How to find the right conveyancer or solicitor
Is a conveyancer the same as a solicitor?
This can cause much confusion. Essentially, a conveyancer and a solicitor will play a similar role when you buy or sell a house.
The main differences between a conveyancer and a solicitor are:
- a conveyancer specialises in property law and concentrates mainly on residential transactions
- a solicitor is a qualified lawyer. They may specialise only in property conveyancing or they may also offer other legal services too.
Conveyancers and solicitors will both conduct local authority searches, deal with the Land Registry, liaise with your mortgage lender, exchange contracts and transfer the money to pay for the property.
Should I use a solicitor or a conveyancer?
They offer a similar service, but there are some things you might want to think about.
- depending on their set-up, a solicitor firm may be able to offer a wider range of legal services than a conveyancer.
- solicitors are usually more expensive than conveyancers.
- Online conveyancing can make the process more convenient – and cheaper – as everything is done via email or over the phone
You might also want to think about the size and type of firm you use. A small, local firm might be able to offer you a more personalised service, while a large, bulk conveyancing organisation might be less personal and more remote. If conveyancing is done online, your provider could be based miles away and you might never speak to the same person twice. This can make the process seem rather impersonal.
Where can I find a conveyancer or solicitor?
To start with, it’s always worth asking family and friends to recommend a conveyancer or solicitor they’ve had a positive experience with in the past. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a good property specialist.
Estate agents and mortgage brokers may point you in the direction of their recommended conveyancing solicitors, but be wary of this. They often do this because they’re paid commission, not necessarily because the service is any good.
When compiling your shortlist, consider the reputation of the solicitor or conveyancer and not just their conveyancing fees. It’s often worth paying a bit extra to get a first-class service. Online customer reviews and testimonials can sometimes be helpful.
Make sure the solicitor you choose is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales or Law Society of Scotland. For conveyancers, look for membership of a professional body, like the Council for Licensed Conveyancers or CILEX.
Try to get a couple of quotes before you hire a conveyancing lawyer, and ask for a full breakdown of costs so you can make a direct comparison. This should include searches, transfer fees, stamp duty and Land Registry fees.
Top tip: Some solicitors work on the basis that if your property purchase falls through, you don’t pay solicitor’s fees, although you will have to pay for searches up-front.
What else should I consider when looking for a conveyancer?
Problems can arise during the home-conveyancing process if you’re not careful. While some of these can’t be foreseen, there’s less chance of them happening if you do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before choosing a conveyancer or solicitor, such as:
- What’s the best way to contact you?
- Am I able to track how the house sale is progressing online?
- Who will look after my case during holidays or staff sickness?
- Where are you located? Using a conveyancer or solicitor near your home or workplace makes it easier to drop off or collect documents
Red flags to watch out for
There are also a few warning signs to be mindful of when choosing a legal professional:
- Lack of transparency – are services clearly advertised? Will there be charges if the sale falls through? Read your quotes carefully as some detail may get lost in the small print
- Unrealistic promises – be wary of any solicitor or conveyancer who promises a super-fast moving date. The norm is eight to 12 weeks, although some transactions can take longer. A situation may be very complex or delays may be caused by the coronavirus pandemic, for example. While a quick turnaround might be possible, no solicitor can guarantee this
- Inexperience – does the firm have a long track-record of property transactions, and how many do they carry out each year?