How do I choose a good conveyancer?

Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring ownership of property! Choosing the right solicitor before offering on a property is crucial. There are conveyancer’s and conveyancing solicitors (who tend to be more expensive as they are lawyers but offer a broad range of legal services).

The first question, any estate agent will ask you when an offer is accepted is, who is your solicitor. We are hearing estate agents now using statements such as i.e. “Let’s not celebrate a sale till we reach completion date” or “Have you got your mortgage approved” before accepting offers. The scepticism has increased tenfold over the last few years, with one reason being that only 2 in 3 property sales are said to reach completion. There are many factors attributing to these nerves, such as mortgage criteria is much tougher than people are realising and buyers haven’t put their own property on the market or sold it yet either. Not having sold a property yet when one offers is no longer a sure offer for estate agents, as there is such a risk that you won’t sell your home as quickly as you believe or for as much as you believe. Is it market downturn or simply that the simple gap between salaries and property prices is hitting a crunch point where one isn’t stretching to the other anymore. There is also a  reduction in risk being taken by lenders, is that based on their own fears of a future downturn? It is very hard to predict, but predict the media does and it is at this point we find so many varying opinions across the broadsheets, however always note who supplied the data to that paper, was it Halifax or Bank or Bank of England figures can affect the bias of so much we read. You can always view this at the bottom of any news article and take note, everyone who produces the data on house property prices and lending confidence has a personal vested interest themselves in it going one way or another.

So why does the solicitor matter so much? Well as nerves are fraught, the right solicitor should be able to keep you well educated in simple terms, fully up to speed with any delays, inform you well as to why these might be occurring and take you through the whole process. They should always keep you posted on their own holidays and the difference between a good or bad solicitor can affect the whole emotional stress of the process. We recently encountered a property being sold by an elderly lady and it wasn’t her own solicitor but, the buyers solicitor who picked up on the fact the property wasn’t hers to sell.  The probate on her husband who had died many years previously had not been completed correctly. This took good diligence, knowledge of the law and a speed to the problem to make it feel like it was a minor glitch for the buyers.

A solicitor should have not too many clients that they cannot give you a personal and responsive service. In our experience, we’ve found that a response to any email (which is the suggested method of communication) within 12-14hrs is enough to ensure it is not our end delaying the process.

So, what does a conveyancing solicitor do throughout the process and why does the process typically take between 8-10 weeks ( please note that is the shortest it is likely to take anywhere between 13-16 weeks, without hitches and far longer with issues that are tougher to resolve.

A solicitor or conveyancer will:

  • Handle contracts and draw these up
    • Contracts will include, building completion certificates/guarantees of any renovation work and at the end specify detail on any items the that the buyer may wish to purchase in addition to the property i.e. furniture, white goods etc.
  • Give legal advice
    • A good conveyancing solicitor will be able to handle complex situations and suggest a way forward should both seller and buyer meet a sticking point. They will pass on the full list of any issues (and there are always issues) and give you a chance to weigh up how you want to proceed with fair and impartial advice. They cannot make decisions for you beyond giving you the facts, so be aware the fear of such information doesn’t always mean there isn’t a way round it. i.e. one seller lost all the documentation relating to the guarantee of a new roof and very large decking, however the new buyers decided they were satisfied to move forward without these over losing the house. This weighing of odds is a common part of the conveyancing process and a pragmatic approach is always worth having.
  • Carry out local council searches
    • These include, Thames Water drainage and public sewer checks. (keep an eye out for public sewers running close to a property that can affect extensions). A good solicitor will notify you of any concerns that occur during searches and suggest you investigate further. Geological checks, flood risk, other general searches are done as a matter of due course.
  • Deal with the Land Registry
    • Handling the Land Registry is the exchange of title deeds of the land into the new buyers’ name. Occasionally we are finding delays of up to 6 months and so a guarantee should be signed to say that the delay in Land Registry won’t affect the sale of the house.
  • Transfer the funds to pay for your property
    • This final step is the role of the conveyancer to ensure that the funds are present and/or the mortgage is agreement is signed and the Stamp Duty payment of monies is undertaken(Stamp Duty cannot be borrowed it must be cash). The completion date and transfers of funds date is then set.

So, the final issue is how to ensure that now you understand the process, the right conveyancer will do as promised.

Ensure that their fee (allowing for VAT) is broken down in complete detail i.e. are the searches included in the cost and how much are they, will they factor in the typical bouncing forward and backward to some extent during the process. Will they ensure the completion within a rough date based on no issues and prove that any delays are from the sellers’ side not your side as the buyer?

Word of mouth from several people who have used a conveyancing solution is highly beneficial and ensuring that person is close to either your place of work our home is very convenient. There are often a few trips needed to sign documents in person and drop information off that otherwise can get delayed in the post. Don’t always go for the estate agent recommendation, as we recently heard of someone who went ahead to appease the estate agent and found the solicitor was based so far from them that it took them nearly half a day to drop off documents or sign contracts on the train.

All conveyancers should be members of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers so using their local web search here can help you also verify someone is qualified.

Conveyancers and conveyancing solicitors manage a very stressful process for every client and should be respectful and sympathetic enough to go into detail and reassure you throughout. It is a process not done often in people’s lives and therefore every client is always unfamiliar to the process to some extent, so you should feel like who you have chosen has the time to explain things for you from your initial telephone conversation.



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