You’ll need to pay your solicitor at various points throughout your home-buying journey. Knowing that you have to anticipate these (and other) costs will help you financially plan your way.

Since buying a house is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll ever make, the last thing you want is to be blindsided by bills you didn’t expect or can’t afford.

When do I pay my solicitor’s fees?

Your solicitor will probably ask you for a ‘payment on account’ before they start working with you – usually about £500. They’ll invoice you for the remaining amount when everything is wrapped up.

Most of these fees depend on your unique circumstances, like the cost of your home and whether it’s a freehold or leasehold. They’re also typically divided up into your solicitor’s fees and disbursements (disbursements are third-party transactions that your solicitor oversees and pays on your behalf).

In total, you can expect to pay something between £1,000 and £5,000+ plus VAT to your solicitor (excluding stamp duty, which we’ll look at in a minute). It depends on the value of the property. Some of these costs might need to be paid along the way, as your solicitor pays for costs on your behalf.

The fees we discuss below are only the ones related to your solicitor. It’s worth remembering that there are quite a few other costs you can expect to pay in total

Legal fees

These are the fees that directly relate to the work your solicitor does for you. They cover all the services your solicitor does for you, including all the contracting and regulatory stuff. (Jump to the end of this article if you want a summary of what a solicitor does for you.)

In England and Wales, some lenders cover these fees themselves, if you go with their chosen solicitors. A broker (like us at Habito) can help you decide if it’s worth going for a mortgage with free legal work, or if you’d actually save more with a different deal.

Stamp duty

This one’s an important one in terms of your solicitor’s responsibilities. Stamp duty is a tax that you have to pay to the Government when you buy a property, and your solicitor is there to do it on your behalf.

How much you pay depends on the cost of your property (you don’t pay stamp duty if your house costs less than £125,000) and if you’re a first time buyer. If your house is between £125,000 and £250,000, you don’t need to pay stamp duty on the first £125,000. And if your house is worth less than £300,000 and it’s your first home, you don’t need to pay stamp duty at all. Check out how much you might pay with our stamp duty calculator.

This tax is known by slightly different names in different countries. In Wales, it’s called Land Transaction Tax, while in Scotland, it’s called Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.

What are disbursements? And what are the main ones?

Disbursements are the costs that third parties charge for certain services. Your solicitor will collect these fees from you and pay them on your behalf. If it’s a big disbursement, they may ask you to pay it to them at the time, but most disbursements are covered by the £500 you paid at the beginning. You’ll see a full breakdown of all your disbursements on your completion statement at the end.

There are quite a few disbursements your solicitor might need to pay. Here are a just few examples:

  • Bankruptcy search: Before giving you any money, your lender will want to confirm that you haven’t been declared bankrupt. This costs £2 per person.
  • Anti-money laundering checks: These legal checks are necessary to verify your identity. Expect to pay between £6 and £20.
  • Electronic transfer fee: You’ll pay this every time your solicitor does a bank transfer on your behalf, for example, when they transfer the mortgage money from the lender to your solicitor. It usually costs between £20 and £30.
  • Local authority search: This involves contacting local authorities to find out about any changes that might be planned for your area. Some of these changes could be substantial, such as major changes to roads or other infrastructure. The cost ranges between £100 and £200, but depends on your local authority and can be as much as £600. In Scotland, the Home Report that you receive should have all of this information. 
  • Water and drainage, and environmental searches: The water and drainage search will look at these systems and confirm that flooding isn’t a risk. The environmental search will check if your property is located near any contaminated land. The searches cost between £30 and £45 each.
  • Land Registry fee: This cost is for registering your property with the Land Registry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It comes at a cost of between £20 and £1,105. In Scotland, your property will be added to the Land Register of Scotland, and costs start at £45.
  • Help to Buy supplement: Your solicitor might add an extra fee for the additional work involved if you buy your home as part of the Help to Buy scheme. Help to Buy supplement costs range between £200 and £300.
  • Lifetime or Help-to-Buy ISA: Again, using your lifetime or Help-to-Buy ISA will involve a bit more work for your solicitor. This fee is capped at £50, plus VAT.

If my sale falls through, do I still need to pay the legal fees?

This one might sting a little: yes, some costs are not refundable, and you’ll have to pay them even if the sale of your house falls through. The fees you need to pay (and how much) will depend on how far along you are in the process.

If you’re worried about this, chat to your solicitor upfront about any risks involved.

This process can get quite complicated, and even if you crunch all the numbers, you might come up against a higher fee than you originally planned. 

Our complete home buying service is designed to prevent this while supporting you throughout – from paying your deposit to getting your keys and every legal step in between. 

Get in touch to see how we can help.

And if you’d like more information on what solicitors can do for you, read on…

What role do solicitors play? Do I need one to buy a house?

You have to use a solicitor if you’re buying with a mortgage. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to use a solicitor if you’re buying with cash, but most solicitors on the seller’s side would refuse to act without a lawyer on the other side.  This is ultimately a good thing, as solicitors offer valuable legal and technical expertise that you’re likely to need. 

Solicitors help to prepare the contracts that formally transfer ownership from the seller to you, and they consult with the Land Registry and local authorities to make sure everything is in order. 

They also check that the right building regulation certificates are in place. And – perhaps most important of all – they make sure that when you pay some of the heftier sums, like your deposit, your hard-earned pennies go to the right bank account.

What’s the difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer?

You’ll hear both terms bandied about. While there are small differences between solicitors and conveyancers, your experience will likely be that they do much the same thing. 

Here’s a brief look at the technical distinction:

  • A conveyancing solicitor is a solicitor who specialises in conveyancing and can help you to buy or sell a house. They may also have training in other areas of the law.
  • Like a conveyancing solicitor, a licensed conveyancer also has the necessary knowledge to help with the buying and selling process. While they don’t usually have training in every area of the law, they’re property law experts.

Choose your solicitor or conveyancer wisely and ask if they’ll give you an estimate of their fees before you hire them. This will help you prepare.