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The risk of Conveyancing Solicitors cutting corners on new build plans

One of my pet niggles is those property developers and converters (and their Conveyancing Solicitors) who are too thrifty to have proper sale plans prepared. It might save a few pounds, but they often are the cause of costly problems for the people who buy from them. When a new property or a converted flat is first sold, it is essential that the transfer deed or lease includes a clear plan.

It is always necessary for a buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitors to register the title of a new property. The land registry has for some years now made quite clear that it will require proper scale plans in deeds, and if such plans are not incorporated then it will reject an application. This can lead to the buyer failing to become the registered owner.
Regrettably, some developers’ Conveyancing Solicitors seem to live in the past, when buyers could be fobbed off with a poor-quality sketch plan labelled ‘for identification only. ’ They do not seem to have noticed that the land registry has made very clear its requirements for deeds plans, and persist in drafting sale contracts which include provisions to the effect that any plan attached to the contract cannot be relied on and is only intended to give a general impression of the sale plot.  

This is part of a culture that has developed from developers’ Conveyancing Solicitors declaring that all documentation is ‘in standard form and no amendments can be accepted’- which usually means that buyer’s Solicitors don’t bother to check anything. What’s the point, it’s all standard form anyway, isn’t it?

As title to a new property must be registered, developers and their Conveyancing Solicitors must accept that if the land registry rejects a registration because of inadequate plans or errors in the sale documentation, then it is they who must remedy the problem, not the buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitors. The developer has contracted to sell the property, and until the buyer has been registered with proper title I would take the view that the sale has not been completed.

What should Conveyancing Solicitors do, then?

Developers’ Conveyancing Solicitors should also ensure that the original sale documentation is drafted in a satisfactory way, so that problems arise on subsequent sales. Errors may be caused because Solicitors are not being properly instructed in the first place, or by inadequate plans having been supplied. It would also seem that problems often arise because the person who prepared the sale documentation could not read plans properly, or tried to use a standard form transfer or lease which was quite unsuitable for the particular property being sold.

Discrepancies between the actual layout of a building or plot has been and the estate plans used in the transfer documents are not uncommon, and developers should ensure that if changes are made to the layout of an estate then their Conveyancing Solicitors receive copies of revised plans. This may require the owners of adjacent properties to join in a deed of rectification, especially when errors in original plans have come to light.

In one of the worst cases that I came across recently, a luxury house in West London comprised a small access hall and a parking area at the ground floor level, with the main accommodation being on the second and third floors and extending across an vehicular accessway, running beneath the property and leading to a courtyard and parking area owned by neighbouring properties. The plan on the original transfer only showed the small area at ground-floor level, and did not include the much larger area at second floor level. This meant that the seller did not have title to the major part of his house! Also, as the access way was not intended to form part of the property, the property at second and third floor levels was a flying freehold, but there was no mention of this in the deeds.

When the error was discovered, the seller’s Conveyancing Solicitors had to obtain a further transfer and persuade the land registry to include that in the original title so that the whole could be transferred to the buyer. It was fortunate that the error was discovered at that time, but it still delayed the sale by several weeks, to the annoyance of both parties.

It is not that expensive to have proper plans prepared, there are many firms who can now prepare land registry compliant plans in a few days, so there is no excuse for not doing so.

For further advice, speak to one of my colleagues at Fridaysmove on 0800 038 6446, who will be able to introduce you to an experienced Conveyancing Solicitor.

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