If purchasing or selling your own property is in your bucket list, then inevitably, you will require the services of a “conveyancing” lawyer. The term “conveyance” simply means the legal process of transferring property from one owner to another.
For most people, this usually involves engaging any lawyer / the lawyer providing the cheapest rates. However, cheap does not necessarily translate to quality. In some cases, it can even turn out to be a costly mistake!
There are usually 2 main reasons why it is important to put some thought into choosing the right conveyancing lawyer.
Reason 1: Quality of work
When one buys or sells a property, it is always assumed that so long as the price is agreed upon, everything else will be inconsequential. Most purchasers or sellers do not consider factors such as :-
(a) Are the terms in the Letter of Offer fair for both parties? Does the Agent get an unnecessary benefit regardless of whether the Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) is signed or not?
(b) What happens if the sale / purchase does not go through due to the other party simply not willing to complete the transaction? What are my rights?
(c) What are the timelines to complete the sale? Are the lawyers familiar with the penalty for failure to comply?
(d) If there is a need to pay Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) on the sale of the Property, would my lawyer who files the RPGT forms be able to ensure that I pay the least amount of RPGT, in accordance with law?
Property is often a substantial asset which has great value. Some people may only buy one house in their entire lifetime. It is an asset which holds great financial and emotional value. The same thought and consideration into buying the property should also apply in choosing the right lawyer to :-
- ensure that the legal issues relating to the purchase or sale can be handled properly; and
- ensure that your rights are fully protected in the event any disputes arise.
Reason 2: Lawyers are stakeholders
In addition to protecting your legal rights and ensuring that the sale and purchase is completed, the seller’s conveyancing lawyer will also be acting as stakeholders for monies. In simple terms, the lawyer is a “stakeholder” in conveyancing matters because they hold monies pending the outcome of a future event.
This means that it is the lawyers that will hold on to your hard-earned monies and the lawyers are supposed to release the monies in accordance with the terms of the SPA.
Unfortunately, incidents have occurred in the past whereby unscrupulous or dishonest lawyers have absconded or run away with their client’s money, leaving the client in a perilous position.1 In most common conveyancing transactions and SPA, the purchase price is deemed to be paid to the vendor once it clears in the law firm’s clients’ account and the purchaser will then be entitled to vacant possession of the property.
However, in some cases, the vendor’s lawyer may abscond with the purchase price, causing the vendor to suffer loss. His only recourse is to sue the lawyer in question, but in most cases this may be difficult as the lawyer may not be contactable or located anymore.
How do I choose the right lawyer?
Here are some tips to help you determine if a particular lawyer is suitable:
Tip 1: Check their history! Some lawyers may be subject to disciplinary complaints resulting from their mishandling of clients’ funds or for their poor work resulting in losses for their client. The Malaysian Bar website at https://www.malaysianbar.org.my/disciplinary_orders publishes all disciplinary orders made against errant lawyers.
Tip 2: Talk to the lawyer. Have an understanding of how they work and get a feel of their professionalism. If the lawyer in question does not answer your calls and does not respond to your queries, this could be a warning sign to look for another lawyer!
Remember, there are no hard and fast rules in choosing the right lawyer. However, don’t choose a lawyer simply because the legal fees are cheaper, because it could end up being “penny wise, pound foolish”. Check their credibility and reputation to make sure that you can have worry-free nights while your lawyer ensures the transaction is completed without hiccups.
– This article is written by Faye Lim. Faye heads the conveyancing department at Justin Faye & Partners and has advised various clients, including subsidiaries of public-listed companies on real-estate and conveyancing matters.