Thursday, 17 March 2011

Time to change how we sell and buy property

It still amazes me how archaic the system is for conveyancing of residential property in this country.

The whole system is screaming out for reform and unfortunately the stakeholders that have interest in this market seem very reluctant to take any steps in an effort to improve the system and make it far more consumer friendly.

The following aspects of the process continue to frustrate me.

The old fashion and wholly unnecessary terminology used within conveyancing and documents and transfers. It is a wonder how anybody including lawyers can understand some of the clauses that I have come across. There is a need for these documents to be written in plain English and structured in such a way that they are easy to follow. Those working within the commercial contract sector should be brought into help to bring residential conveyancing documentation into the 21st Century.

The significant difference in approach adopted by conveyancers spread around the country. Some belong to local protocols others belong to national protocols and we also have the Law Society protocol that is often cited. Why on earth can we not all operate under the same protocol and why has the Law Society allowed this crazy situation to continue for so long?

The same applies to Contracts. I come across so many variations for the standard conditions of sale and just do not understand why the terms and conditions cannot be the same for each transaction unless of course it is a leasehold or other common variation.

The endless pre contract enquiries that are sent out. Surely again questions about the title, about the search results could be cut down and the onus put on the seller to complete standard enquiries as part of the contract pack.

There must exist a simpler process and one that would make it far less expensive and a lot quicker for the consumer. It amazes me that the Law Society has never attempted as far as I am aware to put pressure on the government to look at this area of law and to put forward proposal for reform. It is difficult I know to set out rules when a lot of the practicalities rest on completion dates, mortgage offers etc but surely something can be done and done very quickly to uniform the documentation and make the process a lot simpler and easy to follow.

I just wonder whether solicitors have  a vested interest in creating the illusion that there is far more involved in the conveyancing transaction then there really is so as to justify their fees.

Having said that bearing in mind how low fees are now I doubt that this observation could be regarded as valid. If anything the fact that the fee scales have come down makes it even more important for the process to be simplified and made quicker.

I do not profess to have the answers but I am more than happy to be involved in finding a solution. The Labour government have the courage to introduce home information packs and although the legislation was flawed it did at least present an attempt to make the process quicker and indeed succeeded to a certain extent in speeding up the transaction.

I still find it incredible that the last set of real reform  made to the conveyancing process  happened  back in 1925.

The new Law Society Quality Conveyancing Scheme is designed as I understand to improve standards within the profession and although I still have reservations as to whether it will achieve its desired objective, it does anger me to think that so much time has been put in to putting the scheme when the resources might have been better diverted into reviewing and putting together proposals for the long overdue reform to our residential conveyancing process.
Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Two thirds of conservatories built require planning permission - conveyancers beware!

One of the most contentious areas of conveyancing concerns planning permission and building regulations or rather the lack of them, in relation to the erection of a conservatory.    

A large number of properties when sold include a conservatory and one that was probably built within the past 10 years.  Not many people when erecting a conservatory consider planning and building regulations, mainly because they rely on the suppliers to advise. Consequently there exist a large number of conservatories that have been built in contravention of planning and or building regulations.

So what should you consider when building a conservatory.   The first step to take is to contact the local planning department and provide them with the dimensions and other design aspects and seek guidance.  Try also the following website:

Don’t rely on your supplier as some are only concerned with taking your money!

In the hope it will help here are some pointers:

Building Regulations

Normally, to be exempt from the regulations the conservatory will need to meet the following criteria:

Built at ground level

Be less than 30 square metres in floor area

At least 50% of area that will form the external boundary / edge of the conservatory must be glazed and 75% of the roof area to be covered with either glass or polycarbonate

Must be separated from the house by an external quality door, patio door or French doors.

There should be an independent heating system with separate temperature and on/off controls

Glazing and the electrical installation must comply with IEE and building regulations

Even if the conservatory is exempt any structural opening created to link the house to the conservatory will require building regulation approval.

Planning Permission

Around two thirds of all conservatories require planning permission.

Under present legislation (and it may change soon ) normally you will not require planning permission if you meet with the following conditions:

It (and other buildings if any ) covers less than 50% of the garden surrounding the dwelling and permitted development has not been removed

It does no face any road

It is not 20m or less from a road or public footpath.

If built within 2m of the boundary line the highest point at that junction is no higher than 4m

Its depth on a detached property is no more than 4000 mm

Its depth on a semi-detached property is no more than 3000 mm

The maximum height is no more than 4000 mm

If built to the side elevation of a property it is no more than 4000 metres high and no more than 50% that of the original house

At least 50% of area that will form the external boundary / edge of the conservatory must be glazed and 75% of the roof area to be covered with either glass or polycarbonate.

Conservatories on listed building, national parks, Broads Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites will require permission

If in any doubt as mentioned contact your local planning department.

Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Solicitors selling their soul in advance of the Legal Services Act

Local newspapers herald the arrival of a new ‘super brand’ for the legal profession and as a saviour for local legal practices against the challenge of competition when the flood doors open later in the year.

Its is true that the arrival of the Legal Services Act in October will without doubt change the legal landscape when it allows the likes of the AA, SAGA, and others to offer legal services direct to the public.

However I have strong reservations that national schemes that prey on the fear of unprepared and ill informed legal practices should be viewed as they purport as the only lifeline available. I also question whether these schemes have the depth of resources to compete at the same heights as well established and widely recognised brands such as the Co-Op.

It is inevitable that there will be increased competition after October but we should not as a profession panic and jump on the first bandwagon that emerges. Death will not arise as soon as the LSC act becomes law. It will take a short while before the large corporate concerns begin to have some impact on the market.  There is still therefore time to make informed decisions and to look at alternatives.

The lure of a being part of a new so called national brand may be strong, but we must pause and ask ourselves whether these providers have the same sized pockets as those companies which they will be competing with in the future. Can they sustain lengthy and costly marketing campaigns?  Do they already have a large national database of customers and others arms of business or linked business for cross sale opportunities?  How long will these schemes be around for? Can they seriously describe themselves as a new ‘super brand’?

More importantly why would you wish to co-brand your legal firm with a new un-tested brand name when you have worked so hard to create within your local area goodwill based on your trading name?   It just does not make sense. What happens if one of the other firms within the scheme and which shares your new ‘super brand” trading style messes up and lands themselves on the front page of the Daily Mail?

The fear firms who do jump too early must be that if the new ‘super brand’ flops or runs out of money, or suffers from adverse publicity,  how will those firms fare in the market in trying to revert back to where they were before they sold their souls to these schemes. 

My belief is that firms should band together and create local networks and to establish their own marketing hubs.  This is not difficult; it just needs like-minded firms to see the benefits of promoting the network to local people and to invest money in trying to keep legal work locally. In Norfolk and Suffolk we are looking to establish one of these networks with the help of local accountants, bankers, and other professionals. 

Keeping work local and looking at ways of making legal services and products more accessible to the consumer is essential for future survival and offers a solid and more sensible alternative to the national schemes making the rounds.  I am more than happy to share with others the model we have for our local network – without charge I should add!
Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at

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