Can you change your conveyancer?
If you're wondering 'Can I change solicitor when selling a property?', the short answer is yes.
It is indeed possible to switch solicitors during the conveyancing process if you're unhappy with how yours is handling your transaction, whatever your reason.
It doesn't matter whether you are buying or selling.
The process to change is reasonably straightforward, at least in theory.
First, you'll have to tell your current conveyancer that you wish to use someone else, ask them to stop work and no longer act for you, and then settle their bill.
Then you'll need to find a new, replacement solicitor. They will ask you to sign a document called a form of authority so that they can contact your original conveyancer and request your files. Once they have all the documents, they'll continue from where the first solicitor left off.
However, this decision should not be made lightly as it can create more problems than it solves and may result in delays.
Why you might change your solicitor
There are numerous reasons to contemplate changing your current property solicitor. Among these could be:
- Lack of progress with the transaction due to slow responses: your solicitor might be too slow in processing your case or replying to you, causing delay in the property transaction.
- Difficulty in communication: You might have trouble reaching your solicitor by telephone, or they might not respond promptly to your emails or letters.
- High unexpected charges: You might feel that you're being overcharged for the service you receive.
- Loss of trust: There might be instances where you've lost confidence in your solicitor to perform their duties successfully.
- Conflicting advice: You might disagree with some advice given to you about your property purchase.
- Closure of the firm: Your solicitor's firm might have closed down.
While these reasons might prompt you to consider switching solicitors, the decision to do so requires careful thought.
Should I change my conveyancing solicitor? Key considerations before making a decision
It may take some time for the previous firm to transfer paperwork to your new solicitor. Particularly if the reason for moving from them is delay, you shouldn't expect them to suddenly become efficient for a client they aren't keeping.
Your new conveyancer will need additional time to review your case and get up to speed.
Conveyancers use different software to manage their casework, and systems aren't always compatible. As such, it can take time to have the paperwork transferred to another solicitor.
If your property transaction is nearing completion (if you've already exchanged contracts), we would advise you to stick with your current solicitor to avoid a delay in your sale or purchase.
Missing the completion date can lead to you incurring financial penalties. If the seller fails to complete on time, the buyer can deduct interest from the purchase price. If the buyer is at fault, then the seller can sue for damages.
Changing conveyancing solicitors will undoubtedly increase your overall costs of the transaction.
Even if your current conveyancing solicitor is working on a fixed fee basis, its likely you'll be required to pay them for the work completed up until the point you decided to switch. Even if they don't seem to have done much, they might have done more than you think, such as ordering searches or requesting information from leasehold managing agents. (As a side note, searches can be shared - they won't need to be ordered again).
'No sale, no fee' usually only applies if the reason completion doesn't take place is out of your control.
You'll need to check the terms of your agreement with them, which they should have given you before starting work. Terms are often within what is called a client care letter or an engagement letter.
Once you've established the legal costs to date, ask whether there will be an additional charge for passing on the paperwork to a new firm. There usually will be.
Also expect to have to pay your bill before they transfer any documents.
It might seem very unfair that you have to pay given that you've received a poor service. You could refuse to pay the bill at all and start again with a new law firm. However, if you don't obtain written confirmation that they won't charge you, you might just receive an unexpected bill in the post later on.
You shouldn't expect that the new conveyancing firm will be able to use all the work that the previous conveyancer did. Solicitors acting for you in any way have a duty of care to you, their client, so cannot rely on the work performed by any other solicitor. They will need to spend time reading your files to be satisfied that both you and they are informed fully before taking over. This will come at a cost.
They may need to redo some work or carry out additional tasks, such as informing third parties that they have taken over.
There is no way around this duplication of work and as a result, the cost to you and timescale for completion will be increased.
Also be aware that if the reason for switching is that your solicitor decides they can no longer act for you or has closed their business, you may still be liable for costs to date.
Other options if you're not happy with your conveyancer
Before you change solicitors, you might look to resolve the problem. This can often save time and money.
