This is indeed a property legal nightmare of the highest order, says Hailstone

It seems that Chris Meyer, a flat owner in Carlisle, has been living in the wrong flat for six years.

To make matters worse it looks like ten of the other 15 flat owners in that block are also in the wrong flats. To cap it all, some poor bod, living in the correct flat, might now have his buyer pull out because of the fiasco.

First finger pointing is at Mr Meyer’s solicitors. But, hold on, wait a minute: whose solicitor actually visits a property to check it is the right one and that the extent of the boundaries are correct? Very few.

What most solicitors do is send their clients (if they don’t see their clients face to face) a bundle of documents, including a plan showing the property, usually edged in red.

I heard Mr Meyer speaking on the radio on Friday and he said he was indeed sent a plan before he exchanged but the plan showed more than one property and he didn’t realise the one he really was buying and was supposed to identify, was edged in red. It may have been that his solicitors didn’t mention that fact, but surely the red edging should have made a penny drop somewhere?

I have not been able to look at the file and talk to those involved but it would appear that there were some mistakes or confusing elements about the original plans. Possibly plot numbers changing to flat numbers. However, that doesn’t explain why possibly ten solicitors and ten buyers didn’t pick these errors up.

It would be very interesting to find out how/why Mr Meyer’s abortive buyer’s solicitor spotted, or was alerted to the mistake. A lesson could be learned there.

Although in theory these problems could be rectified easily, as is usual in conveyancing, nothing is that simple. Some of the flats have been let and the registered owners are not responding when contacted. It would be interesting to hear what the lenders of the mortgage monies on the wrong flats are now doing/thinking!

This is a property-related legal nightmare of the highest order.

Should solicitors send the selling agents a copy of the plan to help confirm that it is correct? In my conveyancing days, and on more than one occasion clients have said at the very last minute, something like: why isn’t the garage 30 yards down the road on the plan? Is it safe to accept that all clients can understand plans?

One could argue that the solicitor should have tried to marry up the plan with the agent’s details, and many do, but in Mr Meyer’s case with the purchase of a flat, I am not sure that would have helped.

Although not connected, another issue arose on Friday that yet again underlined to me how bad our conveyancing process really is.

A friend of mine is selling his house and buying another. There are five below him, and the one he is buying is empty. He was being pushed to exchange on his sale and his purchase wasn’t ready. However, as he had somewhere else to live if need be, he instructed his solicitors to exchange on his sale.

First problem, the first-time buyer didn’t realise he had to put up a 10% deposit or negotiate a lower one. That was resolved overnight on Thursday.

Second problem, Friday comes and one of the solicitors has the day off so they can’t effect an exchange. I said that is unacceptable, phone your agents and ask them to chase down the chain and make things happen. He tried, but they weren’t really interested in helping and they had no idea who was involved in the chain and where.

Why are these things still happening? Why can’t agents and solicitors work hand in glove? It is a broken process, sometimes involving players who quite frankly should be put out to grass or go back to selling mobile phones.

The Government is, once again, supposed to be looking into improving the home buying and selling process, but the long awaited ‘Call for Evidence’ is nowhere to be seen.

A business associate of mine has just worked two weeks as a locum (after a five-year break) and he said that the conveyancing department, and the conveyancers, were as busy and stressed as ever.

What is the solution? How about:

  • A real appreciation that conveyancing is a complicated process
  • Information up front: (HIPs)
  • A chain view: (Veyo or Free2Convey)
  • Higher conveyancing fees (and lower or no referral fees)
  • More experienced conveyancers
  • Agents with training and/or qualifications
  • An overhaul of the home buying and selling process.

Rob Hailstone is founder of the Bold Group, a network of conveyancers

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6 Comments

  1. Stevie

    Not quite sure who you are having a pop at but if a solicitor takes the afternoon off and hasn’t handed over the file to someone else there is little to nothing an estate agent can do except threaten to never pass a new client to them again, no amount of “chasing down the chain” will affect that scenario so even you don’t know how it works.

    If we use our recommended sols we usually get on fine and everything runs reasonably smoothly however there are some really old school sols who still look down their noses at us and don’t want to take our calls and then there are the new/fresh/green solicitors that work by the book and take no educated view on any given situation, on the other hand there are the sales chasers that give no respect to the solicitor, as they are reading off an idiot board and don’t want to be way laid from the purpose of their call or the experienced chaser that knows what they are doing but has no personality or charm and doesn’t nurture a good working relationship but somewhere along the line if you/we want to speed up the process,resolve issues quickly and make it less stressful for all concerned, we both need to improve relationships, attitudes and climb down from those horses.

