It’s a fact that the conveyancing industry remains behind the times.
Many of the processes you’ll come across are paper-based, requiring wet signatures and dependence on the postal service.
Nonetheless, although it’s early days, there are a few firms out there embracing technology and innovating like never before.
How Does Online Conveyancing Work?
In essence, online conveyancing firms work in the same way as traditional or ‘high street’ firms do.
In line with the mandatory guidance, every conveyancer must undertake due diligence / legal checks and then draft / review contracts, deal with the mortgage companies, transfer title, exchange and complete.
The main difference with online conveyancers is that some of the processes are more streamlined and efficient.
For example, you may find that an online conveyancer will ask you to complete web forms instead of posting them out for you to complete and send back.
These savings in time and effort, theoretically, should mean that the sale should go through quicker.
However, there are still some processes within the conveyancing process you cannot undertake digitally.
The most notable examples include certifying ID and signing contracts. Unfortunately, you still cannot use e-signature software for certain documents.
Indeed, in terms of the work undertaken, traditional and online conveyancers largely do things in the same way.
Much of the problem with the conveyancing process is systemic and related to how the processes are governed (not through the conveyancer practices themselves).
Nonetheless, it’s worth exploring some of the advantages and disadvantages of instructing an online conveyancer…
Pros of Using an Online Conveyancing Firm
These firms are likely to pass their lower overheads in the form of more competitive pricing relative to ‘high street’ solicitors and conveyancers;
You’ll get an instant quote meaning you’ll be able to make a decision to move forward (or not) quickly;
All the relevant documentation and case notes will be kept in one place, minimising the risks of loss;
The compulsory seller forms (namely the TA6, TA10 and TA7 for leasehold properties) can usually be completed online. Some of the fields are filled automatically for you, therefore making things easier;
Online conveyancers often have case tracking / progression systems in place. This will ensure that you’re fully informed on where your sale is at (even out of hours);
The better firms will have their own key performance indicators to ensure each stage of the conveyancing process is executed in a timely manner;
These systems will also flag up issues to be concerned about and send you other crucial reminders;
With less reliance on traditional communication methods, you won’t have to rely on things being posted and the ensuing delays;
You should receive periodic email / text alerts which you can respond to directly and keep everything in one place (all the messages will also be on the case tracking inbox);
The property lawyers themselves can also be given mini-deadlines (or milestones). All will be alerted if certain steps of the conveyancing process have not been fulfilled;
There will usually be a professional available at the end of the phone;
Online conveyancers tend to be open for longer hours. You can often get a response to your questions at evenings and weekends, for instance;
There are some online conveyancing firms that have advanced processes in place to prevent gazumping or gazundering from happening.
Cons of Using an Online Conveyancing Firm
Although the legal advice should be the same, if you prefer the ‘personal touch’ and/or want to be able to meet face-to-face, an online conveyancing firm is probably not for you;
Online conveyancers have been referred to as ‘overburdened factories’. In turn, this may affect the quality of service you get;
You may be saving money, but be careful of the ‘conveyancing by numbers’ (high-volume) firms. If you’re new to this whole process, and need your ‘hand held’, a traditional conveyancer is usually the better option;
Similarly, if your sale has any complexity, online conveyancers may not have the ‘bandwidth’ or necessary competence to deal with things in your best interests;
You may not have a direct contact as many online firms will have multiple conveyancers working on your case. This can sometimes lead to confusion and messages getting lost in translation;
It may be a challenge to raise / chase up issues compared to a traditional conveyancer;
If there any unusual scenarios that arise, the case can often come to an automatic stop. A traditional conveyancer, on the other hand, can often quickly deal with the situation and move forward;
Some argue that working with a high street solicitor is better as they have more local knowledge. We, however, would tend to disagree here as most of the essential conveyancing processes – apart dealing with certain leasehold properties – do not require this type of expertise;
Some online conveyancers are known to add on hidden costs, particularly towards completion;
As mentioned above, there are certain legal processes – like signing over the deeds of your house – that will always have to be done traditionally. This is due to the governing bodies requiring ‘wet’ signatures;
If you’re in a chain with different conveyancing firms managing each sale, you probably won’t notice much difference in terms of the speed of sale.
How Safe is Online Conveyancing?
You needn’t be worried about the security online conveyancing as any information you provide will be fully protected and safe.
Legitimate firms invest heavily in online security. Any personal information will therefore not be in danger of getting lost, stolen or subject to identity fraud.
Indeed, there’s an argument that all your details are better protected in the ‘cloud’ (where everything is kept in one place).
As a side benefit, things are a lot more transparent and easily searchable when using online processes.
Online Conveyancing Quotes
When shopping around, it’s worth checking that the firm is quality assured and regulated.
Remember to check the reviews and make sure they’re genuine. It’s worth asking for a conference call or shared screen tour to see how their systems and processes work.
Also, make sure that no fees will be charged prior to starting.
Most online conveyancers shouldn’t charge you anything until the sale is complete. Alarm bells should ring if you’re asked for your card or bank details.
However, do not be surprised if they ask for their disbursement costs (third party expenses) in advance. This is fairly normal.
On this note, be very wary of ‘pound shop conveyancing’. Our annual research of average conveyancing fees showed that several of the online firms charge below the £500 point (including VAT).
By and large, these firms will lure you in with competitive rates and then pile on the additional costs. These can suddenly appear at the point of exchange / completion when you don’t have much of a choice but to pay.
To conclude, remember to read the terms and conditions with care before moving forward.