Choosing Conveyancing Solicitors
How to spot good guys that won't disappoint
Keep reading to discover…
- How to choose a conveyancer that won’t let you down
- When to instruct your conveyancer
- The difference between solicitors & licensed conveyancers
- And lots more…
Table of Contents
The problem you face
Most conveyancing solicitors provide a 2nd rate service for premium prices
The UK conveyancing industry is notorious for providing a slow and expensive service.
As such, finding a conveyancing solicitor that offers a reliable, efficient and personal service (all at a reasonable cost) is quite a challenge when buying or selling a property.
It’s worth taking the time to choose carefully because a good conveyancing solicitor will:
- Speed up your transaction.
- Reduce the chance of the deal falling through.
- Make sure the process is as stress-free & mistake-free as possible.
This guide contains all the information you need and will show you how to find a fast, personal service that’s value for money.
Does my conveyancer need to be local?
Until recently, local solicitors have been able to maintain a stranglehold on the conveyancing industry purely because prospective clients are so quick to believe that ‘local knowledge’ is an essential part of doing the job properly.
This is simply not true:
- There is no reason to ever meet with your solicitor during a typical sale or purchase.
- Because of this there is no need to limit yourself to your pool of local solicitors.
- You’re free to shop around and find a specialist that will provide you with the best service at a competitive price.
If however your transaction is not typical and involves such matters as altering existing boundaries, creating new rights of way or dividing a property, then it may be prudent to instruct a conveyancer that is able to easily visit the property.
Should you use an estate agent recommended conveyancing solicitor?
When choosing your conveyancing service, it’s always best to get a recommendation from someone that’s actually used the service.
Failing that, a good way to checkout any company is to ‘Google’ the firms name and see what people are saying about them.
Warning! Always think carefully before using any conveyancing solicitor recommended to you by an estate agent!
Often their recommendations will be overpriced. This is due to the substantial referral fees that many estate agents have negotiated with their conveyancing partner.
It’s no surprise that one of the UK’s largest firm of conveyancing solicitors is also owned by one of the UK’s largest estate agency chains.
This is a very profitable relationship however, ask around and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone (who’s used the service) that would recommend it to friends or family.
Don’t underestimate how pushy estate agents can be to sell you services that line their own pockets.
Here’s a little quote we stumbled across on the recruitment page of one of the UK’s largest estate agency groups (we’ve blocked out the company name):
Ensure every effort is made to cross sell xxxxxxx’s products, in particular, on every occasion attempt to gain an introduction to xxxxxxx’s Home Conveyancing and xxxxxxx’s Mortgage Services…
With large referral fees to be made, some estate agents’ recommendation may well be serving their best interests – not yours!
So you see, for many estate agents, ‘cross-selling’ (as it’s know) is in their job description – so beware, choose your conveyancing service wisely!
Will you find good conveyancing services online?
These days the Internet provides everyone with access to specialist online conveyancing firms that provide conveyancing services on a fixed-fee & no-completion, no fee basis.
This is a massive benefit because property transactions are always unpredictable – in fact, 1 in 3 fail to complete.
Only paying a solicitor if the transaction is successful will save you a substantial amount of money.
On the Internet there are many cheap conveyancing services competing for your business, some quoting fees as low as £125 (although when you look closer you’re likely to find a host of hidden extras).
As you can imagine, some of the firms you’ll find by searching online are excellent but many are not.
When your considering these online firms we would never recommend that you make your choice based purely on cost.
The cheapest solicitor is rarely the best.
In fact the cheapest are often the busiest and in turn the most difficult to contact, and usually the slowest.
Choosing an overworked and underpaid solicitor will not help you to secure the property you’re after, within the timeframe you require.
Do not fall into the trap of saving £100 on fees only to make the process more stressful and lengthy for yourself!
For a 1st class service, expect your total conveyancing bill to be:
- Selling = £600-£1,000
- Buying = £700-£1,500 (this does not include SDLT)
Why it’s worth choosing wisely
Lets look quickly at the difference between a good and bad conveyancer.
Good conveyancers will:
- Carry out the work efficiently & accurately.
