Advise on the purchase of UK freehold property ...
December 12, 2010 4:23 AM   Subscribe

Tips and pointers needed for purchasing UK freehold land.

I've been looking to acquire additional land in the UK and was curious if anyone reading this had personal experience purchasing non residential freehold property?

I already own a leasehold flat in London am continuously evaluating other opportunities in this sector, so I'm fairly comfortable with the process, jargon and market dynamics but I'd like to get more information regarding freehold non residential property.

Specifically, what is considered the busy season? For example, we know (typically, these are strange times) that autumn is one of the busier seasons for those London residential purchases - is there an equivalent period when purchasing land? Ideally I'd like to time my purchase during the slower season to gain maximum leverage over sellers.

Also process - a good Solicitor is key, but is it common to get property tested for contamination, etc? I got my garden tested when I purchased by flat in London, simply because I wanted to grow veggies, but is this commonly done for multi acre countryside acquisitions? What are my liabilities regarding issues such as travellers and other, unauthorised access to the land?

Regarding the Solicitor, I haven't done significant market research but I'm getting quotes of between £500 to £700 for purchase process, with timing of roughly one month advanced; high / low / ballpark?

Also many of the properties I've been looking at seem to come with restrictive covenants; while one prohibiting commercial use such as a campground or racing track I'm fine with (this purchase is nothing more than an inflation hedge) but others have me troubled (e.g., right of access by the seller in perpetuity, right of first refusal in terms of selling) and I was wondering if these were enforceable or if folks have had them successfully rescinded post sale?

Covenants have me particularly concerned as I'm specifically interested in freehold not leasehold property (as I already own a leasehold) and these "strings" (for want of a better phrase) hardly seem appropriate.

Finally, resources. I'm currently using

UK Land & Farms
Woods for sale
UK Land Directory

as well as few agent sites I found off those resources; any other leads?

Many thanks for your help !
posted by Mutant to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not a UK lawyer. But there is no true freehold property. All property is ultimately owned by the Crown and held in fee simple, aka fee simple absolute. It is the same way in the US. Allodial title is absolutely free and clear and basically does not exist in any of the English-speaking world.

As for covenants, in the US it would be hard. You are buying with notice, it is assumed, in a sense, that you are agreeing to the covenants beforehand when you purchase. It would be fraud to then wipe them out. Obviously suits of this kind do occur, but they are usually not easy to win.

The key is to speak with a solicitor in your jurisdiction at some length. I suspect that a consultation of one hour will give you an idea of these questions. As befits you, you are already asking the right questions, questions so specific that only your solicitor can answer them. Go ahead and spend the money so you have some idea of what you are looking for and what is possible.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:34 AM on December 12, 2010

Best answer: UKLandDirectory has some interesting articles plus I already assume you have checked out the Land Registry. Also check out Pitfalls of Buying Raw Land.
When's the barbeque?
posted by adamvasco at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2010

Best answer: As Ironmouth says, covenants are hard to extinguish. They're effectively a sort of property in themselves, and (at least in Australia, which I know more about) they are generally only extinguished by specific legislation, by agreement among the parties affected, or by a court being persuaded that the covenant is obsolete. I do not recommend that you ever buy a property expecting to have a covenant removed.

Incidentally, the last two you mention ("right of access by the seller in perpetuity, right of first refusal in terms of selling") aren't covenants as the term is generally understood. Access to land is usually called an easement; the right of first refusal would just be called a right of first refusal. Easements are also a sort of property in themselves and you can't just get a court to extinguish them. Keep in mind that "access by the seller in perpetuity" may or may not be a problem, depending on whether you need to keep a path open for them. In the worst case it may prevent you from building on the land affected.

On the other hand, I can't see a problem in buying a piece of land on condition that the vendor has the right of first refusal when you sell it. I suspect that the condition would be difficult or impossible to enforce, and in any case you'd get the same amount from the ultimate purchaser.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:06 PM on December 12, 2010

Response by poster: Ok, many thanks for the links & tips guys.

Regarding the restrictive covenants it wasn't my intention to challenge them - that actually was a suggestion by one of the agents in case I "didn't like them" - but I was pretty surprised that these were in place at all (says he who owns a leasehold in Central London; said property reverts to the freeholder in 97 years). And apparently if I sell the land down the road I'm constrained that I have to pass along these covenants to any purchaser (i.e., it has to exist in some form in my sale contract).

I'm interested in purchasing land at a good price, so legal challenges would be tantamount to friction (i.e., cost) and, after all, I did purchase with full knowledge / disclosure.

I received a mail regarding my property demand query from someone who didn't want to post inthread, who claimed land sales / purchases are relatively uniform and I'm unlikely to realise seasonal fluctuations. That's consistent with what I've observed over the past year or so.

We're off to look at plots over the holidays and will shortly lawyer up to engage. Meetup and BBQ in the woods won't be any further off than spring !
posted by Mutant at 11:17 PM on December 13, 2010

Some further reading for you from The Property Law website: - Restrictive covenants. It seems most pages need to be purchased but there is a synopsis which could lead you in the right direction if so required.
posted by adamvasco at 1:38 AM on December 14, 2010

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