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What does a solicitor do for the buyer?

(Last Updated: 04/12/2023)
9 min read

A property solicitor or conveyancer must be instructed when buying a property in England and Wales. The work undertaken by the buyer's solicitor differs from the seller because they must identify risks and report these to the buyer and their mortgage lender.

The conveyancing process can be delayed when the buyer's solicitor encounters an enquiry that requires the seller's solicitor to provide adequate answers. This may not always be simple or, in the end, achievable. This can lead to the buyer taking on a risk alongside an indemnity policy to protect their lender from the risk. In worst-case scenarios, the buyer will pull out from buying the property.

What does a solicitor do for the buyer?

  • 1Review ID. Confirm who the buyer is.
  • 2Review source of funds. Confirm where the source of the buyer's money comes from.
  • 3Review contracts, title documents and property searches.
  • 5Provide a Report on Title.
  • 6Exchange. Contracts are exchanged, and 10% deposit is paid to the seller.
  • 7Complete. Receive your mortgage offer and send completion monies to the seller.
  • 8Post completion work. Filing and paying stamp duty, (if applicable) serve notice on freeholder and update the Land Registry.

What checks does a solicitor do when buying a house?

The buyer's solicitor checks the following:

  • ID for the buyer. This could be as simple as meeting your solicitor face to face with your passport or supplying your photo ID to them for an online ID check. Read more - What ID does your solicitor need?.
  • Proof of address. The solicitor checks where you are resident via a bank statement, driving licence or utility bill.
  • Proof of funds. The solicitor checks your bank statements and evidence of the source of your funds. Read more - How to prove source of funds.
  • Property Searches. The buyer pays for property searches, and the conveyancing solicitor checks them. The 3 main searches when buying a house are the local authority, water and drainage and environmental search.
  • Title/Deeds. The solicitor checks the title and deeds of the property. They look for easements such as rights of way/light, restrictions/charges needing removal, and any changes that may be needed.
  • Protocol Forms. The solicitor checks the seller's protocol forms (standard questions) for What fittings and contents are included in the property price, Property Information (its usage and knowledge of the seller about the property) and (if applicable) Leasehold Information. The solicitor compares the answers from the seller to the other legal documents to spot errors, breaches or other enquiries needing clarifying.
  • Mortgage Offer. When a buyer gets a mortgage, the lender instructs the buyer's solicitor to act on their behalf. The lender has specific requirements before they agree to lend on the property. If satisfied, the solicitor issues a mortgage report.
  • Leasehold Information Pack. For leasehold properties, the solicitor receives a packet of documents from the freeholder/management company, including ground rent, service charges, communal maintenance plans, major works and other freehold management information.

What documents do solicitors need when buying a house?

Documents are sent to the buyer's solicitor from the buyer, and also the seller as follows:

  • Photo ID.
  • Evidence of home address.
  • Evidence for proof of funds.
  • Solicitor's instruction form granting the solicitor the power to act on the buyer's behalf.
  • Once received from buyer's solicitor, signed contract, TR1, SDLT form and mortgage deed.

Normally sent to the buyer's solicitor within the first few days after the sale is agreed, except the contracts that are sent with the report on title.

  • TA6 Property Information Form.
  • TA10 Fittings and Contents Form.
  • (If applicable) TA7 Leasehold Information Form.
  • Contract of Sale
  • EPC
  • Title documents (office copy, title plan and original conveyance/transfer)
  • Supporting property documents such as boiler installation or electrical certificates.
  • (If applicable) Leasehold Information Pack.

Normally sent to the buyer's solicitor within the first weeks after the sale is agreed.

What does a solicitor do when getting a mortgage?

The solicitor must:

  • Obtain the conveyancing searches the specific lender requires, normally the 3 main searches listed above (local authority, water and environmental), but could also include coal mining.
  • Review and adhere to the special conditions in the mortgage offer, such as independent legal advice for a Joint Borrower Sole Proprietor or an occupier waiver.

The solicitor checks the property title to highlight issues the lender would not agree to without answers or indemnity insurance. The most common issues requiring indemnity insurance relate to breaches of the Building Regulations for works not signed-off at building control, such as a loft conversion, removal of load-bearing wall or extension.

What is a mortgage report from my solicitor?

The mortgage report is sent alongside the mortgage deed for you to sign and witness. The mortgage report echos the key information from the mortgage offer and also asks questions for you to confirm you have read and understood the following:

  • if a joint mortgage, all parties are equally liable to repay the mortgage in full.
  • the mortgage amount and term.
  • building insurance obligations.
  • the valuation report provided by the mortgage lender's surveyor, including a requirement for the buyer to make their own investigations using an RICS surveyor.
  • that anyone 17 and over should sign an occupier waiver form

The mortgage report is prepared once the buyer's mortgage lender receives the offer, although some conveyancers send it alongside the contract report.

What are the common issues found by a buyer's solicitor?

