Attwells Solicitors are “property people” who have developed a passion and deep understanding of the property market and the needs of other property professionals.
We regularly support those working within the property sector including estate agents, letting agents, commercial agents, mortgage advisors and property managers. All of these roles have become much more heavily regulated in recent years and Attwells have provided invaluable legal and commercial support.
Common Property Professional Problems at Attwells Can Solve
Here are a few common problems that all property professionals will face:
- Getting Paid
- Staff Issues
- Anti-Money Laundering procedures
- Business Premises
- Estate Management Problems
- Recovering back possession of property for landlords
- Changes to their business structure
- Slow Conveyancing & Poor Communication
To help support you and as an introduction to our jargon-free service we have outlined some key points, findings and advice you may benefit from.
The starting point to getting paid promptly is to ensure that your Terms and Conditions are robust and enforceable. Too often, we see property professionals with a poor set of Terms of Conditions which they have cobbled together, having expensive and time-consuming disputes with their clients over payment. At least half of Estate Agents’ Terms and Conditions we have seen are legally unenforceable.
As a property professional when looking at your T’s & C’s, ask yourself 5 questions:
- Do the Terms expressly set out in writing when your fee is payable and any third-party costs?
- Is it crystal clear as to the events/services that trigger payment and the amount due?
- If not, could you imply a term that you must have been the “effective cause” of the sale to get you fee paid?
- Do they comply with the Consumer Protection Regulations (governing all agent dealings)?
- Are they otherwise void/unenforceable e.g. because of duress, undue influence?
Not only do we know what your terms of business need to cover, but we also know what terms to include in them so as to give you a competitive edge whilst still remaining within the law. For instance, including a term allowing for suspension of the agency period when a sale is agreed, meaning that if that sale subsequently aborts (as 30% of all agreed sales do), the agency period can restart once again is very popular with our property professionals.
Strong Terms and Conditions are stage 1 of getting paid. Stage 2 is about a robust debt recovery service.
Debt recovery starts with your internal processes and making sure that unpaid money matters in your business. Make sure it is discussed at management level weekly and steps are taken to escalate debt as quickly as possible in a process from a call to a robust letter and then legal action.
Debt recovery in the property sector is a real hot topic and we have a proud record of recovering long outstanding debts from difficult customers for our property professional clients. We aggressively pursue debts owed to your business and have a streamlined process in place to ensure you get money owed to you (with interest) with minimum time and expense.
We know the tricks vendors in particular can play when disputing sales commission, such as instructing their solicitor not to make payment and complaints with service only surfacing once a sale is completed, in addition to threats to make a complaint to relevant redress schemes such as the TPO or the Property Redress Scheme. We have been there, done that and got the t-shirt, emerging time and again with a successful recovery of our client’s debt, mostly without the need for court proceedings.
We also offer a popular no win no fee recovery service allowing you to instruct us to work on recovering your debt with no cost to you, eliminating worry and risk for you but at the same time incentivising us to recover sums owed to you quickly and effectively.
All of our property professionals suffer from staff issues from time to time. Disputes can be costly, stressful and time consuming. They can interfere with and damage your business and in the event that they do arise, you must deal with them quickly and efficiently.
On average, an employer spends £10,000 in defending an Employment Tribunal claim and 9 days of management time dealing with a grievance from start to finish, time and money you won’t get back, even if the complaints raised by your staff are without merit.
From day one, an employee has in excess of 80 legal rights and the ever-changing nature of employment law makes it more and more difficult for employers to stay on the right side of the law.
We make the law jargon free, explain complex areas in plain English and offer common sense advice, examples being provided to you with draft scripts for disciplinary and grievance hearings, easy to read diagrams for how to deal with poorly performing employees from start to finish and always being just a call away whenever you need us. Many law firms struggle to explain complex law in simple terms. We don’t. We know the pain points you face as a property professional and have, over many years, solved your problems cost effectively and minimum fuss.
