Opinion: Have you tried googling for a conveyancer? Best not

“If you think Game of Thrones is brutal – try getting a conveyancing quote”

Despite the Government’s wonderfully naïve intentions to break down the walls that cause such divisions in the house buying process, there are no signs of any dragons flying in to save the day.

Which is a shame, because when clients are asked the question “Have you got a lawyer?” they are thrown into a Game of Thrones-like mediaeval world of unfamiliar terminology, awkward alliances and a completely unpredictable outcome.

Let’s face it, as an agent, you need your client to pick the best lawyer, but getting them to do this is quite difficult.

Especially, as it took you three months and seven viewings to get them to make an offer in the first place, the last thing you want to do is muddy the waters by bringing up a discussion about the importance of who actually does the legal work.

You will of course be familiar with the depressing disillusionment that sets in when your buyer, who you have been carefully nurturing for what seems like years, tells you they have selected a lawyer “we found online”.

The problem is that many buyers take the same approach to choosing a lawyer as they do for buying coffee capsules. Instead of googling “cheap nespresso” they just type “cheap conveyancing” and see what pops up.

Previously, such a search would produce results such as “£299 online conveyancing”.

However, these days they return price comparison websites typically sporting an “Expedia circa 2003” look about them. They all promise to deliver quotes from their “hand-picked lawyers … that are cheaper than the one your estate agent recommended”.

If you want to experience a similar level of bombardment to that suffered by Bolton’s infantry in the Battle of the Bastards, try asking for one of these quotes yourself.

You’ll want to give them your burner mobile number from your street days because these people make Sansa Stark look like TinkyWinky.

From the moment you click “Submit” you will find your email junk folder filling up with complicated lists of quotes from companies you’ve never heard of, based in places you’d never want to visit.

Just after you’ve finished understanding the difference between a telegraphic transfer (welcome to the 1890s, people) and an online banking disbursement, your burner phone will start ringing.

You do need to be aware that it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night you ask for a quote, sleep is not a perk of these people’s jobs.

Be warned, if you don’t take their call, they’ll start using text messaging, which can be very annoying when you’re trying to finish Series 7 before embarking on the final one.

Given all this grief, you do need to have some level of sympathy for your clients.

The problem is that, unlike buying coffee capsules which are pretty easy to understand and people buy frequently, when it comes to conveyancing, this stuff is complicated and they only need it every ten years or so.

It’s made all the more confusing as all these companies promise the same glorious nirvana:

  • No hidden charges
  • Dedicated conveyancer
  • Clear, regular communications

How on earth are clients supposed to tell whether these are true or not – after all, they wouldn’t lie, would they?

Although clients will always tell you that they don’t “want the cheapest”, before they ask their first question “what is your commission rate?”, if they don’t know what they are buying, then naturally they will gravitate towards the cheapest – wouldn’t you?

To help your clients avoid making a mistake when it comes to choosing their lawyer, here are some pointers that might be of use to give to them:

  • When you got a quote, did you actually speak to someone straight away? If they don’t respond to new business, what is the rest of their service like?
  • What is their average time to exchange and what is their fall-through rate?
  • How many cases are they currently running and how do they manage workload?
  • How do they communicate with their clients – old-fashioned risky email or a secure messaging portal?
  • Do they still use paper files or is everything electronic?

We know that questioning a client’s choice of lawyer can be difficult, but it is a conversation that needs to be had.

Especially when you remember Tyrion’s advice: “The day will come when you think that you are safe and happy and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth.”

* Peter Ambrose is founder of independent conveyancing business The Partnership

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  1. smile please

    Someone’s a frustrated writer or TV critic.

    Take the guff away the questions to ask when appointing a firm is very good if you do not have a working relationship with a firm currently

    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      I’ll take that as a compliment!

      Definitely NOT a TV critic but most definitely a writer frustrated by how conveyancing is sold these days!

  2. Alan Murray

    “Let’s face it, as an agent, you need your client to pick the best lawyer, but getting them to do this is quite difficult.”
    Well that is hardly the case is it? Given the amount of Agents who use the factory firms who would all feature on a list of conveyancers not to be touched with the proverbial bargepole were the criteria merely service, shouldn’t that read “you need your client to pick the lawyer paying the highest referral fee”?
    Where sellers/buyers need guidance, actually a lot of Agents are not providing it. Then they wonder why transactions take so long to proceed and clients get so disillusioned.
    Two questions need to be asked of those Agents. How much are you being paid to recommend the Conveyancers you have suggested? And is your recommendation based solely on the financial payment you will receive?

  3. LovePropertyBiz

    I have found these comparison sites effective for one thing & one thing only: negotiating a better fee quote from a proper conveyancing solicitor.

  4. Simon Brown at The ESTAS

    Excellent article Peter, I’m currently half way through season 5 trying to get up to date before Sky take them off!

    Personally I think the ‘have you got a solicitor/conveyancer/lawyer’ conversation needs to be had right at the beginning of the whole process. Good agents should be advising their clients early on about how important it is to choose the right conveyancer and NOT to make the decision based on price. Infact there is an argument to introduce legislation that says an agent can’t take on an instruction without details of the sellers conveyancer and the same question could be asked of potential buyers. The average time for selling/buying a home is currently at 19 weeks but this could easily be cut by 2/4 weeks by insisting conveyancers are in place before viewings take place.
    I know most agents will go cold at this idea but with fall through rates at well over 30% and transaction times at nearly 4 months something drastically needs to change!


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