“You can’t get the best on the cheap” quality conveyancing?

27 Nov 2013

Conveyancing, for those who have never bought or sold a house, is the legal process necessary to secure the transfer of legal ownership from seller to buyer. A sale is usually carried out in seven steps and a purchase in eight.

But conveyancing is a legal process, with legal documents and dozens of legal traps for those not familiar with property law. As a result, lawyers are instructed. But there is no requirement to use a lawyer. You can do the legal work yourself. There are books on the subject true enough. But you put yourself at a disadvantage if you act personally, as the other party will surely have a lawyer (or more accurately a ‘conveyancer’), and the last thing you want to do is let them have the advantage over you by such things as:

  • If you are selling, will your replies to the conveyancer’s enquiries be too full and disclose more than your conveyancer would have advised you to?
  • Will the conveyancer ask you for documents to resolve issues that are either theirs to resolve or ones your conveyancer would have said not to entertain?

In addition, those who do not use a conveyancer almost always cause more work for the party with a conveyancer, as different procedures have to be adopted than in the normal way. You cannot give professional undertakings to repay mortgages, like a conveyancer can, or hold deposits at exchange, or outstanding pay leasehold charges on completion or hand over your signed contract, transfer or deeds at the point of exchange or completion. Even to identify you will probably still require the use of a lawyer, certainly to pay off your mortgage it will, so quite possibly the legal protection a conveyancer will offer is worth one of the lowest fees in the moving home business. That of conveyancing fees.

That’s right. Conveyancing is probably the lowest expense in moving home. Compare the charge to an estate agent, removals, surveyors, or mortgage advisers. Yet also consider who gets sued if anything goes wrong. Usually the conveyancer. And yet, who has no disclaimer/exclusion clauses? That’s right, the conveyancer.

Yet the conveyancer exposes themselves to be sued every day and for tens of thousands of pounds for even the simplest of errors – yet in return for the lowest fee in the moving process – by such things as:

  • Failing to spot that your house needs to cross another person’s land to get to it. You buy, they stop you, and the conveyancer is sued for the whole purchase price!?
  • Failing to spot that there is a restriction on no external alterations. You buy a house with a large extension. It has to be taken down. The conveyancer is sued for the costs and the loss in value of the house.
  • Failing to spot that the garden with the house you bought was only recently enlarged by the taking in of the adjoining farmer’s field, and without planning permission for change of use to garden. You buy, the Council stop you, and the conveyancer is sued for the costs and the loss in value of the house.
  • Failing to obtain an old planning consent for a particular alteration to the property you just bought, which actually had conditions attached, perhaps saying you cannot build an extension with windows in one of the walls so as to overlook a neighbour. You unwittingly put in a window, and you get sued. You will sue your conveyancer in return.

Unfortunately, despite already being the lowest cost of the home moving process, and taking an abundance of risks, everyone quite rightly still wants a bargain. How many people search Google for ‘cheap conveyancing’?

It might be analogous to negotiating on price when having laser-eye surgery. Do we want to go cheap and risk it?

Sadly, it is absolutely the case in conveyancing that you pay for what you get. Clearly the best does not come cheap, that is just a fact of life. But the problem is, if you don’t strive for the best (i.e accurate law) then the quality of your conveyancing is doomed from the start – whether that is a knock on the door by a neighbour once you move in, to point out your conveyancer got something wrong, or the Council, or worse yet, problems when you come to re-sell – and your conveyancer was here today, dot com/gone tomorrow.

Cheap conveyancing is very much life having no conveyancer; the other conveyancer ends up doing more work for a start. One of the very first things Conveyancing Solicitors look for at the start of the legal process is who the estate agent puts down as the conveyancing business acting for each side. Every conveyancer has a mental top 5 list of those conveyancing businesses they feel are the worst in the country, and when they see a name of one of them, – the ‘cheapo’ business – their heart sinks. Some conveyancers even warn their clients to expect a delay in the legal process due to the particular conveyancing business involved.

Cheap conveyancing is achieved by non-qualified employees handling the legal work (i.e not a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive for instance), by offering less skilled employees, by offering less effort to still make a profit, by operating without direct telephone or email addresses, by having you face a conveyor belt of people acting for you rather than one named lawyer throughout, perhaps by referring you off to some website for updates rather than effort made by your lawyer to call you and speak to you as the fee paying customer they should respect.

With cheap, comes a lack of dynamism and motivation. It is a fact that any conveyancing business could slash their prices over night, to make themselves cheaper. But with that, would of course be the shortcuts introduced to make the maths still work, to make sure they could still make a profit….and back to the examples above.

At Trethowans we are sometimes asked to price match other conveyancing businesses. We refuse, as that means disrespecting the client and the quality they may unwittingly not appreciate they actually should expect. It also means lowering our service to our competitor’s level – which simply is not a high enough level that clients of Trethowans should expect. Your move is too important for cheap shortcuts.