Question: My friend wants to buy a flat in which there is a lot of interest, according to the estate agent. The agent says she is up against a cash buyer but is also telling her she should use their solicitor and surveyor services because this will speed things up.
They are piling on the pressure, saying she needs to have the legal work done quickly and that if she doesn't use their services she may very well lose out to the cash buyer. What's going on?
Answer: Your friend should use a solicitor of her choice and one she feels comfortable with. If she wishes to use her own solicitor then she should do so, but she should explain to them that there is a cash buyer in the wings and that the legal work has to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It is interesting that the agents refer to "their service". This may mean that they own or are part of a conveyancing firm, or employ their own surveyors. Alternatively, it could mean that there is some sort of referral fee arrangement whereby the agents receive a payment for sending someone to a particular law firm or surveyor.
If there is such a referral fee arrangement in place, it should be disclosed to your friend. It is worth your friend remembering that the selling agents are actually employed by the seller and act on their client's behalf, not hers.
Many selling agents do not operate referral fee arrangements and are just very good at suggesting suitable lawyers or surveyors to their client sellers — or to buyers who do not have their own lawyers, or who may not know who to use. The agents may have worked with these firms before, or they may feel they will provide a good level of service that will be beneficial not only to the person needing it, but to all the parties concerned with the transaction.
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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a partner in the residential property, farms and estates team at Withy King LLP (withyking.co.uk).