When selling their farm, most people will contact their land agent first. However, this is also the best time to contact your solicitor as the earlier you involve lawyers – and ideally before the property actually goes onto the market - the quicker and easier the sale is likely to go through.
It is worth bearing in mind that, depending on the local authority, it can take up to 14 weeks to receive the results from local searches so the earlier this process is started, the earlier the sale can be concluded.
Because a farm sale usually involves the sale of a business, land and buildings, it is, by its very nature, complicated - and even more so if tenancies are also involved. An experienced agricultural lawyer will be able to navigate their way through the various elements that need to be considered and, in doing, so will be able to expedite the contract negotiation further down the line.
Pre-sale contract pack: checklist
The key to a successful sale is the preparation of a comprehensive pre-sale contract pack, prepared in advance of the farm going onto the market. The main elements of such a pack will include the following:
The title deeds to the property. If the land is registered, the Land Registry will hold an electronic register confirming ownership and referring to documents containing any rights and liabilities attached to the land. These can be obtained and placed in the pre-sale pack ready for a buyer to review. If the land is unregistered (which may be the case if the land has not been sold for many years), a thorough review of the original title deeds will be required. Reviewing the title deeds should highlight specific issues, such as missing deeds / documents to evidence your ownership of all the farm, rights of way, and boundary questions, which can then be resolved well in advance of sale. Certified copies of the relevant deeds would then need to be taken. If the title deeds cover more than the land being sold or, following a review, prove to be extremely complex, it may be prudent to register the land voluntarily with the Land Registry before going to market. A buyer or their solicitor / lender may insist on this so registering the property early on in the process will help to prevent delays further down the line.
Searches. It is common practice for searches to be obtained by a buyer once a sale is underway. However, given how long some searches can take, it is sensible to have these in place (or at least to have applied for them) before putting the property on the market. A clause can always be inserted into the contract to reclaim the cost of the searches from a buyer. The searches will reveal: public rights of way and easements; planning notices and permissions; restrictive covenants; third party rights (such as sporting rights); chancel repair liabilities; mineral rights; and environmental issues such as drainage and pollution risks.
If these searches are undertaken before the farm is put on the market, we can review the results, enabling us to obtain any additional information or documents revealed by these results which a buyer is likely to need.
Standard agricultural enquiries. These will be extensive and will include BPS and countryside stewardship entitlements / agreements and other government grants; tenancy rights; overage and development potential; crop and livestock statistics; and licences. Again, if this is provided before the farm is put on the market we can review the replies with you in order to resolve any points which may cause issues for a buyer.
Preparing the pre-sale contract pack in advance will put you in pole position once your farm is on the market. When you receive an offer, the whole process to completion should proceed smoothly, as not only will you have had an opportunity to resolve any issues likely to hold up the sale, but also your lawyer would have pre-empted any enquiries the buyer is likely to raise and have already supplied the relevant documents / information to their solicitor.
In addition to the above, you can also find a comprehensive guide to buying a farm on our website, which covers everything you need to know about the process from start to finish. If you are thinking about selling your farm, please get in touch, and we would be delighted to help.