Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Make the right choice when instructing a lawyer to handle your home sale or purchase

Choosing a solicitor to handle the legal aspects of your home move can be difficult.  There are now so many different routes available to find a solicitor, it can often be confusing.  Where do you start? How do you know you are engaging a competent solicitor, and more importantly one who is prepared to communicate in language you understand?

Modern media and the rise, in particular, of price comparison websites have, regrettably, forced many sellers and buyers down the route of searching high and low for the cheapest supplier. Selecting a solicitor on the basis of how cheap the service may or may not be is not always sensible and can at the end of the day prove to be disastrous.

So what should you be looking for? Although it may be obvious, the clear goal must be to secure a competent lawyer at a competitive price and one who will do all he or she can to make sure you move home quickly and with the minimum of stress.  Though it may seem a tall order, this goal is not as difficult to fulfil as you may first think.

The first tip is to always make sure before committing to the engagement of the lawyer that you have in writing a full and final figure quote for both sale and if necessary, purchase.  Do not get drawn into the trick used by some whereby the headline fee for the service is kept low only to find that the incidental expenditure,  such a property search fees, bank transfer fees when added make the total cost of the service a lot higher than first thought.

You need to ensure that all of the cost of moving, such as stamp duty, Land Registry fees, are included in the estimate.  You will need to know this to work out how much you will need to move home.  Some sellers are not fully checking the total cost of the move, such as these fees and also the cost of clearing any existing mortgage, and this has unfortunately, led to a number of transactions failing.  

So once you have a quote and are sure it includes everything, the next question is to ask whether you know very much about the solicitor. Just because you are happy with the figure quoted should not be enough. You need to do some research, ask around to see if anybody you know has previously dealt with the lawyer, go onto the website and look at the firm and its personnel.  Perhaps also ask to speak with the person who will be dealing with the case. Ask how long it might take to deal with the instructions.  You need to make sure you are using somebody who can communicate clearly, is easy to get hold off, and more importantly knows what he or she is talking about!

Though it does not always follow, it often the case that those offering discounted fees are more likely to be part of a larger practice where lawyers both trained and untrained undertake the work, and where the level of client service may not be as good as elsewhere.

Look also at firms that offer added value to their service. For example in my legal practice we offer all our clients who use us to move home the services of a one of our home moving consultants who will hold the hand of the seller or buyer from the moment of engagement all the way through to completion.  The consultant is there to answer any questions and to help with any aspect of moving whether it is in relation to the legal parts or removals, surveys and finance.

Consider also when the solicitor intends to start work.   My view, and one we apply within my practice, is that work on the sale should start as soon as the property is marketed. There is plenty that can be sorted whilst you sit and wait for an offer.  The questionnaires about your home and what you intend to leave can be completed.  The documents to prove you are the legal owner can also be sought.  The more that can be done in the early stages the quicker the solicitor will be in getting the contract for sale out of the door within hours of the receipt of an offer.  This is very important in the current climate where buyers are hard to come by and often give up on an offer if they are kept waiting too long.

Some may ask what happens about the cost of this work if the sale falls through. This is a good question and brings me to my final tip.  Before engaging a solicitor always check and get it put in writing that if for any reason the sale falls through or does not proceed, there will not be any fee raised for the work.  In other words always insist on ‘No sale, No fee’.

David Pett is a solicitor and partner of Morgan Jones and Pett and can be contacted at davidpett@m-j-p.co.uk or on 01603 877004. Morgan Jones and Pett offer legal services in connection with home sale and purchase and Re-mortgaging.  The price for the legal work involved with the sale of property starts at £299 plus VAT.  All work is offered on a ‘No sale, No fee basis’. 

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