These are just some of the legal issues commonly found when buying a property and which a buyer's solicitor will raise enquiries about:

  • No planning permission. Your solicitor will check this by reviewing the local authority searches.
  • No building control sign-off. Your solicitor will check this by reviewing the local authority searches to see if there was any planning permission or building control sign-off.
  • Any right of way. Your solicitor checks this by reviewing the property deeds.
  • Gas boiler certificate. The sellers should provide evidence that the boiler was installed and registered with Gas Safety and has been maintained annually.
  • Property deeds. If the seller has no deeds and the land is unregistered, then your solicitor needs the seller to confirm their client has the right to sell the property to you (in these cases an Epitome of Title may be required). The challenge here is that if the seller doesn't hold the deeds to the property, you must ensure no one else has a beneficial right to your title after you purchase it.
  • Restrictions on the title (restrictive covenants). Your solicitor must ensure that the seller’s solicitor removes all restrictions from the title. Restrictions include matrimonial homes rights, creditor debt, mortgage interest, not being allowed to extend, whether you can dry your clothes in the garden or even if you are allowed pets.
  • Issues with the ownership of the property. Your solicitor must confirm that the seller has the right to sell the property to you and is who they say they are (the obligation of knowing who the seller is will fall on the due diligence of the seller's solicitors).
  • Negative property searches. Your solicitor will obtain property searches to inform you of potential issues with the property, including highlighting flood risk, contaminated land, planning permission granted or denied, and drainage access points to the property. You can read more about which searches you will need here - Property Searches - Which ones do I need when buying a home?
  • Vacant possession. Your solicitor will need to ensure the property is sold as vacant possession. This means that no one is living in the property at the time you take ownership unless otherwise agreed (for example, a sitting tenant for a buy-to-let landlord - sometimes landlords take over the tenant from the previous owner).
  • Uncertain title. Where the seller has not been forthcoming with information about the property.
  • Check the lease (if leasehold). There are many points to check in the lease; however, one of the key points is to understand how long you have left to run in years on your lease. A buyer may struggle if they are getting a mortgage to buy a property if the lease has less than 80 years because mortgage lenders don't like lending on a short lease (a short lease has under 80 years left to run). You can read more about Lease Extensions.
  • Mortgage restrictions. If you are getting a mortgage, your solicitor must satisfy the standard conditions provided in the Council for Mortgage Lender's (CML) handbook and any specific conditions, such as confirmation of gifting or the property has a structural survey. It is important to get your mortgage offer to your solicitor as quickly as possible, and this is an article that explains how to do this - The Mortgage Process

Any one of these issues could hinder your ability to purchase the property, and it is for your solicitor to investigate any that arise during the conveyancing process.

What is caveat emptor?

Under the principle of caveat emptor, the buyer cannot recover damages from the seller for defects on the property that rendered the property unfit for ordinary purposes. The only exceptions are if the seller actively concealed latent defects or otherwise made material misrepresentations amounting to fraud. Read more -

With the onus being on the buyer’s property solicitor to ascertain if issues would hinder or stop the buyer from proceeding, your solicitor must be trained to know what an issue is. Even if you are prepared to take a risk, if your mortgage lender isn't, you will be forced to obtain the documentation needed to proceed or withdraw from the property purchase.

What is a solicitor's report when buying a house?

The buyer's solicitor writes a report to their client of all the findings of their checks above. The report is called a Report on Title or an Exchange Contract Report. The objective of the report is to inform the client and allow them to choose whether they want to proceed with to exchange. The buyer's solicitor cannot tell the buyer if they should or shouldn't buy the property, only the potential risks if they were to do so.

The contract report when buying a house can be emailed, but it is often posted along with all the documents needed to be signed and reviewed alongside the report. These documents include:

  • Contract of Sale to be signed.
  • TR1 Form to be signed and witnessed.
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) declaration form to be signed.
  • Deeds such as a mortgage deed, deed of variation to be signed and witnessed.
  • Title/deed documents and any supporting guarantees/warranties related to the property.

The solicitors report before the exchange takes 1 to 3 days to type from when the final enquiries are satisfied.

What happens after the report on title?

The buyer's solicitor prepares for the exchange of contracts by:

  • receiving the 10% deposit from the buyer (sometimes less if agreed)
  • applying an OS1 priority search over the legal title to stop any changes
  • undertaking a bankruptcy search on the buyer
  • (leasehold only) obtaining an apportionment statement for ground rent and service charges from the seller

In some cases, the buyer's conveyance also submits a certificate of title to the mortgage lender to draw down mortgage funds for completion if the completion date is close to or on the same day as exchange.

How long from report on title to completion?

The report on title is the final stage pre-exchange, so you typically exchange within 3 to 5 working days after finalising the report on title. A completion date is agreed upon during this time so when you exchange contracts, the completion date is already agreed upon. Read more - How Long Between Exchange and Completion.

Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Reviewed by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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