The Alex Goldstein Property Show (Part 10)
Katrina Allen from Winston Solicitors in Harrogate and Leeds gives the inside track when you are looking to sell and indeed buy a property.
What are the steps that you go through and what do they all mean? What is the point of having a conveyancing solicitor and what are Katrina’s best tips.
The Alex Goldstein Property Show (Part 10)
Alex: It’s great indeed to have Katrina Allen from Winston Solicitors here. Thank you for coming in, Katrina. Very exciting times indeed, I hear on the great fine. Tell me a bit more about it.
Katrina: Yeah, so we opened our Harrogate office on the 1st of December. There’s myself and Mark Fagan, our Heading of the office for the time being. I do residential property and commercial property. Mark is our Property Litigator. We also offer other services which include employment, wills and probate, and other litigation matters.
Alex: Wow. So, it’s almost the one-stop legal shop there where you say it’s kind of… [crosstalk]
Katrina: It is, it is. It’s very exciting. I must say, there’re amazing coffee shops in Harrogate, so looking forward to it.
Alex: At the moment, what are the other options you’ve got there?
Katrina: So, we have our Street Lane office around here, which is where I have been based for the past three years, and we also have a lead City center, so exciting times.
Alex: Expanding, one of the very few solicitors that are actually expanding at the moment. Great to hear. Tell me a bit more about your role within the company because I think you’re a bit more unusual for most on the property solicitors. Just tell me about that.
Katrina: Well, I’m a Property Partner, but I do cover for residential and commercial, which is unusual as most people just sit with one seat, but it is fun and it’s a variation. I do tend to deal more with residential at the moment, just because, sure, other properties listed fine in the markets are really buoyant, but I do commercial as well.
Alex: And when you say residential, is that on the conveyancing side of it?
Katrina: It is, it is.
Alex: And the same on the commercial side.
Alex: And if there’s a problem, that’s where you’ve got your psychics?
Alex: Got you. A lot of people say, “Well, what’s the point of having a conveyancing list, and what is the actual point to having a sale?
Katrina: Property is very complex. There’re lots of different elements to property. It’s a must to have a professional assisting you and guiding you. If you’re buying with a mortgage, in any event, you would have to find a property solicitor because the bank would not lend without that expertise. People sometimes do have the opinion that convenes in transactions can be simplistic, but I’m sure you found, Alex, that that’s a rarity.
Alex: Certainly, yeah.
Katrina: So, property solicitors will do things such as searches, which is local authority searches, water searches, environmental searches, which look at the property. We also have to make sure that we check the covenants on the title. Covenants are restrictions on the property itself, so for example, if you are buying property that you wish to extend, you not only would need to check say a drainage report, which would show a potential sewer or drain pipe in the boundary, which may affect development, we do also need to check whether or not there are any covenants which could restrict development. So, it’s always very, very important you do instruct a property solicitor.
Alex: And how do you check these, these little gremlins? Sometimes people talk about some historic footpaths that no one knew about. I’m guessing when you involve a covenant list, they’re able to sort of check all that out for you.
Katrina: Yeah. We check the documents that are passed to us. So, for example, if we’re gonna check regarding footpaths, the local authority search would be the first port of call that would look for whether or not there are any public footpaths registered. Also at the moment, I’m noticing that there are more applications to register a public right. So, we’re seeing that now more in local authority searches. And so, that is something that’s important. Sometimes your deeds will show a relative way. I’ve just acted recently for a client where they had to fishing right at the bottom of the garden. So, things like this are important for your solicitor to be checking because if you bought that blissfully unaware, and then moved in and then it was alerted to you, then you might be a little bit unhappy.
Alex: Indeed. And then when you try and then the consequences I always say, when you actually come to sell, you’ve then got that problem and you’ve now got to declare it.
Alex: In terms of the actual process of conveyancing, obviously once you’re instructed and the deal’s been put together, you’ve sent up for all the searches, as you said, and you get all the information back, what are the actual next steps? Because again, I think a lot of people have overlooked the conveyancing process and they just said, “Oh, well, we will just get our solicitor to run it,” or what actually happens behind the scenes once you’ve got those bits of information back?
Katrina: Yeah, and it is a complex process so if once the client instructs, we obviously submit searches with the client’s authority. We try to do that at the start of the transaction and behind-the-scenes whilst we’re waiting for the search results to be received and we are raising inquiries with the other party’s solicitors. During that obviously, we’re getting replies in working through the replies checking officer the Covenant reporting for the client on the covenants raising queries with the actual client because we need to chat.
