Am I the only one whose blood pressure rises when receiving the initial letter in a new-build purchase transaction, which not only refers to needing to access a link to draw down hundreds of pages from a website, but also an extortionate engrossment fee?
On recently asking developers’ lawyers in separate cases for hard copies of the papers that (being old-fashioned) I prefer to have in front of me, I was told: we will take our client’s instructions to see if they will pay our copying charges; and we can provide these on receiving your undertaking to pay our copying charges of £75 plus VAT.
In each case, the additional engrossment charges are £200 plus VAT for what, in essence, are 24 pages of contract and transfer.
The root of these types of fees is to supplement the paltry plot sale fee that developers impose on lawyers and that stupidly we, as a profession, have allowed to have imposed on us. Hart Brown used to deal with plot sales for a major developer but decided to cut ties when beaten down to £200 per plot sale with no abortive costs for plot sales that fell out of bed. The pressure brought upon us at half-year and year-end to rush plot sales through was immense, and no fun for those at the sharp end.
The experience of copying charges being added into the mix because the seller’s lawyers do not want to send out hard copies is insulting. Fortunately, in both cases a direct conversation with the firms in question indicating that I, as the buyer’s lawyer, could have the papers in whatever form I required at their expense, produced the papers.
Needless to say, I will not be so lucky with the extortionate engrossment fee. So why, in this age of having to comply with Law Society rules justifying each £1 we charge clients, are developers’ lawyers able to get away with supplementing their fees with an arbitrary and excessive fee?
David Knapp, partner and head of residential property, Hart Brown, Guildford