Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q While in the process of looking to buy my own home, I’ve experienced two estate agencies offering me their solicitors to deal with the legal work. Do I have to accept their solicitors, or can I choose my own?
A The short answer is you can choose your own. I can understand how vulnerable property buyers must feel about the legal mystique that comes with buying a home. I would venture to say that much of it has been generated out of self-interest by the legal profession itself. But when the property market began to sag because bank mortgage lending became more discriminating, ways of wringing every ounce of cash out of property transactions started to take off.
Enter the link between estate agents and some of the legal profession. While there is no real mystique about the legal work behind buying property, there is no substitute for a good experienced solicitor to oversee and guide you through the process. Slipshod conveyancing is not entirely unknown, and can have serious repercussions for an unwary buyer. Not the least is damaging boundary disputes, problems with unreliable surveys, and undeclared or unresolved squabbles with neighbours. As such there are two major problems with legal services tied in with estate agencies. Value in goods and services markets only work well when there is complete freedom of choice, and sufficient knowledge on the part of a buyer to know what they are letting themselves in for. Any form of legal service tie-in is by its very nature restrictive of choice and, just like any other service, ideally you should shop around for the best deal and read very carefully the particulars, obligations and service undertakings that come with it. There is nothing wrong with accepting a solicitor from an estate agent tie-in arrangement if you find that more convenient. But you should remember there will be a referral fee to be recovered from you, and you may have been able to get a better deal for the conveyancing service elsewhere. Perhaps most important of all, your ability to run the rule over the solicitor’s experience and competence may be considerably curtailed.
Q I bought my car on hire-purchase and now I want to sell it. I’ve been told I’ll have to pay off the outstanding balance owed first. Is this correct?
A You don’t actually own the car until you’ve paid all the instalments off, so you are not entitled as a matter of law to sell it.
From what little you have told me, it seems you could get the outstanding finance sorted by asking the finance company for an early settlement arrangement.
This would benefit you in two ways. A rebate on the interest charges to reflect the early repayment and as you will then own it, the freedom to sell it without any comeback as and when you wish.
Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.