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What will the Tories do for First-Time Buyers?

Like it or not, we now have a majority Conservative government – not a Coalition anymore – so what does that mean for first-time buyers?

If anything, the end of a coalition government should provide more confidence that the majority Tory government will be able to put into practice more of their pre-election promises.

That means the Tory Manifesto is a good reference point for the kinds of things we might be able to expect during the coming five years.

And as it has an entire section entitled ‘Helping you to buy a home of your own’, there’s plenty for first-time buyers to pay attention to.

In summary, there are five pledges made:

  • Low mortgage rates through long-term economic planning.
  • More affordable housing, including 200,000 Starter Homes for FTBs under the age of 40.
  • Help to Buy Equity Loans extended to 2020 and Help to Buy ISAs introduced.
  • Right to Buy extended to allow housing association tenants to buy their home.
  • More local control over planning approvals, with protection for greenbelt land.

“We understand how good it feels when you have worked long hours, saved money for years, and finally take possession of the keys to your first home,” the manifesto states.

“For years, however, people have been finding it harder and harder to get on the housing ladder.”

The manifesto goes on to pledge support not just for FTBs, but for those already on the ladder too, with long-term planning to make sure mortgage rates remain low for homeowners as well as for those buying for the first time.

By Marsh Brown & Co Solicitors

How engagement can empower business shareholders

Many companies are working hard on achieving better levels of shareholder engagement in the wake of the recession – and that gives shareholders even more opportunity to exercise their legal entitlements.

This trend for greater stakeholder engagement is already emerging in the stronger economic cycle since the recession, as firms with forward-thinking corporate governance, look for ways to ensure they are operating in a way that reflects the desires of their investors.

But crucially, this trend is not just a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – shareholders are not simply invited to express their displeasure at an AGM, as may have been the case in the past.

Instead, there is genuine ongoing engagement, allowing institutional investors and those with long-term holdings to have a real say in the medium-term direction of the company into which they have placed their funds.

As a shareholder, you have certain rights anyway, and you should have a shareholder agreement to set out exactly what you are entitled to – and how the views of other shareholders affect your ability to exercise your own wishes.

This is likely to depend to an extent on the size of your stake – the more you own, the more power you’re likely to have, potentially even to the point of being able to remove directors or to change the articles of association of the company.

Different classes of shares give you different powers – for instance, management shares will typically come with extra voting powers, and are often used to make sure certain stakeholders can still sway important business decisions.

But whatever class of shares you hold, and whatever the size of your stake, you should receive certain rights when you buy into a company, whether you exercise these rights through ongoing engagement at the director level, or simply by turning up to vote at the AGM.

If you feel like you are not getting everything you are entitled to, or you are interested in drawing up a shareholder agreement to protect your rights and those of your fellow investors, contact us for more information about our shareholder rights services.

By R A Wilkinson & Co Solicitors

Why is a Will so important?

You might think a Will is no big deal – if you pass away, everything goes to your partner or kids, right?

However, there are several factors that can complicate matters, including if you and your partner are not married, if you are a divorcee, if you have stepchildren, if you own assets overseas (such as a holiday home) and so on.

A Will sets out your intentions for your estate – so you’re not left to the specifics of intestacy rules.

It needs to be watertight so there’s no legal reason why your wishes can’t be carried out, but simply by existing, a good Will means you will not be deemed as having died intestate.

You should consider writing a Will if:

  • You co-own property or a business with someone who is not your civil partner, husband or wife.
  • You have a permanent home outside the UK, but are a British citizen.
  • You want to make specific provision for your dependants.
  • You want to leave a charitable legacy (for tax purposes or simply to support a good cause).
  • You have specific high-value possessions you want to leave to a certain individual.

Any other complexities in your estate probably make a Will a good idea – generally speaking, it’s best not to die intestate if you can help it.

It must be legal, and it’s easy to make a mistake, such as having it witnessed by the wrong person (or nobody at all) and inadvertently locking an intended beneficiary out of inheriting anything as a result.

Crucially, your Will must be found  - if nobody knows it exists, you’re likely to be declared intestate.