A common staff issue we deal with for our property professional client’s is dealing with poorly performing staff. Incompetent staff cost you time, money and clients and can also cause resentment amongst your other (well performing) staff who are having to pick up the slack and work even harder.
When looking to get rid of a poorly performing member of staff, ensure you consider all of the following:-
- Have they been employed for 2 or more years (and therefore have unfair dismissal rights)?
- Do we have enough evidence of poor performance (appraisals, stats, sales figures etc.)?
- Employee warned of consequences of lack of improvement?
- Given opportunity to improve?
- Fair procedure followed (meetings, targets, performance monitored, appeal)?
We make the law jargon free, plain English and common sense advice, examples being provided to you with draft scripts for disciplinary and grievance hearings, easy to read diagrams for how to deal with poorly performing employees from start to finish and always being just a call away whenever you need us. Many law firms struggle to explain complex law in simple terms. We don’t. We know the pain points you face as a property professional and have, over many years, solved your problems cost effectively and minimum fuss.
Money laundering is how criminals change money and other assets into clean money or assets that have no obvious link to their criminal origins. Money laundering can take many forms, but in the property sector it can involve:
- buying a property asset using the proceeds of crime, letting it or selling it on, giving the criminal an apparently legitimate source of funds
- criminals hiding behind complex company structures involving multiple countries and multiple bank accounts to disguise the real purpose of a transaction and hide its beneficial ownership
- a more direct method of paying an estate agency business or lettings agent a large amount and reclaiming it later
- the money for a purchase resulting from a mortgage fraud operation
Estate agency and property related businesses have legal requirements for money laundering supervision, including customer due diligence, record keeping and reporting suspicious activity.
Customer due diligence involves:
- Obtaining the customer’s name
- Photograph on an official document which confirms their identity
- Residential address and date of birth
The best way to do this is to ask for a Government issued document like a passport, along with utility bills, bank statements and other official documents. Other sources of customer information include the electoral register and information held by credit reference agencies such as Experian and Equifax.
Estate agents in particular have to carry out customer due diligence on buyers, not just the seller for whom they are acting. This is because estate agents are well-positioned to act as ‘’gatekeepers’’ for both parties and they encounter the buyer at an early stage in the transaction.
We know what practices you need to put in place to ensure you comply with complex AML legislation, legislation which is regularly updated and continues to target the property sector aggressively, and have the tools and knowledge to help you avoid the large criminal and financial sanctions handed down for non-compliance.
For Estate Agents in particular by using Attwells’ “Move Ready” and “Offer Ready” conveyancing services (see below) for seller and buyer we are supporting you in meeting your AML requirements and other legal requirements before you can market a property for sale. This saves you time and money on every transaction, allowing you to meet an important legal requirement with minimal effort and fuss.
For most property professionals their business premises are important. Premises costs and business rates are also a significant liability.
Property professionals will be looking for certainty around cost of premises and flexibility on the length of the lease and sharing of the premises. All of these are matters you should bottom out in the heads of terms and Attwells would recommend your lawyer reviewing the heads of terms to ensure that all the key commercial terms are covered.
On lease costs make sure you identify the following:
- Is the rent plus VAT?
- Do you have a service charge to pay? Is it fixed or capped?
- Are there any reviews to the rent? If so how often and are they to market rent or RPI?
- Have you negotiated a rent-free period?
Don’t forget the cost at the end of the term of accepting a lease if full repair and condition if it is not in good condition. You will not see this cost now but when the lease comes to an end you could be served with a list of repairs that are considerable. Remember if the lease is of the whole premises then you could be liable for structural defects too and a building survey is a must.
Think about your security for the lease too. Don’t personally guarantee the rent unless you have to. Keep your business and personal finances separate if possible. Offer a rent deposit instead.
On flexibility and sharing make sure you consider:
- Length of the term of the lease and any break clauses
- Do you have a right to renew at the end of the term?
- Can you share the premises with other companies such as a mortgage broker?
- Is the user clause of the lease wide enough to enable other businesses to trade from the premises?
