You will have noticed I haven’t been posting recently, I got caught up in the chaos of house buying again – and had another property slip through my fingers. When things go wrong the process of buying property in England – Scotland has a different system – really induces anxiety. As a buyer you get to ask questions and so long as your finance is secure you pretty much get left alone, which can be very difficult if you need advice. Your solicitors are only there to offer legal advice. For anything else they’ll say ‘It’s up to you, I can’t advise you on that.’ And there are some aspects of the property process which are not legal but are important, like knowing how a block of flats pay for maintenance work.
The most recent disaster was a one bedroom flat in a warehouse development near Kings Cross. It was very cool, all exposed brick and bed platforms, but tired and needing a bit of love. It was in a gated courtyard and was on the first floor balcony. It backed onto Regent’s Canal and each property had a key to the canal, just like the private garden enclaves of Knightsbridge or Notting Hill. I really liked its simplicity and how I would be able to use the raw materials to create something unique. I loved how quiet it was and especially how close to such excellent transport links it was – Kings Cross-St Pancras was about half a mile away through a pedestrianised piazza – great for Eurostar, the South coast, the North and central London.
But right from the start the owner wanted as much as he could get out of me. There was another buyer interested and that pushed the price up. I should have walked then because as the conveyancing progressed it became apparent that the documents held at the Land Registry were irregular and that to have ‘clean title’ they would need to be rectified – and the owner was adamant he wasn’t paying for it.
The tussle went on for a number of weeks with the other sides solicitors saying ‘you can do that when you own it.’ But really, why was it my problem? And as my solicitors pointed out, he had owned the place since the development was created in the early 90’s, his legal standing (to prove that the documents were the only copies) was greater than mine would be as the new owner. It all became very heated and then the issue of how maintenance work was paid for raised its head. The development freeholders had had a report done to help them define what maintenance should be done first and then over a 10 year timescale – naturally there were costs attached and I wanted to know how they were intending on paying for them over and above the service charge. Not an unreasonable question but no-one had the answer because it hadn’t been voted on by the owners.
So they agreed to share the minutes of the AGM with me. When they came through I got a bit more than I had expected because not only were the service charge costs going up they had also voted that there would be no AirBnB in the development. And right there, the property was suddenly not fit for my needs. Because I had planned on setting the place up as an AirBnB. That way we could also use the flat ourselves, family and friends from abroad, overnight guests who just needed a single night in town and even me, if I fancied a change of scene. It’d be like a city break without having to go away!
Anyway, it wasn’t to be. As the new girl I wouldn’t have been able to get them to change their minds (the owners association) and I couldn’t take the risk of ignoring it because what kind of protection would that have been for my investment?
So here I am – again – just having put an offer in on another property and what will I do differently this time? Well, that’s the burning question! As I sold my house last year and the funds are just waiting to be put toward a property, I’m ready. As a buyer all I need to do is appoint a solicitor, order a building survey, read some documents and transfer the funds to my solicitors. I think this time that is all I will do. No chasing and getting upset because people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.
The thing I have learned though is that in selling a property you should expect to be challenged – if the building has a long and quirky history and a commercial aspect as well or if it is part of a development that was converted from warehouses – any buyer will want to unravel the paper trail to understand how and why things have been done. It isn’t enough for you as a seller to say ‘ that’s just the way it is,’ no-one would give you the legal advice to trust an answer so vague and unfocused. So, when you want to sell a property think about how you would feel if you encountered a mess on the property if you were the buyer. They will feel nervous and need reassuring. If you want to sell, you need to be able to reassure your buyer. And the way you do that is by making sure your paperwork is in order.