How to Choose a Solicitor when Buying or Selling a House

Posted by in Chartsedge News on the 2nd of December 2020

Choosing a Solicitor for Buying or Selling a House

Many buyers and sellers choose a solicitor at the last minute when they have a buyer or have found a house. Doing this means that you are under pressure to choose one quickly without much due diligence and is the wrong way to go about it.

A good practical common sense solicitor is invaluable and can be the reason that a sale proceeds or not and can prevent delays and avoids stress in one of the most stressful transactions of your life. A rule of thumb is that cheapest is definitely not the best.

What to ask you solicitor before choosing them

  1. Ask what their costs are and compare with other firms. Look at overall costs. Some have cheap headline prices and load extras on top of standard disbursements
  2. One of the most important, at the moment but always relevant is ask, is how busy they are and if they are able to give enough time and attention to your house sale/purchase. At the moment solicitors are taking on more work than they can handle and with many of the firms still having staff on furlough this means you will struggle to get hold of your solicitor.
  3. Are they due to take holiday during your expected time frame? Too many solicitors disappear on holiday without telling their clients and leave no one in charge of the file. Colleagues in the same firm are very unwilling to take over another solicitors file. Check if they are going on holiday will there be adequate locum cover who can give the same time and attention and quality to the job?
  4. Time frame. Ask how long the Local Authority Searches are taking in the area as these will need to be obtained. Many firms, unnecessarily in our opinion, hold off doing any work until this is back.  Ask if they will get on with what they can whilst waiting for search results.  Local authority searches rarely throw up a problem that is insurmountable.
  5. Insist in regular updates perhaps weekly so you know something is actually happening. Ask to be copied into all email correspondence to keep you informed and insist that they speak to your agent.
  6. Ask if they send correspondence by email. This may sound ridiculous but some solicitors still send documents by mail and post 2nd class!!! Further ask if they accept electronic documents for the same reason!  Some really are still old school!

After discussing the above with your solicitor ask yourself if you think he/she is competent, approachable and if possible if they are a problem solver. This may sound a strange question but many solicitors are very quick to reply to enquiries negatively without offering a solution which can cause problems. Their job is to advise you on issues and offer possible solutions not make decisions for you.  In many cases you will not know there is a problem until the last minute when you are looking to exchange and unbeknownst to you, the query has been going back and forth between solicitors for weeks and could have been resolved at the outset.

Sellers

Choosing a solicitor before your property goes under offer or even on the market can save days in transaction time. You will need to provide ID documentation and sign their terms of business before they will do any work. Also ask your solicitor to send you the Law Society Fittings and Contents Form (TA10 form) and Law Society Property Information Form (TA6 form or TA7 if you are selling a leasehold property) as soon as they can. If you want to see the forms yourself go to the Law Society website. These forms need to be completed by you before your solicitor will send a contract out to the buyer’s solicitor.  If your property has a management company, managing agent, freeholder or similar a pack of information will be needed at the outset from them.  Get their details to your solicitor as soon as possible.  There is not always a cost for this information.

Claire from Bartons Solicitors in Totnes commented ….. “front loading a transaction can literally save a transaction from falling through.  Procrastination is one of the biggest threats.  At Bartons we encourage clients to contact us early about any issues can be identified and documentation can be got in order.  Often this takes minimal time but gives peace of mind and the best chance of success.  Choosing who to work with can be tricky.  You need to speak to the person who will be doing the work for you and gauge whether you can get on with them and find them eager and proactive.  We pride ourselves on extremely high levels of client care and thinking outside the box in the event of any issues”

Buyers

Even before you find your dream home it is a good idea to instruct a solicitor. You may have to put them in funds for searches etc. and present your ID but this will save you time and make the sales process smoother. One thing that buyers do not know is that many solicitors do not ask the sellers solicitors any questions until they have received Local Authority Searches which can take ages (at time of writing Cornwall council is taking 22 working days to send these out) which means the sales process is not progressing in any way. Ask your solicitors to raise initial enquiries as soon as they have been sent the contract paperwork and, again, this will save time and the only queries they will have to raise is when they receive the searches, if there are any.

If you are getting a Mortgage make sure the solicitor you choose is on their panel otherwise they will not be able to act on your or their behalf, unless they can successfully and easily able apply to be on the mortgage lender’s panel. When you buy a property your lawyer is also acting on behalf of your lender and has a Duty of Care to them as well as you.

Where does your estate agent help in the process?

A good estate agent can liaise with both side’s solicitors and can see what problems may be raised and can discuss with the buyer/seller, often solving problems before the solicitors have written to each other.

They can also contact the estate agents in the chain of buyers/sellers and can relay information to all parties so everyone knows what is happening so time frames for exchange and completion can be known in advance. So many times a completion date causes upset up and down the chain when trying to arrange this at the last minute. One sale we are dealing with at the moment has the buyers wanting to move in by Christmas but the seller is on an oil rig in the North Sea until the 22nd December so it was not going to happen in the time frame. The buyer was disappointed but knew well in advance so could rearrange his holiday plans accordingly.

Leaving things like this to solicitors is time consuming (they always email and hardly ever phone each other!) and can be costly on an hourly basis.

A last point which solicitors will hate.

At a drinks party a colleague was asking a local solicitor why the process took so long and he explained that he had a dozen files on his desk at any one time. So she asked how we could prioritise a sale we were dealing with. The answer was ….. “only if we get chased does the file goes to the top of the pile”. So if you have not heard from your solicitor for a while the answer is to contact them for an update and ask your estate agent to do the same. Of course not all solicitors are the same so vet them carefully!

Please contact us if you need advice on choosing a solicitor or for any of your buying or selling queries.

Miles Kevin MRICS Director

info@charstedge.co.uk  01803 505115