Q&A with Helena Mitchinson, Partner at GAD LLP Solicitors and Residential Property Expert

Helena Mitchinson addresses some of the issues people may have before they have appointed a solicitor with their sale or purchase.

Helena specialises in private client work including residential property sales and purchases, re-mortgages and transfer of equity/matrimonial transfer, freehold and leasehold property. She deals with these matters on a daily basis.

It can be a stressful time when buying or selling a property, especially for first time buyers who will have questions to ask once they have found the property they would like to buy. Helena is here to answer some of those questions you may have.

Question:  I have just found a property to purchase and put in an offer.  I am unsure as to how to appoint a solicitor and what their fees will be. Can you assist?

Answer: Most solicitors will provide a written costs estimate for you detailing their legal fees and disbursements which are additional items that you have to pay for such as Stamp Duty, Land Registry fees, Search fees.  Some solicitors charge an additional element for acting for your lender.  With the objective of transparency any fees that you are charged during or on completion of your matter should be set out in the costs estimate.  If you have a Help to Buy ISA you should mention this to the solicitor as there is usually an additional charge in the approximate sum of £50.00 plus VAT for the additional work in dealing with this. Please bear in mind that the lowest cost price you are given may not be the best for you, it may be the case that your local solicitor charges a slightly higher fee than a conveyancing factory where your matter is dealt with by a legal team who may work in an office away from you.

Question: What is a panel solicitor as I have been referred to one by my mortgage lender?

Answer: In order for a solicitor to act for both you and your lender they need to be appointed to your lender’s panel.  Each lender has criteria and their own panel of solicitors.  Some lenders choose not to accept smaller firms of solicitors or sole practitioners.  If you approach a solicitor with costs estimate you may wish to ensure they are on your lender’s panel to avoid the involvement of two sets of solicitors or two sets of legal fees.

Question: I have read in the media that there have been some problems with interception of e-mails and cyber security.

Answer: We take the issue of cyber security very seriously and use independent expert advisors. Our standard advice to our clients is that we will write to them initially by post in the vast majority of cases with our bank details set out on our letterhead.  We will not contact them by e-mail during the course of their transaction to advise of any change of bank details. This is the ploy often adopted by scammers. If in doubt always telephone the solicitor and speak to them to confirm before making any transfer.  We are also have the Cyber Essentials accreditation which means we have had to evidence how secure our systems are.

Question: I am being pressed by parties in the transaction to proceed quickly – how quickly can you start working for me?

Answer: Once we receive your substantive instructions to proceed we will issue you with the initial client care package, our evidence of identity requirements and request for you to supply documentary evidence of your source of funds. Once we have received the signed/receipted client care letter, you have attended our office with evidence of identity then we should be able to commence working for you.  

Question: How long can I expect the conveyancing transaction to take?

Answer:  It is difficult to be specific at the outset as the length of time is dependent upon many different circumstances. As a rule of thumb our advice is that a standard transaction can take between 6 and 12 weeks. The more parties there are within a conveyancing chain, the more likely it is that there may be an issue in one of the transactions which has the effect of delaying matters. Your conveyancer will identify any obvious title issues which require investigation. There may be missing certificates or documentation or windows may have been installed without the correct consents. The title may be leasehold resulting in additional factors and considerations. Your conveyancer should keep you appraised and updated as much as possible.

Question: What is exchange of contracts?

Answer: Exchange of contracts is the point at which your matter will become legally binding. The date on which completion takes place and parties in the chain move is agreed at exchange of contracts. By this time a seller/buyer will have signed the contract in readiness and the solicitors in the chain will agree that the matter is to become legally binding. A 10% deposit is paid and from an insurance perspective risk passes to the buyer from exchange of contracts. Your solicitor will have asked to see a copy of your Buildings Insurance Policy in readiness. The solicitor will then put in hand completion arrangements such as the last pre-completion searches and send a completion statement to you detailing the balance needed from you to complete the transaction.

Question: When is Stamp Duty payable?

Answer: Stamp Duty itself is payable within 30 days of the effective date of the transaction. Irrespective of whether you actually have to pay any Stamp Duty Land Tax your solicitor must file the return to HM Revenue & Customs also within this deadline. In practice your solicitor will expect to be in funds for the Stamp Duty Land Tax before completion of the transaction so that it can be discharged either on completion or within a few days thereafter.


If you are looking at moving house or purchase a residential property for an investment and would like to discuss conveyancing with a qualified Solicitor, please call Helena who is a partner in our property department and she will be happy to assist. Helena can be reached at: hmitchinson@gadllp.co.uk or 0151 733 3353.