Forced to use Estate Agent Solicitors - What can you do?

8 min read
Estate agents often try and get you to use their 'preferred conveyancing solicitors'; i.e. using a solicitor recommended by that estate agent , sometimes even forcing you to do so for fear of not putting forward your offer to the seller. For many buyers they won't have previously worked with a solicitor and will appreciate the estate agent's referral in the hope that the process will be quicker.

This can also be the case with developers when you're buying a new build and the added time pressure of having to exchange within 28 days is a factor - it may seem that if you don't choose their preferred solicitor, your conveyancing may be derailed. 

You may think it makes sense to use the estate agent's solicitor however these are two key reasons why you should not (also applicable to using your developer's preferred solicitor):

  • the estate agent is instructed by the seller to sell their house in whatever condition it is in; 
  • the estate agent is paid a fee by the solicitor they are referring; and
  • the estate agent is employed to sell the property for the highest price possible.

It is clear to see why it is in the best interests of the seller for you to use their chosen solicitor, however it is clear there is a conflict of interest as a buyer is looking for a solicitor who:

  • will find legal issues as to why you shouldn't buy the property;
  • will help you buy the property at the current market price, not what the estate agent says it is worth; and
  • is independent to everyone except you.

As a buyer you should look to work with a solicitor that is independent from the seller and from the selling estate agent or developer. The clear answer to the question "Can an estate agent force me to use their solicitor?" is absolutely not, you don't have to and for various reasons you might be better off choosing not to.

Please see the base of the article for guidance about these matters fromNational Trading Standards.

*Fixed Fee – No Sale No Fee – On all Mortgage Lender Panels

Isn't the estate agent instructed by the seller?

Absolutely, in fact the estate agent is there to get the highest price possible for the seller which is why as a buyer your should never use a solicitor provided by an estate agent. Although the solicitor acting may well act impartially as a professional should, the risk is that the estate agent uses their introducing influence to apply pressure to get the sale completed, even at times when it isn't in your best interest to do so.

Is there anything to be gained by using an estate agent's own conveyancing solicitor?

The simple answer is no and these are some of the reasons why:

  • "Local solicitor" - There is no great advantage in a conveyancing solicitor being local, if this is given as a 'plus'. Nearly all conveyancing tasks are completed using email and telephone so a solicitor can be based anywhere in the country. In addition to this you can get a bad local solicitor; being local doesn't mean you are always good!
  • "I use them all the time" - This may be true however the estate agent has no control over the case load of the solicitor, nor do they have hands on influence over the file.
  • "Our solicitor is quick" - If you hear this then run a mile. No single solicitor has ultimate control over the whole conveyancing service. Anyone of the parties involved can make the process slow, regardless of the acting solicitor.

An estate agent's recommendation of their approved solicitors has to be balanced with the commission element; you should research reviews online - and elsewhere - to get an unbiased idea of how good a firm of conveyancing solicitors is. For some pointers read 8 Tips for Choosing the Best Conveyancing Solicitors.

Can you be forced to use an estate agent's conveyancing solicitor?

No - this is illegal under the Estate Agents Act 1979 as amended as it is an unfair restraint of trade.

The reality is that if you find yourself in this situation, you won't normally be directly coerced, but an unscrupulous estate agent may use subtle persuasion techniques.

"You CAN instruct your own solicitor but this may hold things up"

There is absolutely no reason why the conveyancing process would be held up because you instruct your own conveyancing solicitor.

As stated previously, any good conveyancing solicitor will work for a speedy conveyancing, having an attachment to an estate agent won't speed anything up.

(To a buyer)"You CAN appoint your own conveyancing solicitor but this may force the seller to raise their price because they want a quick sale"

This is linked to the previous point - choosing your own solicitor won't add to timescales - and this is getting near coercion.

You should ask the estate agent to transmit the memorandum of sale so that your appointed to solicitor can communicate with the vendor through their solicitor. Then you can communicate directly about pricing matters.

(Buyer) Won't the estate agent then just hamper or even forget my bid/treat it unfavourably?

Estate agents are bound by The Property Ombudsman Code of Practice for Residential Sales, which is based on the Estate Agents Act 1979, which states that all bids must be passed onto a vendor without favour and in the order in which they are received.

Once again, the question of the agent being in breach of the law arises.

What can you do if your estate agent forces you to use their solicitor?

If you are being forced to use a solicitor that you do not want to to use then you should:

  • Inform the seller - the seller doesn't want to lose your offer over the estate agent's actions;
  • Raise a formal complaint to the estate agent's office;
  • After you have raised a formal complaint, contact the Property Ombudsman; and
  • Report the mater to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). A solicitor is not allowed to receive instructions from an estate agent that has forced the client to instruct.

Legal Position - Everyone has the right to choose their own solicitor

Both the Solicitor's Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) rigorously state that its members are meant to ensure that their client has chosen them to act without pressure being exerted on them to do so.

All estate agents dealing with residential property must belong to a government approved complaints redress scheme, of which there are 3 currently approved ones:

If you have a complaint about an estate agent when you buy or sell property, you can refer the complaint to whichever scheme the estate agent belongs to and if they refuse join a scheme they can be fined.

Estate agents aren't allowed to discriminate against you, for example, they can't refuse to show you a certain property because the owner doesn't want to sell to people of a certain religion or belief.

If an estate agent discriminates against you, you can complain to the estate agent's company. If you are not satisfied with the response, you could also complain to the Property Ombudsman or the Ombudsman Services: Property, depending on which redress scheme the estate agent belongs to.

National Trading Standards (NTS) Guidance on Property Sales

The National Trading Standards' Estate Agency Team issued guidance on property sales in September 2015 which clearly sets out the duties which property professionals, particularly estate agents, must provide to consumers, what rights consumers and clients have and what redress they have.

You can access it by clicking on NTS Guidance on Property Sales but you should know that the guidelines are far-reaching and legally enforceable and breaches can be prosecuted in the criminal courts, resulting in possible jail terms and unlimited fines.

In particular, unfairness in practice, as defined in the guidance, is defined as results arising from the following:

  • Giving false or misleading information to consumers ('misleading actions'), regardless of how delivered, whether verbally, in writing or via telephone;
  • Hiding or failing to provide material information to consumers ('misleading omissions'); this can include not mentioning a serious problem with the title, failing to pass on offer details to a seller, failure to inform a buyer that a seller wishes a property to be marketed up to exchange of contracts, for example;
  • Exerting undue pressure on consumers ('aggressive practices'); this includes pressuring a potential buyer to use associated services for example to take out a mortgage through the in-house mortgage advisor or to use a particular firm of solicitors or licensed conveyancers;
  • Not acting with the standard of care and skill that is in accordance with honest market practice and in good faith (failing to show professional diligence); and
  • Engaging in 'banned practice' – e.g. displaying a trust mark without authorisation/claiming to be a member of a professional body when this is not the case.
If you are experiencing what you think is undue pressure from your estate agent or developer to use their preferred solicitor and need advice, please call us on 0207 112 5388.

*Fixed Fee – No Sale No Fee – On all Mortgage Lender Panels

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