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Changing your conveyancing solicitor

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It used to be quite rare that we would be asked this question – people may have lost faith or confidence in their conveyancer and want to change to us part way through the transaction. Unless something serious has gone wrong the normal advice would have been to stick it out with the old conveyancer.


However in the last year a few conveyancers have gone bust, and in such circumstances the whole thing becomes far more worrying, and you may feel that you want change conveyancers. Normally the Solicitors Regulation Authority will step in and appoint someone else to take over the existing files – however there is every chance that the people appointed to do this may not be specialist conveyancers and/or may be swamped by the volume of files they have to take over.

So how easy is it to change conveyancers and can you do it? The short answer is that it’s pretty painless and yes, you can do it. However there are one or two ‘gotchas’ that you need to be aware of

1. You can always change your solicitor – you should always have a free choice of which solicitor to use and for a solicitor to take work when they know the choice has been restricted means the solicitor is potentially breaching the Solicitors code of conduct – bad news!

2. You have the right to get your existing solicitor to send your file of papers to whichever firm you want – the file of papers belongs to you.

3. The solicitor you’re leaving does however have the right to be paid before they release your file (this is known as having a ‘lien’ on your file). How much they need to be paid will depend on the terms you agreed with them at the start – if they were offering a no sale, no fee deal (as we do) then you shouldn’t have to pay anything. If there was going to be a charge for work that didn’t carry on to completion then you will probably have to pay this to move your case. Details of this should have been agreed with you by your solicitor at the outset.

4. In a conveyancing purchase matter the conveyancer normally also acts for the mortgage company as well – so if you’re changing solicitors then the new solicitors will have to do this as well. What this means in practice is that you tell you mortgage company you’ve changed and they then send out a new mortgage offer to your new solicitor. This can normally happen quite quickly as it’s basically changing a name on their records as opposed to having to change the whole mortgage offer. Your new solicitor won’t be able to exchange contracts until the new offer has been issued.

5. In a conveyancing sale matter there isn’t normally a problem as the title deeds master copies are held at the Land registry. In certain cases however (and here we’re generally talking about cases where the property was bought ages ago – many years ago) the conveyancer may have obtained the title deeds from the mortgage company – they will be holding these on an undertaking (a formal promise) not to let anyone else have them unless the mortgage is paid off – this would normally mean that the deeds would have to be sent back to the mortgage company to be re-sent out to the new solicitor. Even if this applies, if the property has been registered with the Land Registry then your new solicitor will be able to get official copies of the deeds straight away anyway.

6. How your new solicitor handles the case depends really on how far the case has moved forward – if it’s only just started up then the old file won’t be much help and it will probably be a good idea to just treat it as a normal new case; if it’s well advanced and/or there are specific conveyancing issues that are in the process of being dealt with then really they’ll need to see the old file before they can make any significant progress. For this reason if you’ve decided to make the switch it’s a good idea to make sure your old solicitor sends the papers on as soon as possible.

7. Once you’ve decided to make the new move it’s a good idea to let everyone else involved in the transaction know about it – your estate agent, your seller/buyer (so they can tell their solicitors) – to ensure that all letters go straight to the new solicitors.

8. If you’re already exchanged contracts then really you are better off not moving – you are legally bound to completing that sale or purchase – it’s all set in stone. The solicitor appointed by the Solicitors regulation Authority should be treating these cases as a priority and get them moved forward first.

That’s about it really. I hope this has been useful – if you have any questions about the process then please add a comment below. If you want to change solicitors to us then we’d be delighted to take your case on – you can email me about this at mslade@fidler.co.uk

Cheers

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