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What’s the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor, and what kind do I need to help me when purchasing a house?

Lawyer is a general term for any law professional, and a solicitor is a subcategory of lawyer. In the UK, solicitors, who specialise in different areas of law, meet with and advise clients and are also responsible for representing their clients in the lower courts such as Magistrates Court. They then employ another kind of legal professional, known as a barrister, to act as advocate for their clients at higher levels of court such as the Crown Court.When looking for assistance in a property transaction there are two types of lawyer who can help you: a solicitor who specialises in property law, which may be commercial or residential; or a licensed conveyancer, which is a lawyer trained in property law but who is not qualified as a solicitor.Much of the actual administrative work involved in the transfer of property deeds may be undertaken by someone without a license, referred to as a conveyancer, under the supervision of a solicitor or licensed conveyancer.

How can a lawyer assist me in buying a property?

The term conveyancing refers to the transfer of the legal title of a property from one person to another; the legal aspect of buying or selling a property. As it is crucial that the title being transferred is legitimate, a major part of conveyancing involves carrying out searches relating to the prospective property, such as checking that the site is occupied legally, that the property isn’t threatened by any redevelopments in the area or subject to a compulsory purchase order.Conveyancing also involves duties such as drafting a contract to set out the terms of the purchase of the property, and the exchange of mortgage information. In England and Wales, property titles cannot be transferred until contracts have been exchanged, so this is an essential part of the process. However, in Scotland, once an offer for the purchase of a property has been accepted, the agreement is legally binding, whereas in England and Wales this is not the case; consequently the contractual stage of the transaction is not so crucial in Scotland.The Government has plans to introduce online conveyancing, which will involve the online registration of land to which the title is guaranteed by the state. This will ultimately dispose of the necessity for lengthy background searches and make purchasing property much easier and more secure for the buyer.

Won’t an estate agent take care of the legal side of things for me?

No. It is important to remember that an estate agent’s primary duty is to the seller of the property and not to you as the buyer. You won’t be paying the estate agent to sell you the house – their motivation is the fee they charge the seller for handling the transaction. Additionally, estate agents are not required to have any qualification or to belong to any professional body, and as a result, they are largely unregulated, with the result that the quality of service they provide varies widely between individuals and companies.