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