Understanding the legal process

You’ve found the perfect property, and you’ve had an offer accepted, so what exactly happens next? This guide we’ll cover everything you need to know!

What's next once I've put in an offer?

Once you’ve put your offer in, you might start getting faced with a lot of jargon from estate agents and solicitors! Firstly, your estate agent should send you something called a Memorandum of Sale, which will help you start the legal process.

A Memorandum of Sale, or a ‘Memo’ of Sale, is simply a written confirmation giving you the details of the property you have offered on, what price has been accepted and what estate agent will be dealing with the sale process and their contact details.

Your estate agent will likely ask you to let them know your solicitors' details – so, step one, is to find a solicitor – which we can help you with if needed!

What does a solicitor do?

Solicitors are essential to the process and buying a home and completing your mortgage application without one could lead to huge delays.

A solicitor (who can also be called a conveyancer) takes care of all the legal work that goes into buying your first home. They’re often seen as the most important person in the home-buying process, so it’s important you pick a good one.

Finding a solicitor

Lots of people often ask family and friends for recommendations. We recommend O'Neill Patient to carry out your legal work, as they’re the 2nd largest solicitor firm in the UK and are well known for putting their customers first. We recommend them based on their solid past performance, great customer service and their app which keeps you updated on any changes to your application. It’s completely your choice whether you decide to use them.

Once you have selected a solicitor, you will be asked to provide details about yourself such as your ID, current address, basic information about the property you’re buying, and how you are funding the purchase. You’ll let them know who your estate agents and mortgage brokers are, so they can contact them directly about your sale. The major milestones a solicitor will look after are:


Searches are carried out to find more information about the property you plan to buy and typically cover a land, water and environmental search. Searches are a condition of the mortgage and are something you have to have done.

Solicitors start the process of searches early, as it can usually take a while and gives them time if any enquiries come up. These first checks are done to make sure there are no obstacles in the way of owning the home and that you have no nasty surprises when you get your keys. Searches are not to be confused with surveys. To understand the difference between a survey and a search it’s helpful to think of it as:

  • Surveys - to find out more about the value and structure of the home
  • Search - to find out more about the surrounding area of the home e.g. the land the house is built on.

Enquiries about the property and your mortgage

This part can take a long time, until enquiries are satisfied. This will involve your solicitor going back and forth with the solicitor of the vender (another word for the person who you’re buying a property from) until their enquiries are satisfied. This can range from talking about what in the property will be staying or going such as white goods or furniture to looking over a lease if you’re buying a leasehold flat.

You will receive a home report which will be a detailed report on the home you’re buying, and the solicitor will also check your formal mortgage offer from your lender to make sure you are aware of any important obligations, such as certain insurances or policies you might need to take out as a condition of the mortgage.

Exchanging contracts and paying your deposit

Your solicitor will check through a draft contract and speak with the seller’s solicitor to draw up the final version. When you’re ready to pay your deposit, your solicitor will help to arrange it so that they can be ready for the exchange of contracts. This means that all parties agree on a completion date and contracts are formally exchanged.

Should I get a survey?

As part of your mortgage application, the lender will instruct a mortgage valuation. Contrary to popular belief, this is not technically a survey as it is for the lender’s benefit and only the value of the home and concerning defects are reported in. In many cases, a report is not provided to the customer. Therefore, if you wish to know more about the condition, a survey is recommended. The main types of surveys are:

  • Level 1 Survey (previously known as a mortgage valuation) – This is a condition report which confirms details about the condition of the property and uses a traffic light system to highlight the seriousness of them.
  • Level 2 Survey (previously known as a homebuyers report) – This is a larger report, and contains more detail than a condition report and includes advice on repairs and maintenance. It also includes a valuation of the property.
  • Level 3 Survey (previously known as a buildings survey) – This is a full in-depth inspection of the property and reports on any problems it finds. This is the most suitable type of survey for older properties and those that have been extended or remodelled.

There is not one answer that fits all, as whether you should pay for additional surveys depends on the property you are buying and how confident you are in the current state of it. For older buildings, it is typically recommended to pay for a Level 3 survey, so you can be aware of any issues that might come with high repair costs!

You can pull out of the house purchase at any point before exchanging contracts without owing the other party anything but you would lose money on solicitors fees, and any surveys you have paid for. If you decide to pull out after contracts have been exchanged, then you will have to pay compensation to the other party as both parties have legally committed to the sale.

What is the full process from start to finish?

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