Buying a new home is a huge milestone in our lives and should be an exciting time. Unfortunately, it’s also very confusing and often stressful. There is a lot of legal work including local searches, surveys and the technicalities involved in paying the deposit and stamp duty. All of this work can be confusing and time-consuming as well as costly. That’s why we turn to solicitors or conveyancers, trained professionals who can navigate this tricky landscape. Of course, a solicitor or conveyancer comes with their own costs and they can have a huge impact on how long the process takes and even on whether the process gets completed at all. Needless to say, it’s important to choose the right solicitor or conveyancer when buying a house, but how do you know they’re a good choice?
What does a solicitor or conveyancer do
A solicitor or conveyancer handles all the legal work involved in the house buying process. This includes searches, surveys, exchanging contracts, paying stamp duty and much more. It’s a time-consuming process with a wide range of legalities and a lot of paperwork with fine print. Solicitors and conveyancers, therefore, have the qualifications and experience to handle everything required in this process and should have all the knowledge needed to complete all the necessary milestones correctly and on time as well as handling any unexpected problems that may arise.
Considerations for choosing a conveyancing service
There is a wide range of things to consider when choosing the right solicitor or conveyancer for you. Here, we break down the main points you need to consider when comparing companies.
The difference between a solicitor and a conveyancer
In terms of the actual work they do in the house buying process, the role of the solicitor and the conveyancer will be the same; they are responsible for the same tasks and should complete the same work to the same quality. There are, however, differences between the two options to be aware of.
Conveyancers are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and specialise in property law. They usually focus on residential property and have experience with the house buying process every day.
Solicitors, on the other hand, are qualified lawyers and will have training in many aspects of the law including divorce and court proceedings and are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. They can, therefore, offer expertise in a wide range of legal matters which can be useful for unexpected legal problems or more complex legal work.
It does mean, however, that they spend their time a wider range of legal work and may not be working on property law every day. They have less experience in this particular area than a dedicated conveyancer or they may be busier and more easily distracted by other legal work. They are usually also more expensive than a conveyancer.
When choosing between the two you should, therefore, think carefully about your needs and the property you are buying. If you potentially have some complicated legal problems involved in the purchase such as disputes over boundaries then the additional legal experience offered by a solicitor might be worth the additional cost. If you just need someone to handle the standard house buying process, however, then a conveyancer may be a more affordable option and will potentially be slightly more dedicated and available for your needs.
Sourcing your solicitor or conveyancer
Online searches for local companies is a great starting point but you could also go straight to friends and family to get recommendations especially if they are local to you and have used them recently. A first-hand account of a solicitor or conveyancer is often the best way to know early on whether they are a good potential choice or not.
Your lender, mortgage broker or Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) may also be able to recommend some good options. In fact, some lenders have a list of approved conveyancers that they will require you to choose from which can immediately narrow down your choices. There is usually a good choice on the list however with a range of prices and you can guarantee they will all have the relevant licenses and qualifications.
Finally, your estate agent may also have some recommendations. Be aware, however, that this is often because they receive a commission from their recommended partner so this may be a costlier route and it may not be an unbiased recommendation based on quality alone.
Credentials and qualifications
It’s essential that you check the credentials of any potential solicitors or conveyancers. They should be a member of the Law Society of England and Wales or the Law Society of Scotland and a member of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme. Conveyancers should also be members of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.
Communication is key for the house buying process. You need to know what stage the process is at all the time so you can stay on top of things and get ahead of any potential problems. Good communication is also usually a good sign that your conveyancer is on top of their tasks and completing everything that needs to be done on time and efficiently. This is vital as any disorganisation or delay in the process could significantly impact the costs and even the overall success of the buying process.
To try and gauge how good communication is before you make your choice you will need to ask the right questions. Check what communication channels will be available to you, who will be handling your work and when you can contact them. You will want a dedicated professional that handles your process and you should be able to call and email them at reasonable business hours. Watch out for short hours.
Today, you should also expect additional communication channels such as an online chat or SMS service. Many conveyancers have even introduced online tracking facilities that allow you to access information about all your transactions 24 hours a day.
After getting a clear idea about how, when and who you can contact during the process, don’t forget to check whether the person managing your transaction has any holiday planned and who will be your point of contact if they are every away unexpectedly.
People don’t often consider location when choosing their solicitor or conveyancer. Online conveyancing is becoming popular and there can be advantages to choosing a conveyancer that communicates predominantly online other channels.
It should be remembered, however, that there is a lot of paperwork involved in conveyancing and you will need to sign physical contracts and papers during the process. The deadlines and time scales of this paperwork can additionally be crucial to the success of the process and missed deadlines can be costly. It can, therefore, be beneficial to choose solicitors or conveyancers with a physical office that is local to you so that you can be ready to sign papers and even check-up in person on the progress of the buying process to keep things moving.
Fees and costs
Finally, you’ll need to compare costs and fees between your shortlisted conveyancers. Be aware of potential hidden costs at this stage and make sure you get all the fees involved up front so you can budget properly and make sure you get the best deal. You’ll want to compare at least three quotes for a competitive choice and make sure you account for any VAT. Typical costs should include:
- Costs for searches
- Bank transfer fees
- Land Registry fees
- Stamp Duty
- Disbursements (other costs such as postage and courier services)
If your buying process is looking to be more complex or unique than the usual then you should also be aware of any other special costs that may be involved.
Once you have your quotes, be cautious of just going for the cheapest option. While conveyancers and solicitors can be pricey and may be guilty of overcharging, it’s also true that the process is complex and involves complicated legal work. It’s vital that this work is completed to a high quality and efficiently, and sometimes that means paying a bit more for a better service. Today, there should be plenty of customer reviews for you to read online to get some first-hand accounts of solicitors and conveyancers to help you make the right choice and balance quality with costs.
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