Property/real estate

In a nutshell

Property lawyers, like their corporate colleagues, are essentially transactional lawyers; the only real difference is that real estate deals require an extra layer of specialist legal and procedural knowledge and there aren’t quite so many pesky regulatory authorities. The work centres on buildings and land of all types, and even the most oblique legal concepts have a bricks-and-mortar or human basis to them. It is common for lawyers to develop a specialism within this field, such as residential conveyancing, mortgage lending and property finance, social housing or the leisure and hotels sector. Most firms have a property department, and the larger the department the more likely the lawyers are to specialise. Note that ‘property’ and ‘real estate’ are entirely interchangeable terms.

Property

 

What lawyers do

  • Negotiate sales, purchases and leases of land and buildings and advise on the structure of deals.
  • Record the terms of an agreement in legal documents.
  • Gather and analyse factual information about properties from the owners, surveyors, local authorities and the Land Registry.
  • Prepare reports for buyers and anyone lending money.
  • Manage the transfer of money and the handover of properties to new owners or occupiers.
  • Take the appropriate steps to register new owners and protect the interests of lenders or investors.
  • Advise clients on their responsibilities in leasehold relationships and on how to take action if problems arise.
  • Help developers get all the necessary permissions to build, alter or change the permitted use of properties.
  • Manage property portfolio investments and advise real estate funds.

Realities of the job

  • Property lawyers have to multi-task. A single deal could involve many hundreds of properties, and your caseload could contain scores of files, all at different stages in the process. You’ll have to keep organised.
  • Good drafting skills require attention to detail and careful thought. Plus you need to keep up to date with industry trends and standards.
  • Some clients get antsy; you have to be able to explain legal problems in lay terms.
  • Despite some site visits, this is mainly a desk job with a lot of time spent on the phone to other solicitors, estate agents, civil servants and consultants.
  • Most instances of solicitor negligence occur in this area of practice. There is so much that can go wrong.
  • Property departments are known for offering trainees plenty of independent responsibility: often you'll be dealing with 20 or 30 small property files (sales, leases, licences to assign) at the same time.
  • Your days will be busy, but generally the hours are more sociable and predictable than in other transactional practices.

Current issues

October 2021

  • Despite forecasts by many analysts that house prices would fall due to the challenges of the pandemic, in 2021 house prices are still on the up! According to Gov.UK, the average price of a property in the UK during June 2021 was valued at £265,668 – a 13.2% rise since the previous year (the steepest incline since 2004). Many observers attribute the spike to a collective rush to complete purchases before changes to the stamp duty holiday came into effect at the end of June.
  • Renting remains difficult for many – especially in the nation’s capital – due to soaring prices. In part this has been attributed to investment from abroad, with overseas buyers snapping up apartments and townhouses as investments guaranteed to make a profit. Many of these properties are reportedly kept empty after purchase, making this trend doubly contentious in the current housing climate.
  • The past year has seen the government put actions into place to protect renters during testing times. While some landlords decided to reduce rent to accommodate their tenants, others have faced the challenge of evicting tenants who cannot cough up the cash. While the government put a ban on evictions until September 2020 – from June 2021 court bailiffs have been permitted to carry on with evictions.
  • In June 2021, further government measures have been introduced to protect businesses that have not been able to make ends meet during the pandemic such as nightclubs. The new legislation has supported landlords and tenants in mutually resolving any debts that might’ve occurred during unprecedented closures. The government will handle these matters through a binding arbitration process to protect both parties.
  • According to government data, homelessness is on the up. Between January and March 2021, 68,250 households were marked as homeless or at high risk - a 7% increase since 2020.
  • Social change is creating interest in alternative investment opportunities. The UK's ageing population, for example, makes the retirement living sector a good bet. Student accommodation has also attracted investors due to the numbers of international students coming to the UK.
  • According to real estate agents, Savills, Birmingham is set for significant growth over the next five years - with a predicted 24% increase in property prices by the year 2025. The current average property price sits at £214,606. Property prices in Manchester are similarly forecast to rise by 28%.