When you purchase a property in the UK you need a solicitor (lawyer) to do the legal work for you. Conveyancing solicitors are the lawyers who specialise in property purchases or sales (you also need to use one if you are selling a property).
The Conveyancing solicitor does not actually visit the property. You also don’t usually meet with them in person. All communication is handled by telephone, letter and emails. Money is transferred via your bank into the solicitors bank (you never pay a seller directly, it is always an exchange between your solicitor and theirs – this gives you legal protection).
You can hire a conveyancing solicitor based anywhere. Indeed even we use someone based in Oxford, despite being based in London ourselves. The key things to look for in a solicitor are:
Fixed Fee. Some solicitors charge by the hour or per action they take. This can mean hundreds of pounds in additional costs. It is most common to hire a conveyancing solicitor for a price agreed in advance (usually a few hundred pounds to just over a thousand pounds). This ensures you get value for money as the majority of what the solicitor does for you is common and quite easy. If you have a unique property you may wish to check about extra fees to deal with anything especially difficult (strange leases, buying through a company structure) where you may need specialist advice.
The easiest ways buyers (especially foreign buyers) pay too much is by using a solicitor who charges by time/ effort or by using a conveyancing solicitor who charges a different price depending on the price of your property. There is no extra effort involved between a £500,000 house and a £2 million house, so don’t pay more without reason! Although most solicitors will try and charge a little extra as the property price moves up, the ones to watch are those charging a percentage of the property value. This is more common in London, often when the buyer and seller want a very quick deal – in this case solicitors charge a premium to operate super-fast, this is often established as around 0.5% of the purchase price. Extra time is involved if you are buying a Leasehold rather than a Freehold property, so expect a slightly higher cost for this.
Once you instruct the solicitor (after you have found a property to buy) you will still have to pay the solicitors fees if the deal falls through (e.g. seller changes their mind and decides not to sell, just before you exchange!). Some solicitors offer an insurance policy to protect against this. For an extra £50 to £100 they will refund your costs if the deal falls through (but not if You change your mind and pull out!). As with all insurance there will be limitations to when the policy will pay out so read the terms before signing up.
Personal recommendation is often a good way to find a solicitor. Conveyancing solicitors are a bit like hairdressers – you may not like the one your friend uses, however if they can tell you that they were efficient, kept in constant communication and made sure everything went well, then that’s probably safer than choosing someone from random, or an internet search.
Like most services, you get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you should spend thousands of pounds on a conveyancing solicitor, however be wary of using an internet service that handles everything for a very low fee (be suspicous of anything under £400). You will simply have an email address or website for communication, will receive little personal service and won’t have the ability to speak to the same person every time you need to call or have something answered.
Continuity is very important. Buying a property is like telling a story – it helps if one person does it! Ask the solicitor if they have any planned holidays or time off in the next few weeks (during the time between agreeing to buy a property and the Exchange date). Also ask if they work full time (every day) and how much work they have on at the moment. If they are “rushed off their feet” then they likely won’t prioritise your legal work. A good way to check is to see how long they take to call you back, when you first call the office. Usually a secretary will tell you someone will come back to you. If they take more than 24hours, forget them and move on. If you do speak to them straight away, call after office hours, leave a message saying you need to ask a question. If they respond the next morning, thats a good sign.
If you would like to know more details about the Conveyancing process, this government website walks you through everything: UK Government Conveyancing WebPage
Need to find a solicitor and can’t get a personal recommendation? Don’t just Google to find someone. Use the Law Society directory instead: Law Society Search Tool
You can of course get in touch with us: info@LondonAndProperty.com and we can pass on details of those who we have found to offer high service in our own transactions.