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JGM, Solicitor
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Experience:  30 years as a practising solicitor.
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Can a solicitor refuse to release my title deeds until I have

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Can a solicitor refuse to release my title deeds until I have settled their fees? I was selling my property through this firm but, due to their incompetence, I lost the sale at the very last moment (and after I and moved out). I have now sold my property via another firm but the previous solicitors are refusing to handover my deeds until I have settled their fees. I am refusing to settle as their service was absolutely awful and cost me a lot of money in losing the sale. Can they legally withhold my deeds?

Alex Watts :

Hello my name is ***** ***** I will help you with this. Please note that I am a working Solicitor and may be on and offline as I have to attend Court and meet with clients, even at weekends. As such you may not get an instant response when you reply, but rest assured I will be giving your question my immediate attention upon return You do not need to wait here as you will get an email when I reply.

Alex Watts :

Did you sign terms and conditions of business? If so what does that say about release of paperwork/deeds etc?


Hi Alex - please find attached the ToB. Please see 'responsibility for costs'. However, please also see 'Instructions' - my email instructions were ignored and this led to my sale falling through. Also, they never invoiced for their legal work and I had assumed because their incompetence led to losing my sale.


Full Size Image


Can you please let me know where I stand as I absolutely do not want to pay for such terrible service which led to incurring tremendous cost to me (taking out a load, etc).

Alex Watts :

Sadly that link does not work

Alex Watts :

Can you upload using a different service?


Alex - please let me know if you are able to open this document?

Thank you for your question.

I am a solicitor in Scotland and will help you with this.

The general rule is that a solicitor can hold into papers and files until fees are paid. That, however, doesn't apply where the client has a genuine claim for inadequate professional service or negligence. The solicitor should hand over the deeds especially of holding on to them will prejudice your position.

However, it is also that case that you may not need the deeds that the previous solicitor is holding. Your solicitor may be able to get a print out of the title from the Registers of Scotland. All Land Registered titles are available online for a very small charge. If your property isn't on the Land Register then copy deeds can be obtained from Searchers again for a modest fee.

Happy to discuss further.

Please leave a positive response so that I am credited for my time.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your response, appreciated.


Is there anything I can point them to to release my deeds - i.e. legislative wording which supports your views above? Also, how is a 'genuine claim' measured? I have submitted a formal complaint to the director of their company - does this count as submitting my claim? And how long does the company have to respond? I'm really conscious we are now past the original entry date and I'm concerned the buyer will walk away.


Apparently any alteration documentation will be held with the deeds therefore the buyer's solicitor wants to see these. So it seems I am tied into getting these from my previous solicitor.


Holding on to them is certainly putting my sale at risk and will have a dreadful knock on to my financial situation (it could push me into defaulting - for the first time - on my mortgage payment).

Thank you.



This is a matter of professional practice and both your old and new solicitors will be aware of this. There is no legislation as such. The professional practice is that a solicitor can't hold onto a client's papers in circumstances where there is a piece of business, such as a court action or a property transaction. Ongoing and the lack of the papers would cause the client prejudice.

That in fact would apply whether or not fees were disputed but in answer to that point a genuine claim is a matter of fact based on the circumstances of the particular case. Your new solicitor will be able to tell you whether the circumstances of your complaint give rise to a genuine claim or I will be happy to help you if you tell me the details.

If there is a problem with local authority documentation your solicitor could ask the purchasers to accept an indemnity policy from Countrywide Indemnities which can usually be got for £100 or less depending on the value of the property being sold.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Many thanks indeed for your response.


The details of the dispute are as follows:


I had issues with the sales process from the beginning and these concluded with the loss of my property sale.


  • Advertising – I told the company that I wanted to see the final schedule before it was posted; it was posted without me seeing it and it included the wrong price and also with wording/description I had not agreed. It had to be reposted with the correct wording and sale price (the old one was still visible online – ‘greyed out’ but still visible)


  • Mortgage valuation – the surveyor advised this was an optional part of the report. Therefore, as I did not agree with the valuation, I decided I did not want this included on the sales particulars as it was at odds with the sales price and I thought this would cause issues. I stated this several times (via email) but was overruled by the estate agents and the mortgage valuation was included despite my protest. I was advised by the estate agents this had to form part of the online report (email from them advising “Unfortunately as previous explained we cannot remove this section of the home report as it will void it”). It did indeed cause issues and we lost some prospective buyers


  • Valuation report – the report picked up issues with the boiler and also with the general state of the flat (the surveyor advised my flat was poorly presented, was "obviously being badly neglected and needs a deep clean"). I was renting my property through the letting arm of the same estate agents and hadn’t been made aware of either of these issues. I queried this with the letting team. They advised they had issues with the tenant keeping the flat in a good state and, with regards ***** ***** boiler, they advised they were asking a plumber to fix this. I made the decision to terminate the tenant’s lease and decorate the flat before marketing it. I was also concerned that these issues in the report may put buyers off and therefore I wanted to commission an updated report – confirming no issue with the boiler and the flat being in a good state. However, the estate agents advised to continue with the current report and they would ensure that anyone requesting a schedule would be advised of the updated position verbally. This didn’t happen and I had several queries about the boiler


  • Sale – this was the big issue


  • The agent told me via email that an offer was made on my flat at full asking price – “Offer is £x – would like that to include the furniture but not a deal breaker.”