- Reduce the stress of moving by provide expert guidance & support that’s in your best interests throughout the process.
- Take a proactive (not reactive) role and push your deal through.
- Help you to negotiate with other parties successfully.
- Speed up the time it takes you to complete on your transaction
- Have ample common sense and avoid being overly pedantic in an effort to look smart.
- Be technologically advanced enough to provide a modern conveyancing service.
- Carry professional indemnity of at least £1,000,000.
- Be on your lenders panel of approved solicitors – This will enable them to work on your mortgage without you having to pay extra.
- Be registered with one of the two regulatory bodies; The Law Society (solicitors) / The CLC (licensed conveyancers)
Poor conveyancers will:
- Put the success of your move at risk.
- Fail to read important documents carefully.
- Ignore your phone calls.
- Fail to answer your questions in plain English.
- Take longer than necessary to complete the work.
- Fail to alert you to potential problems.
- Increase your stress levels ten-fold.
- Ultimately cost you more money.
The good conveyancing service checklist
Here is the checklist you should judge any conveyancing service against:
1. The firm should specialise in residential conveyancing or at least have a specialist conveyancing department.
- When choosing a conveyancing service, experience is the most important thing to look for.
- Solicitors that specialise in litigation, divorce, family, employment or even commercial property law seldom provide the best residential conveyancing service.
2. You should be told who will be handling your case. Ideally you should be given their direct line.
- Some conveyancing firms operate under a ‘dedicated team’ set-up where all admin tasks are delegated to paralegals or trainee conveyancers.
- A qualified professional Solicitor or Licensed Conveyancer then checks everything.
- In small – medium sized firms this tends to work well as it’s an efficient working style & manageable enough to maintain a personal service.
- However, in my opinion the ‘dedicated team’ system falls apart in the large conveyancing factories.
- These cut-priced legal call centres often have ‘team member’ that are little more than glorified computer operators.
- This is ‘conveyor-belt’ conveyancing and is often slow and impersonal.
- The firms’ websites will swear blind that they provide the highest standards of personalised service however, experience tells me otherwise.
- Conveyancing factories are fine for simple stuff like a remortgage.
- For anything more complicated (especially the sale or purchase of a leasehold property) you’d be wise to stay away!
3. They are technologically advanced enough to employ; online case tracking, e-mail & SMS update systems.
- These features separate the progressive conveyancing providers from the dinosaurs.
- For example, ‘online case tracking’ is especially useful because every step of your transaction will be recorded online via a dedicated website (you’re given a password & username).
- It gives you the ability to check on the progress of your case at any time and know immediately if you’re making progress or what the causes of any hold-ups are.
- In short, firms using the latest technology will save you time, money & the stress caused by not knowing what’s going on.
4. Operate on a ‘No completion, no fee’ basis.
- Because 1 in 3 sales fail, choosing a conveyancing firm that operate in this way is a must.
- ‘No completion – no fee’ is a slightly ambiguous term because in reality, if the solicitor has paid for any disbursements on your behalf, you will be charged for these – It is only the solicitor’s basic fee that will be waived.
- There are however a number of cheap home mover insurance polices out there that can cover you for any additional financial loss.
- Well worth considering give you have a 33% chance of needing to make a claim.
5. Operate on a ‘fixed fee guarantee’ basis.
- In the past solicitors have charged for conveyancing work on an hourly basis. Not surprisingly this allows bills to escalate out of control.
- A ‘fixed fee guarantee’ lets you budget accurately. Even if you run into unexpected complications, you’re protected.
- With a ‘fixed fee guarantee’ firm the fee you’re initially quoted will be the fee you pay.
6. Are on all major lenders’ ‘Approved’ panels.
- This is important if you are buying with a mortgage because there’s a certain amount of legal work that needs to be done on your lender’s behalf.
- If the conveyancing firm you choose is not on your lender’s approved panel, your lender will instruct one that is.
- This will be an extra cost you have no control over (there are no statutory set fee scales for solicitors).
- Having two solicitors working on your behalf will also add to the time it takes to exchange contracts.
