On Reading the Small Print by Debbie Bennett

Oh, Asda - what were you thinking?
So we’re buying a flat. A bit of speculative property development, plus our house is on the market – and while I don’t think we could squeeze ourselves and all our stuff into the flat long term, it may well serve as storage and as a temporary stopgap to save having to possibly rent somewhere while we find and buy our next house.

Anyway, all the paperwork comes through from the solicitors and we spend an evening ploughing through land registry documents. It’s an ex-local authority flat and the freehold is still held by the Housing Trust, which isn’t a problem – except that clearly nobody at the Trust has ever actually looked at the property and figured out where the doors are … The result of which is the vendor not actually being able to sell us the entire flat at all, but only 9/10 of it, since the front door and hallway are not theirs to sell as they are not marked on the leasehold title held by the land registry!

Cue the vendor’s solicitors saying it’s not a problem as we have right of access, and our solicitors yelling STOP very loudly (well OK, not loudly) and the property probably not even being mortgageable, never mind re-sellable when we come to sell it on. And my week’s leave is cancelled and we face another few weeks waiting to get a new leasehold title deed from the land registry before we can proceed …

The moral of which is always: Read the small print. Even the pictures. Never assume anybody has your best interests at heart, because while they may not be actively out to screw you over, nobody looks out for you better than you do yourself.

As a writer, I'm always reading the small print. I brought my daughter up to never ever sign anything without first checking what it is - something that becomes increasingly difficulty in these days of electronic gadgets, where you are presented with a blank-screened digital doodah and a stylus before the delivery guy will give you your parcel. My daughter always asks if she's just signed away a kidney, or adopted a Chinese orphan, and she's never sure whether the delivery guy gets her oddball sense of humour (and technically being of mixed-race Chinese descent, I am not fashionably-offended by such jokes ...). So I read legal documents carefully - including book contracts.

Words are important. Punctuation even more so. We've all heard of Eats Shoots & Leaves, haven't we? And how important it is not to eat Grandma - Let's eat, Grandma! - so why would you not ensure that every piece of work you type/write and read is correct and says exactly what you mean?


Umberto Tosi said…
Well said, Debbie. Indeed! It also helps to have a keen eye and a good head for detail, both of which could stand improvement in my case. Good luck with your transactions and new digs!
misha said…
A salutary warning, though you can get caught out even if you read the small print. Cue - unfortunate experience with American publisher. Some people have a way of squirming out of anything. My story has a happy ending, rights returned etc, so all is well. Hope your property buying goes equally well.

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