How To Ensure A Fair Deal On Solicitors’ Fees When Buying A House
Buying a house is likely the biggest and most important purchase you’ll ever make. You must have the right legal representation to ensure the process goes smoothly. But solicitors’ fees can vary greatly, so how do you ensure you get a fair deal? This guide will take you through the key steps for getting the legal support you need for a reasonable cost when buying property in the UK.
Understand what’s included in solicitors’ fees
Understanding the services provided by solicitors in the conveyancing process and what their fees encompass is the initial step. These services include scrutinising the contract and conducting searches, acting as a liaison between parties, providing advice on the contract’s implications, overseeing the exchange of contracts and completion date, performing final searches, transferring funds, and registering the sale with the Land Registry. Solicitors play a crucial role in the buying process, and their fees encompass all essential legal work and administrative tasks.
Research the average cost of solicitors’ fees
The cost of solicitors’ fees can vary quite a bit between different firms. To get an idea of what the going rate is, do some research on conveyancing fees in your area. Check with comparison websites and review quotes from local solicitors to find the average for your location and property value. This gives you a benchmark to assess whether the quotes you receive are fair or not.
Consider what factors influence the cost
Conveyancing fees are influenced by several factors, including the property’s value (typically starting at about 0.5% of the purchase price for more expensive properties), location (with London and the South East generally being pricier), whether it’s freehold or leasehold (leasehold properties often incurring higher fees), new build or existing (new builds may have slightly lower fees), mortgage type (complex mortgages like Help to Buy may require extra legal work), and chain issues (delays in a chain can lead to increased fees for your solicitor). Consider these factors when comparing quotes, as they can account for price variations, and keep in mind that some firms use a sliding scale based on property value, while others charge a fixed fee.
Choose a solicitor with experience
In addition to securing a competitive price, it’s essential to find an experienced solicitor offering high-quality service. Examine client reviews, confirm their regular involvement in local property purchases, and inquire about their years in business for longevity and local knowledge. Assess the level of support they provide, as larger firms may assign more junior staff. Ensure their responsiveness and communication frequency. Investing slightly more in an experienced solicitor who promptly addresses inquiries is advisable, as they are likely to identify potential issues in the buying process.
Get quotes from three solicitors
For the most favourable deal, obtaining a minimum of three quotes from solicitors or licenced conveyancers is recommended. Ensure consistency in the information provided for accurate price comparisons, and request written quotes while inquiring about the inclusions, as some firms may have additional charges for specific searches and administrative costs. Consider obtaining quotes from a local high street solicitor, a specialist conveyancing solicitor, and an online firm, offering a diverse range of options. This allows you to evaluate both prices and services offered to make an informed choice.
Ask about hidden costs
When comparing quotes, ensure you know exactly what you’ll be charged for. Check if they include search fees, Land Registry registration, electronic money transfers, VAT and disbursements. Disbursements are payments made to third parties like search fees, so make sure you know what they cover. Some firms advertise low fixed fees but then add on various extra costs for administration and disbursements. Be clear on what’s included from the start so you can accurately compare quotes.
Negotiate on the fees if needed
If you receive a quote that seems high compared to others, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Ask them to justify the fee based on the amount of work involved. Point out if it’s considerably higher than other quotes you’ve had. They may be willing to lower their fees rather than lose your business. If the solicitor can provide a satisfactory explanation for the difference, you may decide the higher price is justified based on experience and service. But there’s no harm in negotiating first before making your decision.
Consider using a licenced conveyancer
As an alternative to a solicitor, you could hire a licenced conveyancer. They specialise in property and are regulated, but don’t have the wider legal training of solicitors. This means they can sometimes offer lower fees. Make sure you do background checks on qualifications and experience. See if previous clients recommend them for house purchases. While conveyancers can provide the same conveyancing services, you may want the added protection of a solicitor if issues arise. Think about whether the potential saving is worth losing the wider legal knowledge of a solicitor.
Take advantage of conveyancing schemes
Some lenders and estate agents offer free conveyancing as an incentive when you buy through them. While you’re still liable for disbursements, it can represent a significant saving on legal fees. The catch is you must use the solicitor they recommend. Make sure you check reviews of the provided solicitor and don’t feel pressured into using them if you have doubts. But if they have solid credentials, it’s worth considering. Just ensure you’re still getting a competitive deal overall, without being pushed into a higher mortgage rate or estate agent fees to subsidise the free conveyancing.
