Communication: The key to effective conveyancing
In helping to facilitate one of the biggest events in a person’s life, conveyancers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Buying a home is a daunting task, particularly for first time buyers, so people will inevitably be relying on their conveyancer to help make the process run smoothly.
In principle, doing the basics effectively, particularly by communicating openly and regularly with clients, will ensure that things go well. This is a win-win for clients and service providers; with the latter benefiting from a good reputation while avoiding any involvement from the Legal Ombudsman.
However, things can, and do, go wrong. Conveyancing is the most complained about area of law in England and Wales – accounting for nearly a quarter (23%) of all complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, which resolved around 7,500 complaints last year. A failure to advise clients appropriately, delays, and poor costs information usually drive conveyancing related complaints to the scheme.
There are almost 1 million property transactions taking place each year in the UK, so complaints are low in relative terms. But for those people who are affected by poor service, the results can be harrowing. So how can conveyancers avoid the pitfalls? Managing a client’s expectations from the outset is a good start, as is explaining what their role does and doesn’t cover in plain language.
It might be obvious to an experienced solicitor, or even an experienced home buyer, but first time buyers may not know who is going to take care of any building or structural issues with the house. Conveyancers can help by explaining that they will need a surveyor to do this for them. Likewise with any concerns over plumbing, working order of appliances, or in terms of seeking advice on the feasibility of future building projects such as a loft conversion or conservatory.
As well as providing information verbally, it is good practice for conveyancers to provide an information sheet to clients when they first instruct them.
Chief Ombudsman, Kathryn Stone, said: “Ultimately, communication is key. Service providers should encourage their client to ask questions and to raise any concerns as soon as possible. It’s such a simple thing to do, but in many of the complaints handled by the Legal Ombudsman, good communication is often lacking.”
The Ombudsman has produced new guidance for first time buyers, which is available for free from its website. The guide sets out what clients can do themselves to help the process run smoothly, what kind of advice their conveyancer should provide, what surveys cover, and any checks that clients can do themselves.
It also includes advice about how to complain should things go wrong. The Ombudsman encourages clients to complain to their service provider first of all, so that they can put things right. However, where this isn’t possible, the Ombudsman may be able to help.
The Legal Ombudsman aims to resolve complaints between service providers and their clients in a way that is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of each case. It is independent and impartial and aims to resolve complaints quickly and informally. Where there is something to put right and agreement can’t be reached, it has official powers to order a remedy.