Japanese Knotweed: What property buyers and sellers need to know

Japanese knotweed (Fallopian japonica) is an invasive plant species that has garnered attention for it’s destructive growth and potential impact on properties. The plant’s rapid growth can lead to structural damage, disrupt ecosystems, and even affect property values.

If you’re a property buyer or seller, understanding the implications of Japanese knotweed is essential to ensure informed decisions and protect the value of your investment.

For property buyers, the presence of Japanese knotweed on or near a property should be a red flag. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Structural Damage: Japanese knotweed has an extensive root system that can infiltrate foundations, walls, and drainage systems. Over time, this can lead to costly structural damage, potentially decreasing the value of the property.
  • Legal and Lending Concerns: Many lending institutions and insurers are cautious when dealing with properties affected by Japanese knotweed. Some may require evidence of an ongoing treatment plan or even refuse to provide financing altogether, making it crucial to address the issue proactively.
  • Resale Challenges: If you decide to sell the property in the future, the presence of Japanese knotweed could deter potential buyers or lead to negotiations that impact the sale price.

Property sellers should also be aware of the implications of Japanese knotweed:

  • Disclosure Obligations: Sellers are legally obligated to disclose the presence of Japanese knotweed to potential buyers. Failing to do so could lead to legal disputes.
  • Property Value: The presence of Japanese knotweed can lead to a decrease in property value. Sellers may need to invest in professional treatment and removal services to mitigate the impact and maximize the sale price.

Both buyers and sellers can take proactive steps to address Japanese knotweed:

  • Professional Assessment: Before purchasing or selling a property, consider hiring a qualified professional to conduct a thorough assessment for the presence of Japanese knotweed. Early detection and action can prevent further spread.
  • Treatment Plans: If Japanese knotweed is identified, develop a comprehensive treatment plan with a specialist. Regular monitoring and treatment are essential to control its growth.

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a property, understanding the implications of Japanese knotweed and taking proactive steps to address it will help protect your investment and ensure a smoother transaction process. For any property-related queries contact our Residential Property solicitor Kulbir Conner on kconner@astonbond.co.uk.

Top 10 factors that can delay your conveyancing process

Buying a home can be a stressful and time-consuming process.

In order to help you further understand the process and the problems that can be encountered throughout, we’ve put together this list of the top reasons for delays in the conveyancing process, along with advice on how to avoid them where possible.

Delays in the Conveyancing Process

The conveyancing process can be held up by many things, and it’s important to note that often these are out of the control of your conveyancer.

Typically, delays in the conveyancing process are caused further down the property chain, usually when waiting for information from other parties involved in the transaction.

  • Searches – whilst conveyancers are responsible for numerous searches, they have to coordinate many of these with the relevant local search providers. How quickly the search providers are able to respond can vary dramatically and is outside of your conveyancer’s control.
  • Chains – in most cases, buying and selling property is linked to further sales. One transaction is dependent on the other. If one part of the chain runs into complications, this impacts everyone, and delays are incurred throughout the entire chain.
  • Property information – planning consent, building management papers, leasehold details, and title deeds are just some of the documents that can be needed before ownership is able to be transferred. The process of obtaining them can all take time.
  • Your seller- If your seller has a major change in their circumstances, it could significantly delay your purchase or cause it to fall through entirely. Common reasons for delays and collapses include the seller changing their mind, the seller’s new property falling through, or the seller falling ill, losing their job, or splitting up with a partner.
  • Land registry- When you buy a home, the change of ownership must be registered on the Land Registry. This isn’t usually anything to worry about, as you’ll already have secured the property.
  • The survey-  Getting a house survey is a vital part of the home buying process. In some cases, however, a poor survey report can result in buyers revising their offers downwards or even pulling out of the purchase entirely. If your survey does unveil serious issues, take your time and listen to expert advice before going through with the purchase.

At Aston Bond, we have won several awards for our services and consistently receive excellent feedback from our clients.

To find out more about our conveyancing services, call us now on 01753 486777 or email Kulbir Conner our Residential property solicitor on kconner@astonbond.co.uk .

The legal process of remortgaging.

Your mortgage is a big commitment. There are many different reasons why you might need to remortgage your home. It may be to free up equity for an extension or to settle a second charge on the property. It could even be to simply secure a better mortgage interest rate.

What do solicitors do when remortgaging?

ID checks – Firstly, your solicitor will need to prove who you are using your proof of ID. Our solicitors do this using 1 form of photo ID and 2 forms to prove your address.

