion by commissioning a chartered surveyor before you sign any contracts.
There are two main types of survey - the 'Homebuyer's Report' and the 'Building Survey'.

Homebuyer's Report
This type of survey is designed to keep costs to a minimum and is likely to be the best choice if the property you are buying is conventional in type and construction, is apparently in reasonable condition and built within the last 30 years. The survey focuses on defects and problems that are urgent and likely to have an effect on value. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the main objectives of the Homebuyer's report are to:
 Make a reasoned and informed judgement on whether or not to proceed with the purchase
 Assess whether or not the property is a reasonable purchase at the agreed price
 Be clear what decisions and actions should be taken before contracts are exchanged


Building Survey
This type of survey is suitable for all residential properties and provides a full picture of the property's construction and condition. Because the level of detail is higher than the Homebuyer's Report, a Building Survey is more expensive. This type of survey is required when a property is of an unusual construction or has had extensive alterations, if it's old, in need of serious structural repair or if you're planning a major conversion or renovation.
The final report will include detailed technical information on the construction of the property, materials used and a listing of all major and minor defects. The report does not provide a valuation, however this can be arranged as an agreed extra.
The cost of this survey is from 400 upwards and will usually take one to two days to complete. You can expect the final report within three working weeks of the original survey.

Choosing a surveyor
Once you've worked out which type of survey to go for, the next task is to find a suitable surveyor. Your mortgage lender or estate agent may be able to offer a recommendation, also don't forget to ask any friends who've recently purchased a property. If these options fail to find someone suitable, contact the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), see http://www.rics.org/ , who currently have over 80,000 members working to the highest professional standards.
It's a good idea to assist your surveyor by passing on information about the locality, including any information you've gathered about properties that are for sale or have recently been sold in the area. Also, inform the surveyor of any potential problems that you noticed when you viewed the property.

Home Information Pack (sellers pack)
In an effort to reform and improve the home buying and selling process, the Government is proposing to introduce a Home Information Pack (HIP), or sellers pack in 2007. As well as the terms of sale, this pack will also provide other key information, including surveys, replies to local searches, warranties on new properties, and guarantees for work carried out on the property. The proposed legislation will require home owners or their selling agents to have this pack available when marketing homes for sale and for prospective buyers to see on request. You can find the latest information on HIP at the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.