Choosing the right solicitor for your conveyance could be the single most important thing you do as part of your property-buying journey (after appointing a buying agent!!). Unfortunately, that’s not as straightforward as it sounds. In fact, picking the right conveyancing solicitor can be a bit like picking a needle out of a haystack.
As property finders / buying agents, when taking a new client on board, we always provide guidance and recommendations on the most appropriate solicitors to appoint based on each individual’s requirements, which will include personality type, type of property purchase (is it residential, commercial, freehold, leasehold?) and the complexity of the transaction.
So, how do you choose the right solicitor?
Below are some guidelines that I hope will help you make the best choice.
Differences between solicitors and conveyancers
The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates solicitors whilst the Council for Licensed Conveyancers regulates licensed conveyancers.
Licensed conveyancers are specialist property practitioners who focus on residential property transactions. Property solicitors are qualified lawyers with extensive training and experience in various aspects of the law but who specialise in property law. As a rule of thumb, using a property solicitor for the conveyance of your home purchase is more expensive than using a conveyancer, however that is not a reason not to choose a solicitor. In some firms, a conveyancer or paralegal will do the day-to-day work and a solicitor will oversee and sign off on everything (as well as dealing with more complex legal issues).
To find out more about the conveyancing process this article by Money Supermarket gives a clear and concise breakdown: https://www.moneysupermarket.com/mortgages/first-time-buyers/guide-to-conveyancing/
It is important you choose and appoint a solicitor or conveyancer as early as possible. We advise our clients to do this as soon as they make the decision to buy as it demonstrates to a seller that the buyer is serious and prepared; however, most buyers will look for a solicitor once their offer has been accepted. Of course, any quote given by a firm will be an estimate until the exact details of the property are known.
Conveyancing fees do vary quite a bit depending on the location, size and reputation of the firm, as well as other factors such as the type of property.
The average conveyancing fee when buying an average-priced freehold home will range from £800 to £1,500 plus VAT and disbursements, and the average conveyancing fee for selling a home is around £1,000 plus VAT and disbursements. If you are using a mortgage an additional fee will be payable (see below).
Disbursements include extras such as: the searches (£300-£450); telegraphic transfer fees (£35-£48 each); indemnity insurances (from £25); stamp duty land tax; notice fees; and more. Check that cheap quotes aren’t missing hidden costs or have not fully itemised all charges. Finally, avoid solicitors and conveyancers who charge an hourly rate.
Are you using a mortgage?
If the answer is yes, then there are a few things you need to consider:
- The majority of mortgage lenders will only consider dealing with certain specific solicitors and conveyancers who are on their approved panel.
- Picking a solicitor that is not on your mortgage lender’s panel can result in unnecessary complications, much higher legal fees or even a refusal to lend.
- If your appointed solicitor is not on the panel, you can ask them to register with that particular lender, but bear in mind the registration process will take time to complete. Alternatively, the lender may appoint their own legal representation. This usually slows the process down and can add an additional £500 to £1,500 to your overall legal costs.
Ask for recommendations
One of the best ways to evaluate the quality of a solicitor or conveyancer is to get recommendations from people you know and trust such as family, friends and buying agents. People are often very happy to suggest a good solicitor or to steer you away from one they had a bad experience dealing with.
As buying agents, we only recommend trusted and vetted service providers such as solicitors and mortgage brokers – professionals that we have personally dealt with in the past or that previous clients have appointed and rated for the quality of the service provided.
When speaking to solicitors, don’t be afraid to ask them what experience they have and about their qualifications. Any good legal practice will be able to demonstrate their capability to handle your conveyancing.
Don’t trust estate agents recommendations
It is very common for estate agents to provide recommendations of local solicitors or conveyancers. Be aware this is normally because they have a financial agreement for every client they refer. The underlying risk is that the person they recommend is not necessarily the one offering the best service for you, but the one offering them the highest referral fee.
Remember: estate agents are retained by the seller and act exclusively in the best interests of sellers, not buyers! Only buying agents look after the buyer’s best interests.
Preferably appoint a local firm
Whilst not essential, local knowledge could play a key role during the conveyancing process, as a solicitor local to the area where you are buying will certainly have more local knowledge and consequently be abreast of local planning issues and development schemes that could hinder your property purchase. Alternatively, some buyers prefer to appoint a solicitor near to them so they can meet with their solicitor or conveyancer face-to-face if the need arises.
Useful tips for selecting the right property solicitor (or conveyancer):
– Stay away from conveyancing firms advertising on daytime TV – these types of firms are scouting for business and are commonly referred to as conveyancing “sweatshops” where the people handling your matter are call centre reps rather than properly qualified property professionals.
– No sale, no fee conveyancing – avoid like the plague! This kind of price promise is more often offered by online (sweatshop, call centre) conveyancing firms rather than traditional law firms. Such an offer makes us question the quality of the work as certain issues may be overlooked in order to get the sale through so the firm can collect their fee.
– You don’t always get what you pay for. If you pay a mere £300, don’t expect miracles! The work is likely to be done by a less qualified person and not necessarily properly overseen. However, the more expensive conveyancer or solicitor is not always the best. This is where referrals, reviews and background research are invaluable.
– Don’t let estate agents pressurise you into choosing one of their recommended solicitors – in case this happens, kindly turn their offer down and mention that you will seek advice from the SRA or CLC. This usually does the trick!
– Your conveyancer / solicitor should give you a direct line / phone number to contact them on. Again, call centre / online conveyancers will often have a general number for you to use and you speak to the “next available rep”. Smaller firms may also provide only the reception number, so that every time you call to speak to your conveyancer the receptionist will have to put you through. This is an excellent way for conveyancers to “screen” calls. It is essential that you have a direct line, rather than just an email address, to enable you to speak to your conveyancer, especially if things become time critical.
– Ask who will be handling your matter – it is quite usual for a paralegal or trainee solicitor or conveyancer to handle the day-to-day progression of your matter, however, it is important that their work is ultimately overseen by a solicitor / associate / licenced conveyancer / partner and NOT a case manager. A properly qualified and experienced practitioner is essential to ensure that all legal aspects affecting the property have been properly addressed. Avoid any firm who tells you a “case manager” signs off everything!
– Always check that the firm is authorised to provide conveyancing services by the relevant regulation authority (the SRA or CLC). Surprisingly, there are lots of unregistered and fake “law firms” out there. It is against the law to provide conveyancing services if the firm is not authorised by its relevant regulation authority.
To provide yourself with some costs protection, you should consider taking out Homebuyer’s Protection Insurance. This will enable you to claim back some of your legal, survey, valuation, search and mortgage set-up costs should a purchase fall through and it is not your fault. You will usually have up to 7 days after the acceptance of your offer to put this in place, if you so choose.
When buying (or selling) a property it is crucial that you appoint a solicitor that you can trust to act in your best interests and who has the right qualifications and experience in dealing with these transactions.
Finally, communication is key. The property buying process can be complex and confusing, especially if you are a first-time buyer. A solicitor or conveyancer that clearly and efficiently communicates at every stage of the process is definitely worth their fee.
Please call us on 0117 973 3683 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, no obligation, consultation to discuss your property requirements and to find out how we can help you.
Domus Holmes Property Finder (www.domusholmes.co.uk) is a Bristol-based independent property buying agent dedicated to sourcing, negotiating and securing residential and commercial properties for a diverse range of clients.