With the ongoing drive to rationalise the NHS property estate, ensuring that surplus land and buildings are ready for sale or letting is crucial to the successful completion of a transaction. This guide sets out top tips for streamlining property disposals, thereby minimising delays and the scope for renegotiation of the agreed terms, as well as avoiding potentially abortive transactions and wasted costs.

1. Title review

Instruct your solicitor to review the title and prepare a title pack before marketing the property for sale or rent. This will ensure that all necessary title documents are readily available when heads of terms are agreed. An early review will allow your solicitor to identify any title defects or missing title deeds and assist in formulating a strategy for dealing with such issues from the outset.

Title registers often contain historic entries which are no longer relevant; for example, entries relating to expired or forfeited leases. Applications to the Land Registry to remove such entries and update the title should be made as early as possible; this may require the submission of supporting evidence or statutory declarations, which will take time to collate and prepare.

This tactic will avoid having to deal with enquiries by the buyer or tenant, unnecessary delays in the transaction and potential price chipping.

2. Unregistered land

Send all deeds and documents of title to your solicitor in advance of any disposal, to allow sufficient time for review and preparation of an epitome of title. As with registered land, such a review allows any title issues to be identified and managed at the outset.

In both cases of registered and unregistered land, you should consider instructing your solicitor to prepare an overview title report, summarising any matters which require further investigation and recommending steps to take to prepare the title for disposal. This will allow you to formulate your negotiating strategy with any potential buyer or tenant from a position of knowledge.

3. Plans

Review the title plan and check that it matches the boundaries on the ground. If disposing of part of a property, instruct a surveyor to prepare a Land Registrycompliant plan. If dealing with unregistered land, plans to old title deeds can often be difficult to interpret. To avoid any delay in the buyer or tenant dealing with the unregistered plans and any surprises in the plans not matching the position on the ground, instruct a surveyor to produce an overlay plan. Any gaps in ownership can be identified and a solution formulated.

4. Occupiers

Is the disposal with vacant possession or subject to leases and licences? Your solicitor can advise on the legal steps required to enable vacant possession to be given.

If the disposal is to be subject to leases and licences, collate all documentation including management information. Prepare a schedule listing all leases and licences and extract key information for the schedule such as rent payable, rent review dates, term commencement and end dates, any break dates and service charge caps as well as details of any disputes with tenants. Such a schedule will provide a useful tool for managing enquiries.

5. Commercial property standard enquiries (CPSE)

Replies to CPSE should be prepared in advance of a disposal. CPSE should be answered fully and correctly, otherwise buyers will push back and raise further enquiries. Preparing replies to CPSE in advance will also identify any issues which can be dealt with before they cause delay.

6. Planning history/building regulations

It is essential that you disclose all relevant planning permissions and provide evidence of satisfaction of planning conditions and any section 106 obligations. Ensure that all relevant documentation and building regulations completion certificates are obtained from the local authority, ready to make available to the buyer or tenant at the outset.

7. Third party consents

Are there any restrictions on the title requiring the consent of a third party before the disposal can complete? An early approach will avoid delays in progressing the transaction to exchange and completion.

8. Crichel Down rules

Surplus NHS land and buildings originally acquired through (or under threat of) compulsory purchase may need to be offered back to its former owners. This needs to be identified at an early stage. Your solicitor can advise on whether the rules apply and, if so, what steps need to be taken.

Good planning in advance of a disposal can minimise delays and mitigate hurdles to getting deals done. If you would be interested in attending a workshop session on preparing for disposal, please contact us to register your interest. The workshop will provide an overview of the documentation, information and processes required to ensure an efficient transaction.