The first question you are often asked when buying or selling a property is the name and contact details of your solicitor or licensed conveyancer. A good one will keep you updated and support you throughout what can be a stressful process. Use our top tips below to make sure you get the right legal professional on board.
1. Use a personal recommendation
Word of mouth and a personal recommendation from friends or a family member whose judgment you trust is a good starting point. They can also steer you away from a firm or individual solicitor whose work seemed less than competent or satisfactory.
Your estate agent may also be able to recommend a local firm, as they often work in partnership with property specialists. However, this could end up being a more expensive option for you. Also, check if they receive commission for the referral. You could ask your mortgage broker, lender or Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) for a recommendation instead.
However, a word of warning – it may be best to steer clear of a family member or friend who is a solicitor and says they can help out. Remember, when you are in a contract race, you need an experienced professional on your side and not someone who has “dabbled” in conveyancing at some point.
2. Check out the fee structure carefully
Solicitors can charge in different ways, including an hourly rate, fixed fee or a percentage of the property price. Try to get quotes from several difference firms and make sure the quote breaks down all fees/costs in order that you can compare like with like. The fee structure should be clear and transparent.
Remember, there will be disbursements to pay on top of the solicitor’s fees (i.e. expenses the solicitor has incurred through making enquires on your behalf) and these will need to be paid even if the purchase falls through. Find out what the level of costs and disbursements will be if this happens.
The quote should list separately land registry fees , local searches, bank transfer fees and the cost of, additional work if the process is more complex than anticipated. There will be stamp duty to pay on properties worth over £125,000.
3. Check who will be handling your case
Your conveyancing professional will handle all legal aspects of the transaction including giving initial advice, carrying out searches, dealing with the Land Registry, preparing contracts and transferring funds on exchange and completion. The matter can be dealt with either by a solicitor or licensed conveyancer.
Solicitors are qualified lawyers who can offer the full range of legal services, while conveyancers are specialists in property matters but may not be able to deal with more complex legal issues. Solicitors are generally more expensive than licensed conveyancers, but check. Make sure you have a named individual who will be dealing with your case and you are happy about their seniority/level of experience.
4. Make sure they have the right qualifications
Do make sure your chosen property specialist is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales and is a member of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality scheme. Conveyancers must be members of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
The Law Society is the independent professional body for solicitors who practice in England and Wales and also is a very useful resource for clients looking to find a solicitor in a particular area of law. They have a free-to-use research facility to help find a solicitor in a particular location and area of expertise.
The Law Society also runs the Conveyancing Quality Scheme which is a register of solicitors who are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to carry out conveyancing. For further details, see the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.org.uk.
5. Think about where your solicitor is located
Today, there is more choice than ever and firms range from the traditional high street practice to an internet-only agent. Carefully consider whether a local or online service would suit you better.
It may be easier to choose a local firm in order you can deal face-to-face and drop off signed paperwork as and when needed. Solicitors in the local area may also have a better grasp of local issues or any potential problems e.g. a new development in the area.
However, online conveyancing is an area which is growing and as you only deal with them by email or telephone, the services are often cheaper. The downside is that you may not talk to the same person each time you call and they may not be able to deal with more complex legal problems.
6. Make sure you have good communication with your solicitor
Clear communications with your lawyer can help ease the conveyancing process. Find out the best times and ways to contact them, whether they have any holiday booked over critical dates and who will be dealing with your matter if they are away or off sick.
An uncommunicative solicitor is not only stressful but and could mean a rival bid is being pushed through without your knowledge. Keep in close contact with your solicitor by phone or email and ask them to contact you as soon as there are any potential problems – do not be left in the dark.
Do remember that with the best will in the world, buying and selling is a frustrating process and things go wrong. This includes a vendor dropping out, being gazumped or problems found during the survey. However, good communications with your lawyer should at least help you deal with these problems.
7. Help your solicitor
Finally, remember there are things you can do to help the process. At the first meeting, your conveyancer will need proof of ID for money-laundering purposes, so make sure you turn up with the
correct documentation requested. Also ensure you have your finances/mortgage in place when needed, so you are ready to go and deal promptly with any queries raised by your solicitor or the