Buying a house is an incredibly exciting time in anyone’s life, but it also has the potential to be an overwhelming, stressful experience. To try and help you through the process, we’ve pulled together a series of articles that will guide you through the key areas of purchasing your property, and point you in the right direction to making the right decisions.
In the previous article, we looked at how to select the right Property Lawyer for your circumstances. Assuming you’ve put that advice to good use, you’ve probably drawn up a shortlist of Lawyers to consider. So, the next step is to request estimates for the legal services that they will carry out on your behalf.
The likelihood is that the quotes you receive will all look very different and potentially contain lots of legal terminology and numbers that may not be easy to understand.
So how do you begin to review these quotes to ensure that the firm that you pick represents the best value for money? Here’s our top ten tips to guide you through this part of the process:
1. Understand the difference between Legal Fees and Disbursements
You will probably see both of these terms on the quotations you receive. Fees are the amount your Lawyer will charge you for their services, and will almost certainly be subject to VAT. Disbursements are the fees that your Lawyer will pay to others on your behalf, like Land Registry Fees and Stamp Duty Land Tax. These may or may not be subject to VAT.
2. Prioritise quotes that are presented clearly and use the least jargon
The likelihood is Lawyers who have taken the time to ensure that their initial contact with you is clear and meaningful, will continue to present advice in that way throughout the transaction. Beware of those quotations that don’t give clear figures or use words or legal phrases that confuse you.
3. Beware of hidden charges
Cheapest isn’t always best, so beware of those quotations that contain fewer entries. There may be hidden costs that you will not be aware of until completion, when it will be too late. If it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. So, don’t be afraid to ask if those costs on the quotation are the only ones you will be expected to pay if all proceeds as expected. If you do not get a clear answer to this question, be concerned.
4. Obtain like-for-like quotes
If there are obvious differences between the quotes you’ve received, it is worth checking with each Lawyer that they have fully understood what you want. Think of it like car insurance - you can usually get a cheaper quote, but will they pay out in the circumstances when you need them to? In this case, can the Lawyer provide the service that you require?
5. Provide as much information as possible from the outset
The more information you can provide, the more accurate the quotes you receive will be. Don’t try and be clever and hide information - it may lead to nasty surprises in the long run. Equally, if you declare that you are a first-time buyer upfront, it means the Lawyer can ensure that your quote doesn’t include items such as Stamp Duty (for those properties that are exempt), for example.
6. Leasehold property charges can be tricky
It can be difficult for Lawyers to quote in respect of the sale and purchase of leasehold properties as often they will not know the precise costs the landlord, managing agent or management company may charge for their services. In many cases, all three will have separate charges which are often unexpected ie, a set of management enquiries can cost in excess of £350 plus VAT, and sometimes more than one set is required per property.
7. Consider the importance of a personal service
If one quote stands out as being the cheapest, consider why this may be the case. Is this particular firm purely driven by volume, which may mean no degree of personal service? While the price may be attractive, a house is the most expensive thing most people will buy, so ask yourself whether you want a cheap service or a good service? And never underestimate the value of being able to pick up the phone and speak to the same person every time.
8. Developing a relationship is important
While the quote you may have received from an online-only firm may be attractive, there is a great deal of value in being able to meet your Lawyer, get to know them and build trust. This is particularly the case if the going gets tough. And if you need to deliver some papers or sign a document in a hurry, a local firm is much more convenient. Local knowledge is also a highly valued attribute - the chances are that a local Lawyer will have bought or sold a property near to your property, so this knowledge should help the transaction go smoothly.
9. Use your instincts
Did one particular firm make you feel at ease, or give you a feeling of confidence or assurance? If the quotation wasn’t provided by the person who will be acting for you, make a point of trying to speak to them. Do not feel intimidated by them or frightened to ask questions - after all, you are paying for their services.
10. Local is best
We truly believe that local is best, for many of the reasons we’ve outlined in this article. So, our top tip is to focus on quotes from local Lawyers who can provide a personal, efficient and high level of personal service you deserve.
This article was written by Karmen Waldron, Partner at the Gloucester Office of WSP Solicitors
Next time we’ll take a detailed look at Stamp Duty Land Tax – when this applies, and how it may affect you…
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to WSP Solicitors directly.
Published on 26th February 2018
(Last updated 11th July 2018)