If your solicitor works for a firm (i.e. is not a sole practitioner), you could lodge a complaint with a senior partner about the current level of service. Most firms have a nominated partner who deals with client complaints.
You might ask for reassurance that they will provide a higher level of service going forwards.
Or you might ask for your case to be transferred to another person in the firm.
It is important to set out what you want to be improved and agree how it should be measured.
Remember, you still have the option of switching to a new firm if you remain unhappy.
Finding a new conveyancing solicitor
The process you'll follow and the criteria that you'll use for finding a replacement conveyancer are the same as when you originally searched.
Focus your search on finding a specialist residential property lawyer. Conveyancing solicitors who are experienced, registered with the Law Society and have a reputable standing are your best bet.
With your experience of your reasons for change, talk to any prospective solicitors you might hire to make sure that you feel confident that the same mistakes won't be made again.
You should make sure that they are happy to take up an existing transaction. Ask how quickly they can start given your inevitable delays to date. Ask if they can prioritise you as a client.
Enquire about their communication style and response times, as these can greatly influence your experience during the conveyancing process.
Transfer of conveyancing work
We've touched on the process already, but here it is in more detail
To change conveyancing solicitors, you'll first need to terminate the services of your previous solicitor.
Write a letter expressing your decision to end their services and request for all the necessary documents related to your case.
Your solicitor should provide you with a list of all conveyancing documents relating to your case. If they refuse to do so, you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman, who will enforce the conveyancing transfer work.
The new solicitor will then review these documents to determine the next steps.
Normally, your previous solicitor will provide a final bill outlining any fees owed for their work up to that point. They should ask you whether they can pay themselves using money they hold on account for you. Any remaining money that they are holding will then be transferred to your new solicitor.
Dealing with the mortgage lender
Changing solicitors can have implications for your mortgage offer.
Usually, its just a case of your broker or you informing the lender of the change.
Lenders often have approved solicitors, and if your new solicitor isn't on your lender's panel, it may affect your mortgage advance.
Ensure that your new solicitor is on your lender's approved list to avoid any unnecessary complications. They should be able to confirm that they are. For good measure, also check with your lender or mortgage broker.
The lender will reissue the mortgage offer to the new solicitor once you have told them of the change. The purpose of this is to guard against the risk of fraud.
Dealing with closed firms and indemnity insurance
Unforeseen circumstances, like your current conveyancing solicitor's firm closing down, can throw a spanner in the works. It's not the end of the road, though - you have options.
If your solicitors firm has closed, for example, as a result of becoming insolvent, the first thing to do is to contact a senior partner of the firm or the Law Society. They can provide you with further professional advice on how to proceed.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) may appoint an intervention agent to deal with a closed firm's accounts. This agent firm has the responsibility to distribute the money belonging to clients, ensuring that all clients' interests are protected.
The intervention agent will also take hold of all client paperwork, contact clients and ask what to do with them.
The agents will not want to hold the papers for long, so if you're in this position, appoint a new solicitor to act for you as soon as you can.
You may be able to claim compensation from the firm's indemnity insurance provider. Conveyancers in the UK are required to have this insurance to cover claims related to their professional duties.
If your current solicitor is holding money
The original firm might be holding money on your behalf, perhaps some of the purchase money or perhaps to cover various expenses.
This money belongs to you, and should be ring-fenced in a separate bank account for clients, so it should be straightforward for them to transfer the funds to your new solicitor's client account.
The original solicitor might charge you for doing so. It might also take time to have the money transferred, which might further delay your transaction by several days.
If your mortgage lender has already transferred the mortgage advance to your conveyancer but completion has not taken place, the lender’s instructions will require the funds to be returned as soon as possible when you switch conveyancers.
If the firm for which your solicitor works closes down while holding money for you then arrangements should be made to transfer the money either to you or your new solicitor. And if you're the buyer and stamp duty land tax has been paid or the transfer of ownership registered at the Land Registry, you will need the help of another solicitor.
If your solicitor holds money and refuses to release it upon request, you should contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is the body that regulates solicitors in England and Wales. The SRA should reimburse you from their compensation fund if your solicitor does not.