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Carol Bryson MNAEA, Managing Director of JP Harll

You’ve found a home you’d like to buy, you want to make an offer and you’ve been asked which solicitor you would like to use. 


You haven’t got a clue where to start.  They’re all the same aren’t they?  Who’s the cheapest?  No they’re not and don’t decide on fee alone.



Firstly, you cannot use the same firm as the seller due to a potential ‘conflict of interest’.


Secondly, you can use a Solicitor or a Conveyancer.  Solicitors are qualified lawyers that can offer full legal services in other matters as well as buying and selling property.  They usually charge more.  Licensed Conveyancers are specialist property lawyers dealing mainly with residential property sales and purchases.  You can instruct either to act on your behalf when buying or selling a property but if there are added complications or issues to be taken into account then you may wish to instruct a Solicitor.


Secondly, if your seller is organised, knows what they’re doing and keen to get on with things, they will already have instructed their solicitor before they put the property on the market and they will be ready to issue the draft contract once an offer has been accepted.  So it’s worth finding out who the sellers intend using first.


You are going to have to provide your solicitor with your proof of identity and proof of address.  You will also need to pay monies on account to enable them to open a file and they will also need monies to apply for searches to be carried out on the property you are buying.


Solicitors do prefer to meet you in person and check your original documents and it is far easier if you can pop into a local office with them or, if you have any questions, rather than scanning, uploading, emailing and bank transferring monies.  It is also easier for signing contracts as worries over them getting lost in the post are eliminated.


When buying a property, speed is of the essence.  Many people wonder why the conveyancing transaction takes so long.  This is due to all the different circumstances that both buyers and sellers find themselves in and sometimes if a property is being sold as part of a deceased estate, or the property has not been electronically registered previously.  There can be issues with the property itself that require investigation or if there is a mortgage involved, it can be due to the length of time that the mortgage lender takes to issue a mortgage.


Therefore, everybody should do what is in their power to do, as quickly and smoothly as possible, as this reduces stress on all those concerns.


For instance, if you receive your initial paperwork from your solicitor on Monday and let’s be honest here, there is a lot of paperwork involved in buying and selling a property and you don’t get round to completing and returning it until the weekend, then they won’t have it back until the following Monday or Tuesday and that is the first week gone already. 


If the seller hasn’t instructed their solicitor until after accepting an offer and does the above and, then the solicitor has to create the draft contract from what they have returned, then there is another week or possibly two before it is issued.  You can see how quickly the weeks can add up.


So if you use a local practice you can pick up and drop off paperwork on the same day.  You aren’t worried about postal strikes and you get to physically meet the people that are acting on your behalf.  It’s nice to put a face to a name.  Especially when you are putting your trust in them.


Estate Agents sometimes recommend firms of solicitors. They are often paid a referral fee for the lead.  Sometimes they have a good working arrangement with them but what can happen in reality is that these firms become too busy, the clients are not looked after as well as would be hoped and both the agent and client are unhappy. It is well worth asking if a referral fee is being paid to the agent.


The solicitors recommended by estate agents are often ‘out of town’, not local and large internet based firms.  Many agents have targets set by their employer for the number of referrals they must reach each week, so do not be pushed into using a firm you do not want to use.


If you are using a large internet based company you may find that there are quite a number of trainees or fee earners working under the instruction of a more senior colleague, who then checks over the file before signing it off for completion. This can cause problems and delays in busy times when supervisors can be ‘snowed under’ with files, on holiday or off sick.


If you instruct an ‘out of town’ practice and you start having problems getting your calls answered and you don’t receive replies to your emails, you might not have the time or the ability to jump into the car and travel just to obtain a simple answer to your question.


For the same reason, use a Law Firm that is large enough to ensure there is enough staff to cover for holidays and illness. It is also worth asking if your solicitor or conveyancer has any extended holidays booked during the period that your transaction will take.


Therefore, as you can see, there is good reason to choose your solicitor wisely and basing your choice on fee alone is not the way to go.


When it comes to fees, you will likely pay more depending upon the individual who carries out the work. As I explained previously, depending upon the qualification level, you may pay a higher fee for a solicitor but if you have found a local practice that you would like to use, ask them if they have someone in the firm who can carry out the work and charge lower fees.  i.e. A licensed conveyancer or a trainee solicitor.


When obtaining your quotes ensure you get a thorough breakdown of costs so that you do not get any unpleasant surprises.


Ask whether your point of contact is working from home or the office, as they might not be readily available if you want to pop in on a whim and have to make an appointment.


Try to ask friends and relations for recommendations and check out reviews to help with your choice.


Another couple of points to consider are : some modern conveyancing firms have online case trackers that you can log on to, to see how progress is going and some conveyancers do have a policy whereby if your purchase does fall through for reasons outside of your control, will make an allowance against your next purchase.


Hope this is of help.