Property Developers

Helping developers to secure land or property for their development is a core part of Attwells Solicitors property law proposition. 

We work with planners, estate agents and brokers to offer developers across the south of England a fast and effective legal solution. 

Unlike most other legal firms Attwells explains the law in jargon-free terms. We also pride ourselves on picking up the phone, as we understand that when you are on site it’s easier for you to talk. 

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Equally we are investing in digital solutions which will allow a lot of the paperwork to be completed remotely via a mobile phone. Therefore, you will not require a printer or have to keep popping into the office. This will save you time and ensure your project can progress with speed.

Attwells understands the pressure bridging loans and other financial implications can have on a development too. Our new homes team can produce your legal packs and ensure a lot of the conveyancing paperwork is completed prior to an offer being made. This method can speed up your conveyancing dramatically. 

Our property development experts can advise you on:

In addition to:

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Who is a Property Developer?

A property developer purchases land adds value to it and then sells it quickly. Property development is expensive and needs to be undertaken quickly because the developer will be buying the property, incurring costs in adding value before the property can be sold and costs recouped and any profit made. 

Many of our larger property developers started out doing a renovation projects on their home before selling for a profit or buying a small investment property in poor condition doing it up and then selling it on. Many of these clients have now gone on to be property developers full-time and to tackle larger residential developments and commercial development.

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Do I need to be a builder?

Some property developers were builders who have seen developers they have worked with profit on site and this has encouraged them to become a property developer. However, many are not. The role of a property developer is not to build the property but to lead, organise, manage and fund the project team. 

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Property Development is for the rich?

Property development is costly. Construction and land are expensive as are the professional team. Property development is also all money upfront and therefore most of your costs will have been incurred before you receive any revenue. Property development is risky. However, you do not need to be wealthy to begin and there are various sources of funding.

Development finance is discussed below but many developers in recent years will team up with others to fund a project. In addition to bringing cash to the project this also can often be helpful as it brings a wide range of different skills. Care needs to be taken to document the arrangements between you. Most developments are undertaken in a limited company designed for that development (SPV) and therefore the shareholders will need a shareholders agreement. If the parties coming together are not owning an SPV then often a joint venture agreement or partnership agreement can be used. Any agreement needs to cover whether the money invested is debt or equity, how the profits from the development are to be split and how a deadlock or falling out is resolved. Discussions around these agreements by an experienced Solicitor can help to talk through scenarios that had not been considered or conversations that the parties do not find easy to have. Our experience is that following these discussion the parties have much greater clarity and motivation as any reservations have been tackled. 

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Property Developers make their money when they buy not when they sell

Buying well is a very important. Anything that you can do to reduce the cost of purchase will be go straight to your bottom line in terms of profitability.  The skill is not to overpay and to understand where you can add value.

This will involve you in discussions and negotiations with landowners. If you can strike a deal the role of the Solicitor becomes very important as the form of agreement you have reached may not be straightforward. Ideally, the property developer will want to secure control of the property or land at an agreed price and then apply for planning or look to intensify the planning. You therefore need to be working with experienced Solicitors who understand how option agreements or contracts conditional upon planning being granted work. In recent years we have seen a lot of promotion agreements where the landowner and a promoter (who may be a developer) of the site agree to split the profits of the land on the basis that the promoter has control of the site to apply for planning and then agrees to offer the land for sale. If the promoter is a developer then often they will have the right to purchase the land too.  

You may find this video useful – securing land for development (on attwells site)

For smaller projects you could look at oversized gardens and other open space and approach the landowner direct. 

Land agents will have land for sale but it is likely that the planning value uplift is already built into the sale price. It will be for your planners to identify whether they could intensify the development with tweaks to planning and/or whether you can still generate a good return notwithstanding the land price.  

Auctions can provide a valuable of property where you can see a transparent market in operation and there is often land with development potential advertised or land with the benefit of planning. Do take care with auctions to visit the site and get your Solicitor to review the Legal Pack. You may find our videos on buying at auction helpful here:

[put in videos I have done on buying at auction]  

In working out how much to pay you will need to have done a development appraisal and worked out the gross development value of the site. The gross development value (GDV) is the projected value of the site once it has been completed.  In order to calculate GDV the developer needs to analyse recent property transactions in the area to identify a realistic sale price for the units. 

For example if the development has 10 houses that you expect to sell for £400,000 each, then the GDV will be £4,000,000 (10 x £400K) 

You can then use the GDV to do a development appraisal and identify what you should pay for the land as follows:

GDV  – (Cost of Sales + Build Costs + Finance Costs + Developer’s Profit) = Land Value 

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Development Finance

Development finance can provide short-term funding for either more extensive new construction projects or large renovations, helping developers to free up their personal capital for other projects or unforeseen expenses.

Loans cover both land purchase and building costs. Loan amounts are based on a percentage of the gross development value at the end of the project. Usually development loans are drawn in stages (referred to a “tranches”), part of the loan will be drawn to acquire the land, and subsequent funds drawn for the development.