Alex: Indeed, a bit of a solicitor legal phrasing here. Sometimes you call it inquiries. People out front will probably call it questions.
Katrina: Questions, there we go.
Alex: But they are effectively the same thing.
Katrina: Yes. So, we’ve got to raise questions with the other party’s solicitor on the title itself, when we receive search results, there may be questions we have to ask them. All this is happening behind the scenes.
Alex: This is if something is not clear. One of the searches comes back, possibly, you’re thinking in your professional mind something’s not quite right.
Katrina: Exactly. You have the basic questions that you will always ask. I’ve never had a transaction where you don’t ask a question. So, there will always be the basic questions that you’ve got to ask as a starting point, and then quite rightly, there will be questions where you may be alerted to something in the form that the seller has completed. So, there’s been an extension, so then we go on to ask the question, “Please supply planning and building regulations.” There may be something that the seller… for example if you’re purchasing a property that’s highlighted such as the dispute, we’ve then got to raise a further question. So, there’s always something behind the scenes that’s happening. We may not always be speaking to you every day about that question, but you will then be reported to further on with copies of those questions because ultimately, the client is your eyes as it were for the property. We never see that property, so it’s always important you keep your client in the loop because they might say, “Oh, fire.” We’ve noticed that at the property in the event the seller hasn’t actually noted that.
Alex: Should a purchaser of a property that you’re acting for, they obviously most of the time people do actually get a form of service as best that you have, and see the site of that for those reasons or nothing to do with you?
Katrina: I always ask for a copy of the survey. I’m certainly not a professional surveyor, but there is always an area, an element matter for the legal representative which we need to check.
Katrina: For us, the survey and the client are our eyes for that property, so it’s very, very important you have that communication with your clients, so they can highlight to you points that you may need to raise, which ultimately will have impact if you didn’t raise that other question on a future sale.
Alex: Got you. So, once you’ve gone through those inquiries, you’ve tested all the avenues, then this stuff comes on the most part people have a mortgage, and you get the gain of technical phrasing, “I’m pulling down on the mortgage.” Just talk around through if you’re getting a mortgage, how it actually works from a legal, from a solicitor’s perspective? There’re banks and panels, and all it gets…there’s a lot of jargon involved.
Katrina: Yeah, once the client has applied for the mortgage, then the mortgage lender will check the solicitor who’s actually on the mortgage lenders panel. We are because of the number of partners, and we are, generally, on most of the panels. Once the evaluation has been done, the mortgage offer will obviously come to the solicitor, in most cases. HSBC are a little bit different, they send it out before. And for example, if we’ve got all searches, I received all replies to the questions that I have raised and I’m satisfied, and the mortgage offer is set on file, at that point then I would ask the client to attend the office for signature of papers, go through papers with the client, any questions. At that point then if we are ready, we would then say to the solicitor on the other side, we would like to discuss completion dates. Once that date has been agreed, we send off what’s called a Certificate of Title to the mortgage provider, and that is us the solicitor saying, “We are happy that there is a clear title that you can give lending to.” And then we request drawdown of those funds.
Alex: Got you. So yeah, the mortgage line is putting everything up to you.
Katrina: Everything on the solicitor.
Alex: I’ve got you. So, is that part of the reason why the whole process I hear you have a lot of those grumbles?
Alex: The whole process takes a long time, especially at the moment. I suppose in the last three to five years, the length of time from going under offer, free, to exchange, just things have got slightly longer. I don’t know whether you feel the same with your experience, and I don’t know how long it actually takes from your perspective now.
Katrina: Yeah, I’ve been doing this job a long time. I do hear when people can quote that a property transaction will take four to six weeks. I think it’s difficult. We always give a client an estimate. So, somebody who sells to me three whole purchase, what would you estimate? I would say around six to eight weeks. You can never give a determined time because each property transaction has its variables. It depends on the length of the chain, it depends on what questions you have to raise and what responses you’re gonna get. If you raise questions and you get amazing responses back quickly, then that transaction, ultimately, is gonna happen a lot faster than where you send off queries and it takes four weeks for somebody to respond.
Alex: And does that then make a difference? So, say you’re acting for a buyer, and obviously, the buyer sounds to be extremely efficient, but then on the other side, if the vendor, the house sellers, and their solicitor isn’t as proactive, again, that also hinders the process.
