Choosing the conveyancer that’s right for you
A recent survey by conveyancing software company InfoTrack shows that more of us are shopping around for legal services. If you are buying or selling a house, you may search for the ‘best’ conveyancing deal, just as you would for your car insurance or gas supply.
Online conveyancers often appear to offer the cheapest option, but are they the best? Here Kerry Dundas, our residential conveyancing expert and Director at Myers & Co, looks at the growth of conveyancing factories, their pros and cons, and what you should consider if you are tempted to use one.
Conveyancing factories, a new development
Traditionally, the legal work necessary for transferring ownership of a property is carried out by specialist conveyancing lawyers who have undergone several years of rigorous training. Based locally, often in a high street firm of solicitors, they have extensive experience of acting for buyers and sellers in a particular area across a range of property types.
However, an increasing number of home buyers are now opting to use so-called conveyancing factories. These are firms offering high-volume low-cost conveyancing. Typically, the service will be remote, process driven and relies upon a high level of automation.
In a recent report on conveyancing complaints, Losing the Plot, the Legal Ombudsman acknowledges that such services can be attractive to consumers. However, he also draws attention to a number of risks for customers and it is important you consider all the pros and cons when choosing who should do your conveyancing.
Problems with a conveyancing factory
Conveyancing factories offer low prices by driving their cost base down, which also means they have several disadvantages:
- they employ a higher proportion of junior, less qualified, staff;
- staff turnover can be high;
- your transaction may be dealt with by anyone in the team resulting in a lack of continuity and familiarity;
- although the office may be open for extended hours, each time you call you may find yourself speaking to a different person who may not know your case;
- the work is highly standardised and very process-driven, so staff may struggle if your transaction is unusual or a problem arises; and
- buying or selling your home can be a very stressful experience, and you may miss the reassurance and personal touch which having your own dedicated solicitor can bring.
Writing in The Telegraph, Kirstie Allsopp laments the rise of ‘conveyancing factories where no one knows what they’re doing and unless a case is perfect, they can’t process it.’
In the report, the Legal Ombudsman questions whether conveyancing factories, with their tendency to compartmentalise, are really good for consumers, particularly where complexities arise. Their remoteness and one size fits all approach could be reflected in a higher volume of conveyancing complaints.
A specialist conveyancer with local knowledge can help you keep your transaction on track and avoid expensive pitfalls. They will know about issues particular to your location, which may not be apparent to someone working hundreds of miles away and relying on a generic checklist. For example, some areas require specialist searches, others may be subject to issues such as rent charges or affected by infrastructure projects like HS2.
Most importantly though, having a dedicated conveyancer who knows you, and your transaction, personally can take a lot of the pressure out of moving house. They will be familiar with local estate agents and other solicitors in the area, so will be well placed to deal with any unexpected issues as they arise. This can be particularly beneficial if your sale or purchase forms part of a chain of linked transactions.
Many conventional firms have also positively embraced technology, accessing services online, using case management systems, and minimising turnaround times. Price transparency is now a requirement of all solicitors’ firms, who should also publish details of typical timescales and details of the qualifications and experience of their staff. A local solicitor can provide a service which is as modern and efficient as their online counterpart, but so much more personalised.
Ultimately, choosing your conveyancer is a very personal matter. However, before making a decision, speak to the person who will be responsible for your sale or purchase, and do not be afraid to ask questions. What are their qualifications? How experienced are they, will they be dedicated to your transaction, or will you have to deal with many different case workers? How easy will they be to contact? Most importantly, ask yourself how confident you are that they will really look after the biggest purchase of your life?
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.