Stage 5: replying to enquiries

There seem to be two types of buyer’s solicitors: those who ask the seller’s solicitors to answer standard commercial enquiries, however irrelevant they are to the particular transaction, and those who raise their own enquiries ensuring they are relevant and purposeful.

Similarly, there seem to be two types of seller’s solicitors: those who go through the enquiries with the seller and help them answer them fully but carefully, and those who simply send the enquiries to the seller, saying “answer these”, then forward the seller’s replies (probably without even looking at them) to the buyer’s solicitors

I had an example of the second type of seller’s solicitors today, but it was not too bad, as my clients (the buyers) had been running the business for several weeks already, so probably knew as much about the property and the business as the seller did. However, the solicitors who do this are not looking after their client’s interests, and protecting him against possible claims of misrepresentation, for instance

As I have said before (and no doubt will say again) the solicitor and the client should work as a team, neither expecting the other to do everything. The solicitor should advise on potential problems, suggest work-arounds, etc, but the client needs to provide factual information and take commercial decisions based on the advice received. This can only happen if they talk to each other – chucking another lawyer’s enquiries at a lay client and expecting him or her to answer them unaided is a cop-out in my book!

Replying to enquiries is boring for both solicitor and seller, but it is an important part of the transaction, and cutting corners on this is a recipe for trouble

Where I have dealt with the property before (when the seller bought, for instance) I try to draft replies to the enquiries, then send those replies with a copy of the enquiries to the seller to check and correct/update. Where I have not dealt with the property before, I usually send a copy of the enquiries to the seller, inviting them to phone to discuss how they should be answered – guiding them through the enquiries and suggesting answers usually results in a 20 to 30-minute telephone conversation, and a short list of documents for the seller to track down.

This is much better than partially-answered enquiries resulting in the buyer’s solicitor raising a raft of supplementary enquiries, slowing down the transaction and increasing the legal fees – and vastly better than a misrepresentation claim by the buyer against the seller, and a consequential negligence claim by the seller against the solicitor

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