- Do you need to make alterations to your premises to allow another business to occupy and keep your data secure?
- Can you sublet a floor or part of the office without the consent of the landlord?
Attwells’ Commercial Property Team act for property professionals large and small and combine strong technical expertise with the commercial awareness of your sector and your needs. Whether you are on a program of expansion and need to negotiate the best terms or are looking at a strategy or options for exit make sure that Attwells are part of this conversation.
Many of our property professionals also hold investment property too and we can help with your with management, acquisition and refinancing of this portfolio.
Property professionals are often involved in block and estate management of residential and commercial premises. Estate and block management includes the recovery of ground rent and service charge or management charges together with specialist advice in relation to breaches of leaseholder or freeholder promises under a lease or transfer.
In many circumstances Attwells are able to act on your behalf or your freeholder client on a fixed fee basis and wherever possible we will recover such fees (and indeed your own fees as managing agents) from the tenant or unitholder.
If a tenant or unitholder starts behaving unreasonably then it is important to know your position and be able to act quickly and to find cost effective and fast solutions. We understand the pressure that as a block or estate manger you will be under from other residents or occupiers.
Typical disputes where we have helped our property professional clients get a solution include:
- Laying of wooden floors
- Keeping of pets in the property
- Alterations carried out without consent
- Flues redirected without consent
- Damage to common parts
- Parking unlawfully
- Unlawful subletting or sharing of premises
We are experienced in dealing with such cases regardless of debt or complexity of the breach of the lease or the transfer.
Block and estate management teams will also get involved in a lot of lease extension work in particular in London. As property professionals we know a lease is like a ticking clock, the term – being the period of time during which the owner is allowed to occupy the flat is reducing all the time. This is a particular issue at the current time as many leases were granted in the 1970s and 1980s and are now beginning to shorten.
Depending upon location – a lease becomes difficult to sell or mortgage when the term is less than 80 years and very difficult to sell or mortgage when the term is less than 70 years.
In most circumstances, flat owners have the right to extend their leases. If you are marketing a flat with a short lease Attwells specialist lease extension lawyers can provide you and your clients with the advice needed to ensure that the sale can proceed. For landlord clients we can negotiate informal lease extensions and respond to claims to extend leases and the statutory process.
Other more unusual issues that can face property professionals dealing with managed property can include the rights of collective enfranchisement which are the rights of a leaseholder to acquire the freehold of their building or rights to manage where the leaseholders of the building may seek to take over the management of a poorly managed Estate or Block. Using the Rights to Manage can also be a good source of new work for property professionals who are keen to take on the management of new blocks or estates. By the leaseholders exercising the rights to manage it creates an opportunity for block and estate managers to acquire new business.
For more general advice around leasehold issues we would recommend you visit https://www.lease-advice.org/ following this if you need confidential practical advice on how to manage your Block or Estate then Attwells Solicitors have many years of experiencing of dealing with all these issues and would be very happy to have an initial chat and introduce you to their network of other professionals who can help to support you.
“Attwells Solicitors LLP has provided a sterling service for one of our Management Company clients. As well as the diligent performance of general legal estate management support services (receipting notices, approving deeds of covenant and issuing restrictions of title etc..), they have also proved instrumental in investigating and resolving a number of highly complex issues pertaining to our client’s Estate. Their debt collection team is equally effective in producing quick results. Attwells Solicitors is a one-stop shop for all estate management issues and we would have no hesitation in recommending their services”
- Kabir Choudhary, Eddisons
When tenants stop paying rent then you as the property managers need a solution.
Clearly avoiding non-payment of rent is where you should start and this is about proper background checks, referencing, tenancy deposits and keeping up to date with the changes in the law. However, even property professionals who do all the right preparatory work at the beginning of a tenancy can be faced with tenants whose payments suddenly stop, phone calls are not returned and letters ignored. At the same time as this is happening you will be receiving calls from an agitated landlord worrying about how he can meet his mortgage payments and recover back the mounting rent arrears.
