Fixed fee conveyancing is where a legal professional charges a set amount for a home sale transaction.
In theory, this figure shouldn’t change regardless of the direction of the sale.
This form of conveyancer pay structure emerged as homebuyers and sellers became frustrated with spiralling, and often unpredictable, hourly conveyancing fees.
It’s unfair for conveyancers to deliver a costly invoice at the point of sales completion, particularly when their clients have no choice but to pay.
The advantage of fixed-fee conveyancing is that you are fully aware of the costs from the start of the process so you can budget accordingly. You’ll also won’t be surprised by hidden expenses when you receive your completion statement.
However, much will depend on the complexity of your case.
If you’re buying a leasehold property or accessing some kind of government-sponsored housing scheme, for example, most conveyancers will charge more.
There are a number of extra costs that you should be aware of which we’ll discuss below…
Fixed Fee Conveyancing Solicitors
As many conveyancers advertise their wares on the internet these days, it makes sense for them to offer a headline or ‘flat’ rate.
Similar to sites like Compare the Market and Money Supermarket, firms will compete amongst themselves on price. Other factors like reviews, location and availability also come into play.
Today, it’s also possible for non-lawyers to run conveyancing firms (although the staff doing the legal work must be fully qualified). This means that more estate agencies and mortgage brokerages can directly offer conveyancing services too.
This is all good news for you as it means there’s more choice than ever before and you can find the best firm aligned with your needs.
However, it’s worth being wary of certain online conveyancing firms.
Whilst some of their processes are arguably more efficient, people have been known to complain about the lack of ‘personal touch’. These firms are also not the best to use if your case is more nuanced.
Is Fixed-Conveyancing Genuinely ‘Fixed’?
In theory – even if unexpected problems or complications emerge – the conveyancer will maintain the same fee.
Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, there’s a need to appreciate that conveyancing is not a simple task.
Conveyancers invest heavily in their own education and must keep up-to-date with various changes in the law.
As with most things, you pay for what you get. This is often the biggest transfers of funds you’re likely to be dealing with and any mistakes could be disastrous.
Although there’s no excuse for overcharging, using a good conveyancer that’s well-qualified to manage your case will save you in unnecessary stress, not to mention money if things were to go wrong.
For this reason, you shouldn’t automatically choose a conveyancer that offers the cheapest fee.
You should also remember that, although the conveyancer may offer a basic fixed fee, there may be additional charges.
This will depend on how straightforward your case is and what the overall workload is likely to be.
Fixed-Fee Conveyancing Tasks
Below are some of the standard conveyancing processes that should have little variation in terms of the charges.
- Dealing with the Sellers Pack – the seller’s conveyancer will forward a series of standard legal forms. Although leasehold sales require the completion of an extra form (the TA7), conveyancers are unlikely to charge extra for this;
- Certifying Identification and Anti-Money Laundering Checks – these are standard processes that do not change regardless of who is buying or selling;
- Draft Contracts – unless the sale is particularly complex, involving multiple parties, there are unlikely to be huge variations in costs here;
- Mortgage Administration and Drawdowns – although a quick cash sale is a lot simpler, as many property sales these days involve mortgages, most conveyancers would be unlikely to charge extra;
- Instructing Conveyancing Searches – as conveyancers often order these in bulk, there will usually be no extra charges. Note that if it’s envisaged that complications could arise from the search results, there may be extra fees;
- Standard Enquiries – assuming there is nothing out of the ordinary, conveyancers should not charge extra for dealing with the questions that emerge during the sale;
- Contract Signing – again, a standard process for which there should not be any supplementary fees.
It’s also worth noting the there shouldn’t be any increase in disbursements. These costs are usually fixed and most reputable conveyancers charge at cost.
Similarly, check that the conveyancer includes administrative-related and archive storage costs within its fixed conveyancing fee.
Variable-Fee Conveyancing Tasks
Before taking on the case, the conveyancer will ask a series of questions about the specifics of the case.
This may result in more ancillary tasks than considered standard and, therefore, ‘bolted on’ fees.
