If you are thinking about buying or selling a property you will need a good lawyer to help with the legalities. The following guide looks at how to choose the best solicitors or licensed conveyancers.
Why do I need a solicitor or licensed conveyancer?
You will need to choose a solicitor or, alternatively, a licensed conveyancer, to oversee the process that transfers the legal ownership of any property that you are buying or selling. This is known as conveyancing.
A solicitor or licensed conveyancer will handle all legal aspects of buying or selling a property on your behalf. This can include the following:
- Drafting and handling the contracts of sale
- Providing legal advice on various aspects relating to the property transaction, for example, boundary issues
- Carrying out local authority searches, for example, to identify whether the property is listed or located in a conservation area
- Dealing with HM Land Registry, for example, checking the title deeds and registering new ownership details
- Transferring the funds to pay for your property.
When do I need to instruct a solicitor or licensed conveyancer?
You do not need to instruct a solicitor or licensed conveyancer until you have identified a property that you want to buy and you have had an offer accepted. Equally, if you are selling a property, you will only need a solicitor or conveyancer once you have found a buyer and a price has been agreed.
Prior thereto, any negotiations, for example, over the sale price, will typically take place between the buyer and the estate agent, on the vendor’s behalf, or in some cases, directly between the parties.
However, having agreed to the sale or purchase of a property in principal, the first question you will be asked is the name and contact details of your housing solicitor or licensed conveyancer.
What is the difference between a solicitor and licensed conveyancer?
A solicitor is a qualified lawyer with training in various aspects of the law, so can offer a full range of legal services, including but not limited to conveyancing. A licensed conveyancer, on the other hand, is a type of specialist property lawyer, dealing predominantly with the sale or purchase of residential property.
Both solicitors and licensed conveyancers are regulated, albeit by different bodies. A housing solicitor is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), whereas a licensed conveyancer is regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).
In either case, both a solicitor or licensed conveyancer must adhere to certain minimum standards when providing you with any professional services relating to your property transaction.
In particular, all practices regulated by either the SRA or the CLC must, as a condition of being licensed, have in place professional indemnity insurance to indemnify them for any civil liability incurred arising out of any regulated services provided.
This means that in the unfortunate event that there is any negligence or oversight on their part that results in financial loss to you during the course of any property transaction, you should be able to easily claim compensation through their professional indemnity policy.
In practice, there will be very little difference in the way in which a solicitor or conveyancer will handle your property transaction. As such, a licensed conveyancer will typically be able to handle your transaction from beginning to end, and in some cases can be far less costly than a solicitor.
That said, if the property transaction in question is likely to involve complex legal issues, for example, if there is a boundary dispute, or any other issues highlighted on the title deeds, you may want to instruct a fully qualified solicitor.
How to choose the best solicitors or licensed conveyancers?
When choosing the best housing solicitors or licensed conveyancers, making the right choice can often depend upon the nature of the property transaction in question, how complex this is likely to be, and how quickly and cheaply you would like the transaction to be dealt with.
Below we set out a number of factors that you might want to take into account:
A solicitor with several years post qualification experience is likely to have the expertise and knowledge to easily progress your case without any real difficulty, and to be able to resolve any legal problems or setbacks that arise.
However, a highly experienced solicitor is likely to charge more than a junior solicitor or licensed conveyancer. They may also have a heavy and complex caseload, meaning they are unable to prioritise your particular case with any real urgency. This can be a problem where time is of the essence and you need the sale or purchase of your property pushing through quickly.
Many solicitors are highly specialised and will therefore concentrate on one area of practice on a daily basis. As such, a specialised solicitor, as with licensed conveyancers, will deal predominantly with property transactions and know the relevant law and procedures inside out. This can potentially be crucial in the event that any problems arise.
There are, however, some solicitors that practice in several areas of law, including conveyancing. In these circumstances, their knowledge of property transactions may be less extensive than that of a specialised housing solicitor.
A solicitor dealing with other areas of law may also be more difficult to get hold of than an office-based specialist lawyer dealing with these types of cases every day, for example, if they are in and out of court. It is therefore always best to seek the services of a specialist housing lawyer or licensed conveyancer.
Solicitors and conveyancers can charge in different ways, for example, a fixed fee, an hourly rate or even a percentage of the property price. It is therefore best to get quotes from various different firms.
Prices can also vary depending on the size of the firm and the level of post qualification experience held by the lawyer in question.
When choosing the best solicitors or licensed conveyancers, you should ask for a full written quote of the cost involved in dealing with the property transaction from beginning to end. Further, you should ensure exactly what work is included within that quote and that there are no hidden costs.
You may want to avoid any solicitor or licensed conveyancer who charges an hourly rate, and be wary of any quote that does not fully itemise all charges.
Everyone has the right to choose their own solicitor, regardless of any recommendations made by other professionals involved in the property transaction process, for example, estate agents or mortgage lenders.
Most estate agents will recommend a local solicitor or conveyancer who will give them updates on how the matter is progressing. Moreover, they are likely to receive a commission in return for this referral.
As such, the estate agent may not necessarily be recommending the best solicitor or licensed conveyancer, but rather the one that will pay them the highest fee. This fee may also be added to your legal bill.
You should always check any ratings and reviews left by previous clients, as these can be particularly informative, especially any recent feedback that may have been posted online.
The conveyancing process involves a great deal of paperwork, where it is vital that all aspects are correctly completed. If the solicitor or conveyancer is not diligent in submitting the paperwork, this can cause considerable delay in the sale or purchase of a property.
To help streamline the transactional process, a modern housing solicitor or conveyancing practice will operate with online case tracking facilities allowing you to access up-to-date information on your property transaction 24/7.
When choosing the best solicitors or licensed conveyancers you may also want to ascertain the availability of the individual who will be dealing with your property transaction, for example, whether they have any holidays booked and who will step in if they are off sick.
The location of the firm can also be an important factor for many buyers or vendors, not least if you would like the convenience of being able to drop off or collect documents from a local office.
What if I am unhappy with my choice?
How to choose the best solicitors or legal conveyancers is not as straightforward as it first may seem.
When buying or selling a property it is vital that you appoint a housing solicitor or licensed conveyancer that you can trust to act in your best interests, who will have the experience to complete the transaction properly and in a timely manner, and who will charge you a fair price for doing so.
In the event that you feel unhappy and have concerns about the way in which the sale or purchase of your property is being handled you should first speak to the firm directly. In the event that a complaint cannot be resolved informally, you should refer the matter to the Legal Ombudsman.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.