You solicitor will then request a copy of your title deeds to confirm if:

  • There are any charges or restrictions on the title that need satisfying
  • You are the legal owner of the property

Leasehold checks – A solicitor will check the lease terms and the remaining time left on the lease comply with the new lender’s requirements.

Property searches – your new lender may request searches are carried out before they are prepared to lend on a property.

Valuation – your new lender will value your property and issue a formal mortgage offer to you and your solicitor.

Completion – On the day your solicitor receives the mortgage funds from the new lender, they will then pay off your old mortgage and any fees and send any remaining money to you.

Registering changes with Land Registry – Once your old lender has confirmed they’ve received the money and discharged their mortgage your solicitor will inform the Land Registry that a remortgage has taken place and update the legal title for your home by registering the new mortgage.

Can I remortgage if I have negative equity?

Being in negative equity due to falling property prices means that the property you own is worth less than the amount that is left on your mortgage.

If you suspect your mortgage is in negative equity, the first thing you need to do is arrange for a formal valuation. Then, you will need to compare how much your house is worth with your outstanding mortgage balance to determine the extent of the problem.

How long does it normally take to remortgage?

It’s impossible to say exactly how long it will take to finalise your new deal, as the transaction will depend on how quickly you can provide the required paperwork and how long it takes for your solicitor to complete the application. However, remortgaging is often much easier than applying for an entirely new mortgage.

Our team of expert conveyancers are on hand to help and assist you in the right direction wherever you are based! For more information please contact 01753 486777 or email Kulbir Conner (head of conveyancing) on  kconner@astonbond.co.uk .

Conveyancing searches – everything you need to know….

What are conveyancing property searches?

Before you become committed to buying a property, you need to know the important details about it as it is potentially the biggest investment you make.

Searches are crucial in underlining any possible and unseen risks that can affect the future value of your investment and enjoyment of your property in years to come.

Do I have to complete searches?

They are not always compulsory – however without searches you could end up with a property which:

  • Has a debt / local land charge attached to it which you will take over if you continue to buy the property without having the debt rectified before your purchase
  • Regularly floods, meaning insurance is difficult, if not impossible, to secure
  • Ends up with a sudden hole in the back garden due to a mineshaft collapsing
  • Sits on a land which was previously used for industrial purposes and may be contaminated with solvents or gases that could cause harm or pollute surrounding water

What searches does my property need?

Ultimately, this depends on the location of the property you’re buying.

Your Property Lawyer will advise you on what searches are required for your property depending on the specific location.

What are the main searches carried out?

  1. Environmental searches

This search highlights:

  • Flooding issues
  • Landslide issues
  • Subsidence issues
  • Contaminated land issues

2. Water and drainage searches

This search highlights :

  • If the property is connected to a public water supply
  • The location of the public sewer
  • Who owns and maintains the sewers, drains & piping
  • Whether the water supply is metered or rateable
  • Any charges related to the water supply that may be outstanding

3. Local authority searches

This search highlights:

  • Planning and Building Regulation issues
  • Rights of Way
  • Whether the local authority maintains your road
  • Pollution issues
  • Common Land and village greens

How long is my local authority search valid for?

Local authority searches are valid for 6 months. So if a search was ordered in January, completion would be required by the end of June or another search would have to be ordered (dependant on your Lender’s requirements).

What are title searches?

This search will tell you:

  • Who previously owned the property
  • What charges or debts are registered against the property
  • What price they paid for it

The title plan map shows :

  • The location of the property
  • The general boundaries of the property

Is this search optional?

No. This is an essential search to prove that the seller is the legal owner of the property and has the right to sell it to you.

At Aston Bond, we believe searches play a vital role in helping you understand the risks attached to the property your purchasing. For more information, contact our team of specialist conveyancing solicitors headed by Kulbir Conner on kconner@astonbond.co.uk or 01753 486777

Property solicitors at Aston Bond- The experts you can rely on

A property transaction might be one of the most important financial transactions you will ever make.

It can be a stressful and anxious time. There are a lot of things to think about – mortgages, leases, how you’re going to own the property and what shares, searches, and stamp duty.  That is on top of the stress of potentially selling your current home and arranging for packing and removals!

This is where working with a highly experienced conveyancing team, who can provide you with all the support you need, really makes a difference.

It’s worth taking the time to choose carefully because a good conveyancing solicitor will:

  • Speed up your transaction.
  • Make sure the process is as stress-free as possible.
  • On the panel of many lenders

At Aston Bond our team offer more than just the simple completion of the legal formalities. We like our clients to feel that they always know what the next steps in the process are, so we’ll keep you advised of the progress of your transaction along the way.

For more information, please contact 01753 486 777 and we’ll direct you to our property team!