Katrina: Completely. It’s ultimately the variable. So, for example, if it takes longer for the other party’s solicitor to get replies, that’s gonna have an impact because you waited. And then if you get a response that you don’t like, it’s ultimate, you may have to go back and raise additional questions, and I think this is sometimes the issue we have. If a client is told, “Replies are in.”, doesn’t necessarily mean at that point I’m gonna be ready.
Alex: It suggests, yeah.
Katrina: It might mean, unfortunately, I’ll have to go back and raise further questions. Again, it depends on the length of the local authority search. You have Woodcock local authority that can do them within 24 to 48 hours. You have another that, at the moment, they’re saying their lead times 20 working days, but I would say some another two weeks over that. So, so many different variables, it’s so difficult. As long as you chase on the transaction, that’s about as much as you can do because you can only put so much pressure on another party. But it’s important, obviously, that there is chase during the transaction with the help of the estate agents.
Alex: Absolutely. And what actually happens? Because, again, I suppose this is a bit of a hot topic. Yes, it is very much so in the estate agency sector at the moment, but sort of the online disruptors as they like to call themselves, you’ve got this mass online conveyance. What intrinsically is, I suppose, the difference between one of the online guys and then obviously, you guys, in Leads and Harrogate? People just instantly go, “Well, it’s hell of a lot cheaper.” Why is that?
Katrina: It’s difficult to say because I certainly don’t get quotations from line agencies and solicitors. I would always personally choose local because I like that relationship with the local solicitor. Generally, you’re gonna find with local solicitors, they’re gonna know local agents, local professionals, which ultimately if you’ve got the problem, then you can pick up the telephone and say, “Look, I need your assistance. I needed your guidance. I need you to push on this transaction. Can you assist?” I’ve never used an online firm myself, so it’s difficult to comment, but I personally think have been able to step into the office of your solicitor, call and five-minute chat, or deal with everything in one meeting, drop paperwork off rather than you have to wait a week for it to be posted, all these things I’m sure will add to…
Alex: It’s the little things that count.
Alex: Absolutely. And if I’m a homeowner and I’m looking to sell, are there any things that I should look to get done in advance, or prepare, or things to be mindful of?
Katrina: Most certainly. If you’re selling a property, when it goes on the market, I wouldn’t wait to speak to your solicitor once it’s sold. Make contact with your local solicitor early on. They can then guide you as to what would be required from you at the point that the property does sell, so for example, your identification, proof of funds, things that you can take time in the background to collaborate to pass on. Say, for example, you’ve had a recent gas safety check on your boiler. Your solicitor can say, “Get my paperwork together.” If you’ve had an extension, make sure that all you pay for it for your building regulations and planning permission is all bundled in readiness to drop to your solicitor, because ultimately, the more that they have a start, the quicker your contract papers are gonna go out.
Alex: Good little top tip there.
Katrina: On the purchase transaction, again, speak to your solicitor early. You may have viewed a property, you might not have had that offer accepted, but at least, again, you can have the chat. So many clients just do the basic evaluation which is for bank purposes only, and then until they instruct this list that they may not think about a survey. So, again, if you’ve spoken to a solicitor before, you could’ve potentially had an offer accepted. At least then you might think, “Didn’t mention the survey.” Have that discussion and make an informed decision early on. Then you’re not obviously upsetting the vendor by asking for a survey four weeks down the line, which ultimately may give the vendor a little bit of the… they might be a little bit concerned by that. If you’ve done it early on when you can do it.
Alex: Yeah, just out of the way.
Katrina: Yeah, exactly.
Alex: Because I know you mentioned sort of extensions, and certainly in my experience, that tends to be a bit of an issue where people have overlooked, accidentally of course, on some things when it comes to extending. From your perspective, what are the issues that you come up against, or you would be mindful from the legal perspective?
Alex: If I was extending my house, for example, what should I get done?
Katrina: Yes. So, if you’re looking to extend, you’d obviously need to check with the local authority what you would need to do. So, does it require planning permission or is it with unpermitted development? Does it require building regulations? It’s so important to have that contact with the local authority because ultimately when you come to sell, the solicitor acting for your buyer will raise that query. Unfortunately, we do see it more often than not that when people do come to sell, we’re asking for paperwork for that extension, and ultimately, they don’t have that can be able to offer.
Alex: What happens if you fall into say that sort of circumstances where you don’t have that paperwork for an extension? Is there a way around legitimate leave?
Alex: Have you sold something like that?