When this happens the wheels of justice can turn slowly and if you fail to follow the Court procedure properly then the Court may adjourn your claim causing further delay or worse the claim being struck out and you having to start again. Even if your claim is properly drafted it could easily take 6 months to recover back possession of a property for your landlord client.
When a tenant stops paying you need to take action fast. You need to recover back possession as quickly as possible by starting possession proceedings without delay to keep the rental void of your landlords to an absolute minimum.
Attwells have a network that means they can operate nationally and are experienced for acting for landlord clients based here in the UK and overseas. We respond quickly and with fixed fees wherever possible.
Whatever you do don’t delay and take action quickly.
In recent years we have acted for many property professionals who have needed our expertise to adapt and change their business to meet new challenges: disposal; acquisition; management buy-out or shareholder dispute.
Some of our property professionals have built up a successful business and are looking to sell and need some careful hand-holding to ensure that they are suitably protected in their negotiations with a larger competitor. Always get you lawyer involved early on in agreeing the heads of terms as the devil can be in the detail with clawback, indemnities and warranties and it is far easier to argue these points when the commercial terms are being agreed. Too often lawyers are brought in too late and money has been spent in the minds of the sellers and when you try to explain the risks and clawback it is too late as the sellers are emotionally committed to sell. Other issues that can arise are around when the seller is remaining in the business post-completion this can often be very difficult and lead to a lot of issues and so it is useful to talk these issues through with a lawyer who has experience of dealing with them.
Our larger property professionals are interested in acquisition and too often here they have not done their due diligence and can end up after the event trying to take action against the seller. Your lawyer can help with structuring whether as a share or asset purchase and the deferral or earn-out of some of the price, ask some of the difficult questions and button down the detail. Don’t forget to ensure that you have adequate restrictions on the seller setting up a competing business. An accountant is a must too again as early as possible to ensure that if you are buying a company you understand all the possible hidden tax liabilities. We can share our network of professionals with you.
Many property professional businesses are family businesses. There comes a point when the parent needs to hand over the reins of the business to the child and because of the personal nature of a family business conversations around a change at the top of the business can often be difficult. A lawyer’s logical mind and preparedness to ask the hard questions can be a helpful way to navigate through any personal difficulties.
Property professionals approach us where the business partners have fallen out. The partners’ vision and goals are no longer aligned and this leads to stresses within the business that very often end up in dispute. Too often when we ask can we have a copy of your shareholders agreement or partnership agreement we are met with the response that they don’t have one. This can make resolving a dispute extremely difficult. A shareholders agreement for a company or a partnership agreement for individuals is an essential first step to starting a property business with others as well as providing protection if things go wrong, the formation of such an agreement encourages a dialogue between the owners about matters they may otherwise have not discussed. The key provisions that should be covered in either a shareholders agreement or a partnership agreement are: expectation of the duties of each party; dividend or drawings policy; exit arrangements; transfers of ownership in the event of death/incapacity and being a good or bad leaver; restrictive covenants and tag along and drag along rights on sale.
Hopefully you will heed our advice and get an agreement drawn up (rarely does an off the shelf solution fit a client’s needs) but if not and a dispute arises then try to keep talking, consider mediation and get advice from a lawyer as soon as possible.
The slower the conveyancing process the more likely that a transaction will fall through and the longer it will take a property professional to get paid. Slow conveyancing will damage your business and any referral fees you receive will pale into insignificance compared to the commission that could be lost or cash-flow pressure of an extended period without completions.
Last year it took 5 months on average for a conveyancing transaction from sale agreed to completion and it is going to get longer. 35% of sales fall through in the first 3 weeks.
At Attwells we are forward thinking and always looking to improve its part of our values. We have undertaken an analysis of the thousands of moves we have done for clients to understand the points of delay and designed an innovative new service for Sellers and Buyers called “Move Ready” and “Offer Ready” respectively. These services are about front-loading the work to reduce the risk of fall through and because this is the only real way to bring down the pipeline time considerably.
