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How to find the right solicitor or conveyancer

Once you have agreed on an offer, you need to choose a solicitor or conveyancer to transfer the legal ownership of the property from the seller to yourself. Choose the wrong one and it could add hundreds of pounds to your bill - or even derail the whole buying and selling process.

What is the difference between a solicitor and conveyancer?

  • A solicitor is a qualified lawyer, with extensive training in many aspects of law, and can offer full legal services such as taking someone to court
  • A licensed conveyancer has less training, but is specialised in property
  • Solicitors are almost always more expensive than conveyancers
  • Solicitors must be members of the Law Society
  • Conveyancers must be members of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers
  • Many larger solicitors practices employ in-house conveyancers, to do their conveyancing for them

What can go wrong with them?

Some homebuyers get frustrated with their solicitors or conveyancers:

  • Conveyancing involves a lot of paperwork and it is vital that all aspects are correctly completed. If they are not diligent and efficient in sending off the right bits of paper at the right time, they can cause considerable delays to the process – even to the extent of causing the sale to fall through.
  • Some can be difficult to get hold of, meaning it is difficult to track how your case is going, or to get any questions answered
  • An efficient and communicative solicitor or conveyancer will make the whole process a lot less stressful.
  • It is also important that the buyer or seller communicate properly with the conveyancer; disorganised customers can cause just as many delays and problems
  • They can give you low quotes but then reveal lots of hidden costs. Do your research and make sure you are aware of what the final bill will be.
  • Whatever you do, avoid solicitors/conveyancers which charge an hourly rate, and be wary of any quote that does not fully itemise all charges

When should I use a solicitor rather than conveyancer?

There are times when you are dealing with particularly difficult transactions when you should use a fully qualified solicitor

  • For example, if a lease extension is part of the purchase or if there is a dispute over the boundary, or if the sellers are getting divorced and are using more than one solicitor
  • If there are any legal issues outside property law, then a conveyancer would have to refer you to a solicitor in any case
  • But in most cases, an ordinary conveyancer will be able to handle it from beginning to end

What are the downsides of a solicitor?

  • They are almost always more expensive. Make sure you get full quotes from a solicitor so you can make a direct comparison in price with alternatives, as prices can vary massively
  • They might also be distracted – they will usually be handling many other more complex cases with urgent deadlines which can push your ordinary conveyancing to the bottom of the in-tray
  • Solicitors often insist on seeing you in person, to verify who you are. This is clearly inconvenient, especially for working people, and means you should not use a solicitor whose office you are not prepared to visit
  • Many solicitors have very antiquated working practices, and refuse to use emails to conduct business. Some also work in tiny practices, and have trouble providing continuity of service if they go on holiday. If they are a small practice, ask what holiday cover they have
  • Most solicitors are highly specialised, but some are generalists who do the occasional bit of conveyancing. Ensure your solicitor is a property specialist

If you are getting a mortgage:

  • Mortgage lenders will only deal with certain solicitors and conveyancers – those on their “panel” – who in turn usually pay the lender for the privilege
  • If you do not use a solicitor on their panel you will usually have to pay for the bank’s representation fees. This is usually around £200 but varies from bank to bank. For example, if you use HSBC you pay the bank, but if you use Halifax you have to make your own arrangements
  • Ask your solicitor/conveyancer what panels they are on; or ask your mortgage lender to recommend a solicitor, or what they do if you use a solicitor or conveyancer who isn’t on their panel

Should I go with the estate agent’s recommendation?

  • Estate agents will often recommend a local solicitor or conveyancer. But they often do so because they get a hefty commission that can add several hundred pounds to your bill. The risk is that they recommend the person that pays the highest commission rather than the one that offers the best service to you.
  • If your estate agent does recommend someone, ask if they are getting paid commission to do so. If they won’t tell you how much, it’s probably a lot.

How else can I find a conveyancer or solicitor?