How to choose a legal company

publication date: Feb 9, 2015
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

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Choosing a legal company

Choosing a conveyancer ie the person that does the legals when you buy and sell a home is not the easiest of thing to do. For a start, estate agents will often recommend a firm that they already know, whilst mortgage providers, developers or property investment companies may try to steer you towards one of their ‘panel’ firms. They often benefit financially from recommending you to them.

So before you ‘jump’ at their recommendations, make sure you secure some additional quotes first, especially when buying a new property or through an investment company – you want someone 100% on your side. And be careful that the firm you are being offered isn’t overrun with work, this can cause unnecessary delays which is the last thing you need at what is already a stressful time!

The important thing to remember is that buying legal services is like buying any other product or service, so that shopping around always makes sense. Going by price alone when choosing a legal company is pretty much the worst way to decide which company to use. When you’re buying or selling a home, what’s really important is the quality of advice and service that you get. That’s why when you get your quote, you should double-check that it includes all of the costs upfront.

Read our ‘legal costs’ checklist to check all the charges have been included in their quote

Some people opt for a solicitor to do the ‘legals’ on their property transaction. If you have previously used someone who has experience of property work, and you trust them, then use them again.

However, you should at least consider the option of using a specialist property lawyer, otherwise known as a Licensed Conveyancer. If you’re selling, you might consider instructing a legal company when your property goes up for sale. It’s easy to find a local conveyancer through, for example, The Society of Licensed Conveyancers, and this should save you some time in the selling process, and also let you concentrate on your purchase of a new home, if that’s what you’re doing.

You can also find a local firm through the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. If you’re buying to let, or buying a new build or leasehold property, it makes sense to check that your legal company has specialist knowledge in this line of work before engaging them.

Read our ‘legal costs’ checklist to check all the charges have been included in their quote

The advantages of going through a licensed conveyancer is that they are well-regulated, have a reputation for being very client-focused, and they deal exclusively with property transactions, so will not be distracted by other legal activities. Having said that, you should always check that the following three services are offered by any legal or conveyancing company you entrust with your property transaction:

  1. Make sure they offer fixed-fee, no sale/no fee conveyancing

  2. Ensure that they are willing to meet you face-to-face and not just conduct your business via the phone and email, this can lead to things being missed.

  3. They must be easy to call and/or email, and not just within normal office hours

Once you’re happy that you have found several companies that would fit the bill, get quotes from them and when you receive them, be careful to check that they include all – each and every item – of the following:

  1. Legal fees
  2. Searches
  3. Bank or money transfer fees
  4. Stamp duty
  5. VAT.

There may be other charges too, such as identification fees, mortgage redemption or extra costs associated with dealing with leasehold properties. Ask about these at the quote stage, so that there are no nasty surprises for you later in the process.

Read our ‘legal costs’ checklist to check all the charges have been included in their quote

When you’ve narrowed your choice down to one firm, then it’s a good idea to keep their contact details handy – if you’re selling, you’ll need them as soon as your offer’s been accepted. If you can get your ID details ready beforehand, such as your passport and driver’s licence and utility bills for the last three months, then it saves you a last-minute run-around to look for them to give or post to your legal company. The same goes for bank details – have everything to hand before it’s needed.

With a bit of forethought and planning, you can make the ‘legals’ of buying or selling a property less onerous and stressful – and expensive! – than they can be cracked up to be.

Read our ‘legal costs’ checklist to check all the charges have been included in their quote

All our information is brought to you by Kate Faulkner OBE, author of Which? Property books and one of the UK's top property experts.
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