The reporting criteria to the Lender is usually very strict in development finance to ensure that the property is being developed in accordance with a plan approved by the Lender. There will virtually always be “step-in” rights allowing the Lender to complete any development work to ensure that their security is always protected.

Development finance is amongst the more complex property finance products and there is typically more room for negotiation with the lender on the terms of the loan documentation. It is therefore critical that you have the right Solicitor in your corner who can really add value by improving the terms of the loan for you.

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Legal Due Diligence on the Site

A conveyancer would typically not have the expertise to act for a property developer as there are particular legal issues that are relevant only to developers. 

In addition to the usual searches of the local and drainage authorities your Solicitor would need to undertake utilities searches so as to understand the services running though the site, connection and impact upon development.

Thought needs to be given to access to the public highway, visibility splays and intensification of any private roads. 

Rights of way and rights to light (in particular in cities) for neighbouring properties need to be carefully reviewed as they could prevent or hinder development. 

A careful review also needs to be undertaken of any restrictions that bind the land and whether they are enforceable or not.

Make sure you feel confident that your Solicitor has experience of dealing with these issues.    

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Renovate or Demolish?

Following finding a site the next important consideration if there is an existing building is whether you extend or renovate or demolish. Demolition is generally not as expensive as you may think and there is a tax advantage on a rebuild in that work on existing buildings means 20% VAT on materials and labour on newbuilds is zero-rated for VAT and you can claim back the cost of materials.  

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Planning

The securing of planning permission for your development project is a key milestone because it means that you have added value to the land. For some promoters this is an opportunity to “flip” the property and sell it on to a developer and take a profit. However, as a property developer your aim should be to build out the project.   

The larger developers will be looking to add value not only through the construction process but prior to this at the stage of planning. Ideally they will find land without planning permission and will be able to enhance the value by applying for planning consent for development. This process is more expensive because it will involve a need for highways surveys, soil samples, energy predictions and landscaping. All of this will need to be reviewed and considered by the local planning authority. Alternatively, developers may buy land with planning consent but look to intensify the planning with more units or more valuable units.  

You must spend some time understanding the planning process, instructing a planning consultant and architect. Many architects offer to obtain planning for you but depending upon the complexity of your project you may well need the expertise of a planning consultant who understands the complexities of the planning system in addition to an architect to draw the plans.  

You must also make sure that your Solicitor is experienced at dealing with the obligations under planning agreements such as transfers of public open space and all elements of infrastructure on site including highways, drainage and other utility agreements. 

At the current time many developers are looking at the solution of a change of planning from office which is in excess capacity in many towns to residential which remains in short supply. The Government has introduced a scheme which is known as permitted development rights that allows change of use to be carried out without planning permission. However, it is not quite as simple as that as the Government does not want developers producing micro-flats that negative impact on the community. You therefore need to apply for approval from the local planning authority for the change of use. This application will need a detailed set of drawings and supporting documents dealing with transport and highway impact, contamination, flood risk and noise.  You will need help here from a planning consultant and architect. The Council then has 56 days to make a decision on whether to give the approval. If you are seeking to provide good quality accommodation and your documentation is put together correctly then approval should be granted and you can get started.    

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Selling the Units

Ideally you will sell your units off-plan. If not then at some point during the construction project the units on the development need to be sold and contracts exchanged and a deposit taken from the buyers. You need to ensure that as a developer you have instructed a Solicitor who is going to exchange your pipeline as quickly as possible. To achieve this make sure you work with your Solicitor before marketing the site by putting together a comprehensive Legal Pack including all searches and replies to the standard enquiries that should be raised so that upon sale being agreed you can exchange as quickly as possible. This will take many weeks off the sales process.    

Make sure that you have a legally binding reservation agreement as it is usual for a new build property to be reserved and a fee paid on reservation that is non-refundable.  

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Construction Disputes

Hopefully this does not happen but sometimes disputes arise that cannot be resolved between the project team and as the developer you need to take legal action against the builder, architect or other members of the team. Construction disputes are a very specialist area of legal work and you need to ensure that you are working with a Solicitor who is used to dealing with these particular forms of contractual dispute.

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 Why Attwells?

Most Solicitors have a residential conveyancer dealing with property development or a highly technically competent Solicitor who struggles to move quickly or with any commerciality. This means that you are either not getting the expert advice that you need or not getting the service you need.  

You need a Solicitor to secure your deal quickly and that is confident with the different forms of contract used in property development.  A Solicitor that understands the legal issues that are peculiar to development and its funding. A Solicitor who has a good understanding of planning and can refer you to a planning consultant and work hand in hand with them should this be necessary. A Solicitor who understands the complexities and has experience of dealing with the different forms of development finance. A Solicitor who understands your sales pipeline and getting units exchanged as quickly as possible with a comprehensive upfront pack and focused approach. A Solicitor who can refer you to an expert if you end up in a dispute with your professional team. You need a law firm that has built a service around you. 

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Meet the Head of the Team

I am Tanya Warnes a first-class specialist Solicitor for developers and I head up Attwells Property Development Team. I combine very strong technical expertise with a straightforward plain speaking manner and a clear focus on getting you the developer in and out and quickly as possible. I am ready to have an initial chat with you. 

