Real property and personal property
As a general point of information, there are two types of property recognised by law: real property and personal property. The laws related to both of these aspects are mostly derived from the concept of British common law, which governed the land. Real property was used to refer to the land that someone owned, and any buildings or developments upon the said land. The term “real estate” is an American one, and refers to the legalities of transfer of land, or renting it.
Therefore, real estate refers to the specifics of any renting agreements, buying and selling of land, and ultimately, the intrinsic nature of who owns what. This can be harder than it sounds, because there are often disputes about issues such as crops being grown on land, and whether they belong to the owner of the land or the person that planted them; or minerals, oil and gas under the earth, which are often not permanently fixed but can shift around. The flow of water across different lands, and whether anyone has the right to stop the flow by damming a stream, for example.
Growing up in the real estate…
Real estate professionals become involved, most often, in the transactional side of deals, where property is bought and sold.
They handle the transaction, making sure that any issues between buyer and seller are ironed out, and deal with the contracts needed to make sure that the deal goes through. This means that real estate professionals need to be proficient in the niches of contract law.
It’s not all that straightforward, though…
The real estate process becomes slightly more complicated sometimes, however. Renting or leasing land might seem simple enough, but such agreements cover a range of practices and potential issues, which include concerns such as security deposits, eviction policy and usage.
Usage provides a number of areas where matters can become slightly blurred. As mentioned before, the matters relating to things grown on rented land, or any potential “treasure” found which is located by the person renting, but officially owned by the leaseholder, can become serious issues which require precise legal judgement to work out the correct answers and who is entitled to what.
So, if land, property, contracts and disputes are up your street, real estate could be the area for you.
A Day in the Life of Sarah Evans—senior associate, Shoosmiths
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
The first thing I do when I arrive at the office is to check my calendar and review any emails received overnight. I also prepare a to-do list for the day; I might not be able to achieve everything on the list, but I will certainly attempt to.
How do you handle and prioritise your workload?
If acting for a client buying a property, I have to review the title, commission searches, raise enquiries, review the contract and report any issues to the client. I also have to deal with the funding requirements which depending on the size of the deal, may involve national banks and private equity funders.
Clients will usually have a completion date that they are working towards. Depending on the circumstances of the transaction, that piece of work will have priority. I report to clients at each stage of the transaction, thereby the client is continually updated.
As all documents are sent and received by email, you have to have the ability to work quickly and efficiently to turn documents around. If a matter involves expertise from different departments, it is important to keep them aware of any deadlines. With experience and knowledge, you know how long a piece of work is likely to take.
What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in real estate law? How does this differ from a trainee?
A trainee in real estate doesn’t usually have their own caseload and does not have the responsibility for managing the client relationship.
As a senior associate you have your own clients and assist the partners with their larger clients. You have a greater level of client engagement than a trainee and have accrued a level of experience and knowledge which you are expected to share with others. You have built up your own client base and have targets for fee earning and recording chargeable hours. There is a responsibility to manage and support the growth of others. An associate may have a trainee reporting to them, or a newly qualified solicitor. You act as the conduit between the junior members of staff in the team and the partners.
The ability to work under pressure is crucial. Shoosmiths has a collaborative approach and therefore you may be working with individuals from another office on a deal. You have to have the flexibility to work beyond your contracted hours, attend events on behalf of the firm, forge your own contacts and establish your own clients. You have a greater awareness of the business aspects and the financial performance of the firm.
Can you give us an idea of the type of projects you manage day to day?
My caseload varies from acting on a re-mortgage for a landowner, purchasing a development site for a residential house builder and reviewing a promotion agreement for a site. At the moment I am negotiating a conditional contract for a national hotel operator, which involves the planning and environmental teams reviewing the conditions in the contract and the searches received.
I also assist the corporate team; I undertake the due diligence for any property asset, which will include reviewing the title, if leasehold, and depending on the structure of the transaction, could involve the assignment of a lease. I will also undertake a review of the property warranties contained in the business sale agreement and the disclosure letter and advise corporate of any issues which need to be addressed to enable the transaction to proceed.
What aspects of real estate law does the firm deal with most frequently?
We have a large conveyancing and plot sales team based in Northampton. The firm acts for clients in all areas of real estate, from small start-up businesses acquiring a lease for the first time to large national blue chip residential developers acquiring land and multinational companies which are based in the UK, advising on their property portfolios which may include refinancing, re-gearing leases and acquisition work. We have specialist development teams acting for clients buying and selling land, dealing with promotion, options and overage agreements and real estate teams which deal with leasehold and freehold acquisition and disposals.
What kind of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
I have a broad range of clients that I act for; these can include landowners who are selling their property to a developer for residential development through an option agreement or acting for a residential developer who is looking to secure land for residential development.
What do you do to relax outside of work?
Going for a run helps me unwind after work, although if I don’t beat my previous time, that does not necessarily help me relax! I also practise yoga and I like gardening.