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  2. Rob Hailstone

    I think it is pretty obvious who I am having a ‘pop’ at Stevie. The c*** conveyancers and c*** estate agents out there. Not taking sides.
    However, I think it might be you who doesn’t know how it works, or how it could work with some real effort. I have chased down many chains in my time and got results. You sound like you would have given up way to easily. Get the client to phone the firm, get the client kick up a fuss and tell whoever is left in the office, if the transaction falls through because of this situation, they will be holding them fully responsible for all loses incurred.  It is borderline negligence for goodness sake. I have been round the block a few times and if I was still in practice and able to act for my friend, it would have exchanged on Friday rather than today!
     
    We really need to get a few agents to spend a day or two in a busy solicitor’s office and then do the opposite and get some fair minded reports back on how the other half live.

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    1. Stevie

      Neither of us know who the other person is but perhaps if you are going to write then you should word it better, no one would try harder than me to get a clients sale through exhausting all avenues but I didn’t want to get into a personal battle, as I said your wording is poor and I’m sure I cover the same amount of blocks that you have and I run my own business, it sounds more like you were a solicitor than an estate agent, it is borderline negligence but it happens all too often and most members of the public are too in awe of solicitors to argue/confront them, we have gone down the route of sharing a day in the life and it only works for the solicitor getting max leads from us then it goes downhill but us doers will keep on doing and you can keep on teaching, God forbid.

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  3. Rob Hailstone

    Stevie if you had said:
    “no one would try harder than me to get a client’s sale through exhausting all avenues
    In your first post, instead of:
    “if a solicitor takes the afternoon off and hasn’t handed over the file to someone else there is little to nothing an estate agent can do except threaten to never pass a new client to them again, no amount of “chasing down the chain” will affect that scenario so even you don’t know how it works.”
     I would not have questioned you.
    I can’t also see you that said my wording was poor until your second post, what wording is poor? If you can point it out I will clarify for you.
    Like I said, I am not taking sides, I know plenty of excellent estate agents who would have made that exchange happen on Friday instead of today.
     
    By the way, I don’t teach, never have, never will. God forbid.

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  4. PeeBee

    SO – putting aside the tussle that’s going on above between the author of the article and Stevie (which I must say is far more interesting than the article itself…) – it seems that the majority of owners of this block have signed for the wrong properties.

    Or have they?  ‘Who’ is to blame here?  How did it happen in the first place – and how has it taken so long to become a ‘problem’?

    I see that there appears to have been four resales in the block since the properties were newly built.  Surely they are not just the lucky few that haven’t had the wrong Land Reg information?

    Without doubt, it’s all a bu99ers muddle – but lets be clear – no-one is ‘living in the wrong flat’ as per the original article EYE is reporting on.  If Mr Brown paid a Reservation Fee on ‘Plot 2’; Ms Green did the same on ‘Plot 4’ and Mr & Mrs White signed on the dotted line for ‘Plot 10’ – then I’m sure that they were handed the correct keys on the day of Completion.

    They would certainly have kicked off if that wasn’t the case.

    The fault surely lies with whoever handled the original Registration – which would be the firm acting on behalf of the developer.  They would have applied for each plot as an individual First Registration (with Red-Line Drawing supplied from the Developer), and would then have then had to marry those Registrations to the correct Contracts.

    It’s not rocket science.

    Surely now Land Reg, seeing the problem and acknowledging its existence can exercise whatever powers the Crown bestow upon them in their capacity as Keeper of the Register and deal with the bu99er-up?

    Then you’ve got the stories within the story.  There’s other days for that, I reckon…

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  5. Rob Hailstone

     
    And that is exactly why some agents, frustrate some conveyancers. They think they understand Land Law and conveyancing more than the conveyancers do. Without looking into anything in any real detail PeeBee knows (i) where the fault lies and (ii) how to solve it.
     
    Firstly, I doubt very much if the firm acting for the original developer are entirely to blame, if at all. The issue is probably one of identification of the flats on the plans. The plot number changed to a flat number at some stage, causing confusion.
     
    Secondly, the Land Registry cannot simply put matters right unilaterally. You have the owners to consult, lenders to consult and the freeholder to consult and if one party won’t play ball you are in a very difficult situation.
     
    PeeBee is right about one thing, no flat owner is living in the wrong flat (unless they are completely stupid). They all moved into (or at least purchased) the flats they viewed.
     
    The problem is, when looking at some of the plans/title deeds Mr & Mrs A own the flat that Mr & Mrs B are living in. But it isn’t even that simple, it’s not just two flats, it’s ten!
     

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