If it's your first time buying a property, choosing a conveyancer can seem daunting. There are several things you should take into account when choosing a conveyancer:
Conveyancing transactions can be completed remotely, with no need to ever visit the offices of the firm you choose. Bearing that in mind, if you are buying a property in England or Wales, you can choose a conveyancer from either country. If you are buying a property in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you need to choose a conveyancer within that locality.
Because location does not matter, you are free to focus on choosing a firm that offers good levels of customer service and completes the work for a fair price.
The price you can pay for your conveyancing can vary drastically, depending on the firm you choose. Like many costs, fees for conveyancing from a firm based in London are often higher than if you find a conveyancer based in the north of England.
There are a number of conveyancing comparison sites which offer quotes from a large number of conveyancing firms. Whilst these sites are often useful for getting an idea of the typical prices for conveyancing as well as seeing reviews left by past customers, bear in mind that the prices may be inflated, as the fees quoted on the site will often include a fee that will be earned by the comparison site itself, as payment for you using the site. This is known as a referral fee. Read our article “conveyancing – who am I actually paying?” to find out more about these charges.
Whether you choose a conveyancing solicitor or a licensed conveyancer (read our article “Conveyancing Solicitors and Licensed Conveyancers – what's the difference?” if you want to know the difference), both have a duty to provide you with a transparent costs estimate at the outset (see our Transparency in Conveyancing Quotes article for more information.
A conveyancing quotation for a purchase will typically consist of two parts, known as Fees and Disbursements.
Conveyancing Fees are the amount of money your conveyancer is charging you, in order for them to complete your conveyancing. It is common practice for fees to be stated exclusive of VAT, with the VAT shown elsewhere within the quotation. You will always have to pay the VAT.
In addition to a basic conveyancing fee, you will often see other fees listed. Some common ones are:
Mortgage Admin Fee – Your conveyancer may charge a fee to review your mortgage offer and register the lenders charge against the property at the Land Registry.
Leasehold Fee – Properties are either freehold or leasehold. As leasehold conveyancing transactions are typically more complicated, some conveyancers charge extra for this.
Newbuild Fee – If you are buying a newbuild property there is often additional work that is required and some conveyancers charge an additional fee to complete this work.
Telegraphic Transfer (TT) Fee / Bank Transfer Fee / CHAPS Fee – Your solicitor will have to send the payment you are making to the property seller's conveyancer on the day of completion of your purchase. They may charge a fee to set up and complete the transfer. This fee usually includes the cost levied by the bank to the solicitor to use the CHAPs (Clearing House Automated Payment System) service to make the payment.
SDLT Form Fee - The conveyancer may charge you for preparing and submitting a Land Transaction Return Form in respect to Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT). If this is going to be charged separately then the charge must be made clear in all publicity and cost information.
If you get a conveyancing quote through a price comparison site, your estate agent or IFA, check the small print of your conveyancing quote and you may well find information about a “Referral Fee”. This is the fee that you are paying to the provider of the quote, simply for getting the quote for you.
This fee can run into £100's of pounds in some cases. Most conveyancing price comparison sites include a referral fee – ours is not one of them (check out how our site is funded). Read this thread on Money Saving Expert for more about referral fees.
Conveyancing disbursements are defined by the Solicitors' Accounts Rules 2011 (SAR) as any sum that the conveyancer spends or is going to spend on behalf of their client, including any VAT element.
Typically they are:
fees being collected from you by your conveyancer on behalf of a third party (such as Stamp Duty)
administration costs that the conveyancer is incurring, but is not making a profit from (otherwise they are fees)
Every purchase transaction over £125,000 will include Stamp Duty (or SDLT) which is payable on all property purchases (see the current stamp duty rates). In addition, every transaction includes a Land Registry Fee (see current land registry fees).
Top Tip: Since March 2014 conveyancers completing land registry returns online have been able to pass on the benefit of a 50% reduction in land registry fees to their clients, for the most commonly used applications (common exceptions to this are unregistered and newbuild property registrations). Don't waste money using a conveyancer who is still submitting by post!
There are usually disbursements of £2 (per person) for Bankruptcy Searches and £3 for a Priority Search / Land Registry Search (OS1).
In addition, if you are taking out a mortgage you will need to pay £200-£500 for searches (find out more about searches).
Beware of charges for things that seem unclear (for example a fee simply listed as ‘Admin Fee’), or things that seem unfair (for example a charge to cover the conveyancers post, photocopying or phone calls costs!). If there are fees or disbursements that you don't understand what they are for, consult our glossary or ask the conveyancer you got the quote from.
It is worth checking the small print of your quote for any fees you may have to pay if your transaction turns out to be different to how it was described when you got your quote, for example if you find out the property is leasehold not freehold (see freehold and leasehold - what’s the difference?) or the property is unregistered, which is always the case for newbuild purchases.
Other common things to look for in the small print include fees for:
obtaining necessary paperwork from a management company, if you are buying a flat in a managed building
issuing a Landlords Notice (if your property is leasehold)
completing money laundering checks with a third party (for example if you are lucky enough to have a rich uncle who is gifting you some money towards your deposit)
Completing your transaction quickly (usually within 5 working days) following exchange of contracts.
Always read the small print of your quote thoroughly and query any potential fees with the conveyancer before proceeding. Once you choose to go ahead with a conveyancer, they will send you a Client Care Letter to sign and return. This letter will also include a copy of your quote (which if everything has gone smoothly should match your original quote!), and may cover potential additional costs in more detail than your original quote – so make sure your read your letter carefully before signing it, and query any fees or disbursements you don't understand with your conveyancer.
Once you have a quote from a conveyancer, it is worth googling “firm name reviews” to see what past customers have to say about them.
Bear in mind that it is common for people who have had a service they are happy with not to bother leaving reviews, so you tend to get the “extremes” - people who are either really happy with the service they got, or really unhappy. It is worth noting that some property transactions don't run smoothly, and it is often the solicitor who takes the blame from the customer, even if it may not have been their fault.
Take the odd bad review with a pinch of salt, and also consider that some of the larger firms may be handling 100's of transactions each month, so may have a larger number of negative reviews (due to transactions that did not run smoothly) in a smaller timeframe, when compared to smaller firms.
That being said, some firms are better than others. When reviewing the reviews pay particular attention to how people rated the communication they received from their conveyancer throughout the transaction, and whether the price they paid at the end of their matter was the same as when they started, or had their bill grown substantially by the end? These are generally the two most common complaints in conveyancing transactions.
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