Hiring a solicitor is one of the first things you will do when selling your property. They provide a vital service and like estate agents are an integral cog in the property selling machine. The truth is though that you don’t actually have to use a traditional high street estate agent.
If you want to save a few thousand pounds you can try giving the marketing of your property to one of the cheap online estate agents who will stick it on Rightmove and Zoopla for a few hundred pounds and you can do the rest yourself (viewings, negotiation etc.) if you don’t mind a bit of hassle.
But try selling a property without a solicitor and see how far you get. You would need to heavily research the conveyancing process, acquire templated documents and on top of it all you would face massive trust issues from your buyer. Many, if not most, would simply refuse to buy a property from a seller who didn’t use a solicitor.
A good solicitor will earn his money by resolving problems that get thrown up by your buyer’s solicitor and there are usually plenty of issues with every property sale, most of them completely unexpected.
You may think you are selling a wonderful property in immaculate condition with not a single black mark by its name but wait until your buyer’s solicitor gets stuck in. If the survey and searches have revealed a history of problems, the solicitor is going to request evidence that they have been fixed. If the lease or freehold documents show that certain building work, however minor, should not have been carried out or that some paperwork for it is missing, they are going to want you to take out insurance policies to cover future claims.
The list of potential issues that could emerge during conveyancing that can threaten your sale is almost endless.
A solicitor may charge you anything from the low hundreds of pounds to a couple of thousand depending of course on whether they are based in a sleepy village or central London. It doesn’t really matter if you go for an out of town solicitor, you shouldn’t have to visit them in person, but what you should realise with all of them is that while might not think they are cheap a good solicitor will really earn her money.
If your sale gets complicated it could take months to go through. That is months of regular document scouring, letter writing, emailing, phone calls, more document scouring, scanning letters and so on. And always in the background is the possibility that they will miss something important and open themselves up to being sued by you for negligence.
Conveyancing solicitors may not need the same razor sharp skills as a top corporate lawyer but at the same time but very few are going to be retiring early and counting their piles of money. Trainees or newly qualified conveyancers earn £16,000 to £20,000 per year and after qualification plus around three years’ experience, salaries can range from £25,000 to £50,000. In short, after a few years they could be still be earning lower than the London average salary of £27,000.
So the situation is that your solicitor may be working fairly hard, not making a vast amount of money and possibly looking forward to going home the stroke of 5pm. The fact that you are trying to sell your most valuable asset and are highly stressed out about the slowness of the progress is not really their priority. To your solicitor it is just another job. They may have several house sales running at the same time.
It is very common for sellers to get frustrated with their solicitor for how slowly they seem to do things or how hard to reach they are. This is in contrast to the start when you called up about hiring them and they were on the phone in seconds.
The reality is that at the beginning you were a friendly sales prospect, and half way through a messy sale you are a frustrated customer. Who would you rather pick up the phone to?
When you hire a solicitor be prepared for them to be bright, friendly and optimistic in the first few days and then as the weeks progress they they may appear indifferent and elusive. His loyal secretary will claim she doesn’t know where he is, while promising to pass on your seventh message of the day.
Ultimately your aim is to get your sale completed as soon as you can and to do so you need to get your solicitor to put your job at the top of her in-tray.
Your solicitor is a human being and will respond like any other human being. If you want them to do something and they are being difficult, you have a choice or either showing them the carrot or the stick. The carrot example is to be very polite and say what a great job they are doing and “would you please try to hurry up and I will be eternally grateful”. The stick example is “get on with it or I will complain to your boss”.
Every good football manager knows, some players need an arm around the shoulder and others respond to a boot up the backside. You will have to experiment with your solicitor to find out what works best.
The idea that he who shouts loudest gets heard is not a bad principle to apply. Whether you choose to be nice or nasty (or a combination), always be vocal and persistent with your solicitor, and don’t be shy about emailing and calling them if you think the sale is going too slowly or you have a specific question.
Even if they get a bit short with you, as long as you remain professional, never raise your voice or swear, they should respond positively – in the end.