What to look for when choosing property solicitors

Property SolitorsThere is very little you can do about it,  if you want to take a lease or buy a commercial property, you are going to need the services of property solicitors.   However, what should you be looking for when you are choosing which property solicitor to use.

Fixed Fee

The majority of commercial property solicitors would provide an estimate of their fees at the outset of the transaction and qualify this estimate with words along the lines “provided the matter proceeds to completion without undue complication, protracted negotiations or additional documentation”.  These words cover a multitude of sins.   Basically, it means that at some stage in the transaction you may get a call from your solicitor to say that because of X Y and Z factors, he is going to have revise his initial estimate to take into account these additional factors and the fee is likely to be higher.   Now whether the solicitor quoted deliberately low to get the job in the door or not , this is still a pretty objectionable practice and one which plays havoc with any client’s budget.

The alternative is to employ a solicitor on a fixed fee basis so that regardless of what happens during the transaction, the property solicitor only gets the fixed fee.  This is how most tradesmen and craftsmen work and there is no reason why the legal profession should be treated any differently.

So look for a firm that will give you a fixed fee for your transaction with a written guarantee that there will be no further charges added.

No fee for abortive transactions

There may be a fair few firms that are happy to charge fixed fees but few like the idea of writing off fees if the transaction aborts.  Some will make a discount on the time recorded but the majority of law firms measure the cost of doing the work by recording time and so if a client decides for whatever reason that the deal does not stack up or has problems funding the transaction, the last thing a client wants at this stage is to wind up having to pay a hefty bill whilst having nothing to show for it.

No some firms say they will not charge a fee if the transaction aborts through no fault of the client so if for example the seller of a commercial property decides to sell the property to a higher bidder.  In this situation, many law firms will apply a healthy discount or scratch the fee.  However, how many firms would not charge abortive fees if the client simply decides to pull out for whatever reason.  In other words, they do not charge fees on any abortive transaction whatever the circumstances.

Still it is worth asking and once again if you find a firm willing to do this get it in writing in the initial terms of business letter (solicitors call this the Rule 2 letter – referring to the solicitor’s conduct rule governing the information which must be given to a new client at the outset of the transaction).

Speedy property solicitors

One of the biggest complaints about property solicitors is the speed they take to bring transactions to a conclusion.  They often appear to be oblivious to the commercial pressures and appear to be afraid to pick up the phone and sort out sticking points.  Instead they get their coloured pens out and keep amending up the documents first in red, then green, then blue, brown, orange creating what property solicitors call a “travelling draft”.  Often the points being argued over are so esoteric, they would never arise in the real world and just there to titillate these property solicitors in their ivory towers.    So look for a solicitor who uses email and amends up the document electronically so that when a point is agreed, it is already typed up and ready to be incorporated into the final document.  Otherwise, you may have to wait days whilst some poor secretary tries to decipher illegible green, brown and blue amends.

Look for a solicitor who is pragmatic and is looking to form a working partnership with the solicitor on the other side.  He may even propose a solicitor who can act for the other party who has already agreed not to “point score” or raise ridiculous enquiries.

Look for a property solicitor who is happy to hand deliver documents to the other side or to their client to get the deal done more quickly, who drafts replies to the standard commercial property enquiries for his landlord or vendor client so that all the client has to do is scan through the replies and correct the answers already suggested.

Look for a property solicitor who understands your business so you do not have to teach him the idiosyncrasies and special issues of your particular industry, a solicitor who inherently knows the client’s business and the client’s priorities and reflects those in the intelligent amendments to the document.  This speeds up the process no end.

Get it in writing

So put these key points on your shopping list when searching the internet or asking your contacts for recommendations and make sure you get these points covered off before you start the transaction.  You are the client and it is you who is paying a small fortune.  So you are entitled to set the ground rules at the outset and then proceed on that basis.  So the rules you set become the terms of the contract between the client and the solicitor and should be incorporated in the initial terms of business letter and they are missed off go back and get the letter rewritten until you are satisfied.  We live in a different world now.    There are commercial property solicitors doing residential conveyancing work because there is so little commercial property work around so make sure you get the best possible terms.  It is very much a buyer’s market at the moment.

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Dominic Beeton, Solicitor
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