After a a few problems and issues with his new home, despite the completion date being postponed by a month (6th December 2013), one unlucky buyer recently told us that Taylor Wimpey had constantly threatened him with legal proceedings on a daily basis. Amazingly Taylor Wimpey and both the respective solicitors allowed legal completion on his new home without the Help to Buy funding in place and later transferred to Taylor Wimpey – an underpayment shortfall of £44,000.
Mr K told us: “In the first week of January, we learned that our solicitor had not sent us the Help to Buy equity release form to sign. He played this down claiming it was a simple paperwork mix-up or oversight. Two days later, we received a call from Taylor Wimpey informing us that they are going to take us to court because for breach of contract as we have not provided the full funds on completion.”
“It transpired that the Help to Buy money had not been released to Taylor Wimpey and they cannot take our solicitor to court, they can only take us to court. The lady from Taylor Wimpey said that even if they did get the balance of the money, we had still breached the terms of our mortgage and they were going to report this to our lender and the mortgage would be revoked.”
“Next we then get a call from the lady who deals with Help to Buy (Radian homes) who inform us that the mortgage offer is incorrectly worded and needs to be changed, otherwise they cannot release the money to Taylor Wimpey. Our solicitor insists the mortgage offer doesn’t need to be changed, Help to Buy insist it does and in the meantime, Taylor Wimpey continue to call us on a daily basis threatening to take us to court.”
“Both Taylor Wimpey and Help to Buy say that our solicitor is incompetent. Our solicitor then suggests that they are both partly to blame as well. We are considering appointing a professional negligence solicitor to take over the file with Taylor Wimpey saying that if we did, that they would take us to court straight away.”
It would appear that Taylor Wimpey and Radian have an extremely close relationship although how Taylor Wimpey and their solicitors didn’t realise that they were missing £44,000 on completion and that it is all the buyer’s solicitors fault is a mystery.
Apparently it has now been resolved. Once Mr K suggested, despite Taylor Wimpey’s threat, that he was going to appoint a professional negligence solicitor things started to move on all sides. It was fortunate that Mrs K actually deals with claims for legal costs involving professional negligence so these buyers were unfazed by Taylor Wimpey’s threat to start legal proceedings against them.
Mr K’s negligence solicitor is of the opinion that all three parties are equally to blame and that Mr and Mrs K should report both their own and Taylor Wimpey’s solicitor to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. It was also fortunate that Mr K did not use a solicitor suggested or recommended by Taylor Wimpey.
Mr K said: “we appointed our own solicitor, but I firmly believe the conveyancing process is fundamentally broken with little protection for the new home buyer. Essentially our solicitor had the view that they were carrying out the process of purchasing the house from Taylor Wimpey, not having to argue with them on points of contract law. But did they try and protect us? No! I believe the contract is extremely heavily favoured against the buyer and firms like Taylor Wimpey take full advantage of this.”
Taylor Wimpey were asked to comment on how one of their customers legally completed without the Help to Buy contribution being paid due to apparent legal mistakes on both sides: in particular we asked them to explain:
- How any buyer could ‘legally complete’ the purchase of a Taylor Wimpey new home without transferring full payment?
- Whether this had happened before?
- Was the home legally completed anyway, so it could be included in the region’s year-end figures?
- Did this transaction take place with Taylor Wimpey’s full and certain knowledge that the Help to Buy funds would not arrive in time for the home to be legally completed and still be included in the Southern region’s figures?
- Why did it take Taylor Wimpey over a month to discover that full payment had not been received?
- Why did Taylor Wimpey staff persecute their own customer, on a daily basis, by threatening court action?
- Why a Taylor Wimpey employee would threaten to report a suspected breach of mortgage terms to the buyer’s lender?
- Why did Taylor Wimpey tell the buyer that if they began a negligence claim against their own solicitor, Taylor Wimpey would immediately instigate legal proceedings against them?
- Why Taylor Wimpey did not recognise (or even stop to consider) that whilst unfortunate, none of this was the buyer’s fault. As far as they were concerned, everything had been legally completed; otherwise surely Taylor Wimpey would not have handed over the property?
The first response was from CEO Peter Redfern: “I am unable to discuss the details of individual customer situations with you without the prior authorisation of the customer, except to say that we are in direct contact with this customer and he remains happy with the service we have provided. As a customer focused business we aim to provide the best possible experience for our customers through the homebuying process. However, if a customer has not experienced this, I would like to hear from them direct with more information, so that we can investigate.”
