From left: Tony Collins, JC Collins Insurances Ltd; Tom Lynch, Property Services Regulatory Authority; Ken O’Flaherty, myhome.ie; and, Ed Carey, Chairman, Residential Agency Professional Group.

There was an excellent turn out of members on May 16 at the Heritage Hotel, Portlaoise, for the CPD meetings of the Rural and Residential Agency Professional Groups.

A residential morning

The Residential Agency Group meeting took place in the morning, and after some introductory remarks, Group Chairman Ed Carey introduced the first speaker of the day, Tony Collins of JC Collins Insurances Ltd.

Tony gave a very informative presentation drawing on his extensive experience in the professional indemnity claims environment. He advised delegates to always identify the client, i.e., the person or body to whom the surveyor owes a duty of care, and to make sure that a written agreement/contract is in place, setting out the terms of reference for work to be carried out. He stated that the client should always indemnify the surveyor for risks associated with their property, as failure to do so is a common cause of claims later, for example if someone has an accident while viewing a property. He advised delegates on the importance of file management and organisation, and of always applying an established standard such as the Red Book. Finally, he gave valuable advice on claims management, and what to do when a claim is received. He recommended engaging with the insurer as soon as the claim is received, and emphasised the importance of record keeping, including emails, and of collaboration at all times with the insurer. He reminded delegates that it is in their interest to be actively involved in their case from the beginning.

Tony was followed by Ken O’Flaherty, Finance Director at myhome.ie. Ken offered an update on the property market, setting activity in the context of the economic situation, particularly to the end of 2011. He said that despite the negative outlook at the start of the year, which was a result of factors such as the ongoing threat to the Euro, Ireland’s austerity budget, and lack of availability of mortgage finance, improvements could be seen in the property market so far in 2012. These were assisted by low European Central Bank (ECB) rates, Government measures to improve mortgage interest relief, and modest signs of economic recovery. He cited as examples the CSO’s announcement of improvements in consumer confidence and the recent launch by NAMA of its 80:20 Deferred Payment Initiative. Ken also revealed that activity on myhome.ie has improved considerably in recent months, with higher numbers visiting the site, and a higher proportion of those visits converting into enquiries. Finally, he introduced initiatives that myhome.ie is taking to further improve its service, including a rebranding and redesign of the site, greater use of social media and mobile phone and iPad apps, and the launch of the ‘on view’ facility.

The final speaker of the morning was Tom Lynch, Chief Executive of the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA). In a very interesting and timely update, Tom stated that he was “highly confident” that the Authority would be licensing property services providers (PSPs) by the July 6 deadline. He expected that the relevant statutory instruments would shortly be approved, clearing the way for full implementation of the legislation. Tom outlined the functions of the PSRA, placing particular emphasis on its role as licensing body for PSPs. He also discussed the forthcoming residential property price register, which will be up and running by September 2012, and the commercial leases database. He went into some detail about the new licensing system, including who should be licensed, and how they need to go about applying for a licence. He placed great emphasis on the fact that breaches of the new legislation will be treated as criminal acts; the Authority has extensive powers of audit and inspection, and powers of sanction that include suspension or revoking of licences and, in serious cases, prosecution. He referred members to the new guide to the legislation, which is available online (see article on page 32 for further information).

Rural briefing

For the afternoon session, John Dawson, Chair of the Rural Agency Professional Group, introduced four excellent speakers.

Declan McEvoy, Head of Taxation at IFAC Accountants, presented valuable information on farming business taxation. He gave an overview of the capital tax regime and of income tax benefits, including changes to stamp duty, capital acquisitions tax thresholds and capital gains tax. He also advised on anomalies with regard to retirement relief, land leasing exemptions and the tax status of farms that become limited companies. He offered useful advice on tax planning, for example the benefits of moving assets to the next generation while positive tax reliefs are still available. He spoke at some length on the anomalies in the system as regards land mobility  within families. A number of anomalies exist that make it difficult for such transfers to take place without significant tax liability arising, and Declan reiterated a view held by the Rural Agency Group, that there is a need for changes to the system. Finally, he discussed the Commission on Taxation Report, pointing out that all changes in taxation since 2009 are a result of this report, so anyone who is looking to see what taxation changes are coming down the line, should consult it.

Thomas Ryan, Environment and Infrastructure Executive with the Irish Farmers Association and a member of the Rural Agency Group, spoke next on ‘New land improvement regulations – things to know when selling land’. Thomas summarised the main elements of the new regulations for farmers seeking to restructure land and holdings, use uncultivated or semi-natural land for intensive agriculture, or carry out certain land drainage works on agricultural lands. There are now very specific thresholds, beyond which the landowner must apply for screening to the Department of the Environment, and possibly obtain an environmental impact assessment. He also outlined the stringent thresholds with regard to wetlands under new planning regulations, pointing out that almost all landowners would have to apply for planning permission to carry out work under these thresholds. These regulations will place new responsibilities on farmers selling or buying land, and there was some discussion on this, including during the question and answer session, where issues such as whether compliance with this legislation would become part of conditions of sale, and whether the law can be changed so that thresholds apply to the person farming the land, as opposed to the owner, were raised.

From left: Thomas Ryan, Irish Farmers Association; Tom Cannon CIArb; Ivan Grimes, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; John Dawson, Chair, Rural Agency Professional Group; Roland O’Connell, President, Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland; incoming Rural Agency Group Chairman Ann Carton; and Declan McEvoy, IFAC Accountants.

Ivan Grimes, Principal Officer responsible for Water Services in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, addressed the meeting on the subject of the Water Service (Amendment) Act 2012 and new regulations for houses with domestic waste water systems, i.e., septic tanks. Ivan outlined the circumstances under which the EU ruling came about, pointing out that Ireland has no choice but to legislate, and already faces punitive fines, as well as loss of reputation. He then explained the implications of the new regulations, whereby all households with a septic tank must register, and may be inspected (inspections will at first be targeted to areas where drinking water sources or habitats are likely to be or have been impacted upon by discharge from domestic waste).

Inspectors will target both registered and unregistered systems, with the hope that the new system will result in improved maintenance and better environmental awareness. The next step of the process is that a registration system will be launched (online, by post and at counters at local authorities), training for inspectors will commence, and an information and awareness campaign will begin to make sure that information made available to householders on all issues is very clear.

The meeting was briefly addressed by new Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland President Roland O’Connell, who congratulated delegates on their commitment to continuing professional development, and said that he looked forward to working with members in the coming year.

The final speaker of the day was Tom Cannon, a dairy farmer and accredited mediator. Tom gave a detailed presentation on mediation and arbitration in relation to agricultural land. He listed the various stages of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), from mediation to arbitration, and discussed what each stage involved. He stressed the confidential, voluntary, and non-legal nature of mediation, which he said is a cost-effective and accessible way to resolve disputes, once both parties are willing to engage in the process, and a competent professional mediator is engaged. Tom listed instances where mediation might be useful, such as family succession, setting up and dissolution of partnerships, commercial disputes and financial problems. He stressed the importance of collaborative mediation, where the mediator works with relevant legal or other professionals to reach the best possible conclusion for all parties. Like mediation, arbitration is confidential, accessible and cost-effective, but it is also binding and enforceable. Like other elements of ADR, it benefits hugely from having an arbitrator with relevant professional knowledge of the issues at hand. Arbitration can be helpful in matters regarding compulsory purchase orders, EU milk quota leases, or building contracts, among many others.

All the presentations from this meeting are available on the Society’s website – www.scsi.ie.