Don’t automatically choose the cheapest quote
While it’s natural to want to keep costs down, don’t just choose the solicitor who provides the cheapest quote. As the saying goes, “Buy cheap, pay twice”. Very low fees can be a false economy if it results in mistakes or delays. Assess quotes based on the whole package – price, reputation, experience, client reviews, etc. This will give you the best chance of quality service. Paying slightly more for an experienced solicitor could save you money and stress in the long run.
Have an open and honest discussion
Buying a house is a major investment, so it’s important to have an open and honest discussion with your solicitor about fees. Tell them your budget constraints and ask for a fee breakdown so you understand what you’re paying for. A good solicitor should be transparent about their fees and comfortable explaining them. Ask what can impact fees during the process. For example, additional work caused by unexpected delays or issues. Make sure you feel the quote is fair for the work involved. A positive initial discussion is a good indicator of the relationship going forward.
Avoid paying upfront if possible
Most solicitors will ask for some funds on account before starting work, to cover initial costs. However, try to avoid paying all fees upfront if you can. In England, Scotland and Wales, solicitors usually can’t request full payment until completing the work. Dangers are paying too much upfront. If fees turn out higher than quoted you have less leverage to negotiate. If costs are lower than anticipated, getting a refund can be tricky. Instead, aim to pay a reasonable initial amount and then settle the balance when the work is done. This gives you more control.
Don’t be afraid to complain if necessary
If you have any concerns about poor service or unreasonable fees during the conveyancing process, don’t be afraid to raise them directly with your solicitor. They are obliged to handle complaints professionally. If they fail to address issues satisfactorily, you can take the matter further. In England and Wales, you can make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman up to six years after receiving poor service. In Scotland, contact the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. These are free and impartial government-approved services.
Raising legitimate grievances about solicitors’ fees or services will either prompt the solicitor to resolve the problem or enable you to seek redress. Don’t suffer in silence if you feel fees are unfair.
Question high fees at the completion
You’ll receive your final solicitors’ fees bill around completion. If the amount seems higher than originally quoted, query any unclear charges. Ask them to justify any major discrepancies. They should be transparent about additional costs and explain exactly why the total is higher. If they can’t provide a satisfactory reason for inflated fees, firmly request a reduction. Don’t feel rushed or pressured into paying substantial unexplained costs. Be prepared to make a complaint if they refuse to lower an unfair bill. This can give you leverage to negotiate down high charges. Make it clear you’ll submit a formal grievance and switch firms if necessary.
Consider after-the-event insurance
If you have serious concerns over potential conveyancing problems and the risk of escalating legal costs, specialist after-the-event (ATE) insurance could give you protection. An initial premium covers your legal costs if a dispute arises over issues such as negligence or mismanaged fees. While expensive, it allows you to pursue recovery of costs through the Financial Ombudsman or courts without financial risk. So could be worthwhile for valuable or complex purchases where problems may be more likely.
Follow up if promised savings don’t materialise
Some solicitors may offer rebates if they fail to deliver on promises like completing in a certain timeframe. If they quote a lower fee on this basis but don’t ultimately provide the savings, hold them to account. Follow up in writing requesting the promised reduction. Threaten to switch solicitors or submit a complaint if it isn’t applied. Firms relying on incentives to offer lower prices should follow them through. Don’t let them renege on advertised savings without consequence.
Buying property involves major expenditure. While legal fees are a necessity, you also deserve competitive prices and professional service. By understanding typical costs, shopping around, negotiating and being prepared to complain, you can ensure you get a fair deal on solicitors’ fees. Choosing the right conveyancer is vital – take time to research options thoroughly.
With the UK property market constantly evolving, how much solicitors fees for buying a house can vary between regions, property types and firms. There’s no universal price list. Get informed, compare quotes and inspect what’s included. Be aware of factors that influence costs. Discuss fees openly and know your rights.
While conveyancing is complex, a fair fee is very achievable. Approach the process proactively and you can buy your dream home with confidence you haven’t overpaid for legal formalities. Just invest time finding the right solicitor for you. With the appropriate protection in place, you can look forward to many happy years in your new property.