Property solicitor

Property solicitors deal with a host of issues from buying and selling property to repossessions and lease extensions. Buying or selling a property is the legal transaction you are most likely to undertake at some point in your life. It is also a massive financial transaction and you will want to get it right.

Your property solicitor is integral to the process so you will naturally want to pick the right one for you. What do you need to know to prepare for consulting a property solicitor? We talk to a selection of property solicitors on the subject.

What do property solicitors do?

Property solicitor David Briffa (left), of London law firm Child & Child, describes his role as that of a coordinator.

If you are purchasing a home your property solicitor will go through a process which Briffa compares to an AA inspection of a second-hand car. They will carry out lots of checks including searches with statutory bodies, asking the seller about any disputes and, if it is a flat lease, ensuring that it is in an acceptable form.

If you are buying, Briffa says, your property solicitor will make sure that everything happens on time including making sure the deposit is in place and drawing down the mortgage.

There are a number of other issues which a property solicitor can handle, says Jonathan Picken (right) of London property solicitors William Sturges. “An experienced solicitor may be able to deal with lease extensions and freehold enfranchisement work and advise on planning matters, boundary problems, lease problems (i.e. service charge disputes) and granting assured shorthold tenancies.”

What to look for in a property solicitor

One key element is rapport and affability according to property solicitor John McAuliffe (left) of Kent-based law firm Warners. “If you can get on with them straight away then that helps.”

The importance of accessibility was another factor which solicitors agreed upon. McAuliffe says you should find out whether they can be reached by email, fax and mobile and be aware of what their office hours are and if they are not around who else you can speak to.

Finding out information on the firm where your property solicitor works is also very important. McAuliffe says you should find out whether they are a sole practitioner or part of a larger outfit. It can be helpful if they offer other legal services such as trusts, wills and litigation which crossover with property.

“If the solicitor has been recommended to you by a work colleague or friend then this can be helpful,” says Jonathan Picken. “You will also want to check that the solicitor will themselves be dealing with you and won’t simply delegate the work to a colleague.”

How to prepare for meeting your property solicitor

Setting out a list of expectations and the terms of your transaction is a good idea when preparing to meet, whether your first contact is by telephone or in person, says John McAuliffe.

If you are selling a property, copies of title documents and details of your mortgage are useful. “If in doubt bring anything that you think might be relevant,” says Jonathan Picken.

What your property solicitor should be able to tell you

Your property solicitor is obliged by the Law Society to give an estimate of how much a piece of work will cost. However, as Picken points out, “there is no such thing as a straightforward transaction!”

Your property solicitor’s estimate is to a large extend determined by the accuracy of the information you provide at the outset, according to John McAuliffe. The message is – be as prepared as possible.

The timescale of the transaction depends on a number of factors, including whether or not a chain is involved. David Briffa. “In such a situation you move at the pace of the slowest link.”

The current state of the market

With the property market at an all-time low, property solicitors have seen business halved. However, there is a pent up demand, according to Briffa. “People are looking for signs that things are picking up and there are individuals out there looking for bargains,” he says.

While conceding that the market has slowed and the volume of transactions has taken a dip John McAuliffe points out that transactions will continue to occur. “Life goes on – people continue to die and continue to get married. A noticeable change is the type of people buying property – there are now no first time buyers or investors.”

McAuliffe predicts that the next 12 months will be tough but predicts that 2010 should be a lot brighter.

Briffa is more optimistic suggesting that transaction numbers may shoot up next year. “The world's financial markets change very quickly nowadays,” he says. “The recession came abruptly and we could pull out of it much faster than with past recessions.”

Useful links:

The BBC guide to using a property solicitor

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