The online revolution has changed almost every aspect of our lives and, finally, it is beginning to impact upon the rather reactionary world of conveyancing. With the rise of the online conveyancer, writes Will Clayton, New Business Advisor at MJP Conveyancing, there is now some much-needed competition and a greater degree of variety within the legal property market. This can only benefit you!
Many people, however, continue to work under the misconception that it is necessary to appoint a local solicitor to undertake your conveyancing; here, we look at the pros and cons of choosing a local or online conveyancer.
Do I need to meet my solicitor?
For those who have not bought or sold a property in the last few years, it may come as a rather unnerving surprise to learn that you can buy or sell a house without ever meeting your solicitor. It really depends on the type of service you desire. Some people will like the reassurance that speaking with someone face-to-face can provide, but it does not necessarily mean you will have greater communication with your solicitor or greater access to your case.
Good online companies will have multiple avenues of communication (email, online messaging and the old-fashioned telephone) to discuss your case with you and will not charge you for this service. Better case-management systems will also allow you to view and monitor progress as and when it happens – this can be particularly useful for those who work during the day and do not have the time or resources to organise multiple meetings with their solicitor.
There are, of course, the dreaded faceless online companies, who are impossible to reach and who seem to have no idea who you are or show any awareness that you are in fact their client! A quick google search, however, will normally reveal how accessible your conveyancers are and how responsive they are to their clients’ needs based on their reviews.
It can be very useful to be able to drop in to your local solicitor if documents need to be passed on urgently, but you will of course have to make an appointment in advance.
Will I get a better service on the high street?
Not necessarily. Without competition, high street solicitors have been able to charge higher legal fees without proper justification for it. In most cases, conveyancing should be a straightforward, quick process – that is not to say there are not cases where a transaction is more complex, but there is no reason why a higher fee should indicate a higher level of service. It is simply a different type of service. The extra you pay reflects the face-to-face time you will get with a local solicitor that would not be available to you when using an online company.
Conversely, there is an argument to be made that the online conveyancers can offer a more efficient service; firms that deploy technology to their advantage and have effective case-management systems can process work quicker. Everything from transferring documents to providing a report on a lease can be done much more efficiently online. More traditional firms, still dependent upon snail mail, can take much longer to process administrative tasks.
There are, and always will be, firms that do not provide an adequate level of service (amongst both high street and online conveyancers alike) but, once again, basic research will save you from possible catastrophe. Websites like Solicitorsfromhelluk.com aim to expose bogus firms and those offering a terrible service, but do not rely on a single site or review when making a final judgement.
Do my solicitors need to have knowledge of the local area?
Essentially, no. The information which solicitors rely on to provide legal advice is all obtainable online; everything from the risk of flooding to the planning history of property is digitized enabling solicitors to provide you a full report on a property without ever having to have visited the local area.
That is not to say, however, that local knowledge is not useful; local solicitors who have been operating in an area for their entire careers will of course carry with them vast experience and an in-depth knowledge of the particulars of the area. This may or may not benefit you especially, depending on the type of property; with some more distinct properties, that local expertise may come in very useful.
As discussed, there are benefits and drawbacks to both sides; the important distinction to make is not in terms of the quality of service on offer, but the type of service you will receive.
If you want a more traditional, personalised service it may be better to use a local solicitor; if you are comfortable with technology and are looking for a cheaper and, often, more efficient service, try using a reputable online conveyancer.
Ultimately, both local and online solicitors would benefit from learning from each other; increasingly, local solicitors will have to incorporate technology into their processes, just as online conveyancers should be looking to develop a more personal, communicative approach to the way they operate too.
This is certainly the balance that MJP Conveyancing aim to strike in 2017, between a technology-driven, efficient service and one that retains the personal characteristics of a small, local firm. MJP Conveyancing also offer their clients free and lifetime access to an online property log book which is used to store all of the information and documents generated within the course of the transaction.