Property & Mortgages

UK property market faces flurry of litigations if buyers avoid completion of transactions

UK property

The UK property market may legal disputes if purchasers of off-plan residential properties fail to complete on transactions, warns private wealth law firm

The UK property market may face a wave of legal disputes if purchasers of off-plan residential properties fail to complete on transactions as those properties are completed, warns private wealth law firm Boodle Hatfield.

Disputes may also flare up as prospective tenants of retail and other commercial properties, currently being developed, attempt to back out of contracts that commit them to lease space in those developments as they complete.

The impact of the “lockdown” on residential property values may push the market values of some new build developments substantially below the value at which purchasers paid. If investors decide they will not complete, they may lose the deposits they have paid.

However, if the property values fall further than the cushion provided by the deposits the developers of those properties might still pursue the purchasers who, under most contracts, would still be liable for further losses.

This problem was relatively widespread following the collapse of UK residential property values after the credit crunch in 2008-2009. In some new build developments scores of investors had to be pursued to ensure they completed transactions they were legally committed to.

Colin Young, property disputes partner at Boodle Hatfield, explained: The contracts of most residential new-build developments are fairly clear cut and deposits would be at risk. Many purchasers also forget that this might not be the end of it. You may be liable for any additional loss the developer makes from selling that property, on the market, for less than you originally agreed.

Hopefully property prices don’t fall too far but there are certainly developers who are now exploring their options over deals where the buyers seem to have gone cold, Young said.

Once the lockdown is over we expect that buyers who should have already completed will start being asked to agree to a new timetable. What we are also hoping is that these problems can reach a negotiated settlement, Young said.

Kellie Jones, senior associate at Boodle Hatfield, added: Where things will get very difficult is in those developments where a high net worth individual has committed to buy many of the units. If that HNW is based overseas there is the extra expense of enforcing the judgment of a UK court in another jurisdiction.

However, if a development has not been finished on time then a purchaser may take steps to serve a notice to complete so that it can rescind and reclaim the deposit if the seller is unable to comply, Jones said.

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