One of the more curious aspects of conveyancing lawyers is the wide range of jobs they are expected to do.
A property lawyer usually has to win the work in the first place, do all the administration, work out the financial side of things and still have enough time to advise their clients on the legal aspects of the transaction.
It’s no wonder deals take so long to go through; there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all those things.
However, there are some things that lawyers are not responsible for, and we though that it might be useful to highlight these, because we come across quite a bit of confusion from both clients and agents.
That one simple word, is probably the most contentious area we find ourselves stuck in. Whether it is Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) or Capital Gains tax, both of these are minefields when it comes to clients buying and selling property.
Whilst we do have responsibility to mortgage lenders for ensuring our clients pay the SDLT on their purchases, the topic is extremely complex and we are not qualified to advise on this. Each person’s situation is different and we would always advise them to get specialist tax advice, especially when it comes to more complex situations.
Conditions of property
This is an area that causes a lot of confusion for clients, particularly when they are buying. Despite the fact that we do not visit the property we are often asked questions about physical aspects and the problems that this causes.
We have been asked about the conditions of carpets, whether staircases fall within the demise of the property, or more commonly, to give out opinion on the results of a survey.
One issue that arises frequently, is what happens when someone is buying a property and the seller does not carry out their obligations to remove items from the property. A buyer may find attics full of abandoned items left by the seller and we are asked to deal with this. Unfortunately, there is very little that we can do in such circumstances, other than just advise our clients to book a company to remove the items.
Whilst we always advise people to check the condition of the property before completion, but we are not responsible for ensuring that this has actually been complied with.
This is a particularly contentious area because often there is confusion between the agents, clients and their lawyers as to who is responsible for setting the completion date. Our job as lawyers is to co-ordinate all parties where possible, but the agent, with their access to the entire chain is in a far stronger position to set completion dates.
Where there is any negotiation on timings to be done, we always recommend clients sort this out directly with their agent to avoid any confusion whatsoever.
Price and contents
Like completion dates, sometimes our clients will ask us whether they have paid the right price for the property, (in some cases whether they should actually buy it or not!) and to help them renegotiate the price offered.
As lawyers, our job is to transfer the ownership of the property – it is well beyond our remit to give advice in this area and we would always defer back to the agent.
This is also true when discussing what should be included in the sale or not. Whilst obviously it is our responsibility to ensure that the Fittings and Contents Forms reflect what is agreed, it is up to the agent, seller and buyer to make sure any disagreements are resolved before completion.
For some reason, property lawyers have got themselves lumbered with the responsibility for all aspects of a property transaction, whether they are legal or otherwise.
Unfortunately, for those lawyers that try and “go the extra mile” in helping clients with advice that is outside their area of expertise or knowledge run the real risk of causing problems and confusion in the transaction.
That’s why we recommend that property lawyers stick to what they know – the legal side of things.