Picking a solicitor

May 13, 2021

Picking a solicitor is challenging and most of us don’t have much experience with them.

We don’t know what we should be looking for. There are lots of questions that we don’t know the answer to. Do you need a solicitor or a conveyancer? Should you go local or online?

In this blog we explain the difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer, discuss if you should use an online company, and give you our tips on picking a good company.

What is the difference between a solicitor and conveyancer?

The first thing to understand is that conveyancing is the branch of law that covers the buying and selling of properties.

There are three different types of people who can be involved in your house sale/purchase:

  1. Solicitors: are qualified to handle conveyancing work, but not all solicitors are experts in this. You want to make sure that your solicitor is a specialist conveyancing solicitor. After all, the criminal solicitor may be ‘qualified’ but probably doesn’t have much experience in the area.
  2. Chartered Conveyancer: are as qualified and equally knowledgeable as conveyancing solicitors with regards to house purchases and sales.
  3. Paralegals and non-chartered conveyancer: are not personally qualified but work under the support and guidance of a qualified conveyancer; If you’re using one of these professionals, make sure you know who is signing off your purchase.

If your house purchase is standard, then any of these options will be fine. If you have an unusual or complicated case, you may want to pick a law firm that covers multiple disciplines.  This ensures that if you need additional help someone will be on hand that specialises in that area of law.

Whichever way you decide to go, make sure the firm is registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and is approved by either the Quality Conveyancing Scheme (CQS) or Lexcel. Individual Solicitors should be registered with the Law Society and hold a current practicing certificate. Chartered legal executives can be found on the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

Online vs local

For many people this comes down to cost. Online conveyancers may be cheaper. To help keep costs down, some even operate call centres with customer service agents and keep the conveyancers in the background working through the files. This reduces the cost, but if there are problems it can be difficult to speak to the conveyancer (it can even be difficult to speak to the same customer service agent).

Local solicitors give you the ability to drop documents in and speak to someone if there are complications. Their local knowledge and relationships can also be useful.

There are people who have had good and bad experiences with both. Ultimately, you must decide if the ability to communicate directly is worth the potential extra money.

Should you use the estate agent’s recommended solicitor?

It’s always good to go with a recommendation, but is it a recommendation you can trust?  If you’re thinking about using the estate agent’s recommended solicitor, it’s useful to understand the different ways a relationship between estate agent and solicitor can work.

A good estate agent can act as a conduit between all parties in the purchase and sale so can play a vital role in making sure everything happens as planned.  Solicitors know this, so spend a lot of time building good working relationships with agents.  Afterall, a smooth sale and purchase is in the best interest of both parties as they get paid once the transaction completes.

There could be a simple commercial agreement between the two parties whereby the estate agent receives a referral fee if you instruct their recommended solicitor.  In some cases this is where the relationship stops.

In other cases, the relationship between these two parties can be key to the success of your purchase.  An estate agent who has a great relationship with a local solicitor can leverage that relationship to push your purchase over the line, even after you’ve done everything you can.

If you’re considering using a solicitor recommended by the estate agent ask about the relationship.  You want to know if the recommendation is purely commercial or whether there are other, more subtle advantages that you can lean on at a later date.

Get recommendations

Speak to friends, family members and make use of Facebook (a request for recommendations will give you a solid starting point).

Most people don’t have a lot of experience and so it’s hard to trust their opinion. The more important information to get is from people who had bad experiences.  Don’t get too hung up on experiences where the process has been slower than expected.  This is often due to people in the chain and outside the control of the firm.  Be more concerned about stories of poor communication, lost documents and general unavailability.

Making contact

Once you have identified several companies you need to make contact. Avoid online sign-up forms, make sure you speak to someone at the firm. If they can’t be bothered to speak to you at this stage, what is communication going to be like once you have appointed them?

When you speak to them ask them the following questions:

  • What is the process? Find out how your case will be managed and how they will communicate with you. Even if another firm has explained this, play dumb and ask again. You are trying to work out how they will communicate, do they make the effort to explain things and if you trust them
  • Find out how busy they are. If you have completion dates in mind, find out if they can work to them. Ask what the state of their market is. If they are overworked, will your file be handled promptly?
  • Confirm dates. If you have a date in mind, make sure the person handling your file will not be going on holiday that week
  • Ask what cover they have if someone leaves or is sick. You don’t want your house purchase stalling, whilst your conveyancer is not in the office.

Lender’s panel

If you are getting a mortgage, your lender wants to make sure that their money is safe and that your conveyancer is not a crook who will run off with their money. Each lender will have an approved panel of conveyancers they will work with. If your conveyancer is not on the approved panel, you will end up with an additional fee (ranging from £150-£1,000) as your mortgage lender will have to do a legal review of the sale.

When asking for a quote confirm they are on your lenders panel.

Getting a quote

Get more than one quote. The prices can differ greatly.

Remember that price isn’t everything. The cheapest company will usually be the busiest company, and your purchase may be at the bottom of a long list.

Don’t use a company that charges by the hour. You will not know how much the bill will come to.

Make sure you get a written quote that includes all the costs. On top of the conveyancer’s work, you will also have to pay disbursements. These include items such as searches, stamp duty and land registry fees. Some firms offer low prices and then inflate the costs of the disbursements.

Don’t be fooled by cheap advertised prices, ask for a full quote.  Make sure this includes costs for dealing with the lender, higher bank transfer fees and fees for dealing with any complications which arise.

And finally, ask about any costs you might incur if the house sale falls through.  There may still be costs that you’ll need to pay.

Don’t get caught up in the app

Some firms like to boast about their use of technology. They advertise apps that enable you to track your purchase. Whilst these can appear useful, it’s better to use a company that enables you to speak to the conveyancer than get a vague update notification.

What next

Buying a house can be one of the most stressful things you do.  Pick the right legal representation and your stress levels will come down.  Spend some time researching who you want to represent you before you put in your offer so that when you’re ready to make the jump, you wont be panicked into making knee jerk decisions you might regret later.

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Mortgages:

Batsrock Limited, trading as Wisey, acts as an intermediary for the purposes of introducing its customers to Yes Mortgage Services Limited, part of the H L Partnership.

Yes Mortgage Services Limited is an appointed representative of H L Partnership Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Yes Mortgages Services Limited is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 08872874. The registered office address is Yes Mortgage Services Limited, Four Winds, 22 Windmill Lane, Avon Castle, Ringwood, Hampshire, BH242DQ.

You will not receive advice or any recommendation from Batsrock Financial. Such services will be provided by Yes Mortgage Services Limited