Snow and the conveyancer

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With continuing widespread snowfalls, and the Met Office’s weather alert to last until Good Friday, it is all the more time to be prepared for absent conveyancing solicitors due to possible commuting difficulties to their office.

Does it matter? Yes. Deadlines for exchange can be missed. Simultaneous exchange and completions frustrated, and unfortunately, having exchange contracts, snow fall is no defence to a claim of delayed completion due to a buyer’s conveyancer unable to transmit money to the seller. No money, no keys.

Your conveyancing solicitor can and should always be prepared and never leave things to the last minute – particularly where a same day as the ‘event’ (i.e. exchange or completion) snow is forecast. Snow usually comes with warning, and in that situation no one is to blame apart from the unprepared.

But what about the situation where heavy snow prevents the conveyancer getting to work? Assuming that at least the conveyancer’s accounts staff are able to get to work, certain practical steps can be taken to minimise the consequence:

1. The financial slips authorising a firm’s accounts team to send money should be in place days before the day of completion - this is surely adopted by conveyancers. This usually saves most transactions due to lawyer absences, where colleagues can step in.

2. Conveyancers should always have staff who are trained to step in, or a larger team than just one pivotal conveyancer.

3. Requesting mortgage monies should never be left to the day of completion.

- As a result, it may be possible for some buyers to even send money across to their seller’s lawyers a day early – for it to be ‘held to order’ – if weather problems are likely the following day of completion.

4. File organisation is crucial to enable anyone needing to pick up another colleagues file to see what is happening at a bare glance. Often conveyancing purchase files are broken down into clear sleeved sections (contract papers, searches, mortgage, signature documents) to achieve just that. Lexcel a kite mark in this area, which prescribes strict guidelines and procedures to law firms on how to manage their working files.

5. Many conveyancing firms enable their employees to work from home, via remote access, and combined with a decent conveyancing software package, a physical file is not crucial on many occasions, whether the task is exchange or completion.

So if on the day of completion heavy snow does prevent the conveyancer getting to work, and assuming that at least accounts staff are able to get to work, the priority must be to ‘get people in houses’. Of course the conveyancer cannot solve the removal vans failing to reach their properties, and so presenting a secondary problem, but the conveyancer must minimise their involvement in any delay.

Scenarios and solutions:

Scenario 1

Single sale/purchase only, either party wants to exchange and/or complete. Either lawyer is absent. The exchange can take place by telephone in the usual way, as each lawyer undertakes to send their part of the contract in that evenings post – albeit varied until back in the office. The buyer can still direct their accounts to send the money as no physical presence by the selling lawyer is needed in the office as receipt and release of keys is still handled by telephone. The seller can still instruct the post completion actions by telephone (e.g. release of keys, repayment of mortgage).

Scenario 2

Chain of a sale, linked to a purchase, and so on up. Exchange only. Again, absences out of the office are not crucial, as telephone instructions can handle the exchange as they would if lawyers were in the office. NO physical file need frustrate maters.

Scenario 3

Chain of a sale, linked to a purchase, and so on up. Completion. This is where it gets tricky, as you are dependent on more than one or two lawyers. Sale moneys are sent (if steps 1-3 have been prepared), this enables the seller to fund their own purchase (again if steps 1 – 3) and so on.

However, there are things that can go wrong:

  • If no cover is on offer by the law firm whose phone just keeps ringing.
  • Conveyancer failed to obtain the mortgage money a day early and so added delay on the day.
  • Conveyancer cannot remember the file details to effectively handle a telephone call / has no remote access.
  • Scenario 4 – Conveyancer is delayed in sending their payment, or cannot make payment until the next day (often because their money will not itself arrive before the time banks close transmission). Here solutions are required, and this takes a dynamic conveyancer. This is where having avoided accepting a ‘bargain basement’ conveyancing quote can save the day. Undertakings are prepared by the affected law firms that monies will be transferred the next opportunity, and on the reliance of that, many deals can complete. Unfortunately, you do encounter some conveyancers who will not help and who stick to ‘no money, no keys’. Often because they are nervous or inexperienced. So another possible thing to go wrong.