7. Operate extended opening hours.
- This is not essential but it can make your life easier if you need to act quickly on a legal issue relating to your move outside of the 9am-5pm timeframe.
- Whichever firm you choose, check that someone who is familiar with your case can be contacted outside of office hours.
- It is possible to find conveyancing services that keep the phones manned until 7-8pm weekday evenings and most of the weekend.
8. Provide you with a ‘Client Care Letter’ upfront.
- When you’ve chosen a legal adviser the first thing they should send you is a client care letter.
- The letter must contain a cost breakdown and description of the service they’ll provide. If these things are not in the letter, alarm bells should ring!
- Remember, you’re only committed to using the conveyancing service once you return the letter signed.
Solicitor or licensed conveyancer?
First lets look at how they differ:
- Qualified professional with broad knowledge of the law, including family law, personal injury, litigation and a wealth of different types of legal agreements.
- Might specialise in property transactions or might do a bit of everything.
- Regulated by Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
- Qualified only to practice property law.
- Regulated by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).
Are licensed conveyancers as good as solicitors?
Some people are nervous about using licensed conveyancers and wonder whether they are as qualified as solicitors.
Licensed conveyancers study conveyancing and land law specifically and only practice in this area so provided they are a few years post qualified they should have the necessary experience.
What this means is that in reality, solicitor conveyancers and licensed conveyancers should be equally good at conveyancing.
It is rare that you will need help with any other area of the law during a conveyancing transaction but if you do, for example there is a dispute and you want to sue a buyer or seller or you find squatters in your house and need them removed, then a licensed conveyancer will not be able to help you and whilst neither will a specialist conveyancer at a solicitors’ firm, someone else in the firm usually will.
Watch out when comparing fees & quotes
A conveyancing quote should consist of two parts:
- The solicitor’s basic fee (i.e. what they charge to do the work).
- The disbursements (these are things a conveyancer has to pay other people for on your behalf e.g. Environmental searches, Local Authority searches & indemnity insurance policies etc..).
The disbursements should roughly be the same from one conveyancing quote to the next however, ‘basic fees’ vary a lot.
Unfortunately you do need to be a little wary when seeking quotes.
Because conveyancing has become such a competitive business, many high profile firms employ tricks to make them look cheaper than they actually are.
Phantom of the Disbursements
A little trick some conveyancing firms like to employ is to invent disbursements.
They take tasks and charges that should be covered within the basic solicitor’s fee, call them disbursements or ‘supplemental fees’ and put a hefty price tag on them.
This does 3 things:
- It sneakily creates extra profit for the conveyancing firm.
- It gives the impression their basic fee for doing the work is lower than it actually is (it is the trick behind some of the ultra-low conveyancing quotes you see advertised).
- It turns what at first looks like a cheap conveyancing quote, into something far more expensive.
To protect yourself against this:
- Be wary of any quote that does not fully itemise all the individual costs & disbursements.
- Always scour the small print for hidden charges & supplemental fees.
- Add these extra costs to your quote so you can see the real cost of the solicitor’s service.
When should you instruct a conveyancer?
The short answer is – EARLY!
If there is one thing I would like this guide to achieve is to emphasise the need to instruct your conveyancer well before acceptance of an offer.
Traditionally, buyers and sellers have tended to wait until either they have secured a buyer or found a property to buy before instructing a Solicitor.
In the past this would have been due to the fact that they did not want to incur any costs before knowing the transaction was up and running.
These days there are many conveyancing firms working on a ‘no move, no fee’ policy so that risk isn’t there anymore.
As such, there is no reason not to instruct a Solicitor as soon as you begin to think about selling or buying – there are many weeks worth of ‘faffing around’ and paperwork to be saved by doing this.
This is especially true if you are selling a leasehold property because your conveyancer will have to obtain information from your Freeholder and/or Managing Agent and this can take considerable time.
Conclusion & summary
In short, please bear in mind 4 key points when choosing a solicitor:
1. There is no reason to limit yourself to local solicitors.
Conveyancing seldom requires ‘local knowledge’ or the need for you to physically meet with your conveyancer.