Leave it in an agreed place, or have your solicitor store it safely for you, and make sure any old Wills are destroyed so there’s no confusion over which is the correct representation of your wishes.

You should update your Will if there’s a major change in your estate, such as selling your home or other property – and it’s often easier (and no more expensive) to write an entirely new one if this occurs, rather than trying to have your existing one changed without invalidating any of it.

By Pricketts Solicitors

Landlord and Tenant

Landlords must Protect Deposits by Today

Clarification of a tenancy law loophole that has stood for two years means that many landlords must now protect their tenants’ deposits before the deadline to do so elapses today.

The Housing Act 2004 came into effect in 2007, and required deposit protection schemes to be used to safeguard tenants’ deposits in the event of a dispute when they moved out.

At the time, there was confusion over whether long-term tenants who had moved into their property before 2007 were subject to the same level of protection.

In 2013, the case Superstrike v Rodrigues ruled that tenancies that began before April 6th 2007, and which then became statutory periodic tenancies, should be treated as new tenancies and the deposit protected accordingly.

Cue two years of vexatious claims from tenants with unprotected deposits, and considerable doubt among landlords and agents as to where they stand.

Finally, the Deregulation Act 2015, which was introduced in March of this year, has clarified that deposits received before April 6th 2007, which have since become statutory periodic tenancies or have been renewed since that date, must be protected under a government-approved scheme.

ARLA, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, welcomed the clarification and the elimination of the legal loophole.

Managing director David Cox said: “Landlords have until June 23rd 2015 to comply with this new provision and we urge all our members to check with their clients whether their existing tenancy agreements will be affected and to act accordingly.

“If landlords fail to comply they could be liable for sanctions, which include a potential claim by the tenant for compensation of up to three times the amount of the deposit paid, or find themselves unable to bring a tenancy to an end through a Section 21 notice.”

By H Pipes & Co Solicitors

What is the purpose of a Rent Review Clause?

A Rent Review Clause serves the purpose of allowing a periodical adjustment of rent to the current market level at the date of review. The clause within the lease will specify the agreed intervals at which these reviews are to take place, typically every three to five years depending on the term of the lease. A well drafted rent review clause should set out when each review will take place, the method of review, assumptions and disregards to be made when valuing the premises for the purpose of rent review, the procedure to be followed and provisions for dealing with disputes if they arise.

The lease will specify the basis for the new rent. In some cases, the new level of rent may be set e.g.  £10,000 per year or it could be based on an index such as the retail price index. More commonly, however, the new rent will be based on the open market rental value i.e. the rent charged for similar properties on similar leases. The lease may also include terms such as an ‘upwards only’ rent review, allowing the rent to increase only.

Rent Reviews are an important factor to consider when negotiating the terms of a lease and should be considered carefully. For further information please do not hesitate to contact our Commercial Property Department on 0166 266 5394.

By Nisha Gorania

Trust

Moving House – You and whose Army?

Although it’s perfectly possible to move house single-handedly, many of us call in friends and family to help us at the very least, particularly if we know somebody with an unusually large car boot.

But there are plenty more people you might want to get involved to help your move go as smoothly as possible, and we’re not just talking about professional removal men.

Cleaners can help make your new home feel shiny and new if it was previously occupied, or get rid of any remaining brick and plaster dust if it’s a new-build or newly refurbished.

They can also whip your old home into shape if you want it looking at its best to place it on the market, or if you’re just embarrassed about the state you’re leaving it in for its new owners.

Gardeners can do the same for your outdoor space, getting wild shrubbery back under control, taming an unkempt lawn, and maximising the kerb appeal of your property if it’s just going up for sale.

Call in a handyman if you need help finishing off any outstanding DIY tasks – when selling a house, even just putting up that missing shelf can help to reduce the number of reasons for viewers to say no.

When you’re moving into a new place meanwhile, a good local handyman is worth getting on the good side of, so get recommendations from the neighbours and find an excuse to have him come round and hang a mirror, install a new TV aerial, or anything else that gives you a chance to introduce yourself.

