How To Change My Solicitors?
As you work through the process of buying or selling a house, your first thought may well be, ‘This is harder than I thought it would be!’ In a perfect world, you would find a qualified buyer immediately, there would be no issues with surveys, there would be no need for repairs or improvements, legal work would be completed with streamlined efficiency and the completion date would arrive before you knew it.
We don’t, however, live in an ideal world – we live in a very real one! As such, there are often complications and complexities that perhaps you did not fully anticipate. This is why it is so helpful to have a team on which to rely. An integral player on that team is your solicitor. They are charged with handling all of the myriad legal aspects of a property sale, as well as answering your questions in a clear manner and keeping you up to date with the latest developments.
But what happens if you are not satisfied with your current solicitor? Can you change solicitors – and how?
This guide will discuss these questions in depth, ensuring that you have the information you need to make informed choices.
What Does a Conveyancing Solicitor Do?
We mentioned that a solicitor is an integral part of your team as you work to sell your house. But what, specifically, do they do? Briefly, they:
- Provide you with terms of engagement, which includes their fees and the deposits you are required to pay.
- Connect with the other party’s solicitor and create a draft contract, as well as other essential forms and documents (such as title deeds).
- Determine if a property is a freehold (i.e. you own both the land and home and can sell it at will) or leasehold (i.e. another party owns the land on which your home is built. If so, ownership can pass to them if your lease expires). Leaseholds can be complicated. Your solicitor will mitigate risks associated with these types of situations.
- Conduct property searches, as required by law and/or by mortgage lenders. These cover everything from the risk of flood and ground contamination to the locations of drains and stability of the ground.
- Handle relevant documents and forms, such as TA6 (Property Information Form), TA10 (Fittings and Contents Form) and TA13 (Completion Information. If you are also buying, they will handle those forms as well.
- Draft legally binding contracts.
- Execute the exchange of contracts.
- Transfer funds from your account to the seller’s, if you are buying.
- Assist you in arranging to pay Stamp Duty (from funds you have already paid).
- Send relevant documents to the Land Registry, if you are buying.
- Send a copy of the title deeds to your mortgage lender, if you are buying as well.
While you are not legally obligated to use a solicitor if you are buying or selling a house, it is most often the right call given how much they do and how complex it can get.
Can I Change My Conveyancing Solicitor?
What happens, though, if your solicitor is not performing up to your expectations? First, what are some ‘red flags’ for which you should be on the lookout?
- Your current solicitor is working too slowly, which is resulting in a distinct lack of progress. You may feel as if you are getting nowhere.
- You cannot reach your solicitor. They do not answer or return phone calls, answer texts or respond to emails or letters or do so only after lengthy delays. This is a significant concern and a very negative sign.
- Their fees seem especially high.
- You do not trust or agree with the advice you are receiving.
- The solicitor’s firm has closed.
- You are not getting the support, the advice and the updates you need to feel comfortable and confident as you work through this process.
- The solicitor’s firm experienced a major data security breach, compromising your sensitive information.
It could be a combination of these or other factors. The bottom line, though, is that you do not feel that the solicitor is performing up to par, you are not seeing the results you need and you are frustrated with the entire process.
Changing solicitors is a step that is not to be taken lightly. Yes, it is possible to do so, but proceed carefully. This is undoubtedly a time filled with tension and a fair amount of worry and anxiety. When your solicitor – who is supposed to be guiding and supporting you – is not operating quickly, professionally or with integrity, it could put the whole process at risk.
It is important to also be aware that, depending on how far you are in the process, switching solicitors may cause more delays and expenses. For example, if you have already exchanged contracts, it is typically not wise to change. You may miss your completion date, which can result in penalty fees. You may also be left having to pay two separate solicitors’ fees.
In other words, before you make the change, think carefully about your status, your needs and your goals.
Do It Sooner Rather Than Later
While switching solicitors is not an easy decision, it is better to make it sooner rather than later. As mentioned, once contracts are exchanged and a completion date set, it is more difficult to change. Delays are frustrating – and potentially quite expensive – at this stage of the game.
Another aspect to consider is that your new solicitor cannot simply take the work done by the other. They have to do their own investigations and searches in order to make sure that every detail is in order and legally sound. Essentially, you are paying for duplicated work. If you make a move as early as possible in the process, it will save you time and money.
