Essential legal tips you need to know before buying a house

Whether it’s your first rung on the property ladder or simply time for a change of scenery, buying a house is a big step for anyone.

There’s plenty to consider (and even more to gain) when weighing up your options on a new house; yet it’s surprising how many people overlook the essential do’s and don’ts before going straight in with their first offer.

It always pays to get to grips with the legal side of things during such an important development in your life and finances, especially if want to get maximum value for your money. These essential tips from property law experts Myerson are worth mulling over for anybody gearing up to buy their next house – let’s take a look.

Pick your conveyancer wisely

One of the first concrete steps to buying a new home is submitting the details of your solicitor or licensed conveyancer. Here you have an important choice to make: who do you want to represent you throughout every stage of the purchase?

Many people seem to think conveyancing is all about handling contracts, dotting the t’s and crossing the i’s. As such, it can be tempting to skimp on professionalism in favour of a bargain. There are also a growing number of ‘online conveyancers’ that offer a cheaper service solely by email or phone; but you’ll never meet face-to-face, you’ll likely be dealing with a different person each time you call and there’s a much higher chance of falling victim to fraud. As the old saying goes: you get what you pay for.

In the event that things take a turn for the worse, it’s better to have an experienced legal professional going into battle for you. With so many sellers and agents out to make a quick buck these days, that happens more than any of us would like to think. You need somebody who has been through the process time and time again, ideally having handled multiple purchases within the local area.

Check planning and land use permissions

Many buyers view potential houses with a vision of the future in mind. They may have an idea to add, convert or remove an area of the property at a later date; in which case it’s crucial to check the status of any planning permissions and building regulations before going ahead with the purchase.

It’s also not uncommon for a seller to add an extension, conservatory or major feature designed to bump up the price of a property before selling. Whilst this might add value, it’s also a potential risk factor for buyers. If planning permission hasn’t been obtained from the Land Planning Authority prior to construction, there’s every chance that the offending feature will have to be removed.

Remember that it’s the duty of the buyer and their solicitor to fully understand every aspect of the property before they decide to purchase. The seller is not legally obliged to volunteer anything negative about the property, so it’s vital to cover all bases. A property survey conducted by a qualified surveyor is an invaluable form of protection as it highlights any risk factors and discrepancies in the seller’s account.

Know your freehold from your leasehold

The differences between freehold and leasehold properties are fairly simple to define, though people can run into trouble if they don’t fully understand the implications of each type of contract.

Freehold refers to the outright ownership of both a property and the land on which it is built. In almost every case, freehold is the preferred method of purchasing a house because it puts your name directly onto the Land Registry as the sole owner. You are not at the behest of a landlord and therefore have greater freedom to do with the property as you wish.

Leasehold refers to the fixed-term ownership of a property, but not the land on which it is built. That means there is much more to consider with a leasehold arrangement, primarily the additional costs like ground rent and other annual service charges due to be paid by the leaseholder. Legal responsibilities and maintenance duties are also divided between the landlord and leaseholders, so it’s important to know exactly who is responsible for which parts of the property.

Securing permission to undertake any major works or renovations can prove difficult and failing to fulfil the terms of the lease may cause the tenant to forfeit the agreement and face eviction from the property. With the help of a good solicitor it is certainly possible to sign a secure leasehold agreement with minimal fuss and maximum peace of mind; though it’s also important to remember that leasehold agreements result in a far higher number of legal disputes compared with freehold purchases.

Consider every cost involved

This is straightforward advice that might sound obvious, but the reality is there are far more costs to consider when buying a new home than we initially think. Deposits and regular mortgage payments are at the front of most people’s minds, so it’s easy to forget about the other satellite costs involved.

Survey fees, valuation fees, removal fees, cost of decorating, buildings insurance, stamp duty: these are all extra payments that should be factored into your budget beforehand. Left unchecked, this can easily lead to financial problems before, during or after your dream move. Avoid the trouble by factoring every single due payment into a watertight budget before you even entertain the idea of making a formal offer.

For anyone in the market for a new house, there’s certainly a lot to consider from a legal perspective. Cutting costs might seem like a good idea on occasion but it tends to lead to more stress, more worry and further costs down the road. There’s no substitute for rock solid legal advice at one of the most important stages of your life, especially if you want guaranteed peace of mind.

Myerson has been supporting the property needs of the local community around South Manchester and Cheshire for decades. The firm specialises in residential purchases and sales, conveyancing and property disputes. For more information visit https://www.myerson.co.uk/

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