Typical Fees Charged by a Property Lawyer in Singapore
As the consumer, the final decision and say still lie in your hands. So, the golden question is – Are you paying unnecessarily for your conveyancing matter? Is your property lawyer overcharging you? After all, how complicated can a housing transaction be?
When it comes to engaging a lawyer, there are a few people involved in your transaction who might recommend one to you. Namely, your property agent, among others. Surely, you can take their suggestions. However, before you make a decision, it is crucial to weigh out some factors to see if you are quoted a reasonable price.
This article will show you to the transparent costs of property lawyers in Singapore and explain how professional fees are in fact directly correlated to service quality. Listed below are a few scenarios of law firms based on the price strategies they choose to adopt for their conveyancing services.
Scenario 1: Companies that Overcharge
Unlike a shopping trip, it is not a frequent affair for the general public to find lawyers unless it is absolutely required. Hence, little is known about the pricing system, even for straightforward contracts like conveyancing.
There are two types of overcharging to look out for and a good analogy to illustrate this would be like buying a luggage.
Overcharging Type A: Expensive but Durable Luggage
Before a salesman approaches you, you have already set your mind to pay a premium to buy a luxury brand luggage that promises international 5-year warranty and you expect the quality and durability of this luggage to last you for years to come.
This is the same as paying a premium for professional fees for a reputable and experienced firm to handle your transaction and expecting top quality service, prompt updates, and that it will be completely fuss-free up to completion.
Note: This is not to say that the service will definitely be the best. But in paying a premium, as the consumer, you have more bargaining power to demand for top-notch service, which should be a given and not needing to ask for from top firms.
Overcharging Type B: Cheap Luggage but Repair Costs Required
You have set a budget for buying a luggage and you want to get a bang for your buck. You do not expect too much from it but hope that the luggage will hold up for a while for whatever it was worth. However, during an impromptu vacation, the wheel of the luggage gave way and you had no choice but to get it repaired, at a higher cost.
This is the same as paying low professional fees to a firm that promised low price and a whole package. You, as the consumer, are not expecting too much but for their lawyer to just handle your matter and hoping it will transact on time for completion. However, during the process, the firm, knowing full well they have undercharged you initially to lure you into the deal, might come up with other costs that you later discover you have to bear. This might indirectly cost you even more than what you initially expected to pay.
Note: This is not to say that cheap is always bad but in paying less, you really can’t expect too much and might in fact have to prepare yourself for unexpected situations and costs.
Some Common Additional Costs
1. Mortgage Stamp Fee (S$500)
Claims for Charging Extra: “Because you are taking up a bank loan, you are required to stamp your property. Hence, this is a must-pay tax to IRAS.”
This is a tax that has to be paid to Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) on your mortgage document and should have been included in the legal fee initially quoted to you. It is a fee in acting for both the mortgagee and mortgagor. Firms that promise low professional fees might charge this to you later, even providing receipt from IRAS as proof to cover their own costs on paperwork. It is actually a tax at 0.4% on the amount you secured from the bank, but is capped at a maximum of S$500.
2. CPF Charges
Claims for Charging Extra: “Because you wish to utilize your CPF funds for your housing transaction and monthly installments, I am required to appoint a CPF lawyer to represent you.”
Most law firms are not on CPF panel and hence will incur a charge when their clients wishes to utilize CPF funds to finance the property. Which is most likely the case. For private property transactions, they will attempt to quote an additional $450 – $600 for CPF lawyer charge. For HDB transactions, it will be an extra of $250 – $300 for HDB CPF lawyer charge. Again, this could and should have been included in the legal fee initially quoted to you. Firms that promise low professional fees might charge this to you later, even providing receipt from CPF Board as proof to cover their own costs on paperwork.
3. Lodgement Charges
Claims for Charging Extra: “I need to lodge your property in your name to protect your interest.”
Some law firms may attempt to charge you separately for lodgement at $80 – $100. It is compulsory to lodge caveat on all properties. Again, this could and should have been included in the legal fee initially quoted to you. Firms that promise low professional fees might charge this to you later, even providing receipt from SLA as proof to cover their own costs on paperwork.
Scenario 2: Companies that Undercharge
Due to stiff competition in the market, it is alluring when some firms charge extremely low conveyancing fees (at a flat rate) to win over some prospective clients for themselves. For these clients, it is a matter of “Why not?” Again, how complicated can a housing transaction be?
However, the truth of the matter is that while cost leadership will help increase customer database, these companies are putting themselves at risk without much thought on the profit margin on each case or if that might jeopardize their future goals with more liability (more files on hand) since some conveyancing files can only complete in 5 years due to progressive payments. There is no hope on long term sustainability when what they are doing is covering up holes they dug for themselves from the onset.
A business that chooses to expose themselves to that type of risk – do you feel safe allowing them to handle your case, especially if it is a mid-long term standing matter?
Usually the true winners are more prudent firms with calculated costs and who are maintaining a steady rate of cases under their wing for the sake of providing good quality service. This will gain them good reputation for years to come.
Shown below is a list of the breakdown of the included scope and costs of an example of a typical undercharged conveyancing matter charged at a flat rate of $2,000.
