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Let’s get the technical answer out of the way first: No, you don’t need to use a local solicitor or conveyancer -- but doing so can sometimes prove beneficial for your property transaction.
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, so you’re unlikely to work with just one specific conveyancer throughout the process. You’ll sometimes find, in particularly high volume outfits, that most of the work is actually done by assistants and paralegals. This means the work can be lower quality - but it’s one of the reasons why online conveyancing is generally cheaper.
Note: As long as they are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, or the Council of Licensed Conveyancers, conveyancers can technically 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.)
Choosing a conveyancer with a local office does offer some attractive qualities.
Some benefits include:
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. Don’t underestimate how useful that can be: buying or selling property is stressful enough without having the added anxiety of not being able to reach your legal representative. Plus, doing all your business in person means you’re less likely to be afflicted by delays caused by slow delivery times, which can happen occasionally when documents are sent through the post.
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.
Let’s face it: 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 trackers, work scanners, or e-sign documents. Instead, you can just pop round to a nearby office to complete the paperwork. It’s also much easier to chase a local conveyancer for any unresolved issue if you can just visit the office than if you’re forced to rely on emails and voicemail messages.
Our investigation into one large online conveyancing firm found that communication issues were one of the largest complaints home sellers and buyers had of the remote service. You can read the full investigation here.
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 could mean you needn’t look any further to find a conveyancer -- your estate agent would act as a sort of reference. Working with a conveyancer who has a good working relationship with your estate agent should also facilitate any required information-sharing.
Some possible disadvantages include:
The local conveyancer may not be the most affordable. Because local conveyancing firms have to maintain a physical, high street presence, and tend to appoint a single point of contact for each transaction 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’s reviews to ensure you’re getting value for money.
Be wary of signing on to the first conveyancing option you see just because it happens to be the most convenient. 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. Ask friends or colleagues for suggestions, of course, but also search online for different options. 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.
Pro tip: Remember you're not the only person who will be interacting with your lawyer. The buyer or seller 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 - 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 can be handled by phone, email or post. If your local conveyancer or solicitor has inconvenient office hours, you may decide you want a more flexible option.
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:
While we’re all growing more accustomed to video calls each and every day, sometimes it can be nice to actually sit down with the person who will be guiding you through the transaction. With a local conveyancer, you’ll be able to communicate in person, whereas your communication with a remote conveyancing solicitor will probably be by phone, email or post. If you’re not particularly comfortable conducting significant legal and financial transactions over email, then choosing a local solicitor or conveyancer may be right for you.
It’s hard to put a price on comfort. Knowing that there’s an actual brick-and-mortar office that you can walk into with your questions can ease any anxiety.
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 £600 to £1200. 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.
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.
The basic fee is where you’re liable to see considerable variance between conveyancing firms. You can expect this fee to be higher or lower depending on a firm’s reputation, expertise, and size.
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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