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Buying or selling a home – can you trust your lawyer or surveyor?

Over the last 2 days, I’ve written about the most common ways estate agents fleece both sellers and buyers. It’s my understanding that most estate agents get a miserably low salary (about £12,000 a year?) and can only make a reasonable living from boosting their commission. That’s why they need to do things like signing up as many sellers as possible by giving inflated estimates of how much a property will sell for, pushing buyers into taking a mortgage from the agency’s mortgage broker, not passing on bids from buyers who aren’t taking a mortgage from their agency’s broker, grabbing properties cheaply for themselves and friendly developers and so on.

Most of us probably expect to be exploited by estate agents. But what about lawyers and surveyors that we pay directly to act for us and to work in our interests? Can we trust them? Or will they rip us off too? Let’s consider the following:

1. We’re not dealing with the best

The “professionals” we’ll be dealing with, barring a few exceptions, are hardly likely to be at the top of their professions. If a lawyer was talented, hard-working and ambitious, would they be doing tedious, repetitive work like conveyancing for a few hundred quid? Or would they be working on multi-million pound commercial deals or running the affairs of a family with hundreds of millions in assets? If a surveyor was truly talented would they be doing dismal home surveys for a few hundred pounds or working for a large property development or construction firm?

2. They’ll work together many times, they’ll only work for you once

In any town or district of a large city, estate agents, conveyancing lawyers and surveyors will probably have worked on many deals over the years. They will also probably have all passed work to each other. On the other hand, they’ll probably only work with you once. So they’ll all have an interest in your deal going through and in not upsetting each other. A lawyer will hardly be motivated to find legal glitches which discourage you from buying or selling. Likewise your surveyor will be careful not to put you off a property as upsetting a local estate agent could mean them losing a lot of work. So, even though you’re paying your lawyer and surveyor to act for you, their loyalties will be first to their own financial comfort, secondly to each other and thirdly to you.

I experienced this with a property I bought. The conveyancing lawyer “didn’t notice” some lies made by the seller on some papers they submitted about the property’s condition and the surveyor “didn’t notice” some blindingly obvious problems with the property. First I complained to the regulators for lawyers and surveyors and they both rejected my claims. Luckily, I found a “no win no fee” lawyer who dealt with professional negligence cases and once my lawyer’s letters got going, my useless conveyancing lawyer paid me about£4,500 and my “no win no fee” lawyer around £9,000. My worthless, lying surveyor coughed up £2,500 – rather more than the few hundred pounds I paid the scumbag for his “survey”.

So, my advice:

1. Do not believe your lawyer and surveyor are working for you

2. Ensure all agreements with them are in writing. If you agree something over the phone, email them immediately confirming the details of that phone call

3. Before you buy or sell a property, take out insurance which includes legal protection. It works wonders later if your conveyancing lawyer or surveyor knows that a large insurance company is picking up the bill should you sue them for professional negligence

4. Understand that the supposed regulators for solicitors and surveyors will always back their members. As part of the complaints procedure, you’ll probably be forced to first seek redress through your lawyer’s and surveyor’s trade bodies. But that’s just a formality – your claim will be rejected, then you’ll have to start legal action.

Question: What have you got if you have an estate agent or conveyancing lawyer or surveyor up to his or her neck in sand ?

Answer : Not enough sand.

1 comment to Buying or selling a home – can you trust your lawyer or surveyor?

  • Paris Claims

    The best conveyancing lawyer story that springs to mind was a Dorset solicitor called Ian Macfarlane. He opened an account at the local building society in the name of Ian Revenue. When there was stamp duty to be paid he asked the clients to make out a cheque to I Revenue and promptly paid it into his account. Got away with it for years, and was only caught by chance.

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