Wait: Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
Before you take this big step, consider what other options are open to you. Because of the potential for added costs and delays, you want to make sure you explore other possible solutions. For example, if the current solicitor is a member of a firm, request to speak to a senior partner. Explain the situation and why you are unhappy with the level of service you are receiving. In that ideal world, they understand and reassure you that you will get the service you need from either that solicitor or another in the firm.
In some cases, this is enough to remedy the problem and experience a smoother process going forward. It can be quite helpful to bring the issues out in the open for a chance at improvement, if you are willing to give it a try and they agree.
It doesn’t always work, but it is worth a try before you move on towards switching to an entirely new solicitor and/or firm.
Another option is to change your approach to selling your house. What do we mean? If you work with a cash house buyer, you avoid the hassle and frustration of having to instruct a solicitor. This task is handled – and paid for – by the house buying company. It is in their best interest to work with professionals who work with consummate efficiency and integrity – and thus it is in your best interest as the seller.
Whether you have not started the process or have had a less-than-palatable experience with a conveyancing solicitor, you may want to start over completely. There are a variety of factors to consider when opting for a cash buyer, but simplification of the process is certainly a tremendous benefit.
What if you would like to choose your own solicitor? This is not a problem when you work with cash buyers. Do what you need to do to put your mind at ease. In some cases, the house-buying company will even provide you with a specified amount (for example, £500) that pays towards these expenses. This can greatly offset the costs that come out of your pocket. Best yet, you can also stop worrying over delays. When all is said, done and signed, you can complete a sale within 7 to 21 days.
How to Change My Solicitors
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to switch to a new professional or firm. If you have considered all the pros and cons and variables, now is the time to take action.
The first step is to determine whether you owe your solicitor for work they have already completed. Refer back to your terms of engagement, which will detail when and how much you need to pay. Also look to see what they have done. For example, they may have already ordered local searches. Find your paperwork and see.
Next, find a new solicitor to take over. They will ask that you sign a form of authority. This enables them to connect with your previous solicitor and access your files. Most often, your previous solicitor will not release these files unless you have paid the fees associated with work they have already completed. In some cases, there is a fee for them to supply your new solicitor with this paperwork.
What if your current solicitor operated on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis (that is, they do not get paid unless and until they sell your house)? If you choose to switch, you will likely need to pay for the work that has already occurred, even if you have not reached completion. Don’t want to pay, especially if their services were shoddy or inconsistent? Well… get it in writing. You will need a written agreement stating that no money is owed or you risk getting a hefty bill later.
Your new solicitor will also work to get a copy of your title from the Land Registry. If it is not registered and your previous solicitor has the deeds, you need to make sure your new representative receives them. There may be a fee involved with this.
Choosing the Right Conveyancing Solicitor
You have already experienced a less-than-great situation that involved some level of neglect and lost time. The last thing you want at this point is to find yourself in the same or similar position with a new solicitor. When making a change, it is important to ensure that it is a positive step in the right direction – not two steps backwards.
Finding the right conveyancing solicitor is imperative. How do you do it?
- Ask friends, family members, coworkers and people in your personal and professional networks for recommendations. If they have bought or sold a home recently, they are in an excellent position to provide advice. (It’s also helpful if they give you some names to avoid!)
- Scour websites. Does the solicitor or firm have a clear and helpful website? Does it include information around their experience, track record and services? Is their content designed for those going through this process? Is it easy to understand? Approachable?
- Read reviews. Online reviews are the word-of-mouth of the digital age, and they can be immeasurably useful. Look at Chambers UK, reviewsolicitors.co.uk, reviews.co.uk, solicitor.info, Avvo, etc. While there are trolls in every bunch, it’s fairly easy to weed out the reliable from the unreliable.
- Check credentials. Your conveyancing solicitor should be accredited by the Quality Conveyancing Scheme operated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
- Interview possible solicitors. This is your process, and it is important that you feel in control of it. Ask any questions you need to and see how they respond. Are their answers clear and concise? Are they respectful of your time and your needs? Do they have experience in taking over from another solicitor? What will they do to make it easier for you? What do they need from you? What are the best ways to contact them and how often will they keep you updated? And do they have the capacity to take on a new client at this time?
