Nicky, what is your role at Shulmans?
I am head of the plot sales team, which deals with the legal aspects of plot sales for our clients. They are mainly housebuilders and registered providers (such as housing associations). Sites can range from a few plots to several hundred.
We have one of the largest dedicated plot sales teams in the country. We handle around 3,000 transactions a year.
What services does the Plot Sales team offer?
We advise a wide range of house builders and developers, ranging from those in the top 20 in the country to smaller builders. Our team deals with the full range of associated work including part-exchange; setting up estate management schemes; and helping clients to navigate the complexities of the Help-to-Buy scheme.
How complex is the plot sales process?
It is now a lot more complex than it used to be! There was a time when a typical site consisted of, say, 60 houses, all built round a standard road pattern, with a self-contained red edge around each plot. Nowadays layouts are much more complicated – especially where developments are more tightly plotted. Apartment schemes have their own complications of leases and management arrangements. It is quite typical now also to have separate garage blocks (belonging to different apartments) with another apartment over the top.
How do you deal with such complications?
The key is in the set-up stage. We liaise closely with the residential development team, who buy the sites – it’s handy, as they sit next to us. We can look at schemes as they are being drawn up and identify what documents to use, what rights need to be granted or reserved, which covenants are to be imposed and so on. We like to get the documentation drafted before we sell the first plot.
How does the plot sales process work?
We have developed our own case management software, which addresses all the issues that we have experienced in over 30 years of dealing with plot sales. Once we have carefully prepared the documentation, the case management system helps us to produce everything that the buyer should need. We provide it electronically wherever possible.
This leaves our team free to do those things that matter most once a plot has been sold. That is to manage the process, liaising with our client's sales team and the buyer’s solicitor, chasing up contracts and completions.
Ideally our clients would never get to know that we have sophisticated software program running in the background. We find that clients normally want to talk to us and meet us, rather than simply looking up a status report online. We do provide status reports and case tracking where that is required, though.
How is your work affected by Government schemes like Help to Buy?
That does have quite a big impact upon the legal documentation required. There is quite a lot of extra work to be done. Fortunately we now have a lot of experience of what is required, but no one should underestimate the extra work involved.
Do you deal with part-exchange properties too?
Yes. Depending upon the market, that can be quite a big part of our daily work. The buying-in of part-exchange properties is a quite different discipline, but we have integrated it into our plot sales processes, because of the link between the two.