You’re entitled to choose your solicitor

The need for a lease extension often only becomes clear when you try to sell your flat – and find, if perhaps you have got, say, 65 years left on the lease, that your purchaser struggles to get a mortgage – or worse still, potential purchasers are driven off because of the shortness of the remaining term.

Furthermore lease extensions are complex and few residential conveyancers have much idea about how to navigate through the complex leasehold extension process. I suspect that there is even a significant minority of conveyancing lawyers who have not even heard of leasehold extensions! So whilst it always feel comfortable with your solicitor, it is even more important that you pick the right solicitor when considering extending your lease.

The issue of choosing a property solicitor has raised its head in the media recently when the Sunday Times reported that the estate agent chain, Connells [which is actually owned by the Skipton Building Society], came under criticism for purportedly attempting to put pressure on a buyer at a Barnard Marcus branch to make use of its own in-house financial and legal services. In this particular case, the buyer had an existing mortgage offer and wish to use his own conveyancing solicitor – but alleges that Barnard Marcus attempted to ‘strong-arm’ him into making use of its own legal services, claiming that Barnard Marcus offered him a remarkable discount of £5,000 discount in the event that he chose to instruct their in-house services. Barnard Marcus told the Sunday Times [which had run the story under the headline ” Beware estate agents’ hard sell tactics”] that it apologised if any purchaser felt that they were under any undue pressure to make use of own conveyancing or financial services, adding that use of its own services was entirely optional.

Sadly, this will be a familiar tale to many conveyancing solicitors. I’ve personally had to make complaints on more than one occasion to one of the estate agents chains (Fox & Sons) over the level of pressure they put on one of our own vulnerable clients to use their conveyancing services.

But why are chain estate agents so very keen on clients using them, rather than independent solicitors? The answer is simple – a financial bung. Not only do many chain estate agents make it compulsory for their staff to strongly push their own solicitors but in many cases they also pay commission to those staff who successfully get buyers or sellers to use those in-house services. What’s interesting is that estate agents don’t have to reveal to buyers or sellers. The receipt of commission for recommending their own in-house services [which of course makes their advice far from independent] – in fact contrast to solicitors. Solicitors are under highly strictly enforced rules to reveal fully in writing to clients any referral fee they receive.

What’s more, the chains tend to use conveyancing factories – where you’ll be dealing with someone at a call centre nowhere near you – what’s more these conveyancing factories usually employ very low level and unqualified staff – that’s why they can do conveyancing at such low rates. In our experience, very few users of these factories received good service and the vast majority, vow never to do so again – preferring to choose their own independent property solicitors.

So don’t forget, when it comes to choosing lease extension solicitors [or indeed , solicitors for any property transaction] – the decision is yours, and yours alone.

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