Buying your first home involves learning about and processing lots of new information – and not all of it is as straight forward or as self explanatory as we might like, especially when it comes to the legal side!
We speak with Matt Johnson, Partner and New Homes specialist at Alexander JLO Solicitors – a team of impartial solicitors specialising in Shared Ownership and Help to Buy homes. He explains how the legal home buying process works, and breaks down some common legal phrases that often crop up.
When should I meet with a solicitor?
As you’re reaching the reservation stage of your home buying process, you will need to inform the seller of who you will be using as your legal advisor. Usually, if you’re buying from a developer or HA, the seller will give you a list of recommended legal firms who can represent you impartially. Though you are not under any obligation to use these firms, the prior knowledge of the seller and the development can be helpful.
The buying process is an exciting, sometimes overwhelming, experience, so it is best to work with someone you feel comfortable with and confident in. In addition to the recommended list, ask friends or family that have recently purchased which firm they used – personal recommendations can be a great place to start your search. Take your time and call around to have a chat before deciding – the right team will ensure a seamless transition behind the scenes and keep things ticking along. If you are intending to use a solicitor who is not on the recommended panel, do ensure that they are new build purchaser specialists and, if you are using a scheme such as Help to Buy or Shared Ownership, that they also specialise in these areas. It is also important to make sure that the firm you choose offers you a fixed fee quotation with no hidden costs.
Is the legal part of the home buying process different through Shared Ownership or Help to Buy?
Buying a home through Shared Ownership or Help to Buy is similar to buying a home through the traditional route, but there are some marked differences in the applications you need to complete, the language of the contracts and many other areas. You do not have to use a solicitor that specialises in Help to Buy or Shared Ownership, but it is extremely recommended, as working with a legal team that understands how the schemes work can help to streamline the process, ensure you meet the timeframes you agree with the seller and protect your interests in the proper manner.
Naturally, first time buyers have lots of questions about the legal process, so having someone on your team that can answer all your questions can make a big difference in your home buying journey.
Quick Fire Jargon Busting
Matt has highlighted some key industry phrases that often crop up when buying a home, and provided simple definitions – these should help make reading those legal documents a little less taxing!
- Exchange: Exchange when buying a property refers to the exchange of contracts. Two legal firms, representing the buyer and the seller, swap signed contracts and the buyer transfers their deposit. Once contracts are exchanged, the agreement to buy is legally binding and you will move forward toward Completion.
- Exchange Timeline: This is how long the buyer and the seller have to exchange contracts – normally in a new build purchase this period is about three to four weeks. This timeframe is set by the seller once you pay your reservation fee and the timeframe must be strictly adhered to. Failure to do so can, in some instances, lead to the property you are hoping to buy being remarketed, leaving you unable to continue. This leads back to the importance of having the best team possible working for you and ensuring they are specialists in the scheme you are buying through.
- Completion: Completion is the day that the remaining balance of the purchase funds are sent to the seller, via your solicitor. Your Completion date will be agreed in advance between you and the seller (either on exchange or, if the property had not been built at the time of exchange, once notice to complete is sent by the seller to your solicitor). Once all funds have been received by the seller’s solicitor, they will confirm completion has occurred and you can then arrange to pick up the keys to your new home from the sales team.
- Vendor: Vendor is another term to describe the seller of the property – in the case of most new build homes, this will be the Housing Association or developer.
- Conveyancing: This is the term for the legal process involved in the buying or selling of property. Your solicitor will provide you with a conveyancing service.
- Deeds: These are legal documents that help define the ownership as well as the boundaries of your property. As the new owner, you will receive these upon completion of the registration element of your purchase by the land registry. At present this may not happen until six to nine months after completion of your purchase has taken place.
- Searches: Searches are checks on local authority records for your property which can bring up forms such as planning applications or land charges. You also will need to have an environmental search carried out on the property. There are plenty of other searches available but your solicitors will advise as to what is required and also arrange to take them out on your behalf.
- Lease: Your lease is a contract from your seller (or freeholder) that conveys the property or land to the buyer for a specified time (i.e. 125 years). The lease will outline the terms of your rental payments and staircasing terms for a Shared Ownership home, as well as covenants – or promises – of responsibility of ownership.