Securing a Land or Property for Development

Acting for a Developer acquiring a site for residential or commercial development on a conditional contract or option basis.

Fixed Fee

  • Under £100,000 of Sale Price - £1249 plus VAT
  • £100,000-£350,0000 of Sale Price - £1949 plus VAT
  • £350,000-£500,000 of Sale Price - £2449 plus VAT
  • £500,000-£750,000 of Sale Price - £2999 plus VAT
  • £750,000- £1m of Sale Price - £3999 plus VAT
  • £1m above – price on application

These fees are based upon the Developer acquiring the property on a conditional basis or subject to an option agreement. If it is an unconditional sale then the above figures can be discounted.  

If the matter does not proceed to completion then half of the above fee will be due.

In addition to the fixed fee above the following fees may also be payable:

  • Payable in all cases - Bank Transfer Fee (per transfer) - £40 plus VAT
  • Payable in all cases - Electronic Identification Fee (per person) - £10 plus VAT
  • Search Fees - £1500 plus VAT

Included in the service

  • Negotiating  the contract for the sale in accordance with the Heads of Terms
  • Dealing with your enquiries of a legal nature with the Seller’s Solicitors
  • Report to you on the terms of the sale
  • Undertaking all necessary conveyancing searches for development and reporting to you on their contents
  • Reviewing the legal documentation from the perspective of a developer for development purposes
  • Completion of the sale
  • Payment of SDLT (if any)
  • Registration at HM Land Registry

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What is excluded from the service?

  • Legal advice outside the scope of the service described above
  • Advising and renegotiating the Heads of Terms
  • Advice in connection with a promotion agreement is not included 
  • Tax advice
  • Planning advice is not included
  • Planning obligation agreements
  • Joint venture and shareholder agreements for the developer client
  • If the property is leasehold it does not include an additional work in connection with the review of the headlease
  • Development finance. Fixed fees for development finance start from £3,500 plus VAT

Disbursements

SDLT will also be due and you can calculate your liability by reference to the following link. If VAT is payable on the price the SDLT is payable on the price + VAT.

Land Registry Fees are due and will be payable based upon the purchase price and using the following link.

If the buyer is a company taking lending then a Companies House fee will be payable of £23.

In all cases bankruptcy and final searches will be due of £25.

If the premises are leasehold then notice of the transfer of the premises will need to be served on the Landlord whose costs typically range from between £50 and £200. We will confirm he figure once it is known to us.

How long will it take?

Timescales vary and on average it will take 4-6 weeks but it depends upon a number of factors outside of our control. We will endeavour to complete the matter as quickly as possible within your timescales.

Who will do your work?

Your matter will be undertaken by one of our Property Development  Solicitors: Nick Attwell; Tanya Warnes, Matthew Desborough or Joseph Harrison or our Trainee Solicitors under the supervision of Nick Attwell.

When will I pay?

You will need to pay 50% of the fixed fee on account together with the search fees. The balance of fees and disbursements will be due on completion.

How do I instruct Attwells Solicitors

Instructing us is simple. You can either click on the instruct button below to register your interest or you can call us at your local office. We have offices in Ipswich, Colchester and London. When instructing us please inform us of the office you would like to use.

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New Home Developments

Attwells New Homes Team is made up of specialist lawyers who understand that fast and cost-effective pipeline conversion is required to meet the targets and pressures that developers and sales teams experience.

Attwells New Homes Team have a Unique 8 Step Plan to Help its Clients and Agent Referrers:

  • Get Ahead of the Pack. Reviewing the developer’s pack and standardising the legals in advance of the sales takes over 2 weeks off the standard conveyancing process. Our New Homes Manager will agree the legals on the site upfront.
     
  • Site Visit. Experience tells us that when we have been to the site then it is far easier for us to report to our client and saves time with enquiries.  Our New Homes Manager will visit each site and meet the sales team before the sales get underway.
     
  • Communication. Jargon-free, honest and realistic conversations with clients and the sales teams so as to ensure all parties can work as one team.  Our New Homes Manager is there to help on any sticky case.
     
  • Streamlined Process. Attwells “state of the art” case management system has streamlined the process so as to manage efficiently the high volume of conveyancing data. Our lawyers can concentrate on spending time communicating and doing the legal bit.
     
  • Tracking. Progress on cases needs to be proactively tracked in order to ensure that deadlines are met. Weekly progress reports are available from the New Homes Manager.
     
  • Working with the Developer’s Lawyers. Our lawyers do not see conveyancing as a point scoring exercise.  We focus upon the client’s goal of securing their new home as quickly as possible.
     
  • New Home Expertise. Help to Buy, Help to Buy ISAs and Shared Ownership are just three examples of Government initiatives that can slow lawyers down. Our lawyers are experienced in all the latest New Homes legislation.
     
  • Lender Relationships & Panels. As a member of the Conveyancing Association Attwells meet regularly with lenders and are ahead of the market when it comes to changes to CML Handbook. Attwells is on the panel of all the major mortgage lenders.

Attwells are also experienced in advising developers and landowners on acquiring land for development.

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