Katrina: There’re different variables. One of the first questions we’ve got to ask is, “When did the extension take place?” We’ve got to give the client the choices to which way they wish for us to move forward with the seller solicitor. So, for example, the best way forward would be for the person who owns the property to go back to the local authority, have a retrospective concern, and they would issue what’s called a regularization certificate. But that would be ultimately only if the seller would be prepared to do so, because the moment you get the local authority to the property, you’re putting a local authority on notice that you didn’t have those permissions.
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Katrina: So, that would be the first conversation you’d have with your client. Now, ultimately, in conveyancing, everybody wants to meet the end result as quickly as possible. For solicitors, we’ve got to make sure that end result is not gonna cause a problem when you come to sell. So, if the seller does not wish to go back to the local authority, most seller solicitors will then offer what’s called an indemnity policy.
Katrina: Now, that’s fine. That obviously is something that we would agree to, but clients have got to be aware that an indemnity policy merely covers for council enforcement. It doesn’t cover for structural defects as such. So, it would be important for the client to make sure that they satisfy themselves on that point because what you don’t want to do is go, “That’s fine. We’ll accept the indemnity.” And then find there’s a problem with your footings. Ultimately, that could pose a potential problem. What we also suggest the clients is they do check with that building’s insurance company, that they are satisfied, that they’ll also be prepared to offer insurance, on the basis that we couldn’t say whether or not that extension would need building regulations or planning permission. It’s just ultimately very important that clients do think of the bigger picture when they are proceeding. People do proceed with indemnity, as long as it’s notified to the mortgage provider, and they’re happy, and the client’s happy. They just got to be aware that it is partly up their own risk to accept that on the indemnity basis.
Alex: So, if you haven’t got that paperwork for that extension, you can get rounded, but it’s gonna be quite a headache and, as you said, that is another reason why the whole process can take so much longer.
Katrina: Yeah. I have seen recently three…We’ve been acting in three recent cases where the seller has agreed to go back to the local authority when this is on leads, and the local authority, I must say, have been brilliant, and they’ve gone out, and I think we’ve had the regularization certificate within a week to two weeks, from the other party’s solicitors. In one case, it was 48 hours. But that was just a question where building regulations was noted on the local authority search, that just hadn’t had the sign up for the completion certificate.
Alex: Got you.
Katrina: And so there are things that can be done, it’s just ultimately nobody should make an approach to the local authority without speaking to the solicitor. If anybody makes that approach without taking a necessary advice from those professionals, and that can cause a major problem.
Alex: It really can.
Katrina: Because if you make an approach to the local authority, it could potentially invalidate an indemnity insurance. So, it’s a must that people don’t just think, “Oh, I’ll just pick up the phone.” Because the moment you do that, you could be causing yourself and the whole chain a problem.
Alex: It does happen more often than you think.
Katrina: Unfortunately, it does.
Alex: And I’ve got to say, with the length of career that you’ve got, I dare say surely, you’ve got an amusing story for us.
Katrina: Yeah, this was a difficult question because you have to be careful with the information that I gave without highlighting a client’s case, but I do remember this was right at the start of my career. I was reporting to a client on covenants. There was a covenant that you could not keep pigs or poultry, and the client actually said to me, “But what about my pet pig?”
Alex: Wait. We’re talking micro pig here?
Katrina: Yeah. A pig. A full-size pig. At first, I thought she was… because obviously, people have humor but she was actually being quite genuine. She had a pet pig that lived partly in the house and partly in the garden.
Alex: Well, okay.
Katrina: So, this was gonna be a deal-breaker for her. In the end, we did write to the local authority, and they did refuse. So, it’s one of those things that it was quite interesting to be part of. I think she’s the only person I’ve ever met with a pet pig in the house,
Alex: So best declare absolutely everything, including if you have a pet pig.
Katrina: Yeah. This is why is so important when we write to clients and report on the covenant, is so important that people do read those documents because ultimately that one covenant could have impact on either your decision to purchase or future availability.
Alex: And I’m assuming the pig was absolutely fine and he moved in happily.
Katrina: They didn’t buy. They didn’t buy, no. The local authority wouldn’t give consent.
Alex: It’s the way it goes sometimes. But it’s great to have you on the show, Katrina, and thank you so much. If anyone wants to talk through that pig scenario or if they’re buying or selling a property, one of the best ways to get in touch with you, obviously, at the new snazzy office.
Katrina: Yes! So, if you would like to pass through your pet pig stories to me or any questions on that the legal process for buying or commercial property if you can give me ring on 014-2327-5375 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex: Fantastic stuff. Thanks so much again.
Katrina: No, thank you for having me.