As with buying a farm, selling requires equally careful preparation. Indeed, by ensuring that all your records are up date and you have all the key documents to hand, you can save a great deal of time once the sale process starts.
The starting point is to know where your title deeds are held particularly if the farm is unregistered (in other words the Land Registry does not have a record of ownership). They may be lodged with your bank, your solicitor or in a safe at home. Your title deeds are proof of ownership and your solicitor needs a certified copy of the title deeds before the sale can proceed. If your land is unregistered, the sale is known as a ‘trigger event’ which means that, as part of the sale process, the land will be registered at the Land Registry to the new owner.
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All prospective purchasers should commission searches except in exceptional circumstances (such as if they are buying a farm of which they are already tenants). As a seller, you can help to speed up the process by ensuring that all your records pertaining to livestock movements, BPS entitlements and agri-environmental-related subsidies, any other grants claimed, agricultural tenancies, rights of way, and planning permissions are up to date. Although the principle of ‘buyer beware’ prevails, the buyer’s pre-contract enquiries do compel the seller to respond with a statement of fact (rather than belief) and we always advise sellers to answer these enquiries as fully as possibly in order to avoid future accusations of misrepresentation.
There is one thing that sellers must get right if they are only selling part of the farm and that is access. You need to consider how that section of the farm you have not sold will function, and how the purchaser is going to operate independently, once the sale has gone through. You need to be fully aware of all the access points onto – and across - the farm and whether or not you will need to retain any of them if you sell part of it. Likewise, you need to know where any services, such cables and pipes, connect to your farm and if you need access to them after the sale.
Finally, it is worth giving some thought to the future: it is easy to sell off a parcel of land only to discover at a later date that a right of way you carefully reserved to enable you to reach your land or buildings, used at the time for agricultural purposes, can no longer be used if you convert, say, one of the buildings into a farm shop.
In the absence of a crystal ball, we always advise clients to conduct a ‘what if’ exercise. This helps to construct a variety of scenarios around which some fairly straightforward contingency planning can be carried out. Not everything can be foreseen but at least if you have given the future some thought, a good deal of time, trouble and money can be saved further down the line.