Charters School Careers Fair – Friday 18 March 2022

This month, Aston Bond attended the Charters School careers fair. This was a great opportunity to help the year 9 to 13’s in deciding their next steps in life.

We talked to lots of students throughout the day about what day to day life is like for a solicitor in law firm, and the routes to qualifying as a solicitor with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (the ‘’SQE’’).  The SQEs are the new form of exams you must now take to qualify as a solicitor. Many students were especially surprised to learn you do not need a law degree to qualify as a solicitor. Students gained a lot of useful tips on what to do during your route to qualifying as a solicitor, such as getting lots of work experience! Students learned the difference between solicitors and barristers and we sat on the panel of a number of Q&A sessions  at which students had the opportunity to ask us questions.  They also got to learn lots about the general balance of working life, not only for solicitors but from other career representatives which attended the fair.

We were so impressed by the enthusiasm, interest and the warm welcome we received from all at Charters School and hope to visit again soon.


Change ahead – Reforms on Pre-Action Conduct

What you need to do before you take matters to court

Before anyone can bring a claim to the UK Civil Courts, there are certain steps that must be taken to demonstrate to the court that you have taken reasonable action to try and resolve things yourself. These steps are called Pre-Action Protocols and are intended to ‘’explain the conduct and set out the steps the court would normally expect parties to take before commencing proceedings’’.

If your dispute has no case-specific Pre-Action Protocol, then the Practice Direction Pre-action Conduct applies. There are specific Pre-Action Protocols for various types of claims such as:

  • Pre-Action Protocol for Personal Injury Claims
  • Pre-Action Protocol for the Construction and Engineering Disputes


What happens if I haven’t completed these steps?

There can potentially be serious consequences for both claimants and defendants for failing to comply with the Pre-action Conduct and Protocols or any relevant protocol to a claim. These can include the Court not allowing your claim to progress further until there has been compliance, and you may also incur additional cost penalties.


The future of Pre-Action Protocols

In November 2021 the Civil Justice council (CJC) considered a review of the Pre-Action Protocols, thinking about the role Pre-Action Protocols should play in the civil justice system in the 2020s particularly in a justice system which is increasingly digitalising.

Three major reforms considered are:

  • Making all Pre-Action Protocols available online via portals

This would also include ensuring the portals are electronically joined up to the relevant court so that non-confidential pre-action exchanges, including pre-action letters of claim and replies would be accessible to the court if the matter progresses to litigation.

Linking online portals on pre-action compliance to digital court process will allow the courts to have access to the pre-action correspondence and documents exchanged between parties and may also be able to provide parties with a secure platform in which they can freely explore settlement options.


  • Introducing a good faith obligation

This would try to resolve or narrow the dispute at the pre-action stage. Options for a good faith obligation could include engaging in formal alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, informal negotiations between the parties, or formal settlement offers.

Does the introduction of compulsory ADR conflict with Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights? The future obligation of compulsory ADR must provide a balance of being able to effectively resolve disputes with the option of being able to return to the normal court process. The CJC believe the civil justice system is far off from being able to offer regulated and timely ADR processed to all prospective litigants, and until they are available, any good faith obligation to resolve a pre-litigation dispute should be non-regulatory.


  • Formally recognising compliance would be mandatory with Pre-Action Protocols

Compliance could become mandatory except in urgent cases where immediate court action is necessary.

Extending the courts power for compliance issues will enable a more consistent and timely approach to non-compliance with Pre-Action Protocols. For example, the current Practice Direction on Pre-Action Protocol expressly gives the court power when considering a costs order to consider if there has been an unreasonable offer to refuse a form of ADR. However, there is inconsistency case by case in the way in which the courts apply this power.

The CJC have suggested formalising the process for raising compliance issues by introducing a separate directions questionnaire on compliance or requiring parties to apply to the court for sanctions to be imposed for non-compliance. It has also been suggested a decision by the courts on whether to impose a sanction should be taken at the start of proceedings rather than the end.


Revolutionary or evolutionary?

The reforms build on the existing rules and procedures set out in the current Pre-Action Protocols. However, the proposed reforms attempt to provide more concrete guidance, consistency and accessibility with the integration of technology for pre-litigation matters. Encouragement of early exchange of information and settlement is greater than before with the mandatory use of online protocol portals and a form of ADR before a claim could be bought.

Help to Build

We are all familiar with Help to Buy – a government-backed scheme which helps first time buyers purchase a new-build home with just a 5% deposit. However, it is now time to become familiar with Help to Build.

