Is online conveyancing safe?

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You can buy everything online these days, from services to products, and buying a house is no exception. So when it comes to conveyancing, you will not be surprised to hear that there are many online companies that provide conveyancing services. And they are available no matter where you are in the world or UK. So considering it is one of life's biggest purchases, is online conveyancing safe?

Instructing an online conveyancing firm means that you communicate with your legal adviser via email, their business portal, or other online tools. You can go through the whole conveyancing process from the comfort of your own home, from work, and at any time of the day, no matter what hours you keep.

Whilst this can save you a lot of time and expense, you may worry that such an important high value online enterprise may be unsafe. However, if you choose a reliable conveyancing company, and take some basic precautions, online conveyancing is as safe as using a high street firm of solicitors.

There are several important issues that may help to explain the process in better detail and put your mind at rest.

What is online conveyancing?

Firms that offer online conveyancing operate a UK wide service and take business from any part of the country. Although it is called ‘online conveyancing’ there are parts of the process that are not performed digitally, because they cannot be. Online conveyancing simply means that you do not have to visit a conveyancer in person, rather the transaction is completed through email, by post, and via phone, with the emphasis being completing as much as possible online and via electronic methods.

The only real difference between using an online conveyancer and a more traditional high street firm is the need to attend premises in person. The process has been made easy for a customer to follow and goes something like this:

  • You instruct your chosen conveyancer to handle all the legal aspects of a property sale/purchase.
  • If you are selling, your conveyancer will send you some forms to complete concerning the properties fixtures and fittings, draft a contract and send to the buyers conveyancer.
  • If you are buying, your conveyancer will request the contract documents from the sellers contracts.
  • Your conveyancer will then complete the property searches and title checks, and if any issues are identified, they will alert you to them.
  • Your conveyancer will deal with any financial issues of the sale/purchase including communicating with any mortgage lenders.
  • You review the contract of sale, and agree completion dates, and then if you are happy, instruct your conveyancer to exchange contracts.
  • Your conveyancer will then carry out completion formalities in time for the set completion date, after which, you become the new owner.
  • Your conveyancer then pays any Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) payable and registers you as the new owner with the Land Registry.

Naturally, there are many variables with housing transactions that could complicate things, particularly if there is a chain involved. But online conveyancers are experienced in every aspect of the process and their fully qualified staff will know what to do if any complications crop up. These are no different to complications which can arise if you use a more traditional high street firm.

Choosing a reliable online conveyancing firm

As with anything, it is important that you choose the right company from the beginning to handle your conveyancing. This means ensuring they are reliable and efficient. If you are buying with a mortgage, it is important to check that your preferred firm is a member of your chosen ‘lender’s panel’. If they are not a member, there is a chance that your mortgage provider will refuse to work with them, which may mean you have to look for an alternative.

You should also check who your conveyancer is accredited by. The most common are the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Law Society’s Quality Scheme, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) or CILEX. These schemes and regulatory bodies make sure the firm adheres to a set of minimum professional standards. Accredited firms offer a safe, responsible and reliable conveyancing process.

Make sure your chosen conveyancer is a real entity. If you are instructing a conveyancer, check whether they are listed as a licensed conveyancer, and if you have chosen a solicitor, check they are on the Law Society’s website, which holds details of all fully qualified solicitors.

It is a good idea to take a look at online reviews before making your decision and call the firm to discuss your case. Even though it may sometimes be difficult to tell whether reviews are genuine, this can still be a useful first step in your research. Shop around for quotes and ensure you compare like with like. Once you have several quotes, speak to the firms directly and get a feel for their service. Think about asking questions like:

  • Who will handle my case?
  • How often will I hear from you?
  • Are you a member of any professional bodies? If so, which?
  • Will I have to pay any costs if the sale falls through?
  • Are you approved by my mortgage provider?
  • When do I need to paying conveyancing fees?
  • What is your procedure for disputes?

If possible, think about investigating recommendations from family or friends who have had a good experience using a particular firm. But beware! Do not automatically decide to go with the firm recommended by your mortgage broker or estate agent without comparing quotes and checking the service offered first.

How important is local knowledge?

Because you are likely to find out about local developments and other factors which might affect a purchase from searches that are carried out, the necessity for local knowledge is probably removed. The most important thing to remember when choosing a conveyancing solicitor is to decide on one that is well-reviewed and you feel comfortable with because this will have a greater bearing on the quality of the service than their physical location. Your experience and those of others will determine if online conveyancing is safe

Steps to take to ensure online safety.

You should always be mindful of the dangers when using an online service, whether it is conveyancer or online shopping. Although when it comes to conveyancer, it is not just online firms you should be aware of as unfortunately things can go wrong even with your local high street firm. One of the most common things seen involves fraudulent or ‘fake’ companies sending you an email appearing to come from your solicitor or conveyancer, asking you to transfer your deposit into a specific bank account. It then transpires that the account belongs to the fraudulent individual. It can be extremely difficult to retrieve money if this were to happen.

Such emails can be very convincing. But by using two simple rules, they can help keep you safe and ensure online conveyancing is safe.

  1. Do not send any money to a bank account without first confirming with your solicitor over the phone that:

(a) they are expecting it, and

(b) the account you are paying into belongs to them.

  1. You can transfer a small amount of money into the specified account as a test. This way you can check with your conveyancer or solicitor whether they have received it before sending the whole amount.
  2. Bank account details for your conveyancer should not change during the course of a transaction so it is important to check carefully each time you make a payment to your solicitor.

While technology speeds up the conveyancing process, the Solicitors Regulation Authority advice is to confirm bank details using the postal system. Conveyancing firms and solicitors are wise to these scams and are extremely vigilant now.

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