On August 5th I emailed John Clegg with an offer of £55k subject to contract for Ware Park Wood; 10% more than the guide price. I had already been in contact with Read Cooper Solicitors who specialise in forestry conveyancing and they had agreed to act for me. Over the next few weeks I contacted John Clegg several times. For a while mine was the only offer and a bit later it was referred to as the highest current offer but then someone apparently bid £57k and on August 25th I got an email from John Clegg saying they had received instructions from the vendor to invite all interested parties to submit their best offer by mid-day on Friday September 2nd. Obviously I didn’t want to pay more than neccessary but I had no idea how high the other interested parties were willing to go. On the other hand Ware Park Wood was the most suitable place I had found and I didn’t want to start looking again so I needed to be reasonably sure of getting it. After much deliberation I emailed John Clegg on the morning of September 2nd with an offer of £62,520 subject to contract and on September 5th I got an email back saying that my offer had been accepted!
On September 15th I travelled to Thame in Oxfordshire to visit the offices of Read Cooper. I took my passport and other ID for the required identity check and had a good discussion with Peter Read. I told him that I wanted to buy the property jointly with my mother and he said that would not be a problem but we would have to decide whether we wanted to be joint tennants or tennants in common (we chose the former). Peter explained the costs involved and as well as the local search he recommended getting a chancel search and a desktop environmental search. Before leaving I wrote him a check for £600 as payment on account.
The first search to come back was the chancel search, which cost £21.22 + VAT. This revealed only that the property is located in a parish which could charge for repairs to the chancel and I was given three options; do nothing, take out indemnity insurance or carry out further investigation. If you are interested you should take a look at www.chancel.org.uk but to cut a long story short I decided to take out indemnity insurance that Peter said he could arrange for a one off payment of £245 (which would also cover any future owners if we decided to sell the property).
Next I received the results of the desktop environmental search, which cost £149 + VAT. This came in the form of a very comprehensive report by GroundSure that did not reveal any major issues, though it did give the size of the site as only 2.91 ha as opposed to the 3.03 ha claimed on John Clegg’s brochure.
On October 14th Peter Read sent me the results of the local search, which cost £203. This covered all sorts of stuff but there were no major surprises. It did reveal that the property was affected by a 1981 East Herts District Council Tree Preservation Order and he asked the sellers solicitors to provide a copy. For some reason this took a while but on November 4th Peter sent me a copy of the TPO. I was expecting it to list a few specific trees and was surprised to discover that it is actually a blanket order covering a large part of Ware Park, including the vast majority of the land I was buying. This seemed like it might be a serious problem but there appeared to be a get-out clause which stated that the order would not apply to work carried out in accordance with a plan of operations approved by the Forestry Comission. Still, I wanted to seek advice on the matter so I made some phone calls. First I spoke to Malcolm Amey, the East Herts District Council Arboricultural Officer, who said that blanket TPOs are not generally used now and that the existing one (which he referred to as TPO 216) was not intended to stand in the way of good woodland management practices. He also said that it only applies to trees that were growing at the time the order was made, which means trees less than 30 years old (such as the numerous young sycamores) are not covered. Next I spoke to Alastair Stirling, one of the woodland officers from the Forestry Commission East of England regional team. He had some helpful advice and again said that the TPO should not be used to prevent good management. Finally I spoke to Crispin Golding of UPM Tilhill who echoed Alastair’s advice and convinced me to proceed regardless of the order.
So finally everything seemed good to go. My mother and I signed the contract and the transfer deed and posted them off to Read Cooper. It took a few weeks for the vendor’s solicitor to gather signatures on the transfer deed because there were three registered owners on the title and they didn’t all live at the same address, but on November 29th I finally got an email from Read Cooper saying that we were ready to proceed. The following day I went to my bank to transfer the amount required for completion and on December 1st 2011, four and a half months after first going to view it, I got an email confirming that my mother and I were the new owners of Ware Park Wood!