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Residential conveyancing – top tips

It has shown that in Scotland more complaints are made about residential conveyancing than any other type of legal work. Taking time to choose a solicitor carefully, and asking the right questions at the beginning, can help to make the process of buying or selling a home as stress-free as possible.

This Guide is to help you when looking to buy or sell residential property. We suggest that there are some simple things to consider that can reduce the likelihood of your conveyancing transaction going wrong:

Do your research at the beginning

  • Make sure you are clear about the costs
  • Understand how your solicitor will communicate with you
  • Ask questions if you feel there is something you don’t fully understand
  • Ensure that your instructions are followed
  • Remember that you have the right to challenge or complain.
  • Make sure you receive the firm's terms of buisness.

1. Do your research

Doing some upfront research is important. Information to help you choose a solicitor can be found from different sources:

  • The Law Society of Scotland’s website
  • Members of the Solicitors Property Centre network throughout Scotland/ local property shops
  • Online searches and reviews
  • Visit their offices - this will give you a feel of how well placed the firm is.
  • What times are they open - It is important to choose a solicitor firm open 7 days a week and open late. Most legal firms are shut when you might wish to speak to them.

Some solicitors offer an initial free consultation to discuss the work in general so it is worth checking whether the initial appointment is free or whether you will be charged for it.

At the initial appointment, you may wish to ask what level of experience the solicitor has in conveyancing work – more experience and expertise should reduce the risk of things going wrong.

It is also important at this stage to decide whether you feel that the solicitor is someone you can work with.

2. Fees

Don't be seduced with a solicitor with low fees particularly solicitors who work online. You need to be able to speak to someone if any problem arises. Once you have chosen and told your solicitor what you want them to do for you (referred to as “giving your instructions”), the solicitor should send you a Terms of Engagement letter. Your solicitor may ask you to sign a copy of the letter and return it to them. However, whether you sign the letter or not, the terms of the letter will apply unless you agree otherwise.

The Terms of Engagement letter will set out the work the solicitor has agreed to do for you and should give you an outline of the likely fees for doing this. The letter should also outline any additional costs which you may be responsible for. These might include charges for property searches, bank transfers, registration dues, or fees for sales or purchases that fall through. Sometimes these additional costs can be more than the solicitor’s fee.

So, don’t be afraid to ask questions about costs and make sure that you fully understand what you may be asked to pay for. This applies to both the solicitor’s fees for their time and any other costs you may have to meet. It’s fine to discuss costs with solicitors – they would rather you were clear about what you will have to pay. Try to be clear in your own mind how much the whole piece of work could be and check with your solicitor that your expectations are right.

Because transactions are unpredictable, the costs estimated at the beginning of the transaction can change. For example, the transaction may take longer or end up being more complicated than was first thought. It is important to make sure that if costs do increase, your solicitor lets you know immediately.

Some solicitors offer ‘fixed fee’ arrangements. The ‘fixed fee’ may not include certain costs (for searches, for example) so if you are considering this option, make sure you know what work this does, and more importantly, does not include. Fixed Fee often means fixed if no complications arise.

3. Effective communication

Here are some useful tips to ensure good communication:

Make sure you understand any information your solicitor gives you and that you are happy with what is being explained. If there are legal terms that you don’t understand, for example, don’t be afraid to ask what they mean. You are not expected to be the expert, and you have a right to understand what you are agreeing to.

  • Getting updates on how your transaction is progressing is important. Discuss with your solicitor at the beginning how often you are likely to receive updates and also the way you would prefer to receive these – for example, by letter, email or, in some cases, by text message.
  • If you have a question about how your transaction is progressing, email may be a good way to contact your solicitor. This can make communications quicker, although remember that the solicitor is likely to be dealing with other work and you should not expect an immediate response. This also applies to return telephone calls. Bear in mind that your solicitor may charge you for a reply so only get in touch when you need to.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that good communication works both ways. If your solicitor asks you for the information you should provide this in good time to prevent delays. If you don’t understand what you need to do, ask the solicitor for more information.

4. Advice

If there are things you are unsure about, remember that your solicitor is also there to offer advice. Your solicitor has a duty to make sure that the advice they give you is adequate and that everything that you need to know is explained to you.

If you feel that you have not been given enough advice or information to make a decision, ask your solicitor to explain what the options are, and what the implications of those might be.

5. Following your instructions

Once you have instructed a solicitor to act for you, the solicitor has a duty to progress the work in line with your instructions.

This includes both the instructions you give at the beginning and any later instructions you might give as the work progresses.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that sometimes the solicitor may not be able to do exactly what you have instructed. If that happens, your solicitor should clearly explain to you why that is the case.

If you feel that your instructions are not being followed, don’t be afraid to speak to your solicitor about your concerns. Where you and your solicitor cannot reach an agreement, the solicitor may decide to withdraw from acting for you. However, if this happens, they should give you reasons for withdrawing.

6. You have the right to challenge or complain

If you are unhappy with the service a solicitor has provided to you, or feel that a solicitor’s conduct is unprofessional, it is important that you make your concerns known as soon as possible.

Ideally, you should be able to speak or write to the solicitor to sort it out. If you don’t want to do that, you can ask if the firm has a Client Relations Manager you can speak to or write to about the problem, so that it can be dealt with as quickly as possible. The firm's complaint process will be detailed in your terms of business

You need to allow the firm 28 days to deal with your complaint. If, after having done this, you are still not happy with the outcome, you have the right to make a formal complaint to the SLCC.