A new survey has apparently shown that over a third of people moving house “don’t trust legal service referrals from estate agents”. Full story can be found here:
38% of those surveys were sceptical about the referral, as they were unsure the legal service provider was not the best for their transaction. I am thankful the percentage of people realising this was that high, and a little surprised it was not higher!!
So often in conveyancing, you come across people who are not happy with the service they are receiving from their own solicitor or conveyancer, and the majority of the time it turns out to be the solicitor that their estate agent recommended. I would urge anyone who is buying or selling and doesn’t have their own solicitor already to do the conveyancing to do their own research, and if the estate agent is trying to persuade you to use their recommended or preferred solicitor, please do ask why.
More often than not, especially for large national chains of estate agents, they are referring you to a large “conveyancing factory” type firm, where you will be dealing with any number of non-qualified staff on a day to day basis. Why? Because they get a referral fee from the firm to send their clients there. There seemingly little consideration given to whether this type of firm will be best for you in your matter. Referral fees are common place in the property market and are obviously fine if all parties follow the rules and are transparent about who is getting paid what, and who is expected to meet the cost of this. The difficulties seem to arise when individual branches don’t seem to have any choice in who they recommend to people use.
First of all, regardless of how the agents might phrase it to you, you definitely do not have to use their recommended solicitor. You are the client, you have a free choice of who to use.Also, ask them why they are recommending this firm. If it is because they have dealt with these solicitors many times before and know they are the best in the area and offer competitive rates, fantastic. If not, why not?!
Secondly, are the agents paying said recommended solicitors a referral fee? They are allowed to do so, but must be clear and upfront that this is taking place.
Following on from the referral fee, check how competitive the solicitors fees really are. It is free and easy to get a quote for conveyancing, so shop around, and make sure you get a breakdown of what is included so there are no hidden costs or nasty surprises. From the breakdown, you should be able to find out whether the solicitors are passing the referral fee they pay for your business on to you.
The most important thing to check out about your prospective solicitor is how good their customer service is, and how satisfied their clients are. Check out Facebook and Google reviews for unbiased opinions to make sure you are getting the level of service you require. Word of mouth is also a great way of checking a potential firm out; if you ask around friends, family and colleagues you might be surprised how many people have heard good/bad/indifferent things about various solicitors firms.
Another factor to bear in mind is locality. How close is the recommended solicitors firm to you? Often the large conveyancing factory type firms are in one national office, and a visit to their office is discouraged. No popping in for an update when you are passing or any face to face discussions to solve any issues that might crop up. Physical proximity to the property involved is the transaction is not required in the slightest, but it doesn’t hurt to have someone who knows the local area and perhaps the estate agents and other solicitors in the chain and is aware of any issues with any of these!
If your estate agent is pushing you to use “their solicitors”, I would always encourage you to take a step back, think about what it is you are looking for in a legal adviser, and double check whether the recommendation will deliver this. If in doubt, call them for a chat. Any legal adviser worth using should be happy to have no-obligation chat to discuss any questions or issues you might have.