Finally, if you’re downsizing, consider calling in a property clearance firm to dispose of whatever you leave behind.

This can be much less heart-rending than having to take much-loved possessions to the tip, and you might even make a profit from the sale of your items, while knowing they’re in with a chance of going on to a good home for the future too.

Moving house is stressful, whether you’re buying, selling or both, and you can’t always be 100% certain that there won’t be any little jobs that need doing in your new place.

Get a good support network in place, and you can know that when you do spot that slight imperfection in your new home, or just can’t handle the emotion of having to clean out your old place, you’ve got a professional you can fall back on.

By Pricketts Solicitors

 

Landlord and Tenant

Dealing with Deposit Disputes

This month began with Safeagent Awareness Week, a campaign to make more landlords and tenants aware of whether their letting agent is a member of a Client Money Protection insurance scheme.

Like the deposit protection schemes for direct landlord-tenant relationships, a CMP protects funds given to lettings agents for a range of reasons, including deposits, service charges and rents.

Client moneys are kept separate from the business’s day to day trading accounts, allowing claims to be made if, for example, the lettings agent goes bust.

As of May 27th, all lettings agents in England must advertise the fact of whether or not they are a member of a CMP scheme, giving greater confidence to their customers – whether landlords or tenants.

It’s all part of the ongoing efforts to make things run more smoothly in the rented property sector when a problem arises, and tenancy deposit protection scheme mydeposits has issued a new guide to resolving deposit disputes too.

The guidance recommends the use of photographic evidence to help support any claim, particularly on the part of landlords and agents wanting to prove the existence of damage.

Photographs should not be the sole evidence – there should also be a clear written description of the damage – and landlords should be sure to photograph the property at the beginning of the tenancy too, to show that the damage was not already there.

And it is essential to make sure these photographs are properly dated, ideally by getting the tenant to sign them, or to sign a single document into which the photographs are embedded – remember, if it is possible that newer photographs have been stuck on to the page after it was signed, this may not be acceptable.

Ultimately many of these photographs may never be needed, but you can’t second-guess which ones will be, so comprehensive photographs or even video footage is essential in the first instance.

If a deposit dispute then arises, you can select just the photographs or section of video needed to support your case, making it easier for an adjudicator to come to a decision without having to wade through all of the irrelevant media as well.

By Marsh Brown & Co Solicitors

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Green trend hits Commercial Property

Climate change, carbon footprints, emissions… we’ve all seen the headlines and many of us probably think it’s mostly about how much electricity or central heating you use. However, in the coming years, much more complex new rules are due to come into force governing commercial property’s environmental footprint.

So are people ready for this? Colliers International want to find out, and are surveying firms to find out just how aware they are of the rules on going green.

Bristol is the European Green Capital at the moment, and David Enyon is Colliers’ senior sustainability advisor there; he spoke to South West Business about the significance of the upcoming legislation.

“Sustainability issues are leading to shifts in the business world, both in the way business is done and in terms of legislation that, for example, could render some properties unlettable from 2018 if they do not meet new minimum energy efficiency standards,” he said.

“However, implementing sustainability initiatives can have significant benefits for companies, financially and in terms of competitive advantage.”

This is one of the advantages of being seen to take action on environmental issues early: it not only has the potential to cut energy bills for the business, but may also boost profitability by allowing you to market yourself as being environmentally responsible too.

With the 2018 deadline much closer than it might seem, particularly if extensive refurbishment is required to make existing commercial buildings eco-efficient, it really is a case of acting sooner, rather than later.

By H Pipes & Co Solicitors

What happens to a Business if I Divorce?

There are certain things you probably expect to fight over when you get divorced – who gets the house, custody of the kids, and so on.

But what about your business interests? If you’ve always thought that ‘business isn’t personal’, you might be surprised to know that your investments might be classed as matrimonial property, even if you acquired them before you got married.

So what are the implications of this? In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it means you will probably have to find a way to divide the benefits of the business between the two divorcing parties.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you each keep 50% of your stocks or shares, though – after all, if you’ve always thought of the business as belonging to just one partner, it might make sense for it to stay that way.

