Buying a house is arguably the most expensive purchase you will ever make and so it is especially important to know exactly what it is that you are getting, says Jen Finch, partner and head of residential property at Everett Tomlin Lloyd and Pratt Solicitors, Newport, Pontypool and Usk.

Jen says it is key to ensure that the seller is the owner of the property, that they are legally entitled to be selling it and that there aren’t any factors which would prevent the property from being re-sold or mortgaged in the future.

Your solicitor is responsible for transferring legal title of the property from the seller to you; the title to the property includes all rights and restrictions that run with the land. The rights included may benefit the land that you are purchasing or may be reserved to benefit neighbouring land, such as a right of way over your land to access theirs. Your solicitor will be able carefully read the title deeds to the property and make it clear what you are buying.

Another important factor that your solicitor will look at is whether any restrictions affect the property. For example there could be a covenant in the deeds which states that there can be no additions or alterations to the property. This clearly would be a problem for a purchaser who was planning to build an extension or have a garage erected for example.

When buying a property your solicitor will be able to advise you which searches are required. Having local knowledge of the area is imperative as your solicitor should know whether the property is in an area affected by previous coal mining activity and therefore whether a coal search should be ordered, whether the levels of radon gas are normal or if the area is prone to flooding and whether a flood report should be requested.

Additionally, if you are having a mortgage then you must have a Local Authority, Water & Drainage and an Environmental search. Your solicitor will go through the searches and flag any adverse entries that have been revealed. For example the local search may show that the roads serving the property you are buying are not adopted. This means that the local authority are not responsible for maintaining them and you will therefore potentially be liable for the cost of repairs. Other searches may show that the property is not connected to the main water supply, that there is no means of drainage from the property or even that the property is built on contaminated land. Your solicitor will be in a position to raise any necessary enquiries with the seller’s solicitor and look at solutions for any problems that have been highlighted with the property.

If you are purchasing the property with the aid of a mortgage your lender will always require legal representation as they need to be reassured that the property which they are accepting as security for the loan has good and marketable title and also that their charge gets registered at the land registry. Very often your lender will be happy for your chosen solicitor to act for them too.

However if you were to purchase a house without instructing a solicitor the lender will still expect you to pay their solicitor’s costs, so you will still end up paying some legal fees and you might find that you save little or nothing at the end of the day.

Crucially, your solicitor will make checks to ensure that the seller is legally entitled to sell the property and they should make enquiries to establish a link between the property being sold and the seller. If there are any concerns your solicitor should raise these with you as your solicitor is responsible for protecting your money.

There have been cases recently whereby empty or un-mortgaged properties have been targeted by fraudsters. In one case reported in the legal press the real owner’s identity was stolen by a fraudster and he acted as the seller by providing forged documents in the seller’s name. The fraud was only discovered after the buyer’s solicitor had sent the purchase money to the 'seller’s' solicitor and they in turn had transferred it to an account in Dubai. The money was never recovered and the buyer had lost their life savings attempting to a purchase a property that was never actually for sale.

For all of these reasons expert advice is essential when making what will be the largest single purchase in a person’s life.