Legal guide to buying a farm

The pandemic has led to greater appreciation of the countryside and of shopping locally, which is good news for the agricultural sector. Agriculture has long been seen as a secure investment, but now with so many companies encouraging home-working, we’re seeing a bubble of buyers deciding to relocate to rural life on a farm.

If you’ve never purchased a farm or agricultural land, or not purchased one for many years, you should be aware of a number of things. As with any property purchase, it is up to the buyer to do their investigations and ask as many direct questions as they can about the property, and this guide is here to help flag up some of the pitfalls.

Due Diligence
In a normal residential transaction, the Seller would provide a Property Information Form”, which gives the buyer information about the property, such as planning, services to the property and any details of disputes.

We often get presented with this form by a Seller’s solicitor for a farm sale, and although it’s adequate for the house, it doesn’t provide nearly enough detail for the remainder of the farm. You’ll see why, below.

We will always request replies to a full list of agricultural specific enquiries which cover (to name a few) occupancies, land schemes (Basic Payment Scheme, environmental schemes etc) and agreements with service providers across the land. It’s very important if you’re taking over the responsibility of land subject to such schemes or agreements, that you’re aware of your responsibilities as the landowner.

Unregistered Land
We often find that a farm has been in a family for generations, and it’s never been registered at the Land Registry, which means that if you ask the Land Registry who owns the farm they won’t be able to tell you.

If you purchase a property now that is unregistered, it triggers compulsory first registration at the Land Registry. In order to prove ownership, you need the right title deeds, which prove original ownership. It’s an additional layer of due diligence, and we have to be sure there are no loose ends so that when we submit the title deeds to the Land Registry we know you’ll be the legal owner.

Listed Buildings
Listed Buildings crop up regularly – especially beautiful old farmhouses. The key point to note is, if a building is listed, you’ll need Listed Building Consent before undertaking any work to the Property (including any structures falling within the curtilage of the Listed Building). If you’re buying a listed property and planning on doing work to it, before you decide we’d always recommend speaking to a specialist planning consultant, who’ll guide you as to whether it’s possible or not.

I can’t remember the last time I purchased a farm for a client and there wasn’t at least one undocumented occupancy such as a grazier, livery or sporting arrangement on the land.

Often, the landowners have very good relationships with these people, but relationships can change, and you don’t want to find yourself in a position whereby someone is occupying the land and you can’t get them off. It’s important to have formalised arrangements in place before completing on a purchase, so that you know the exact rights the occupier has on your land.

In more cases than not, farms have their own private drainage systems. They often work perfectly well, but the laws on private drainage systems have changed this year, and if they don’t comply with – or aren’t considered exempt from – the rules, the whole system requires upgrading. Depending on the size of the farm and where the drains need to go, this can be a very expensive job.

We raise detailed drainage enquiries together with our agricultural enquiries, to determine whether a system is compliant. We also always recommend that the system is checked by a surveyor so that they can advise you of its condition and the costs of upgrading if necessary.