In extremely amicable divorces (which are quite rare, but do happen) you might simply agree to keep the business out of it.

But in most cases where the business stays under sole ownership, the other party will receive an amount of compensation equivalent to effectively ‘buying out’ their share.

There’s another implication of this though – which is that in some court rulings, the only way to achieve this kind of balance is to give everything except the business to one partner, and leave the other with just the business interest.

For that person, it’s hardly ideal to lose everything except your job, and be left potentially with no home, car or disposable finances.

Valuing the business is a further complication, particularly if you are in partnership with other owners or investors who are not involved in the divorce proceedings.

This part of the process can get very complicated, and is often the subject of disputes – but to put it in very simple terms, it’s worth knowing whether you are officially a sole trader, a limited company or a partnership, and who actually owns the shares if there are any.

By R A Wilkinson & Co Solicitors

Houses

5 Top Tips for Selling a House

Sometimes you have no say in selling your home – it can be a financially motivated decision, or you might want to move closer to family and friends, or to be near your new job, and so on.

In such circumstances it’s likely you’ll be feeling stressed or even distressed at having to leave your existing home, and it’s perfectly normal for it to take time to settle into a new property.

So it’s important to make the whole process as easy as possible on yourself, while making sure you get the best possible selling price for your much-loved property.

Here are just a few things to consider, which might help you to sell up more easily.

1. Conveyancing

Everybody will recommend a ‘good’ estate agent and a ‘good’ mortgage broker to you, yet the thing lots of people miss is the conveyancing solicitor.

But in the actual process of selling your home, it is your solicitor – and not your estate agent – who will handle the most important parts of the procedure, keep everything on track, and act as a counsellor on your stressed days.

Make sure you have an experienced conveyancer, ideally with a proven track record or positive reputation, and if you ever need their support, don’t be afraid to get them on the phone or by email with a few reassuring words.

2. Time of year

Nobody wants to be moving house during Christmas, so don’t expect to sell easily in December; by contrast, many people think ‘new year, new start’ so activity rockets in January.

Summer is another drop-off point, whether due to having the kids home from school for the holidays, or just going away somewhere sunny for a week or two – so aim to get your property on to the market in early spring or autumn for the fastest sales.

3. Kerb appeal

Some people will view your property several times before they put in an offer, take photos of it, measure the rooms precisely, and so on. Others will decide in seconds.

To capitalise on this instinctual second group, make your entrance as appealing as possible. Even if your property is ‘pavement-fronted’ (to use the estate agent euphemism for having no front yard) you can clean your windows and front door, scrub the step if there is one, and put some flowers in the window.

If you are lucky enough to have a front yard or garden, keep it tidy, and consider putting some small shrubs out in pots, if you’re in an area where they won’t simply get stolen.

You can always put these out solely for scheduled viewings, then move them somewhere more secure – and you can take them with you to your new home if you don’t want to include them in the selling price.

4. Asking price

The amount you get for your property will be determined by lots of factors, including the state of the decor, the building itself, and also outside factors like the strength of the housing market at the time.

Some of these things are beyond your control, so adjust your asking price accordingly – and expect any offers to come in at a few thousand less than you’re asking.

You can boost the final price you receive simply by refreshing any tired paintwork and finishing half-done DIY, as well as including any bulky furniture or kitchen appliances that you don’t want the hassle of moving to your new place (just be sure it’s not a false economy to bundle these into the sale for a rock-bottom price).

5. Photos

Finally, an often-forgotten aspect of the estate agent’s particulars are the photos, yet a huge number of people will view your property online or in the window, and decide from there whether to take a look in person.

If you’re not happy with the photos your estate agent has taken, change them – make sure they’re from a sensible angle, showing the room at its best, its biggest, and when it is both tidy and well lit.

You might even consider getting a professional (or enthusiastic amateur) photographer to come and take a complete ‘home portrait’ to use on your particulars – again, just be careful that if you pay the going rate for such a service, it’s going to be worth it in terms of getting a quick sale or a better selling price.

By LawShop Online