Posted On / 11.08.2021

Time for a change

Buying or selling agricultural land is probably one of the biggest financial decisions you may make during your lifetime. Whether you are buying land to increase your land holding, or selling your farm to retire, it is a big decision to make. Once you have made the decision to buy or sell, you should instruct a specialist agricultural lawyer to advise on the conveyancing aspect of your purchase \ sale, leaving you to deal with the day to day running of your farming business.

Throughout the conveyancing process, Battens’ specialist agricultural lawyers will liaise with you, the other parties’ solicitor and where necessary, your accountant, selling agent and lender to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

The first step in the process is to understand how the land is owned to ensure that the right parties are entitled to sell. If the property is registered at the Land Registry, ownership will be set out in official copy entries of the title register and the title plan. The title plan will show the extent of the property edged red. Not all properties are registered at the Land Registry and titles to these properties are evidenced by way of title deeds. These would be examined to ensure that good and marketable title will pass with the Property.

Identifying potential issues
As well as the title to the property, we would carry out full due diligence in respect of the property itself with the objective of identifying any potential issues.

A seller of agricultural property would be required to complete a comprehensive set of property enquiries to determine matters such as if the property abuts the public highway, rights of way over the property, planning notices / permissions, environmental issues and whether the property is connected to mains water and foul drainage to name but a few. Enquiries should also be made to ensure that livestock on the property are TB free and are able to be moved at completion.  Any potential concerns would be identified and form part of additional enquiries, which we would raise of the seller. 

We would advise any buyer to visit the property on more than one occasion, not only to walk the boundary to ensure that the tile plan accurately reflects the property itself, but also to look for signs of rights of way, third party occupation, rubbish, tyres, etc. laying around, which have not been referred to in the replies to enquiries and would not otherwise be picked up.

As part of the due diligence process buyers are advised to commission searches, such as local, environmental and water and drainage. The result of the searches will identify any areas of concern, such as rights of way, pollutions risks, planning enforcement notices, etc.

Contractual obligations
Whether buying or selling, there will be a contract for sale setting out the terms agreed between the parties, known as special conditions. The special conditions cover specific matters, such as the treatment of BPS entitlements / agri-environmental grant schemes/ ELMs, which the property may be subject to. Embedded into the contract are standard clauses, which set out how much deposit is to be paid, insurance, timing of exchange and
completion, etc.

It is essential that the contract clearly states whether or not the property is sold with vacant possession, which means that the buyer must be able to occupy the property following completion. It is worth noting that anything left on the farm, including fodder, livestock, old machinery and rubbish, will cause a breach of the seller’s obligation to give vacant possession.

Furthermore, it is important to consider how much time you will require between exchange and completion, especially if you are moving from one farm to another.  It is hard enough just to move the contents of your house in one day, let alone the complexity of moving farm equipment, machinery and livestock.  Depending on the seller’s situation, they may be willing to allow you early occupation so that you may move equipment, machinery, etc. prior to completion.

When all searches have been returned, enquiries satisfied and the contract for sale agreed, it is at that time that contracts are signed and formally exchanged between the parties.  The deposit is paid, meaning you will have acquired a beneficial interest in the property whilst the seller remains as the legal owner of the property until the purchase completes.

Between exchange of contracts and completion, the transfer deed would be drafted and agreed between the parties. The transfer deed is the formal document, which transfers the legal title of the property to you at completion. We would also prepare the Stamp Duty Land Tax return and lodge the same following completion of the purchase of land.

Throughout the process we would liaise with your lender. If purchasing by way of mortgage, in carrying out our due diligence enquiries we would raise any concerns / issues which may have come to light and consider how best to deal with them to satisfy both the lender and you. When the lender is fully satisfied and exchange of contracts has been effected, it is at that stage that we would submit our report on title and request drawdown of funds to enable completion to be effected.

Ready to complete
Once the completion monies have been received the transfer deed may be dated and formal completion takes place. Following completion, we would then deal on your behalf with post completion formalities, such as discharging all borrowing over the property with your lender or discharging any monies owing to HM Revenue & Customs in respect of Stamp Duty Land Tax and lodging an application at the Land Registry to register the legal ownership of the property.

If you would like further information on buying and selling farmland please contact Tracy Neal FCILEx on 01935 846076, or email tracy.neal@battens.co.uk 

View our Agriculture and Rural Property services for businesses here and Agriculture and Rural Property services for individuals here.

More Agriculture and Rural Property articles can be found here.