  • I told the agent I would not be willing to leave everything but could leave some items and she reassured me it was optional, not a deal breaker and would not impact the sale. Via phone (my husband was there and can confirm) and also via email – as above


  • I accepted the offer on this basis


  • I then received the faxed offer and noted there was a point contained within that included were ‘all furniture and contents of the property with the exception of the seller’s personal belongings’


  • I immediately emailed the agent and raised my concern about this point and advised “this isn't quite correct. I can leave a lot of the furniture (bed, sofas, etc) but will be taking everything else with me”


  • Whilst I could leave most of the furniture, I had added the rugs, lamps, etc I had taken from my own house to dress the flat and some items were wedding gifts


  • The agent told me not to worry about it and responded via email that “With regards ***** ***** furniture if you just give me a list of what your happy to include we will forward it to them – there will be no issues.”


  • So, when going through the terms of sale with the solicitor over the phone, we discussed what was being left behind


  • However, the solicitor then contacted me again after our call and said she had been told by the agent that I had to leave everything (even including the items I had taken from my own house to dress the flat – the agent had a full inventory of the flat as they were managing the rental and were fully aware of all of the items I had added from my house)


  • I would simply not have agreed the sale if all of the contents were to be included as several items (the ones we brought from home for staging) were wedding gifts


  • It was only when we were at this very final part of the sales process, the agent changed her stance and announced that it was in fact a deal breaker, that all contents were to be part of the sale. This was contrary to everything she had advised to date. I was very frustrated, I had lost months of marketing my flat to other potential buyers, I was deep into the sales process and suddenly the sands had shifted quite dramatically


  • The solicitor then also advised that she had also been told that £23,000 of the sale was in fact attributed to the contents. I was shocked that agreement had been reached with the buyer without my knowledge or consent. I challenged this and asked both the agent and solicitor to show me any documentation (email, letters, anything at all) which stated that I was aware of this or agreed it. Of course it could not be supplied as it simply did not exist. There was never any discussion at any point in the process of an element of the price being attributable to the contents


  • But it was so late in the process, I felt trapped and, keen to find resolution, I conceded all of my furniture, essentially everything – but I wouldn’t agree to the belongings I had added to the flat from my home, including my wedding gifts


  • The solicitor advised they wanted everything


  • I raised my concern, anger and frustration several times with both agent and solicitor at being left in an untenable position as a result of their action but they did nothing to resolve. The agent started to send as ‘evidence’ emails about the contents being included but, tellingly, omitted her part of the emails where she made it clear it was ‘not a deal breaker’ and to ‘just list the furniture to include’, that ‘there will be no issues.’ By not including these sections of the emails in this trail of ‘evidence’ seemed an obvious attempt to skew the true picture. I can’t read this behaviour as anything other than underhand I’m afraid


  • [I have also since been advised by other sales agents that the sales particulars should list everything included in the sale and that any item included over and above must be specifically named and listed separately. The wording ‘all furniture and contents of the property with the exception of the seller’s personal belongings’ apparently is meaningless as it would seem that, as I own the flat and its contents, everything in the flat would be deemed ‘my personal belongings’. Therefore this would mean that, despite their incompetence in dealing with the sale, there was no formal wording binding me to leave anything after all. I was advised that all estate agents/solicitors would know this. It is disappointing my selling agent and solicitor neglected to point this out and to properly represent my interests in the negotiations]


  • In the meantime, the offer on my flat continued to fall and plummeted by £7000; I asked the solicitor what the reason was for the last fall in the offer and she advised ‘I’m afraid there is no justification’; it seemed apparent the incompetence of my selling agents were creating opportunity for the sellers


  • I emailed the solicitor to ask to have the issue resolved; I did not receive a reply


  • In the end I lost the sale


  • I had lost all trust in the company’s ability to transact business honestly and had no choice but to go through the full process again with another company


  • The costs of all of this were great – both personally and also financially


  • I had the cost of the full sales process again


  • Also, I had moved my belongings out of the flat; I’ve had to pay to have everything moved back in and then removed again


  • I’ve had to take out a loan to cover the costs the flat sale were supposed to cover (this had further financial knock-ons)


  • Of course, I’ve had the extra costs of mortgage, bills and so on


  • There of course was also the personal stress which was quite significant


  • I have retained all correspondence and can evidence all of the above


Incidentally, the new company valued the property at the price the previous agents had rejected, the mortgage valuation confirmed the value and I received an offer over the asking price within weeks of advertising.


Do you think I have a genuine claim?


Many thanks.



Yes, you were badly advised.

You should have had the home report refreshed after bringing the property up to standard.

What was to be included in the price should have been made clear.

I have never seen anything like £23000 being attributed as moveable to this kind of property and in any event they should have sought specific instructions from you.

If the mortgage valuation isn't included in the home report it makes the home report worthless to anyone wanting to buy the property who needs a mortgage. This wasn't properly thought through.

Yes, you have a genuine complaint as you were, from what you say, provided with an inadequate professional service.

I hope this helps.

Please leave a positive feedback so that I am credited for my time.
JGM, Solicitor
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