Finding a solicitor
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
In order to buy a home, you'll need to find a solicitor to give you advice and carry out the legal work involved in buying a home.
Why do I need a solicitor?
To buy a home, you need a solicitor who can advise you on the home buying procedure and carry out the legal work involved (this is called conveyancing). It is your solicitor's responsibility to do these things on your behalf.
What does a solicitor do?
A solicitor can help you:
- arrange a mortgage
- arrange a survey of the home
- arrange insurance for the home.
However, their main role is to carry out the legal work involved in buying or selling a home. (Find out more about selling a home.)
When you're buying a home, conveyancing involves:
- putting in a note of interest, that is, telling the seller's solicitor that you're interested in making an offer on a property
- making a formal offer to the seller's solicitor on your behalf
- sorting out any conditions of the sale with the seller's solicitor
- checking the legal ownership of the home and carrying out various checks on the seller
- checking that there are no potential problems with the home, for example, that the council are not planning any repairs or developments which could affect the property and that the previous owner had planning permission for any alterations they carried out
- drawing up a deed transferring ownership of the property to you
- drawing up a standard security to give your mortgage lender certain rights over the property
- receiving the money from your lender and paying it to the seller's solicitor
- dealing with any other issues or disputes that arise in connection with the sale.
Your solicitor should always act on your instructions, and in your best interests. They will keep you up to date with everything that's happening in your purchase or sale but if you're not sure about anything, you can contact your solicitor at any point in the procedure for clarification or advice.
What if I'm also selling my old home?
If you are selling a home at the same time, use the same solicitor for both transactions if possible, as this should save you money.
How do I find a solicitor?
If you are moving to a new area, you're best off appointing a local solicitor, as they will have more knowledge of the housing market in the area and will have relationships with other professionals you'll need in the area (for example, surveyors and mortgage lenders).
Find out more about getting a solicitor.
What should I ask a solicitor?
A solicitor is offering a service, just like a bank, an insurance broker or a travel agent, so shop around before making a decision. Make sure you find out:
- how much they charge for the legal work involved in buying a home - read the page on solicitor's fees and charges for more information
- whether they charge a fixed fee or whether their fee depends on how much work they have to do
- what their estimate includes, for example, does it cover the fees for the legal work only or does it also take account of stamp duty, registration fees, expenses and VAT?
- how much you will have to pay them if the sale falls through or if you decide not to go ahead. This might happen if you put in offers for a few properties but you're not successful and you subsequently decide to think things over again. This can happen in areas where prices are high and there's a lot of competition to get houses.
What if I'm not happy with my solicitor?
If you aren't happy with the service you've received from your solicitor, there are things you can do to complain.
What if my solicitor's bill is too high?
If you think your solicitor's bill is unreasonably high, you may be able to challenge it. The page on complaining about a solicitor has more information on this.
What if my solicitor didn't carry out my instructions properly?
This may be the case if, for example:
- your solicitor didn't get your offer in on time
- they didn't add conditions to your offer which you requested.
Contact your solicitor immediately if you think they aren't following your instructions. It may not be too late to put the situation right.
What if my solicitor was negligent?
If your solicitor did not carry out the conveyancing work thoroughly, they may be guilty of negligence, for example, if:
- they failed to find out that the council were planning a road widening scheme or other development which would affect the property
- they didn't check that the seller had planning permission for building work done on the property
- they didn't tell you about any restrictions on your ownership of the property.
If you think your solicitor has been negligent, you should first raise the issue with them. If you can't reach a satisfactory solution, you should contact the client relations partner in the firm. If you're still not happy with the outcome, you can take your complaint further. Read the page on complaining about a solicitor to find out how.
Can anyone else do this legal work for me?
You may also be able to use an independent qualified conveyancer: contact the Law Society of Scotland to get a list of conveyancers. Conveyancers are not solicitors, although they can often carry out most aspects of conveyancing on your behalf.
What's the difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer?
Solicitors are governed by strict rules and regulations that say how they can and cannot act, and what their duties and obligations to you, as their client, are. It's important to realise that conveyancers aren't necessarily governed by the same rules as solicitors. Make sure you know whether the person carrying out your conveyancing is a solicitor or conveyancer and feel free to ask for a copy of their terms and conditions if they haven't already been provided to you. Solicitors have to send these out to you (along with a 'letter of engagement' which tells you what they will, and won't, do for you) automatically at the beginning of the transaction.
What is a paralegal?
You might also hear conveyancers being called 'paralegals'. Paralegals are not solicitors and they are not necessarily licensed conveyancers either. However, sometimes conveyancers will call themselves paralegals. Paralegals and conveyancers are sometimes employed by solicitors to support the conveyancing work they do, although they can set up in business themselves as well. It is possible to go on courses to train as a paralegal but some paralegals are simply given that title based on their experience of working for a solicitor (for example, some experienced secretaries are called paralegals). Paralegals can be found in most areas of legal practice, not just conveyancing. There can be big differences in the qualifications and experience of paralegals and conveyancers.
If you have any questions or concerns about who is doing your conveyancing, contact the person in charge of the firm that is doing the conveyancing for you.