Below are some of the instances where extra fees are likely:
- Leasehold Property Sales – the buyer’s conveyancer will need to request the lease and any associated documentation and go through in detail. There will usually be more enquiries and requests for clarification compared to freehold sales. Note that there will also be extra disbursements here including drafting a notice of transfer, deed of covenant and/or certificate of compliance;
- Granting a New Lease – on the rare occasion where a new lease needs to be drafted, there will certainly be an extra fee. In our experience, the case will usually get passed on to a specialist conveyancer to deal with;
- Unregistered Property Administration – extra work will be required to register the property at the HM Land Registry (as the conveyancing process cannot proceed without this in place);
- Defective Title – similar to above, the conveyancer may bump up their fees should there be any issues with the Title Register that need to be resolved before proceeding;
- Bankruptcy and Property Fraud Checks – typically with sales to and from companies, extra verifications on the Title Register need to be undertaken;
- Dealing with Multiple Lenders – if the conveyancer needs to administer paying off further mortgage or secured loans (known as ‘redemption’), there may be an extra charge;
- Lenders Conveyancing Solicitor – some mortgage companies may specify to use their lenders. Unfortunately, this is out of the control of the conveyancer;
- Guarantor Involvement with the Mortgage – further checks are necessary to confirm the guarantor is financially solvent enough should the principal mortgage holder default;
- Gifted Deposit – further legitimacy checks and paperwork is necessary if funds towards the house purchase are not coming directly from the buyer;
- Lifetime or Help to Buy ISA – similar to gifted deposits, extra documents will need to be administered as the funds are coming independently (albeit from a government source);
- Indemnity Insurances – these may be required if there are unsurmountable legal issues. The buyer’s conveyancer will organise these and make sure the policy offers adequate protection;
- Delayed Completion – common with new build sales, as files need to be kept ‘on hold’ (and not archived), there may be a supplementary charge;
- Statutory Declaration – a complementary legal document that will need to be drafted if the need arises to create a new obligation as part of the sale;
- Transferring Equity – although most equity transfers would be separate from the sale (and subject to a different conveyancing fee), should the buyer or seller wish to pass some of the proceeds of sale into another property prior to completion there will be a further cost;
- Trusts – extra paperwork (and possibly external legal consultation) will be required if the property transfer involves trusts. This is, indeed, a separate area of law;
- Help to Buy Scheme – there may well be an extra charge involved due to the extra paperwork and administration required;
- Inherited / Probate Property Sale – whilst most inherited property owners would have any related issues dealt with by a specialist solicitor, the conveyancer involved with the sale may need to engage in extra tasks to make sure things are done in the correct way;
- Right to Buy – extra legal and registration-related work will need to be undertaken when the property is being bought from the Local Authority;
- Shared Ownership – similar to leasehold properties, extra enquiries and processes are necessary to ensure the sale is executed cleanly;
- New Build Property Purchases – the conveyancer may need to undertake further checks about the surrounding land as well as the warranties that should be in place;
- New Build Leasehold and Ground Rent Agreements – given the dire financial situations some leasehold property owners have been dragged into over the years, more buyers are asking conveyancer to analyse these contracts in more detail;
- Retentions – if funds need to be held back post exchange or completion, there may be a fee to ensure that the money is protected;
- Restrictions – extra paperwork and administrative effort is needed to limit the seller’s ability to dispose until contractual obligations are met;
- Buy-to-Let Property Sales – if the property has sitting tenants upon completion, the conveyancer may charge extra to check the tenancy agreement, deposit, rental payment logs and utility connections;
- Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – if the property being sold is let to more than one tenant, then individual checks are usually undertaken. There may also be Local Authority verifications to make;
- Licence Agreements – these are sometimes drafted by the conveyancer should the seller wish to remain in the property after completion (usually for a reasonably short period);
- Building Regulation Enforcement Notices – if the conveyancer needs to investigate and/or resolve issues with any refurbishment / extension work, there may be extra charges;
- Underpinning or Structural Matters – if the buyer’s survey report reveals such issues, and it is proposed to resolve them prior to completion, conveyancer may need to verify the paperwork send through with the revised survey report;
- Contaminated Land Issues – similarly, the conveyancer may need to review and cross-reference any remediation documentation before exchange and completion;
- Complex House Sale Chain – usually at the start of the process the conveyancer will request information about the details of the sale. If it’s seen that there will be lots of simultaneous transactions, they may insist on charging more;
- Quick House Sales – if you have strict deadlines to meet, the conveyancer may request a higher fee to prioritise your case;
- Postage and Stationery Costs – you should not be getting charged anything extra, unless the conveyancer needs to print 1,000s of pages or something else that would be reasonably understandable.
The fees may also change if any processes are delayed (regardless of whether you’re a buyer or seller).
For example, if you delay in sending back paperwork and the conveyancing team needs to chase unnecessarily, you may be charged more.
How Does Fixed Fee Conveyancing Work?
It’s worth noting that:
- The conveyancer may well change the fee according to the specifics of your case. Don’t assume that any ‘teaser’ rate (one that appears on their website, for example) will apply to your sale;
- Good conveyancers should drill down into the detail of the house sale at the start. You should know the true cost before you go ahead;
- By and large, fixed fee conveyancing does not include disbursements (third-party expenses that you’ll have to incur). When getting a quote, make sure these are included;
- Remember to have a look through the firm’s terms and conditions;
- The professional, established conveyancers will be honest and completely transparent. That’s often why they’ve been in business for so long.
When it comes to this kind of conveyancing, make sure you:
- Beware of ‘too good to be true’ conveyancing fees. For example, we’ve seen quotes for as low as £99. People who sign up to these services often end up with a series of extra costs, then bring the total up to what’s considered standard. In our view, anything below £500 + VAT does not make much financial sense, regardless of the location in the UK;
- Explain exactly the ins and outs of your sale/purchase as best you can. If things are straightforward, the rates should be pretty standard;
- Make sure you have the guarantee in writing and that the transaction will be ‘no sale, no fee’;
- Bear in mind the unforeseeable conveyancing-related costs that may bump up the price (as highlighted above);
- Query anything you’re not comfortable with;
- Obtain a final quote prior to instructing the conveyancer;
- Make sure you check out the small print to ensure that the fixed-fee is genuine;
- Request a list that breaks down the extras fees if you’re anticipating the sale to have twists and turns;
- Ensure there are no abortive costs – i.e. in the unfortunate scenario that the sale falls through, you will not owe any fees (apart from disbursements);
- If there’s anything you’re not satisfied with, you should check the complaints protocol and also leave a negative review.