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Property Update – February 2017
Housing White Paper
On 7 February 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government published its housing White Paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. The paper contains various statements and policy ideas, and we have picked out the following likely to have a practical impact on selling agents:
Family-friendly tenancies of three or more years
It is not proposed in the paper that such tenancies be introduced throughout the letting market, but only to ‘new-build rental homes‘. No definition is given for this term and it will be interesting to see how this concept develops.
A ban on letting agent fees to tenants
The Government aims to bring in legislation banning letting fees to tenants ‘as soon as Parliamentary time allows’, although a consultation is due before anything comes into effect. While it may take a while for the change to be introduced, this is best thought of as inevitable.
Action to promote transparency and fairness for leaseholders
The paper refers to the costs associated with leasehold properties that buyers may not be aware of when a sale is agreed, such as ground rents with short review periods that may increase significantly during the term of the lease. A consultation will take place to identify what sharp practices are taking place in new leases, such as quick and steep rent reviews. The granting of leases for a term of 99 years might be another area that should be looked at, as most solicitors will be mentioning the phrase ‘lease extension’ to their client when the unexpired term reaches around 90 years.
Identifying what can be done to reduce delays and fees resulting from conveyancing
This brings to mind the horror show that was Home Information Packs. The only detail of this within the paper is a simple one-liner stating that the Government will be looking into what can be done to reduce delays and fees in conveyancing transactions. It may be nothing more than posturing and we will wait to see what detail, if any, emerges here.
There have been several cases recently involving fraud within conveyancing transactions.
In January, city firm Mishcon de Reya was held liable for breach of trust after its client purchased a property from a tenant posing as the legal owner.
The claim was based on an alleged failure by Mishcon to obtain an undertaking from the purported seller’s solicitors that it had taken all reasonable steps to establish the identity of the seller. We would point out for context that a buying solicitor would never request such an undertaking or confirmation as a matter of routine, which explains why the ruling has created something of a shockwave in the conveyancing profession. The repercussions of the ruling (stayed pending appeal to the Court of Appeal) is that solicitors acting for a buyer cannot rely on the seller’s solicitor complying with their professional identity obligations.
Another recent High Court case called Freddy v Patel’s Limited came to a different conclusion (albeit on different facts) as to the level of checks needed on the part of the buying solicitor. The court here held that:
- Accepted professional practice does not require a buyer’s solicitor to check the seller’s identity – this is a matter for the seller’s solicitor;
- Accepted professional practice does not require a buyer’s solicitor to duplicate checks undertaken by the seller’s solicitor or to check that the seller’s solicitor has indeed carried out satisfactory checks.
It was said there could be special circumstances that required a buyer’s solicitors’ duty to extend beyond normal conveyancing practice, but there were no such circumstances in this instance.
Returning to the Mischon case, the Law Society has announced its intention to intervene with its president, Robert Bourns, stating:
‘The Law Society is aware of the Dreamvar case and the potential difficulties it poses for practitioners working in conveyancing. We are currently considering the full implications of the case, including whether it would be appropriate for us to intervene in the appeal and what additional guidance we should provide to practitioners on the matter.’
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (“RICS”) believes rents will increase by over 25% by 2022, with landlords expecting to continue scaling back on the properties on their books and forcing tenants to fight over a smaller pool of properties. Over the same period, RICS expect house prices to increase by 20%, so below the pace of projected rent increases.
RICS have said there has been a lack of new listings coming on to the lettings market for the fourth quarter in a row and its members expect this to worsen.
With regards the stock of homes for sale, the RICS survey reports the number of properties for sale as remaining close to historic lows, with only a net balance of 5% of surveyors reporting an increase in demand from homebuyers, the lowest reading since August 2017.
We are always pleased to hear from our clients about their experiences of the firm. Here are some examples of feedback received about the Tozers’ Residential Property and New Homes teams in February 2017:
Of Vernon Clarke:
“Over the years I’ve rarely been given the opportunity to extol the virtues of solicitors. However the sale of our flat is a notable exception. Thanks to you and your team’s interest and professionalism the sale went very smoothly.”
Of Nick Conner:
“Thanks for all your work, Nick. If we require the services of a solicitor in the future, we wouldn’t hesitate to come knocking on your door again!”
Of Mark Meleady:
“Mark kept in very close contact and was very efficient and approachable. He responded very quickly and explained things very well (especially important as this was my first house purchase).”
Of Jessica Frawley-Govier:
“We were kept informed at each step in the buying process and any queries were dealt with quickly and efficiently”
Vernon Clarke, Partner & Solicitor
01392 667672 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Conner, Partner & Solicitor
01392 667693 or email@example.com
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