A fifth of those buying leaseholds do not recall their solicitors giving them key information such as the length of the lease remaining, service charges and ground rent, according to research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Given the ongoing furore about home-owners being hit by ground rent rises in particular, the report urged conveyancers to “provide and explain information on particular aspects of buying a leasehold property”.
But the research found that, overall, consumers were generally happy with the service they received from conveyancing solicitors.
IFF Research surveyed 1,501 people who had bought or sold a residential property during the previous two years, as well as in-depth interviews and focus groups.
It was set against the background of the Competition and Markets Authority identifying conveyancing “as an area of law where consumers are receiving inappropriate advice and poor quality of service”, IFF said.
However, the research did not necessarily back this up. Some 76% of clients were very (46%) or quite (30%) satisfied with the legal service they received; unsurprisingly, it found that “satisfaction was driven by the speed and efficiency of the service and the customer service that was provided”.
Further, most of those who were unhappy cited the property chain rather than the solicitor’s actual service.
Just over a quarter of those who were dissatisfied made a complaint to their solicitor, and of those, over three-quarters received a “positive” response to their complaint.
Estate agents (27%) and personal recommendations (25%) were the most common methods people used to find a conveyancing solicitor, but two in five people were aware of comparison websites for legal services. Of these, approximately one in three used such a site to compare conveyancing providers.
The report said there was a “need to raise awareness and encourage the use of comparison websites as a mechanism to help consumers choose their conveyancing provider”.
Cost and conveyancing specialism were the two most important factors people considered in making their choice, and the research found that, while most were offered a fixed fee, one in nine consumers ended up paying more.
As is common in research of conveyancing services, IFF identified problems with the information conveyancing solicitors provide to consumers, and not just those buying leaseholds.
These included providing information in an inaccessible format, “which was demonstrated by low levels of consumer recall and concerns about documents containing legal jargon they did not understand”.
Another problem was providing consumers with substantial quantities of information “and leaving the onus on them to identify the key issues”.
A fifth of people did not think their solicitor provided a clear explanation of the legal process, a figure that rose to 42% among first-time buyers and sellers, while nearly a third could not recall being given information on complaining.
There was also a lack of knowledge about regulation and confusion between accreditation and regulation.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “The research shows that most clients are happy with the service they get from their solicitor.
“But there is clearly room for improvement, particularly when it comes to providing the detail on cost and service that people are looking for. This report will feed into our thinking on what sort of information we want to see law firms publishing…
“The nature of leasehold purchases means that clients must be given good information about what they are buying. People need help to understand all the implications.”