A recent case highlighted by Adam Sampson, the Chief Legal Ombudsman, in an article in the Law Society Gazette underlines the potential risks of using online conveyancing firms to undertake the legal work on the purchase or sale of a house.
As the article (which is available at the link below under the heading “Complex web”) illustrates, it is not always a given that online firms will necessarily be a cheaper option than traditional firms.
In the case in question, the firm’s final bill was more than four times the initial estimate of £650 which the firm had provided. The ombudsman did not object to the firm’s actual fees, but did decide that they should refund £300 to the client as a result of searches which they had carried out on his behalf without providing adequate information. In this regard it is worth noting that one advantage of using a solicitor with local knowledge is that they may be able to avoid undertaking searches which are not relevant to the property in question.
Solicitors are obliged by professional rules to provide frequent updates as to costs, but in the case discussed in the article the ombudsman found that the firm had presented this information in an unclear, poorly structured and cumbersome way, which firms should self-evidently take pains to avoid.
It is also worth bearing in mind that although solicitors’ fees are obviously an important consideration in any conveyancing transaction, they are usually a relatively small part of the overall cost and are typically much smaller than the fees payable to estate agents for their work in marketing the property.
While in some cases online conveyancers undoubtedly do a good job at an affordable price, in many cases clients may find that they prefer the greater experience and the personal touch generally offered by solicitors at traditional firms.