2. Don’t base your choice purely on price.
The cheap ‘online bucket-shop’ conveyancing services you’ll see advertised are often overworked and can slow the progress of your move (or worse).
3. Don’t automatically go with the firm that your estate agent recommends.
Especially if the recommendation comes from an; online, hybrid or corporate estate agent.
These types of agencies often recommend ‘factory conveyancing’ operations.
I’ve found these tend to be staffed by teams of inexperienced ‘legal executives’ making it a miracle to ever get hold of the same person twice.
You’ll really benefit if you can find a conveyancer that provides you with the personal service and a single point of contact.
What’s more, estate agents make large referral fees by recommending solicitors. It is not unusual for a whopping £200-£400 of your legal bill to go straight into their pocket.
4. Don’t even consider a solicitor that charges by the hour.
Find someone that offers a ‘fixed-fee’ and ‘no-completion, no-fee’ service – this will save you a lot of money.
- What is conveyancing?
- Conveyancing process explained: For Sellers
- Conveyancing process explained: For Buyers
- How much should conveyancing fees cost
- DIY conveyancing: Is it worth it?
- How to deal with conveyancing complaints & problems
- Exchange and completion of contracts explained
- Conveyancing searches explained
- Step by step guide to extending your lease
- Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) explained
Appendix A: Different types of conveyancing companies
Traditionally, conveyancing, as with other legal services, could only be carried out by firms of solicitors under the Solicitors Act 1974.
In the mid-eighties however, when home ownership among the working classes rose sharply (largely as a result of the introduction the Right to Buy, which gave council tenants the right to buy their homes at a discount).
The Government realised that conveyancing services had to be accessible to the masses at reasonable cost and that the way to do this was to increase competition.
This led to the creation of new types of conveyancing companies called licensed conveyancers, which were introduced in the Administration of Justice Act 1985. The first licenses were issued in 1987.
The Legal Services Act 2007 goes further still, by introducing ‘Alternative Business Structures’, meaning that firms providing legal services, such as conveyancing companies, may be owned by non-lawyers.
The Traditional Solicitors Practice
Until the introduction of Licensed Conveyancers, only solicitors could own conveyancing companies and conveyancing services were usually provided by a general practice along with other legal services.
As a result of increased demand however there are nor some law firms that are strictly conveyancing companies, in that they do not provide other legal services.
Solicitors are allowed, and always have been allowed, to employ non-lawyers to carry out legal work but all of the owners of the firm (the partners) must be solicitors.
This rule was put in place to protect the public as it ensured that only solicitors (who are strictly regulated) would be ultimately responsible for the work done by the firm.
Non-lawyers would potentially have less to lose by breaching the rules and so there is the danger they would adopt dubious practices to increase profits.
On the other side of the coin, the rule could be unfair to non-lawyers who, although they may have the same level of skills and experience as their qualified colleagues, could never be rewarded with a partnership.
A licensed conveyancer is a type of lawyer who only trains in, and is only permitted to practice conveyancing but who has the same rights as a solicitor as far as conveyancing is concerned.
Licensed conveyancers can either work for solicitors or set up their own conveyancing companies.
There are two levels of licensed conveyancer, a part license holder and a full license holder. Only full license holders can form their own conveyancing companies.
Some consumers are wary of licensed conveyancers, believing them not to be as strictly regulated, though this is not really the case.
In fact, a licensed conveyancer could argue he is a better option than a solicitor.
A solicitor is allowed to practice conveyancing even though he may have little or no practical experience, whereas a licensed conveyancer most definitely will be experienced.
Alternative Business Structures (ABS)
Alternative Business Structures were introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007, though the part of the legislation that brings them into effect is not yet in force.
They allow firms which provide legal services to the public (including conveyancing companies) to be owned by non-lawyers.
There is considerable opposition, with opponents fearing that they will compromise the impartiality of the solicitors who are actually doing the legal work.
ABSs will however need to be regulated by a licensing body (not necessarily the SRA or CLC) and the owners will have to pass a “fit and proper persons” test.
Alternative Business Structures were a Labour idea about which both the Conservatives and Liberals voiced concern when in opposition therefore it is not clear whether the legislation which brings them into effect will now become law.