- Professional Fees for Lawyers
- Title Searches (Payable to SLA)
- Solvency/ Bankruptcy Searches on Vendor and Purchasers
(Payable to Ministry of Law)
- Legal Requisitions (Payable to URA etc.)
- Road Line Plan Search (Payable to INLIS via SLA)
- Purchaser and Bank Caveat Lodgement for Transfer and Mortgage
(Payable to SLA)
- MCST Certification (Payable to SLA)
- Transfer Registration Fee (Payable to SLA)
- Mortgage Stamping Fees (Payable to IRAS)
- Mortgage Registration Fees (Payable to SLA)
- CPF Lawyer Fees and Expenses (Payable to CPF Board)
- Bank’s Fee for Issuance of Cashier’s Order (Payable to Bank)
Based on the above listed costs, the fixed costs of carrying out this transaction will add up to approximately $2,000. In bringing in this case, the firm will struggle to breakeven. There is no incentive for the lawyer to handle this matter except the temptation of bringing in quick money to the business.
With a price like that, it is highly possible that a secretary will be attending to you the majority of the time. Otherwise, there will be some hidden costs they will attempt to charge to you later. Despite the above fixed costs, the firm may still attempt to make some profit by offering sub-par service or quality of work. Even so, that will earn them a couple of hundreds in profit margin per case which is still insufficient to cover their overhead costs such as office rental and wages. Remember, for Building Under Construction (BUC) transactions, the lawyers are expected to keep your file for a minimum of 6 years due to progressive payments and there is storage cost incurred until its completion. Overall, at this price, it is not sustainable nor profitable for the firm.
Hence, for lowly priced cases like these, property lawyers will not have any incentive to put extra time or energy when really, they were just interested in bringing these cases in by the volume. Clients faced with this situation always return with the same type of complaints:
- “I cannot get hold of my lawyer”
- “I am speaking only to secretaries”
- “I am unaware of the updates on my case”
- “The phone number provided to me is always engaged”
- “No follow-ups are provided to me”
- “My lawyer short-changed me in my transaction”
- “I received all my documents only in soft copy”
- “I have never seen original documents”
- “My lawyer messed up my case”
- “My lawyer is not responding to the other representing lawyer on my case”
- “I don’t know who is in charge of my case”
Scenario 3: Firms that Charge Reasonably
We believe in providing good quality service at reasonable legal prices. In the conveyancing field, we cannot stress just how important deadlines are. Surely, there are cheaper in the market, but paying a reasonable rate will ensure you receive responsive, attentive and prompt service on your matter.
Firms that charge reasonably looks at the long-term, that is to build a good working relationship with their valued clients instead of going for a one-time rip off.
If you are working with a good lawyer who believes in their own industry or business, he/she will not treat this one matter as a quick or short-term transaction. This will gain them good reputation for years to come.
Previously, the Law Society came up with guidelines for reasonable conveyancing fees which is 0.4% of the purchase price or loan amount, starting at $2,500. This has been abolished in 2009 but remains a good estimated price guide as follows.
Price Guide for Legal Fees:
PROFESSIONAL LEGAL FEES
REASONABLE FLAT RATES (NET)
Private Property Resale Purchase
$2,500 – $3,000
Private Property BUC Purchase
|$2,500 – $3,200|
|Private Property Sale|
$2,300 – $2,800
|$1,800 – $2,500|
$1,300 – $2,000
$2,000 – $2,800
Conveyancing fees are mandatory in any property transaction. Many Singaporeans are not familiar with the price points and question the sum quoted to them because of a lack of guideline for legal fees in our market. The charge for HDB transactions, for example, is pretty standard. It does not matter the size of your unit, whether it is a 5-room or 4-room. Any bridging loan or separate transaction will incur extra charges.
There is a valuation fee payable to the bank to value the home and use the valuation figure to apply for the housing loan. In some cases, the bank absorbs it when you sign the loan contract with them. However, this is a cost paid to the bank, via the law firm. It is usually between $350 – $500, depending on property type. It can be paid with either cash or CPF.
While there is a market price for most types of conveyancing transactions, there are some factors that might affect these fees such as office overheads (rental, wages and other expenses), size of firm, as well as the experience of the representing lawyer.
When purchasing a property, many do not realize that costs will go beyond the purchase price and bank loan interest. However, small costs will add up and eat into your savings initially reserved for repaying mortgage. Hence, it is worth thinking about how to stretch your dollar before committing to a law firm.
With these harsh truths in mind, we hope you find yourself the right lawyer to represent and complete your matter at a reasonable rate.
As the consumer, you have the final say.
If you want to avoid being overcharged or need help discerning which lawyer to best represent your case, our professionals at LegallySmart will assist you with our vast network of legal professionals in Singapore. Our founding partners’ joint years of experience have allowed us to connect with a wide range of legal professionals specializing in various fields. Feel free to tap on our network for a short-cut to source out the best property lawyer for your case. The service we provide to answer your queries is free-of-charge and we work on a goodwill basis. We exchange our knowledge in return for your trust.