Legal Q&A: is it legal to sell your house without using a solicitor?

We had our offer accepted on a property but now our estate agent has told us that the previous sale fell through because the vendor wanted to handle his side of the sale himself. Is this legal?

Question: We thought we’d had our offer accepted on a property we have seen and that everything was going ahead smoothly. However, our solicitor says there is a problem.

Apparently, the person we are buying from doesn’t want to pay for a solicitor and insists on handling his side of the sale himself.

We’ve heard he had a previous buyer but that sale fell through because their solicitor refused to work with an amateur. 

The estate agent says we must check our solicitor won’t say the same. Does this happen often? Can the seller really do all the work himself?

Answer: It isn't common but it is possible. If there is a mortgage secured on the property, the lender will insist a solicitor is appointed to deal with the redemption of the mortgage. 

Your solicitor will need to carry out due diligence not only on you but also on the seller to ensure there is no identity fraud, and that they are indeed entitled to sell the property. 

Accordingly, your solicitor will ask for ID from the seller — photographic ID plus utility bills/bank statements, for example — to prove their address, and should carry out a bankruptcy search.

A seller cannot give undertakings, so your solicitor is likely to require a meeting with them in order to exchange contracts, and may suggest a simultaneous exchange of contracts and completion to avoid issues with your deposit on exchange. 

This is because the deposit should not be released to a seller in person.

Your solicitor should also hold a transfer signed by the seller in escrow before releasing the purchase monies to them. 

There will be extra work for your solicitor — so your legal fees are likely to be higher than if the seller was represented.

What’s your Problem?

If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE.

We regret that questions cannot be answered individually, but we will try to feature them here. 

  • Fiona McNulty is a legal director in the private wealth group of Foot Anstey (footanstey.com).

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