What can we do about a flat sale solicitor dragging their heels?

Q My partner and I began looking for a flat in London in early January. We were very lucky and soon found a place and had our offer accepted. But since then we have been waiting to exchange contracts. Our solicitor claims it is the vendor’s solicitor who is very slow and sends incomplete replies requiring further letters. According to our solicitor, he sent a letter in mid-March and a reminder letter at the end of March, neither of which were replied to until mid-May. The subsequent letter our solicitor sent has once again been responded to with incomplete information. These are fairly routine enquiries; there are no special requests or demands.

The estate agent repeatedly led us to believe the end was in sight; that the vendors had sent the necessary information to their solicitor. We have to move out of our current flat by mid-July and now our solicitor is asking for more money because of “additional labour” due to the vendors’ solicitor’s supposed incompetence.

This situation is tremendously frustrating now and it seems as if there’s nothing we can do. Do we have to pay our solicitor for this additional unforeseen work? If yes, how much does this typically come to? Is there anything we can do to speed up this process? We’ve tried so many avenues but apart from the “illegal” options of contacting the vendors’ solicitors or the vendors we’re not sure what to do. EF

A In answer to your first question, I’m afraid you do have to pay for the extra work, but I can’t say how much it will cost. However, the bill from your solicitor should be itemised in accordance with the terms of business you should have received when you first instructed him or her.

As far as your second question goes, it’s not illegal to contact your vendors’ solicitors directly but it is frowned upon, as solicitors generally prefer to communicate with each other rather than with each others’ clients. And it’s certainly not illegal to talk directly to the vendors – for example, it’s perfectly normal to negotiate directly when agreeing a price for various fixtures and fittings to be included in the sale. In your case, it might be worth suggesting to them that you are prepared to pull out of the purchase if you don’t exchange contracts within the next seven days as this may encourage them to put pressure on their solicitor to speed up the process.

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