The importance of a good solicitor

31 JULY 2022

When buying a property, it is important that you have the right team behind you. It can be a very emotional journey, and things can get pretty hectic. Some agents might be pushy. You could be in a competitive situation against other motivated buyers. Usually, you will have to move quickly once you have found your dream home.

Sometimes whether you secure your dream home or not might come down to the speed of your legal representative.

Before making offers, you should have been pre-approved by your lender. My strong suggestion would also be to have a conveyancer (or solicitor) lined up to do the legal work.

A good conveyancer can be worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, I have seen buyers lose a property because their legal representative was too slow or too laid back to act efficiently. As a buyer, this can be heart-breaking.

Your conveyancer has a vital role in the transaction. They are there to coordinate the money, settlement and give you critical legal advice along the way. They will read through the contract and look for anything that may come back to bite you later on. Their advice is invaluable.

They may be knowledgeable, but they also need to be available, and explain the process in a way you understand.

When we are negotiating with a buyer, I always like to ask a buyer who their conveyancer is. Often the buyer will not know the answer. Sometimes they might use their parent's solicitor or someone that some random person from their work used a few years back.

Sometimes they will start shopping around based on things like the cost to engagement them.

The problem here is that this may take a few days to organise. And those days may be critical in getting a home or missing out. For example, suppose I was presenting two equal offers, and one buyer was getting back to me immediately and had everything ready to go, I'd usually recommend that the seller moves forward with that person.

My personal experience is that conveyancers are usually work more efficiently than solicitors (though this is certainly not always the case). Conveyancers only handle the buying and selling of real estate. They won't be stuck in court all day. Solicitors that are more experienced with family matters or criminal cases are unlikely to be the direct person giving you legal advice. You are more likely to be passed down to a junior person in the office to handle the matter. In saying that, there are a lot of good law firms around Newcastle that have a specific conveyancer, or conveyancing department, under their roof.

One of the most frustrating things as an agent is when you are trying to contact a buyer's legal representative and they are in court. Or they only work three days a week (no one can help until they are back next week!).

On the other side, there are an increasing number of conveyancing 'factories'. Usually, they're based in Sydney and they are heavily focused on being cheap. I'm guessing they have cut their overheads by offshoring a lot of the legal work. These guys can be fast, but sometimes I question whether they have really provided the right legal advice. Also, it feels like they are often on work experience. Sometimes they won't answer the phone and only communicate via email - not ideal when trying to buy a house.

When you are ready to buy that first (or next home), I'd suggest you take the following steps:

  • ask family and friends for a recent personal referral - within your personal network, you should know at least a handful of people that have bought or sold over the last couple of years.

  • look at this person's website and google rating (if they don't have a website, move on). If they don't care about online reviews, they may not be customer focused

  • look at their bio online. If they specialise in anything other than conveyancing, consider other options.

  • If they are a solicitor rather than a conveyancer, ask them whether they will be the one that is handling the matter (or will it be someone else in the office). If it's someone else, speak to that person.

  • when choosing a conveyancer or solicitor, remember that you are employing them. Think about how responsive and helpful they are in that initial conversation. If you don't feel the chemistry, move on to someone that fits you better.

  • find out whether you have that person's mobile number. A good, switched-on person will be more available than someone that gets their calls intercepted by the receptionist. Whilst I am an advocate for a work/life balance, there are plenty of hardworking legal people that are exchanging contracts after hours, on weekends and on holidays.

  • try and find someone local to Newcastle. While this is not critical, my experience is that they will understand the local factors (such as mine subsidence) and have a better relationship with the seller's conveyancer.

  • talk to agents about who they like to work with (but don't rely solely on this). We have a shortlist that we love working with and are happy to provide suggestions.

  • ask them about their costs. The difference between the cheapest and most expensive is likely to be under $500. Yes, that's a lot of money, but buying a home is one of the biggest decisions in most people's life. Sometimes cheap is not worth it in the long run.

  • find out if there is anything needed to be paid upfront

When you have chosen your conveyancer, you will need to sign an agreement with them. This can be done months before actually committing to buying. So no matter who you go with, get this sorted at the start of the journey.

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