Online conveyancing: what’s the risk for homebuyers?
by Iain Mason
Published on 11th March 2020
With seemingly everything available online, it is only natural for homebuyers to consider online conveyancing as a way of purchasing their properties.
So much works effectively online – and is often cheaper – that online conveyancing may seem an obvious way forward. After all, we can even buy a car online now without a test drive, so surely conveyancing is straightforward?
However, this is very much a case of buyer beware. If you are considering using an online conveyancer there are a number of pitfalls to look out for. A house is one of the most expensive items you will ever buy, so it is important to get it right.
What does online housebuying entail?
This happens when the face-to-face element of the lawyer/client relationship is removed and there is a reliance on emails, Skype, or similar video software, or phone. You will often be dealing with a call centre, rather than a traditional law firm.
Pitfalls of online conveyancing
- Loss of personal service. When you see your conveyancer or solicitor, you build up a personal relationship with them. They get to understand you and your timescale. With an online service, you are usually dealing with a call centre, so you are unlikely to speak to the same person; indeed, you may never speak to anyone but conduct the entire process electronically. This also brings the risk of loss of continuity; vital information slips through the net because it hasn’t been logged or passed on.
- Is online conveyancing cheaper? People often think this will be the case but an online service may not necessarily cost less. In any event, cheapest is not usually best, and for an expensive house purchase, you should be looking for a quality service that matches your budget.
- Are there any hidden charges? Make sure you have a list of all the charges at the outset. There are many cases of online conveyancers producing charges that had not been made transparent.
- Is the online conveyancer insured? Check they have indemnity insurance to cover any mistakes.
- Speed and efficiency. If you are aiming for a particular completion date, your solicitor or conveyancer will be aware of this and will work hard to achieve it for you. Online conveyancing can often take longer, which brings the risk of losing out on your property.
- Risk of conveyancing fraud. We all receive phishing emails and many are very convincing. If you are in communication with an online conveyancer, and receive an email that appears to be from them, can you be sure it is? There are many reported cases of homebuyers handing over their deposit or balance for their home, in response to an email request purporting to be from the conveyancer, only to find that they are victim of fraud.
- Keeping track of progress. Online conveyancers use an online tracking process that you can access, and where you can respond to and post queries as well as upload documents rather than send via post or email. It sounds ideal in principle but in practice, if the tracking process is not kept up-to-date by the online conveyancers then you may find you are in the dark about what is happening.
- How important is locality? An online conveyancer won’t have personal knowledge of the area you are buying in. Online searches will show up necessary information about, for example, potential development, but being ‘on the ground’ can be useful for having a true understanding of the vicinity.
A report in 2014, from the Legal Ombudsman called ‘Losing the plot: Residential conveyancing complaints and their causes’, revealed residential conveyancing accounted for 17.5% of the 7,500 complaints handled by the ombudsman’s office at that time, making it the second most complained about area of law after family.
The report also warned of the dangers of ‘conveyancing factories’ which pose a risk to homebuyers, by conducting a race to the bottom on price and commoditising the house-buying process, to the detriment of the homebuyer.
At Optimum, we pride ourselves on providing a quality, hands-on, face-to-face, responsive, and bespoke conveyancing service and have many testimonials from very happy clients. We are CLC regulated, demonstrating our mark of quality.
If you are buying a house in or
around the Swindon, Royal Wootton Bassett, Chippenham or Wiltshire area and
would like to speak to a conveyancer with local knowledge, offering a quality
service, please get in touch.