Mr K is far from satisfied with Taylor Wimpey – his only satisfaction being that he wasn’t sued by anyone! He responded to Mr Redfern by saying: “Not all funds were available at completion, which resulted in Taylor Wimpey’s legal department and our own solicitor entering us into a contract which we had no full authority to enter into and then legally completing on the property without the full funds being available. This breached your own contract terms and conditions and also breached the mortgage lender’s terms and conditions, both extremely serious breaches of the SRA principles which govern the conduct of solicitors.”
“Furthermore, your legal department then contacted us directly to threaten us with court action and inform us that we had broken the terms of the mortgage, which could be revoked by Nationwide. Throughout this entire process, we have been told constantly that your legal department thought our solicitor was negligent. We find it astounding however, that after losing faith in our solicitor, who was clearly not acting or protecting our interested, we were told by your legal department that due to the delay incurred by transferring the case to a different solicitor, if we did this Taylor Wimpey would immediately take court action against us. Essentially, your legal department stopped us gaining competent legal advice and this would appear to be on the basis that a competent conveyancing solicitor would have realised that Taylor Wimpey were equally at fault, with our own solicitor in this situation!”
After some perseverance, James Jordan, Taylor Wimpey’s Group legal director and Company Secretary replied: “As you know, Mr K purchased the property with the assistance of the Government’s Help to Buy Scheme. Procedurally, the Homes and Communities Agency provides assistance to the Buyer by making a payment at the Buyer’s direction and with the Buyer’s agreement directly to seller. The Buyer’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the property is then satisfied by paying a lower reduced purchase price and entering into an Equity Mortgage in favour of the HCA in respect of the “Contribution”. The HCA once notified by the Buyer’s Solicitor that completion has taken place, then pays the Contribution secured by the Equity Mortgage to Taylor Wimpey, with such payment being made after legal completion. Accordingly, all transactions of this nature are legally completed with the Contribution following after legal completion.
The Buyer’s Solicitors are issued with a Solicitors Pack, which sets down the requirements of the lender, being the HCA. The instructions in the pack are prescriptive, the onus lies with the Buyer’s Solicitors to comply with the Terms of the Instructions as they have an explicit duty of care to the HCA. A copy the Solicitor’s Pack is attached. The Solicitor’s Pack to the Buyer’s Solicitor states: “For the avoidance of doubt, you are not permitted to exchange contracts until the Local Homebuy Agent has received the Solicitors Form 1 and has provided you with confirmation (via the Authority to Exchange Notice)”.
The Pack also states that the Buyers solicitor must advise the buyer fully of all terms/provisions of the Help to Buy initiative including Buyers Information Sheet and the Equity Mortgage. The Authority of Exchange Notice is released direct to the Buyers Solicitors by the Home Buy Agent. There is no obligation on the Home Buy Agent to forward a copy of the Authority to Exchange to Taylor Wimpey. The property was structurally complete and ready for occupation when Taylor Wimpey called for completion.
The Company became aware the HCA Contribution had not been made during the second week of December, at which point the TW Conveyancing team contacted the Buyer’s Solicitor to ensure that they had followed the instructions detailed in the Solicitor’s Pack (Help to Buy initiative – Information for Solicitors/Legal Representatives) . It became clear that the Buyer’s Solicitors had not fulfilled their obligations under the Help to Buy Scheme, and they were requested to rectify the omissions immediately.
In light of the above situation, Mr K was naturally contacted by the Sales Manager to discuss and explain the situation and possible consequences. If Mr K wants to take legal proceedings against his own solicitor for proceeding without all funding being in place in favour of his client then that is entirely his decision.”
The buyer’s solicitors were Kiteleys Solicitors (incorporating James Bowie Caton & Co) of Ferndown, Dorset, with Tracy Black handling the conveyance. Ms Black had been fined £1,000 in 2012 SDT interventions. Whilst it was acknowledged that the SDT was “satisfied that she posed no risk to the public in future, the breaches were serious and only a fine could properly reflect the seriousness of those breaches.”
No risk? All new home buyers would be well-advised to choose a solicitor very carefully and in addition, NEVER ever use a solicitor recommended or suggested by a housebuilder.