A Cautionary Tale About Cut Price Conveyancing

Heard before the Honourable Ms Justice Fair in the High Court of Justice – Chancery Division

Introduction and Facts of the Case

[1] The facts of this case involve a bitter dispute between the Claimants, Mr Tom and Ms Jerry, and the Defendants, Cheap as Chips Conveyancers Ltd. It highlights the dangers often posed by cut priced ‘conveyancing factories’ and the risks clients take when entrusting such organisations with a transaction worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. [2] Mr Tom and Ms Jerry had decided to purchase their first home together. After finding a suitable property just outside a small village in Kent, they put in an offer which was duly accepted. The property was a semi-detached, 3 bedroom house with a shared driveway and a large garden.

[3] Problems began early on in the process. The Defendants were clearly dealing with a large number of transactions at the same time and the Conveyancer appointed to manage their transaction was extremely slow to respond to emails and return the Claimant’s phone calls. The unnecessary delays in the exchanging of information eventually led to the sellers threatening to pull out of the sale, however, after tense and stress-inducing negotiations, the vendors agreed to continue working through the sale and purchase of their home with the Claimants. [4] Finally, five months after the Claimants instructed the Defendants to manage the purchase of their new property, contracts were exchanged, the deposit paid and a completion date was agreed. [5] On completion, Mr Tom and Ms Jerry duly paid the remainder of the funds required to purchase their new home. They then organised a removal van, packed up the furniture they had in their small London flat and popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the beginning of their lives together. Little did they know that their nightmare was truly about to begin. [6] On the day of completion, with the removal van waiting outside their flat the Claimants went to the Defendant’s office to pick up the keys. Their Conveyancer was not in the office and no one had received any keys from the vendors to the Claimant’s new home. Unbeknown to everyone, their Conveyancer had ‘forgotten’ to deposit the final monies into the sellers account; therefore, they understandably refused to hand over the keys. [7] The Claimants spent most of the day trying desperately to get hold of their Conveyancer, with no success. The next day was the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend. The tenancy on their flat had expired and they had no home to go to. Finally, they managed to organise interim storage (at great expense) for their furniture and checked into a hotel for the weekend. [8] At 7pm that evening they finally managed to get hold of their Conveyancer by phone, who, without any apology, argued that he had not received the final monies to complete the property transaction in his firm’s account. As it was a long bank holiday weekend, the Claimants were unable to get hold of their bank until the following Tuesday. [9] On the Tuesday following the bank holiday weekend, the Claimants, who were by now extremely distressed and upset, managed to talk to their bank and confirm that the money for the transaction had in fact been paid and the Conveyancer admitted his mistake, paid the remaining balance of the property purchase and completed the transaction. [10] The Claimants brought a claim for damages citing mental and emotional distress and wished to claim for the money spent paying for a hotel and storage of their furniture over the bank holiday weekend.

Judgment of Fair J

[11] Unfortunately in this case I cannot award the Claimant any sums for damages. However, I can issue a general word of caution regarding choosing a specialist Conveyancer to manage property sales and purchase transactions. [12] This case truly highlights the risks taken by individuals choosing to instruct cut price conveyancing firms rather than pay a little more for accredited, client-focused legal service from a professional law firm. The Chief Ombudsman recently commented in the Law Society Gazette that, and I quote, “Conveyancing factories pose a potential risk for house buyers”. [13] It has often been stated that buying a home is, for a majority of us, the biggest financial investment that we will ever make. It is extremely important that the legal professional engaged by both a seller and a purchaser has the support and expertise to manage their workload and the professionalism to return phone calls and emails from their clients in a prompt, timely manner. [14] The Claimants appear to have escaped extreme loss; the transaction completed and they did move into their home in the end. However, other individuals who have been let down by poor conveyancing have lost thousands of pounds due to:

  • Hidden costs being added onto a ‘fixed fee’
  • Title searches being incorrectly read, resulting in a loss of money when the buyer comes to sell the property at a later date
  • The Conveyancer neglecting to inform the purchaser of planning permission grants on neighbouring properties. One example of this presented to the Legal Ombudsman concerned the case of a homebuyer who was never told by her Conveyancer that the school behind her newly acquired property had been granted planning permission to build an extension which would subsequently spoil her view from the garden of her new home
  • Delays by the Conveyancer leading to the purchaser losing out on their dream home
  • Stamp duty not being paid

[15] All I can advise the Claimants to do is next time they decide to buy or sell a property is to look for a conveyancing specialist to conduct the transaction. Signs that point to a high-quality legal professional include:

  • The firm holds a Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) certificate which is accredited by the Law Society for exceptional service in the field of conveyancing.
  • Look for other professional accreditations such as Lexcel as a guarantee of quality service
  • Experienced legal professionals are aware how much a standard conveyancing transaction will cost a client and will therefore offer a fixed fee price with no hidden costs added to the invoice after completion
  • Word of mouth recommendations from family and friends are worth their weight in gold.
  • The Conveyancer will have time for their individual clients, return their phone calls and emails promptly and keep them updated throughout the process if there are unexpected delays
  • Proper due diligence on the property will be performed and the client will be made aware of any issues which may affect their property now or at a later date, such as planning permission grants

[16] When buying or selling a property, investing a little more money in a highly-recommended, accredited law firm to manage the matter can save all parties time, money and potential heartache.
To find out more about buying and selling a property please click here.

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