Unlike Help to Buy, Help to Build aims to help those seeking to commission or build their own home and helps builders with cash flow during the build. More and more individuals have ambitions to build their own home, as they have the freedom to decide on the design, internal layout and location. The main barrier to doing so however, being finding the money to fund the project. Help to Build aims to eradicate this barrier so that these ambitions are achievable and self-build homes are more accessible and affordable.

What is Help to Build?

Help to Build is a new government equity loan, announced back in April 2021, that will be available to people in England who want to custom build or self-build their own home.

An equity loan is offered, between 5% and 20% (up to 40% in London), based on the total estimated costs to buy a plot of land and build the home. If eligible, up to £600,000 can be spent on the new home, which must include the cost of the land if not already owned and no more than £400,000 on the cost to build. The loan is interest free for five years.

A minimum of a 5% deposit will be needed and a self-build mortgage, which must be provided by a lender registered with Help to Build. Funds will be released at various stages of the build until the build is complete, at which point the mortgage will automatically switch to a repayment mortgage which must be in place for the duration of the equity loan, normally 25 years.

The redemption amount is based on the value of the home at the time chosen to repay and is not linked to the amount initially borrowed. Therefore, if the market value of the home increases above the estimated land and build costs, the amount owed on the loan will increase and vice versa if the market value decreases.

If the equity loan is offered, the purchase of the land (if needed) and the build of the home must complete within a span of 3 years.

Who is eligible?

Anyone who is 18 years of age or over and has a right to live in England, the newly built home will be their only home and they have secured a self-build mortgage from a lender registered with Help to Build.

Application Process

The scheme is still in the initial stages and relatively new. Whilst it was previously believed that applications will open for Help to Build last year during winter, it does not appear this was the case. However, while the exact date has not yet been announced, it is only a matter of time before the scheme is up and running. To be first in line for more information, register your interest in Help to Build here.

For further information on the Help to Build: Equity Loan scheme, please click here to be redirected to the Gov.uk page.

Proposing a Proposal: Not Just for Couples

In this article our Head of Private Client, Jade Gani, discusses her recent experience with a particular Client, Ms A, and how it made her reconsider standard Estate Planning advice.

I have been in this area of work for a long while now, so there aren’t many situations which take me by surprise or make me re-consider my approach. So when I met with Ms A, I was taken aback and joyfully reminded that every Client’s needs and goals are distinct and different.

I attended the meeting together with a well-trusted and excellent Financial Advisor, as Ms A’s Estate was taxable and she had indicated she would like to actively Inheritance Tax [“IHT”] plan, following a recent cancer diagnosis. She owns two properties, some cash investments and a beautiful, friendly cat. She had never been married and doesn’t have any children.

In her Will, Ms A appointed her good friend, Mr B, as her Executor and wished to gift her second property to another dear friend, Ms C, leaving the remainder of her Estate to a beloved family member. We spoke about her funeral wishes and personal effects, but her main concern was the amount of IHT that would fall due on her Estate.

Of course, we discussed the current Nil Rate Band [“NRB”] and Residence Nil Rate Band [“RNRB”] allowances and it was clear she would not meet the criteria for the new RNRB allowance. This left her with only the ordinary NRB allowance of £325,000.00 and an Estate in excess of £600,000.00 – meaning a substantial IHT bill might fall due on her death.

Together, we discussed various IHT planning tools, such as the annual allowances, Potentially Exempt Transfers [“PETs”], Business Property Relief [“BPR”] investments and much more. Ultimately, Ms A wanted to retain the rental income from her second property while she still might need it and didn’t feel like diversifying her investments further.  

“But, is there nothing else we can do to save tax quickly?” she queried, as I looked at the Financial Advisor for any last suggestions I might have missed. “What about spouse allowances? How does that work?” she asked. I dutifully explained the spouse exemption and transfer of allowances to Ms A, but politely reminded her that as a single person who had never been married, this would not apply. I asked if she was in a current relationship to which she confirmed she was not.

“But…” she pondered, “Does it work the same for Civil Partnerships?” – I confirmed it did. “Well then, I think I should like to enter into a Civil Partnership with my friend, Ms C, then! Would that work?”

The Financial Advisor and I shared a look. With a wry smile, I confirmed that I couldn’t see any reason why not, provided that Ms C was willing. We discussed the drawbacks – if Ms C decided to dissolve the partnership at a later date, if they fell-out and how it could impact Ms C’s Estate if she passed away first. On balance, Ms A felt the benefits greatly outweighed the negatives.

I confirmed I would include an “expectation of” clause in the Will, so that it wouldn’t be revoked if she married or entered into a Civil Partnership with Ms C. With a knowing smile, Ms A said she was looking forward to the speculation amongst her associates that would follow such a plan, as she and Ms C had been the best of friends for a very a long time.

