Will you price match your conveyancing charges?

22 Apr 2013

Having received a conveyancing quote, a bit like car insurance, you might be tempted to obtain a second and maybe third one. Unfortunately, unlike the insurance market, conveyancing is not ‘much of a muchness’. Insurance is more akin to a ‘product’, like a tin of Branston baked beans, whereas conveyancing is well and truly a ‘service’. And as with all services, the quality can differ dramatically between service providers. In the conveyancing market this is absolutely true.

A can of Branston baked beans, however, is always a can of Branston baked beans whatever the price. So shopping on price can be done. Having price as your priority in the conveyancing market can be a costly and stressful mistake.

In the conveyancing market, conveyancing solicitors offer dramatically different levels of quality, and it is frustrating if not damaging for the traditional conveyancing ‘solicitor’ to be faced with a plethora of legal businesses whose model is to offer a low quality legal service but at as high a price as possible. This can also be accompanied with misleadingly low ‘headline’ fee rates, where the public only discover all the ‘extras’ once it is all but impossible to change their mind.

On a day-to-day basis, conveyancing solicitors themselves face a myriad of differing quality conveyancers. When sending out sale contract papers, a conveyancing solicitor can often see the result in the buyers’ conveyancers being slow to reply, or they receive enquiries that show inexperience and poor legal training, which only leads to delay. They can face conveyancers who do not read the contract papers properly because they have IT systems that generate standard enquiries in reply. Or conveyancers who fail to return calls or emails, even some who do not use email and routinely use letters.

This is of course no less true for the experience of members of the public.

The risk of choosing a mediocre conveyancer starts at the conveyancing quote stage.  Preparation of a conveyancing quote is a curious affair, as it involves the conveyancer in guessing what actual work they will end up doing and over what time period, yet attempting to be fair to their client who wants to know the likely cost. The difficulty is that there simply is no such thing as a straightforward conveyancing transaction. However, what is true, is that there is a set minimum of legal work that goes into every sale and every purchase, whatever the price of the property. As a result, it is possible to set a minimum price – on the fair assumption that there will be no undue complications that might take the conveyancer off on a tangent for hours of extra work that was not foreseeable. Conveyancers then additionally judge the element of risk to them should they make an error, and they do this based on the price of the property. As a result, when seeking a conveyancing quote, the fees will be based on the price.

However, some conveyancing businesses know that the lower their own price looks, the more tempted customers will be to use them, however poor the quality of legal work they offer. Or, they may offer estate agents cash payments if the agents direct their customers to them. Tempting for the agent, but in the customer’s best interests? Or the conveyancing business may disguise their own personal ‘profit’ fee in amongst those called ‘disbursements’ or third party costs, which makes their own fee look low, but they are not actually paid out , they just look like they are – e.g. filling in a stamp duty form, or acting for a mortgage company , or mandatory ID checks, or if the property is unregistered land, or a contribution to the lawyers business insurance. The list goes on. Some conveyancing businesses also use very fine print to hide away charges that look optional but which in fact always apply. As a result the end the customer’s bill may be double, triple or even more compared to the initial impression given by the quotation.

However, despite the huge disparity of quality between conveyancers, a common question at the point of providing a potential client with a conveyancing quote is  ‘will you price match X who is charging [£50][£100][£150] etc less than you?’

The temptation is to say ‘yes’, as no one likes turning away work, and it is understandable for a member of the public to want best value. And there lies the issue. Value. Is the ‘lower’ quote actually of better value, or is it not actually as low as the customer thinks and are we actually dealing with apples and oranges instead – remembering that no two conveyancing businesses are the same.

A common reply to a request to price match is in the negative “because it means lowering our level of service and this is not something we would feel comfortable offering you and it would not be in line with the higher standards we are well known for".

If a conveyancing quote is lower, then ask yourself why, what is missing, what essential elements of service are not being provided to you? Examples can include:

  • No appointed solicitor, or chartered legal executive, but someone junior, or supervised at a distance by a qualified member of staff
  • No individual names the conveyancer appointed to you – but a Team of ever changing anonymous members
  • No direct access to your conveyancer through their personal email or telephone number
  • No details of who comprises the conveyancing team on their website, so they remain anonymous making complaints difficult
  • Not recommended by any local estate agents
  • An office that closes for lunch and/or dead on 5pm
  • Those businesses who fob their customers off to a website for updates rather than actually taking their own individual time to update the client personally
  • Too small a conveyancing team so holiday cover and sickness could delay your house move
  • The conveyancing team does not have the Law Society approval under Lexcel or CQS