Tell us everything – things we need to know
When you first instruct a solicitor about a property you want to buy, they will ask you lots of standard questions. Obviously, they will want to know about you, and your circumstances, such as whether you are buying with someone else, whether you’ve got a property to sell, and how you are raising the money to make the purchase. This will help your solicitor plan the way forward, such as their timetable.
However, there are many things that you may need to volunteer at the outset, to give your solicitor the heads up about things that could affect the transaction, that might not otherwise be obvious until later in the transaction. This might help you save time, and, most importantly save money in the long run.
For example, if you are buying a property with the intention of renting it out, it’s important that you tell your solicitor as soon as possible. This is because there may be things about the property that may mean it’s not ideal for rental. These are things that will come to your solicitor’s attention eventually, but if they don’t know that this is you plan, they might not mention this until the report on title is produced by which time you might have spent money on searches and legal fees. If the property is leasehold, there can often be restrictions in the lease as to what you can do with the property, such as a restriction on subletting (which could include preventing you from having tenants or doing something like AirBnB) which you would want to know about at the earliest opportunity. There may be ways around this, such as getting landlord’s consent and a licence drawn up, but the sooner your solicitor is aware of this, the sooner it can be dealt with. Often people will tell us that the estate agent and/or the seller assured them that the letting would be ok, but if they are mistaken, you are unlikely to have any comeback against them. The only way to be certain that you are safe is to have your solicitor check the lease.
Another good example of something your solicitors need to know in advance is if you are planning any kind of extension or redevelopment of the property. There might be restrictive covenants in the title documents which could prevent some or all of your plans. This sometimes happens if the people who built or developed your property originally, wanted to restrict what could be done with the property going forward. If, for example, the property is part of a housing development, the developers might have put restrictions on all of the properties (not just yours) so that no one could redevelop, which would be for the benefit of all the property owners – even you, if your neighbour wanted to redevelop their land. If there is a restriction on your land, all is not lost. It is possible that these can be dealt with, but it’s better to look into options as soon as possible. For example, in some circumstances restrictions can be removed and/or you might be able to take out an insurance policy which could provide you with cover if anyone did try to enforce the covenants. If the covenants are very old, it’s possible that there is no one around any more who would enforce them, or perhaps the people you are buying from took out an insurance policy when they bought the property, and you can just take that over.
You also need to tell us about anything unusual about the property. We are highly unlikely to ever see the property for ourselves, and the pictures you might send us from the estate agents’ brochure will only give us a very limited view of the property. Things that your solicitor will want to know about include
Sometimes a loft has been made into a space that can be used as if it was a proper room, with windows, lights, electricity and a proper staircase. However, if this has been done without planning permission and a sign off by building regulations, it may mean that it doesn’t count as a usable room. This means that you might think that you are buying a four bedroom house, but actually it’s only three bedrooms. This could affect things like the valuation by the mortgage company. In an extreme case there is always the risk that the council will say that the works have got to be undone (eg the windows have got to be blocked in) and/or that you have to apply for retrospective planning permission. This could incur costs for you and could mean that the property has less value to you if you need that extra room, so it’s best to know about this as soon as possible.
Rights of way.
If someone else has a right of way over the land that you are buying, this may be something that you are not aware of, but it must be disclosed by the seller. However, if when you are viewing the property, the agents or seller tells you that you have a right of way over someone else’s land, then that is something that your solicitor will want to know about, as it may not be something that will be obvious to us from the papers, especially if such a right of way is very informal or doesn’t actually exist in a legal sense. The most common examples might be if you are told that the seller has the right to cross the neighbour’s land as a shortcut, perhaps to access a rear garage, storage area or bins. If this is not set out in the papers we receive, then you may have trouble enforcing that right when you become the owner.
Use of common parts.
If you are buying a leasehold property (usually a flat) there will be parts of the property that might not belong to you, but you might believe you have the ability and/or the right to use. For example, in a maisonette, if you are looking to buy the upstairs property, it may contain an access hatch to the loft. The seller may tell you that they use that space, and could have installed a loft ladder, and put boarding down so they can use the space for storage. However, the space may not actually belong to the leaseholder, and may actually belong to the landlord. This may mean that the landlord could try to prevent you from using it, such as blocking up the access hatch, even though it’s in your property. Whilst this is not a huge risk, it’s still important that this is investigated, and you are fully aware of the risks before you proceed with your purchase.
With the country becoming more and more congested, car parking spaces are more and more valuable. You may be told that your property doesn’t come with parking, but that it’s possible to buy a permit for street parking which you feel would be adequate for your purposes. We would still recommend that this be investigated further, as some councils have restrictions on permits, such as one per household, so you may find that one of you has to park a long way from the property, which might have discouraged you from buying the property if you had known at the outset. At least if you’d had the heads up, you might have renegotiated the price at an early stage.
Many of the problems with a property that are bought to our attention early enough can be dealt with by either an adjustment in the price and/or an insurance policy. However, it is always the case that the earlier we are aware of these issues, the sooner they can be dealt with in a way that doesn’t cause too much stress, anxiety and expense.
Disclaimer – our articles are designed to give you guidance and information. There is no substitute for proper direct advice, particularly as everyone’s circumstances are different. If anything in this article may affect you, please contact us for advice that is specific to your circumstances.