By NEELA RAMSUNDAR
This week marked the beginning of the new law term for 2019/2020 in Trinidad and Tobago. Suddenly, the fees attorneys-at-law charge to do their work mushroomed into one of the hottest trending topics.
So why not add another dimension to the debate.
Quite often, I pick up my office line to take a call, only to be confronted with this question: “I want to give my property to X as a gift. What is the average cost to do this deed?” Each time I get this call, I am confounded on exactly how to answer that question.
Conveyancing work is not the same as selling furniture in a store, where you can easily make comparisons on price. This is a branch of law that deals with the transfer of property from one person to another.
This branch is very heavily regulated by laws, and property transactions regularly end up in litigation before the courts. There are some standard terms that are used to prepare a deed of any type, but even so, every property transaction has its own nuances to consider.
Let me break it down. (I am referring specifically to a deed of gift.) There are roughly four separate costs involved in the transfer of property by way of gift: your attorney’s legal fees; the expenses for everything done to register the deed of gift; a valuation report and stamp duty.
Attorneys’ legal fees: There is a Legal Notice No. 77 of 1997 dated April 25, 1997 (publicly available online) called the Attorneys-at-Law (Remuneration) (Non-Contentious Business) Rules, 1997. These rules contain a scale of fees to be charged for certain types of work. The scales are tied to the value of the properties. Roughly speaking, the higher the value of the property, the more legal fees can be charged. These Rules have not been revised since 1997 and are arguably grossly outdated.
Expenses: Disbursements properly incurred by your attorney-at-law are not covered under the Rules and can be added to the scale charges. Such disbursements can include title search fees, photocopying, telephone charges, registration fees, commissioner of affidavit fees, travelling expenses, the cost for a certified copy of the deed of gift etc.
The Valuation Report: This is an optional expense, as will be explained later. It is a written report prepared by a property appraiser advising on the market value of the property. Their fees vary, but usually their fees are also tied to the value of the property. For instance, the valuer may have a minimum fee up to a certain value (e.g. $2000.00 plus VAT for a property valued up to $500,000.00). But for properties they value over that limit, they may charge the minimum fee plus a percentage on the excess (e.g. ¼ of 1 % of the value over $500,000.00, plus VAT).
Stamp Duty: Before your deed of gift can be registered, your attorney will send the signed deed to the Stamp Duty Section of Inland Revenue Division for its assessment of whether and how much stamp duty has to be paid. Stamp duty is a tax on the transfer of property.
To assist in this assessment, your attorney can submit a recent valuation report for their consideration. There is also the option to request that a government valuer determine the value of the property, at no cost to you. There are pros and cons to each option, which should be carefully discussed with your attorney.
You should also discuss whether the property in question may qualify for an exemption from stamp duty, and if so, what documents you may need to get in advance. If the property is not exempt, such as agricultural land, the stamp duty tax could amount to the largest expense in getting your deed of gift registered.
Hopefully, you now understand there really is no average cost to have a deed of gift prepared and registered. It may be better to seek a reputable attorney for advice and assistance, starting with a consultation to help you understand all the different factors that may affect your wallet. It’s not confined to lawyer fees. So, shopping around by telephone for a “best price” may not be the wisest choice.
© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C
Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.