Buying a house is an exciting event in many people’s lives.

Whether you’re a first time buyer or a veteran of the property ladder, the process of buying and selling a house is littered with potential pitfalls.

No sale and purchase is exactly the same, however the procedures we as your solicitors go through will broadly be the same for every transaction be it a freehold or leasehold property.

Below is a brief guide to the main stages involved:


Once you have found a house and agreed a price with the seller, the seller’s solicitor will send a draft contract and any supporting paperwork to us. We will also receive a copy of the Home Information Form (“HIP”).

The HIP is a compulsory portfolio of documents comprising a copy of the title documents, local and water searches and an energy performance certificate. In some circumstances it may be necessary for us to repeat some of these searches.

These searches help us to find out as much about the property as possible before you are bound by a contract. At this stage, if something is revealed by a search that is undesirable to you as a buyer, you are free to walk away without any liability to the seller.

The usual searches and enquiries we will make in any transaction are:

  • Search of the local land charges register
  • Enquiries of the local authority
  • Water and drainage searches.

Depending on the circumstances of the transaction we may well make other searches, but for the purposes of this guide we’ll stick to the ‘usual suspects’

Search of the local land charges

The local authority is obliged to keep a register of certain matters within their jurisdiction. This is called the Local Land Charges Register.

Such matters may adversely affect the property you wish to purchase. A search of this register will reveal items such as:

  1. Tree preservation orders – these prevent protected trees from being felled
  2. Conditional planning consents for developments work and any changes of use
  3. Compulsory purchase orders
  4. Any restrictions on permitted development

Enquiries of the Local Authority

The local land search does not reveal everything about the area or an individual property. As a buyer you cannot have a full picture until we have received replies to enquiries of the Local Authority.

Our enquiries will reveal:

  1. Whether roads serving the property are maintained at the public expense
  2. If any roads or railways are proposed within 200 metres of the property
  3. Any planning applications made – including refusals
  4. Enforcement and stop notices served by the Council
  5. Any proposed enforcement notices
  6. Proposed tree preservation orders
  7. Proposed compulsory purchase orders
  8. Any building regulation approvals and completion certificates

These are of course matters that, you would want to be aware of and may be that they if they present a difficulty that cannot be overcome, you would decide not to proceed. However, both these searches will only reveal matters which directly affect the land. They will not reveal matters that affect neighbouring properties, which may indirectly affect the property being purchased.

Enquiries of the Seller

If you are selling a property, we will send you the Seller’s Property Information Form. This form contains questions about the general condition of the property. These should be answered honestly and as clearly as possible, as they form part of the contract.

When we receive this form from the seller’s solicitor, we will usually make supplementary enquiries to clarify any points. We would use such enquiries to establish whether there have been any disputes with neighbours or if there have been any alterations to the property which may have required planning permission.

We will also receive a Fixtures Fittings and Contents form completed by the seller showing what items are being left at the property and what will be taken.

For leasehold transactions, we will also send a Leasehold Information Form which asks questions relating to the lease. If applicable, for example with a residential flat, we will also make enquiries of any managing agents (who will usually charge a fee payable by the seller).

Water and Drainage Search

This search will reveal whether the property has:

  1. Foul water drainage to the public sewer
  2. Surface water drainage to the public sewer
  3. A water main within the boundaries of the property
  4. A connection to the main public water supply

The search will also reveal how the water and drainage is charged to the property, either by rateable value or by meter. It will also tell us whether that will change on you purchasing the property.

We will also investigate the title of the property to ensure that the seller has the right to sell and whether there are any rights or restrictions adverse to your ownership.

We may advise that you have a survey carried out. It may seem a waste of money at the time, however the cost of a few hundred pounds for a survey which results in you aborting a purchase is far more desirable than discovering that many thousands of pounds are required to fix a defect after your purchase. In many cases a mortgagee will insist on a survey.

Once we have had satisfactory replies to all of our enquiries we will send you a report on the property outlining our findings.

If your purchase is being funded with a mortgage, your mortgagee will want the same checks done for their benefit. Your mortgagee may well be concerned with matters that are of no relevance to you.

We may well be instructed to act for your mortgagee as well and our fee quotation will include this.

STAGE TWO – Exchange of Contracts and Pre-Completion

Once you are happy to go ahead with the purchase and your finance is in place we will send you a copy of the contract for you to sign.

When you return the contract we will ask you to forward us the deposit monies (usually 10% of the purchase price) so that once exchange of contracts with the seller’s solicitors is effected, we can send the deposit on to them

At exchange, we will agree a completion date with the seller’s solicitor which is mutually suitable for both you and the seller.

Exchange of contracts renders the transaction legally binding on both seller and buyer.

During the period between exchange of contracts and completion, we will carry out a search to check that the title is as it was when first investigated and will make the seller confirm the answers to previous enquiries are unchanged. We will also carry out a bankruptcy search against you.

If applicable, we will also report to the mortgage company and request the draw down of your mortgage. If you are selling we will request a redemption statement which will tell us how much is required to pay off the mortgage.

We will also send you a statement, detailing how much money we will need from you in order to complete the purchase.

STAGE THREE – Completion

On the day of completion we will have received from you and if applicable from the mortgage company the funds necessary to complete the transaction. We will then transfer these funds to the seller’s solicitors. The seller’s solicitors will acknowledge receipt and authorise the estate agent to release the keys to allow you to move into your new home!

Whilst you’re busy unpacking and settling in, we will be paying your Stamp Duty Land Tax (if there is any) and registering your mortgage company as the holder of a mortgage on the property and you as the new owner of the property at the Land Registry. Once registration is complete, we will send you an updated copy of the Title together with any other copies of other titles documents.

If you have a mortgage the mortgage company may want to have the original deeds, if not and there is no mortgage we can send them to you or retain them on your behalf.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.