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UK House in rural location

Town and country: Mishcon de Reya's rural side

Posted on 29 February 2024

Most of our readers will be familiar with Mishcon de Reya's London Real Estate practice, with the team handling transactions for many of the most prestigious addresses in the capital. But how much do we do outside London? The short answer is a lot – and a lot more than most people realise.  Our experienced rural team, based over our Cambridge and London offices, deals with estates and rural properties across the country.

How rural properties can differ

Buying and selling country houses brings its own set of challenges. Of course, there are the usual potential issues: boundaries are rarely precisely mapped; houses in some areas are more likely to have suffered subsidence; accesses might not be steps from a garden square but long, private driveways over other people's land, perhaps with inadequate legal rights.

There are then the informal arrangements that started as neighbourly deals but that create headaches on a sale. The vendor may have had a handshake deal with a local farmer to graze sheep to keep the grass down. They may have had no issue with the local fair setting up on their field once a year, a friend borrowing their barns for her upholstery business, or a neighbour keeping a pony or beehives in their paddock. All of these can be a problem on a purchase, because terminating them might not be easy as it looks.

On top of that, there are weird and wonderful things that come up when you are dealing with old houses. Whether it's graves of the previous landowner dangerously close to where a new water feature might be dug, or worse, foundations for a new garage. There could be surprise sheep that appear at completion as if from nowhere, or historic rights for a rifle range to be built across newly built gallops, every rural property lawyer and agent will have a story of "that deal". 

The trick, as with any deal, is understanding how to unlock problems to help the client and get the deal done.

What sets us apart?

The short answer is everything. Owners of country houses don't necessarily just need conveyancing advice. If they're well advised, then they should already have their wills and lasting powers of attorney in place. Good advice on the ownership of the houses can save a lot of inheritance tax, as our Tax team know. But acting for these clients doesn't, and shouldn't, stop there.

Buying a more substantial country property can often mean buying an owner-managed business: whether a farm, a weddings business, open gardens, holiday cottages, a hotel or perhaps a vineyard. These clients need advice on buying that business – not just its bricks and mortar, but all its assets, including its brand. They then need to protect that brand, as the house and its name is often part of the fabric of the local community and economy.  

Alongside that, they have an investment portfolio: a solar farm, a let property business, and art or wine, and these assets need advisors used to dealing with their quirks to maximise their value, whether that value is financial or personal.

For rural properties generally, natural capital grants and opportunities mean even reasonably small properties can make a difference environmentally, and profit from it. Fortunately, our friends in Mishcon Purpose (the only specialist sustainability business at a law firm) can step in to assist there.

The clients themselves may need to protect not just their business, but themselves and their families – we don't just fight for our clients in the courts:

  • Modern security systems need to be properly vetted (and fortunately MdR Cyber can check those systems for us, as our own "white-hat" hackers).
  • Disgruntled employees can cause a lot of damage, and so decent employment contracts from our Employment team are a must.
  • Reputation and privacy can be vital: a child's social media can be the online equivalent of leaving your front door open or car unlocked with the key in the ignition, so clients may have our Reputation team carry out an audit.
  • None of us want to be in the Magistrate's Court facing manslaughter charges – as owners and trustees of farms and estates have been recently – so our Health and Safety team can come in to check for problems at the start, and fiercely defend our clients if accidents do happen.

Final thoughts

Buying a place in the country can be a different experience to buying a London house. You need the expertise to deal with the quirks that arise. You also need lawyers that understand you are buying or selling not just bricks and mortar, but a home: a piece of rural England that is forever woven into your life. You need lawyers who can help you buy that home on your terms and in your timeframes; help you mitigate the risks that come with ownership, and help you find opportunities for it to flourish.

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