I realised that, amongst all of the complex and detailed planning advice we had offered, I hadn’t seen the very simple, incredibly effective solution that was right in front of us the whole time; probably because it hadn’t occurred to me that Ms A would consider such a route with someone other than a partner.

But, just because it isn’t a common approach, does not mean it isn’t a sensible one. Granted, this probably wasn’t the approach the government had in mind when they first introduced Civil Partnerships, however, as there is no legal requirement to consummate a Civil Partnership, perhaps it will teach those in charge a lesson about the importance of equality for all from the outset…

By the end of the meeting we had a plan that would mean very little, if any, IHT would fall due on Ms A’s death. As a result, we were left with a very satisfied Client.  

To be eligible to register for a Civil Partnership, you must ensure you and your proposed Civil Partner:-

  1. Are both 16 or over. If you are 16 or 17, you will usually have to get written consent from your parents or legal guardians;
  2. Have lived in the same area in England or Wales for at least seven days;
  3. That neither of you is already either a civil partner, or married; and
  4. Are not close blood relatives to each other.

So, whilst you might routinely advise unmarried couples of the benefits of marriage or Civil Partnerships from an IHT perspective, have you ever advised your single Client to do so with one of their potential beneficiaries? If not, now might be a good time to start!

Stamp Duty Land Tax: Understanding the 2% Non-Resident Surcharge

We may have bid adieu to the much-reprieved SDLT holiday on the 30 June 2021, however, buyers will still benefit from reduced rates until the 30 September 2021, with a nil rate band of £250,000, and of course we welcome back first-time buyer relief.

Here, we briefly explore the 2% Non-Resident Surcharge (NRS) which was introduced from the 1 April 2021.

What is NRS?

NRS is 2% of the purchase price and only applies to the purchase of a dwelling or dwellings and turns on residence, not nationality.

You will have most likely noticed the introduction of three new questions on the SDLT1 Forms, which are compulsory for residential transactions:

  • Are any of the purchasers non-UK resident?
  • Are any of the purchasers a UK resident close company controlled directly or indirectly by a non-UK resident?
  • Are you claiming Crown Employment Benefit? (If you are non-UK resident due to performing duties for the purposes of your employment under the Crown, NRS relief is available. This relief is also extended to the spouse or civil partner of a Crown servant, provided they are not separated).

Are you a non-resident?

For NRS purposes, a non-resident is a non-UK resident. The UK includes Great Britain (England, Wales & Scotland) and Northern Ireland.

An individual is a UK resident for the purposes of NRS if they have been present in the UK at least 183 days or more in the 12 months before the completion date of the purchase. The 183 days do not have to be continuous, but those 183 days must all fall within 365 consecutive days. If one is present in the UK at the end of a day (midnight), then that day counts.

UK resident close company controlled by non-UK resident

A company is non-resident if either of the below conditions are met on the completion date:

  • Not UK resident for Corporation Tax purposes.
  • A close company which meets the non-UK control test and is not an excluded company.

Most private companies are close companies, and the meaning of one can be found here, where the non-UK control test is also explained.

If any participator in the company who has control, or to whom control is attributed, has not been resident in the UK on at least 183 midnights in the 365 days preceding the completion date, then the company is non-resident.

Control is defined in the Corporation Tax Act 2010 (s. 448, 450 & 451) as an individual who exercises, is able to exercise or is entitled to acquire direct or indirect control over the company’s affairs (more than 50%). Under s.451, the individual’s rights and powers may be attributed to an ‘associate’, which is defined in s.448. For NRS purposes, however, there are changes to the normal attribution rules:

  • There is no attribution between business partners, or between spouses or civil partners, as there usually is.
  • A de minimis rule prevents attribution of rights and powers in a company where the associate holds less than 5%.

Reclaims for Individuals

Individuals have a respite over corporate bodies in that they may be able to reclaim NRS if they become UK resident after paying the surcharge on completion.  Therefore, if the individual can show 183 days UK residence within the following 365 days after completion, NRS may be reclaimed by submitting an amended return during a 2-year period from the completion date.

However, if the purchasers are joint purchasers, and just one of them is non-resident, NRS is payable. The exemption to this is where the purchasers are married or civil partners and living together for tax purposes – in this case, if one of the individuals is UK resident but the other is not, NRS is not payable. Please note, the rules differ for trustees of a settlement.

SDLT and the NRS rules are a complicated area of tax, therefore, please seek advice from a tax specialist if you are unsure and require assistance.

If you would like to discuss this or any other property law related query, please do not hesitate to contact our team here at Aston Bond.