- Ask who will be handling your case? Will it be the individual to whom you are speaking or an associate? Make sure you know before agreeing to any arrangement.
- Look at terms of engagement thoroughly when you have decided on a solicitor. It is particularly important to look into fees.
From here, hopefully, your sale goes much more smoothly. Sometimes the only way to gain traction is to, essentially, start over.
Some Other Issues to Consider
As explained, changing solicitors is a big decision and one that requires careful thought. We have discussed some potential issues, such as having to pay your previous solicitor, paying for what is ultimately duplicate work and the risk of encountering delays. What else should you consider when you are contemplating making a switch?
If you are buying, make sure that the new solicitor is on your lender’s panel. This is a list of solicitors with whom your lender is happy to work. It is a huge vote of confidence. If you have a mortgage offer, your lender will reissue this to your new solicitor. When it comes to your mortgage, there are typically not a lot of challenges. Just make sure to inform them of the change.
Your current solicitor may be holding money for you or as part of the purchase price. Transferring these funds should be an easy process as they must be kept in a separate account. If they already have the mortgage advance but completion has not occurred, the lender will instruct the solicitor to transfer the monies back to them as soon as possible – or sooner!
The matter is more complicated if the firm has closed. You need to make arrangements to ensure that the funds are returned or sent to your new solicitor. This can take some time, so be prepared.
Should the firm close after you complete the sale but before you have paid stamp duty or registered the property transfer, you will need your new solicitor to dig into this. Expect it to take some time. We know: that delays are frustrating, but it is critical that they get this right.
The Solicitor’s Firm Has Closed
Speaking of this type of situation, when a firm closes, there will be intervention from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC). They close the practice officially and ensure that all client files are transferred safely and securely to another firm, or an ‘intervention agent.’
If you are affected by a closure, the agent will contact you and ask what you want to do with these documents. If the firm was holding funds, they will be returned. Instruct a new conveyancing solicitor without delay.
Should I Just Handle the Legal Aspects On My Own
As we mentioned earlier, you do not have an obligation to use a conveyancing solicitor. You are entirely free to handle the legal aspects of a house sale and/or purchase on your own. The question is: Do you want to? Do you have any experience in real property? Do you have the time to deal with all of this on top of other aspects of the process, such as making repairs, packing up and arranging removals?
In the vast majority of instances, acting as your own conveyancer is not recommended. In fact, it is strongly discouraged! This isn’t an advertisement for solicitors! It is a fair warning that it is much more complex than one might expect. There is also the very real, very significant risk of making a blunder that impacts the legality of your process and/or results in costly fees or lengthy delays. There could be missing components of a contract, issues with a property search or neglected steps that lead to erosion or lack of clarity when it comes to your rights as an owner.
Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest transactions you will encounter in your life. It is not worth the risk of making a mistake. There is no room for error.
Changing Solicitors: Should You Make the Switch?
This is a question only you can answer. As explained, there are various factors involved, ranging from cost to the potential (or, rather, likelihood) for delays. In this guide, we have provided you with information, tips and advice to help you decide on the best course of action for your needs and to transition to a new solicitor with maximum ease – and minimal stress.
If your solicitor is not performing up to your expectations, if you are experiencing undue delays, if they do not respond in a timely manner, or at all, if they have lost your trust… then it may make the most sense to switch. Again, it is not an easy decision, but it is a vitally important one.
Buying or selling a home is not an easy process for the average person, both from a legal standpoint and from an emotional one. It can be quite difficult to navigate, which is why support and guidance from a trusted solicitor are so critical. Trust… is the keyword. Find a solicitor who inspires your confidence and demonstrates their ability to complete your transactions with efficiency.
You might also consider making the switch to a different type of sales process. Working with a reputable, regulated cash house-buying company can eliminate most of the stresses commonly associated with selling a house – as well as most of the costs. From freeing yourself from estate agent fees and solicitors fees to having a trusted guide to handle surveys, searches, documents and contracts, this may be a route that takes you to your destination that much faster and easier.
Regardless of your choice, whether it is changing solicitors or taking a different approach to selling, do not remain in a situation that does not work for you. Make a change for the better and move on towards your goals.