Buying a house is exciting but it can be stressful, too. Understanding the legal side of things can help make getting the keys to your dream home much simpler.
Conveyancing is complex and, at times, frustrating, particularly if you’ve not been through it before. Using an experienced legal specialist who communicates clearly with you is essential, but understanding what's involved can also help to make things less stressful.
Working with industry experts and experienced homebuyers, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about conveyancing in this definitive, practical guide.
Conveyancing works differently in Scotland from the way it does in England and Wales. When buying a property in Scotland, the key stages of conveyancing are:
Keep reading to find out more about what happens at each stage, and the costs involved.
In Scotland, the conveyancing process begins when you make an offer on a property. You'll need your solicitor to help you put together the terms of the offer, so it's a good idea to appoint someone as soon as you begin your search.
Before choosing a solicitor, here are some key things to consider:
How much should I pay for a good solicitor?
When you’re buying a home, conveyancing typically costs between £400 and £1,500. However, fees can vary depending on a number of factors including the firm you choose, the type and price of property you’re buying and where it’s situated.
It’s important to remember that cheapest is not always best: more experienced practitioners with good reputations will often cost a bit more. Buying a home is likely to be one of the biggest financial transactions you ever make, so paying a little extra for a decent, reputable solicitor is generally money well spent.
You can find solicitors advertising fees as low as £350, but be wary as they will often carry hidden extra charges which mean you could end up paying more in the long run. Look for one who offers a fixed, upfront fee to avoid costs mounting unexpectedly throughout the process.
For extra security, choose a firm offering a ‘no-move, no-fee’ arrangement, which means you won’t pay your conveyancing fees if the purchase falls through. It's important to be aware, though, that any searches that have been carried out or other disbursements may still have to be paid for.
Do I need a local solicitor?
There is a popular belief that choosing a local solicitor will make it quicker and easier to iron out problems and hand over documents, but it’s also important to opt for someone who’s efficient, communicative, and has the capacity to deal with your purchase. If you use a solicitor based in a different area, documents can be posted or, sometimes, scanned and emailed.
Do I want a dedicated case handler?
Having a consistent point of contact throughout your purchase can be a godsend when it comes to conveyancing. You won’t have to spend time explaining things multiple times to different people, and if you do have a query, you’ll know exactly who to speak to.
If this is important to you, look for a firm that promises a dedicated case handler to deal with your case from start to finish.
Once you've found a property you're interested in, your solicitor will help you prepare the offer you want to put forward. This will include how much you're willing to pay, as well as proposed terms such as the date of entry – the day you'll pay and get the keys – and any other terms and conditions relating to the purchase.
It's important to get these terms right, because you'll be legally bound to honour them if your offer is accepted.
Once you've had an offer accepted, your solicitor will work with your seller's solicitor to agree the terms of the sale.
A contract for your purchase will be created by the exchange of ‘missives’ – letters between your solicitor and the seller’s.
The missives include important details about the purchase including the price agreed, the date of entry – the day you’ll pay and get the keys – and all the terms and conditions relating to the purchase.
During this time, your solicitor will carry out a series of checks to ensure that everything is in order.
You may be advised to have additional surveys done depending on what is raised in the Home Report, and your mortgage lender may insist on a separate valuation survey, though often the Home Report is sufficient.
Your solicitor will:
Check the title deeds to the property and let you know if there's anything you need to be aware of.
Check the legal ownership of the property and make certain additional checks, for example ensuring that the seller is not bankrupt and thus disqualified from selling.
Explain to you any ‘Title Burdens’. These are conditions specified in the Title Deed that you’ll have to abide by as the new owner of the property, such as liability to share costs of maintaining common areas and whether you can have pets.
Look for potential problems such as planned local developments that could affect the property.
Check that any work on the property had the right permissions.
Pay the money to your seller's solicitor on the date of entry (the point when you’ll get the keys to the property).
A binding contract is created at the ‘conclusion of missives’ when all terms are agreed and contracts signed. Unlike in England and Wales, you do not have to personally sign a contract as your solicitor signs it on your behalf.
You will, however, have to sign the standard security if you're taking out a mortgage. This is a legal document that gives your lender the right to repossess the property if you fail to make your payments.
On the date of entry, your solicitor will send across the final paperwork and transfer the funds to your seller’s solicitor. You’ll then be able to collect the keys to your new home and celebrate. This point in the process is known as settlement.
Once your purchase has been finalised, your solicitor will pay any Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) that is due and register the change of ownership with the Registers of Scotland. Title deeds to the property will be lodged with your mortgage lender, and you will get a copy.
Here is a rough guide to the conveyancing fees involved in buying a property. You should take these into account when working out your budget.
Please note that the fees below are a guide only and there may be additional charges depending on your situation. Your solicitor will be able to give you a more comprehensive breakdown of your charges.
These are the fees you’ll pay your solicitor for carrying out the legal work involved in your property transaction. Charges vary, but cheapest is not always best – it’s better to find a solicitor you can trust.
Lands and Buildings Transaction Tax
Lands and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) is a tiered Scottish government tax payable on properties costing more than £145,000 (or for second properties and buy-to-let properties, £40,000). The amount you pay will depend on the price of the property. Please note that a higher LBTT rate applies for some second homes and buy-to-let properties.
For example, if you buy a property that costs £300,000, then you will pay £4,600 in LBTT. That works out as no LBTT on the first £145,000, then 2% or £2100 on the amount between £145,001 and £250,000 and 5% or £2,500 for the portion above £250,000.
These are fees paid to Registers of Scotland for registering your deeds in the Land Register. The amount you pay depends on the price paid for the property.
Paid on the date of entry, this is the fee charged to you by your mortgage lender for sending mortgage funds to your solicitor. You can either pay it up front or add it to the mortgage and pay it off month by month. By adding it to the mortgage you'll end up paying more, as interest will be charged.
Conveyancing is the legal process you have to go through if you’re buying, selling, remortgaging or extending a lease.
Typically, a sale or purchase in England or Wales will take around 8-12 weeks from the moment an offer is accepted to the point of completion.
However, the conveyancing process varies from case to case and it can take longer depending on the complexity of the transaction, the number of people in the chain (if applicable), and how quickly you can respond to queries from your conveyancer.
Typically, a sale and/or purchase in Scotland will take around 4-8 weeks from the moment an offer is accepted to the point of completion.
However, the conveyancing process varies from case to case and it can take longer depending on the complexity of the transaction, the number of people in the chain (if applicable), and how quickly you can respond to queries from your solicitor.
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In Scotland, missives are the formal letters exchanged between the conveyancers representing the buyer and the seller dealing with contract details and conditions of sale.
In Scotland, title burdens are requirements that must be met by the owner of the property.
Burdens can include repair and maintenance responsibilities, access rights to and from the property, restrictions on any alterations you can make to the property, and other restrictions such as whether you’re allowed to keep certain pets on the property.
A conveyancer is a legal professional who specialises in property law and can carry out the legal side of buying or selling a property, remortgaging or extending a lease.
The Registers of Scotland is the government body responsible for compiling and keeping records relating to land and property in Scotland.
An advance notice gives notice of a property sale or purchase to the Registers of Scotland. It contains information about both the existing and new owners, the property and the intended deed.