Move Ready will significantly reduce the average length of a conveyancing transaction, from the five months it currently takes from agreeing a price to completion. It will also reduce the risk of a sale collapsing which normally occurs in the first three weeks and the associated wasted costs.
Attwells’ Move Ready Sellers Pack is free of charge when you use Attwells conveyancing service and ensures the legal work required to move including all the relevant searches is completed prior to you placing your house on the market or an offer being made.
The up-fronting of the legal work in this way was recently recommended by Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer presenters of the Channel 4 property programme Location, Location, Location. They commented: “Get your solicitor to pre-prepare a contract, so when you agree a deal, it can go out. Have the paperwork and deeds ready to go.” Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp’s Guide for Buyers and Sellers by Hugh Graham of The Sunday Times, May 2020.
Don’t just take our word for it the Government agrees too: “Before you begin to thinking about putting your property on the market, you should spend some time getting your paperwork together. It will reduce delays. You can instruct a legal representative to check your property title and information as soon as you decide to sell. It can save a lot of time as they can resolve any issues before you even find a buyer." How to sell a home, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Updated 6 September 2019
For Buyers Attwells have identified that 4 weeks can be saved if a Buyer is Offer Ready.
Offer Ready is a Certificate from Attwells which Buyers can provide to an estate agent when making an offer to strengthen their position. An Offer Ready Certificate is free of charge and exclusive to Attwells if you use their conveyancing service. Offer Ready will enhance the chances of your offer being accepted as well as saving time by enabling the legal work to immediately start on sale agreed.
As Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer mention in their Sunday Times Guide: “Ask about the buyer’ position. Go with the one who can proceed. It’s easy for the buyer to say I’ve got a mortgage in principle. Ask for the details.”
If you are a buyer and have an Attwells Offer Ready Certificate then you can demonstrate that you are ready to go.
The only way to speed up property transactions and get people moved is to provide upfront full and meaningful information prepared by a Solicitor. If you are serious about moving home then contact Attwells Solicitors now.
To find out more about Move Ready then click here. www.attwells.com/moveready.
To find out more about Offer Ready click here. www.attwells.com/offerready.
And what about service. Nothing is worse than making a referral of a lawyer for conveyancing and then you receive calls about the poor level of service. This makes you look bad too. At Attwells we recognised it and want to deliver a consistently high level of service for our clients. To do this you have to measure it. So at the end of every conveyancing case we ask our clients for independent feedback using Feefo and any unhappy customer is immediately contacted by the Founder. We care about service so we measure it and we therefore know that we achieve over 90% satisfaction from our clients.
Meet the Head of the Team
I am Lloyd Clarke, a Partner of the firm and litigation specialist, who heads up the firm’s Property Professional Team. I take great pride in the service I provide to my clients and my ability to be commercially astute and deliver jargon free advice. Client’s value my tenacity, attention to detail, communication and negotiation skills, alongside my supportive approach to all of my client relationships. I am ready to have an initial chat with you.
How much is this going to cost me?
Property professionals, much like many other businesses, are fearful of getting large bills from lawyers for advice or support. We do things differently. We offer transparent fixed fees, don’t charge you for brief phone calls and emails and offer retainer packages to cover all your legal needs for a small monthly sum. You can budget and know that however much you chuck at us you pay the same amount. We offer three different packages so that you can pick the support you need, fitting in with your business size and need. What’s different about the packages we offer is that, unlike many of the large national HR consultancies is that we know your sector inside out. We deal with it day in, day out and don’t provide the same advice and documentation we would provide to any other business. Our service is bespoke and gives you what you want. We solve, not create, problems.
Attwells offer a bespoke property professional legal service that supports the management of your business. By opting for a retainer package, you can ensure you have a cost-effective service that enables you to pick up the phone and get answers and can spread the cost of significant pieces of legal work.
Our retainers start from just £125 plus VAT per month. Find out more information please call: 01206 239761 and speak to Lloyd Clarke.