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Angela Ingall

Angela Ingall

Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln

— Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department at McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln.

If you have used a firm of solicitors for a house purchase, and all went well, then the chances are that high that you will call upon the same firm for your next move. After all, it makes sense to stay with the people that looked after you last time, the ones who took time to explain everything in detail, that sat you down with a cup of coffee and made you feel completely at ease. And yet many people find that their experience the second time around is very different.

Most people are not going to be moving home very often, so there are long gaps in between using legal services with any specific firm. Long enough gaps to see major changes to how a firm operates.

In days gone by, conveyancing solicitors would hold their positions for decades, building up a reputation and a friendship with clients who would come back again and again to see them. However, many of these ‘Old Guard’ solicitors are retiring from the legal scene to see their posts taken by paralegals that represent ‘corporate brand values’ rather than having any personal philosophy about client care.

It is no wonder therefore that when you return to the same law firm ten years later; you receive a very different level of service.

So if previous experience is no longer a guide to how you will be treated, what should house buyers be basing their decisions on? Is it now price driven?

Well, to reduce the price, some law firms hand property work over to staff with no qualifications and little or no experience. This means the work can be done at a superficially attractive price. If you think about it, though, a house sale or purchase is, for most people, the single most expensive transaction they deal with during their life.

Does a cheaper conveyancing cost come before peace of mind that you actually own the house, that ramblers don’t have a right to walk through your kitchen or that a new road is not going to be built across the front lawn, especially when the cost of using a quality assured lawyer is usually less than £100 more than using a trainee with no experience?

To help consumers be assured of a quality legal service when buying or selling property, the Law Society, which represents all solicitors in England and Wales, introduced a Conveyancing Quality Standard last year. To qualify, firms had to pass a rigorous audit with all staff having to meet high competency standards. McKinnells was the first firm in Lincoln to achieve this quality mark. If when buying eggs, most people will look for the lion mark as a sign of quality. If you want a quality property service, look for the CQS mark.

Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln

— Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department at McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln.

The recent conviction at Southwark Crown Court of a bank manager, a solicitor and a Land Registry employee of a massive property fraud involving nearly £4 million does, at first glance, cause a real worry to property owners.

These three, supposedly respectable, men worked together to sell properties that did not belong to them with drugs gangs pocketing the sales proceeds. Most of the houses they were ‘selling’ had stood empty for some time; either because the owner had died, was abroad or was in care.

Having identified a house to be targeted, the gang would put up a sign to indicate that a security company was monitoring the property. If no one complained, the house was put up for sale and the true owner’s signature copied by the Land Registry employee on the legal documents prepared by the solicitor. The sale proceeds were laundered through the dishonest manager’s bank.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the case is that many of the victims were elderly who lost not only their homes but also personal possessions at a vulnerable time in their lives

After the case, the Land Registry was quick to point out that it was the first time in their history that an employee had been convicted of such a serious offence. It is highly unlikely that such events will be repeated, so property owners certainly should not lose faith in the Land Registry or their processes.

However, the case does highlight the fact that criminals are now targeting property. Land and buildings are usually the most valuable assets most people own so it does make sense to take appropriate steps to protect them from fraudsters.

Protecting your property

If you have owned your property for some years, the title to it may not be registered at the Land Registry. The first thing to do is to make sure it is. This may seem odd advice, given the involvement in the Southwark fraud of a Land Registry employee, but their systems are very thorough and this was very much a one off case.

If you don’t register your title there is a risk someone else could register it in their own name without your knowledge and sell the property without having to forge signatures. State backed registration gives greater security of title and, in the event that you do suffer loss you may be able to get compensation from the Land Registry if there is fraud.

Once registered, you should ensure your personal details at the Land Registry are kept up to date, particularly where:

  • You are going to be abroad for some time
  • Where you are infirm and may have to move out of the house
  • Where the property stands empty or is let
  • Following a relationship breakdown.

The Land Registry issues guidance that in such circumstances the property owner should seek advice from a professional conveyancer or the Citizen’s Advice bureau. You may also want to consider making a Power of Attorney in some of these situations to a trusted family member so they can keep an eye on your property if you yourself cannot.

These are basic precautions and will not be costly or time consuming. They should, though, ensure that your home does not become a target for criminals and that your property really is as safe as houses.

Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln

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