Let’s get the technical answer out of the way first: No, you don’t need to use a local solicitor or conveyancer - nowadays, most conveyancing can be done online. With that out of the way, let’s delve into what local conveyancing is, why it matters, and whether it’s right for you.
Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring property from one owner to another. It’s usually handled by someone specially trained in conveyancing, either a conveyancer or a conveyancing solicitor, who will navigate the tricky legal bits involved in buying or selling property.
Local conveyancers, in contrast to online conveyancers, need an office space, which is typically located on the high street. They must have enough room to host face-to-face meetings, and enough people to assign specific licensed conveyancers to work with particular buyers or sellers. That way, each client gets a personal point of contact with a qualified legal representative.
Online conveyancers, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have a physical office location. They also tend to operate at higher volume which means they can take on more cases. As long as they are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, or the Council of Licensed Conveyancers, online conveyancers can look after transactions taking place anywhere in the country. This is because the land ownership process is uniform across England and Wales. (The law is slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.)
On the surface, choosing a conveyancer with a local office can offer some attractive qualities:
Many people, especially first-time buyers or sellers, prefer to meet their conveyancers in person and hold face-to-face meetings in which their questions can be answered straight away. It can be reassuring to use a local solicitor whose office you can easily pop into.
You’ll also get a chance to meet the people you’ll be working with on your sale before you hire them. This gives you the opportunity to decide whether they’re the right fit, before you commit to the service.
Technology has made our lives easier in many situations, but it can also complicate things. Using a local conveyancing firm or solicitors means the level of your tech literacy won’t affect your property transaction. You won’t need to navigate online updates, e-sign documents or scanners. Instead, you can just pop to a nearby office to complete the paperwork.
The general process of transferring property ownership may be the same across England and Wales, but some areas still have special requirements. For instance, conveyancers based in parts of Gloucestershire, Cornwall or Nottinghamshire know immediately to order coal mining reports on property transactions, as mandated by the government for all properties located in areas with a history of coal mining. Conveyancers who operate on a national scope may be less familiar with such local knowledge.
Oftentimes, estate agents will suggest a high street conveyancer to guide your transaction. That could prove attractive because such an arrangement would mean you needn’t look any further to find a conveyancer - your estate agent would act as a sort of reference. However, remain aware that the agent could be getting commission for recommending their own conveyancer, so their focus may not be entirely on who fits your situation the best.
While on paper, local conveyancers might appear a more attractive option, there are some downsides that can be problematic.
Local conveyancers may not be the most affordable because these firms have to maintain a physical, high street presence and tend to appoint a single point of contact for each transaction which means they have much larger overheads than online conveyancers. Before coming to a final decision, ask for a clear, comprehensive list of what charges you can expect, and read through previous client reviews to ensure you’re getting good value for money.
Be wary of signing on to the first conveyancing option you see just because it happens to be the most local. When you’re in the middle of a complicated property transaction, it pays to shop around to ensure that you’re getting the best service available at the right price.
Check out conveyancers’ websites and social media - do they look reputable? How are their online ratings and testimonials? These criteria can help you determine which firms are right for your sale or purchase.
Remember: You're not the only person who will be interacting with your conveyancer. The solicitor on the other side of your transaction will also have to deal with them. Bear in mind that reviews not only give you a sense of how the company will treat you as their client but also their customer service towards the other party too.
Depending on how packed your schedule is, it could actually turn out to be less convenient to arrange a time slot for an in-person appointment during business hours. Most conveyancing matters nowadays are actually handled by phone, email or post.
Local conveyancers will naturally choose office hours that are convenient to their working life - not yours. Online conveyancers on the other hand, provide a more flexible option. They can manage several cases without the fatigue and logistical complications of in-person meetings.
Clearly, there are pros and cons to picking a high street conveyancer when you’re buying or selling a property. Your final decision should hinge on what’s important to you.
Some key questions to ask yourself include:
With a local conveyancer, you’ll be able to communicate in person, whereas your communication with an online conveyancing solicitor will probably be by phone, email or smartphone app.
In-person meetings might seem advantageous, but fitting them into the working week can be stressful and time-consuming. Most online conveyancers provide 24/7 coverage of the conveyancing process through email and secure applications. What’s more, this is usually included within a fixed fee package, meaning you won’t be charged extra.
It’s hard to put a price on comfort, and knowing there's an actual brick-and-mortar office that you can walk into can ease anxiety. However, it’s vital that you’re not limited to in-person meetings. Contract exchanges and completion dates can be incredibly stressful, and an online conveyancer well-versed in digital updates will provide instant clarification where local conveyancers can’t.
This may prove to be your most significant factor. Only you can decide what price point works for your budget. And while you want to avoid spending unnecessarily high sums on your conveyancing, the cheapest option rarely offers the best quality service.
Whether or not you use a local or online conveyancing solicitor, the average cost will usually range from £500 to £1500. Conveyancing for leasehold transactions tends to cost slightly more than freeholds, and you should expect to pay more if you are buying a property than if you’re selling - this is because there is more work involved on this side of the transaction. Buyers will also need to take into account the Stamp Duty Land Tax.
When you receive a conveyancing quote, it should consist of two parts: the basic fee and the disbursement.
The basic fee is the fee the conveyancers are charging for their service, which is where you’re likely to see considerable difference between firms. You can expect this fee to be higher or lower depending on a firm’s reputation, expertise, and size.
Disbursements, which are generally similar from one conveyancer to another, consist of the upfront costs that a conveyancer needs to pay on your behalf to begin the process. Included in these costs are searches and Land Registry title checks.
But stay vigilant when comparing conveyancing quotes. Some unscrupulous firms may use tricks to make their prices appear lower - for instance, by not including disbursements or VAT in their quotes, or insisting that some of their services are merely ‘add-ons’ that come with extra charges.
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