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Call for solicitors to provide clearer conveyancing information, especially to first-time buyers

While most customers (76%) are satisfied with the legal services they receive when buying or selling a property, there are concerns over the quality and timeliness of information being provided to them during the process.

More also needs to be done to help people make informed decisions when choosing a conveyancing solicitor, especially for first-time buyers who have limited experience of how property transactions work or what to look for in a provider.

These are among the key findings of a newly published report commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) into the conveyancing market. The independent research, conducted by IFF Research, involved a survey of 1,501 people who had bought or sold a residential property during the previous two years, as well as in depth interviews and focus groups.

While the research found that estate agents (27%) and personal recommendations (25%) were the most common methods people use to find a conveyancing solicitor, there is also a growing move towards shopping around, especially using online tools.

Two in five people (40%) were aware of comparison websites for legal services. Of these, approximately one in three used such a site to compare conveyancing providers.

Regardless of how they found a solicitor, users of conveyancing legal services overwhelmingly identified cost and conveyancing specialism as the two most important factors they considered in making their choice.

Among the 14% of people who said they were dissatisfied with the legal service they received, the most common causes for concern were solicitors being slow and inefficient (37%), poor communications (22%) and mistakes being made (17%). Mistakes typically related to drafting of contracts or errors in the property’s title.

Overall, one fifth of people did not think their solicitor provided a clear explanation of the legal process, a figure that rose to 42% among first time buyers and sellers, while 31% of all buyers and sellers could not recall receiving information on how to complain about their solicitor in case of a problem.

Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, said: “Buying or selling a property can be daunting, stressful and complex, especially for first time buyers.

“The research shows that most clients are happy with the service they get from their solicitor. But there is clearly room for improvement, particularly when it comes to providing the detail on cost and service that people are looking for. This report will feed into our thinking on what sort of information we want to see law firms publishing.”

The research also found that 20% of people who had bought a leasehold property did not remember being provided with any information on the length of lease, service charges and other payments, such as ground rent.

Paul Philip said: “The nature of leasehold purchases means that clients must be given good information about what they are buying. People need help to understand all the implications.”