“We chose PSGS because of the experience of the team and the feel of the relationship seemed the right fit.”
“Keen to assist and helpful.”
“Excellent, very strong relationship. Good understanding of our needs. We can absolutely rely on PSGS. ”
“Clare Owen has been a really excellent scheme secretary”
“Colin provides expert trusteeship. He guides former employees not familiar with legal constraints and restrictions - he is aware of them and helps solve problems - very happy.”
“Very professional and engaged service.”
Direct property investment is usually a relatively small element of a pension scheme’s assets, so it isn’t surprising it can get a little forgotten by trustees. Should you ever need to sell that property, however, you may wish you’d paid it a little more attention!
Working with pension schemes going through Pension Protection Fund (PPF) assessment, has shown us just how tricky releasing funds from property can be. We’re generally looking to sell properties to obtain the value from the investments. In this situation, even assets that represent a relatively low proportion of the scheme’s overall fund value become extremely important.
If you’re a pension trustee of a scheme with direct property investment, check the basics and have some trustee training on the topic so you can be assured you’re sufficiently prepared if a sale is needed. Here are our top ten tips to help:
We’ve discovered it is not uncommon the name of the owner and the pension scheme don’t match exactly. Close, but not exactly, and this causes problems at the point of sale.
Anne-Marie Blyth and I trawled through 18,000 pages of documents on one pension scheme looking for evidence the property had transferred validly from a former scheme to the current one. We found lots of lovely letters written by the business owners covering various points – my favourite being a secret toaster kept under a desk which nearly burnt the property down - but nothing that helped us clarify who the property was owned by.
If it is, is it registered correctly? For example, is the trustee information up to date on the Land Registry? We’ve found these issues fairly straightforward to resolve with help from the scheme’s legal advisers, but it is just another complication if you’re looking to sell and is good governance to have in place.
Scottish and English property laws are very different. You’ll need to involve lawyers with the right knowledge – we found the Scottish Land registry to be very different to the English one!
Is the ‘interested party’ the pension scheme? I’ve had a case where the scheme sponsor paid the insurance (which covered several properties), were tenants in the property owned by the pension scheme and were recorded as the interested party on the insurance documentation. Although the scheme and company interests may have been the same if there had been issues, as pension trustee it is worth noting the scheme wouldn’t have been due any insurance pay out. With some leases, the tenant has to pay the insurance but I’ve seen reimbursements rather than the tenant taking out the insurance to be more common.
If you have a guarantee with an employer and that guarantee is a high street property, have you had a recent valuation? Does it still give you the same level of security it did pre-pandemic? We’ve seen some property value drop significantly. Equally, for other property types we’ve seen values go up and have achieved sale prices higher than anticipated (a recent case saw a property with a ‘current’ valuation of £650,000 sell for £900,000).
Do you know the notice period in the lease? If your property becomes vacant, are you meeting the insurer’s requirements (fire alarms, regular site visits etc)? Do you have a property manager available for repairs and inspections? Who is responsible for organising this in your lease?
We’ve had to deal with Japanese knotweed, contaminated land and a curious title deed policy. Some of these may seem small and not financially significant, but they can throw a sale. General maintenance needs considering too – dealing with a disappointed neighbour when a property became vacant ahead of a sale and the gardens weren’t maintained to the same level as before took time and energy.
Don’t forget business rates and utilities. What happens if the tenant changes – do you need to do anything? If your trustee structure changes, have you updated the necessary people? More generally, do you know what you’re responsible for under the lease? Check so you’re comfortable you could manage any requirements if needed.
If tenants are in place, have any agreements been made regarding offsetting expenses for rent? We’ve had cases where fence costs and dilapidation repairs have been covered by such arrangements put in place long before we became pension trustee.
When selling residential property, you need to provide information on the energy rating of the house, windows, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and light bulbs. Similarly, for non-residential properties are asbestos surveys, electrical certificates and energy certificates all up to date? Do you have copies or know how to obtain them? It’s easy for these points to be missed when considering scheme investments, particularly when the property is a very small proportion of overall assets.
Although the property sales teams fixed fees don’t tend to be impacted by additional complications, the same won’t be true for fees from the legal advisers. These fees can escalate, and it’s important to make sure you’re regularly updated on these costs. Timescales can also take a lot longer than initial estimates (just like when buying/selling residential property!).
If your investment is in a property fund, do you know what the fees (we had one where fees were disproportionately high to remaining funds) and the process for disinvesting are? In June 2019 we instructed a full disinvestment from a property fund and still don’t have all the value from it. As we’re winding up the pension scheme, this is proving problematic.
It is easy for pension trustees to under estimate what’s involved when selling a property. There can be a lot of detail, from council rates, exclusions and other requirements if the building is listed down to liaising for key collection at the end of the sale process. You need to account for all of these in fee considerations.
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