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A Lawyer and Financial Adviser Discuss Property, Advice & Making Good Choices

Updated: May 16, 2023

Cam: What separates Cavell Leitch’s Real Estate and Property team from any other?


James: Like any business, it’s the people. People make all the difference and we are very lucky at Cavell Leitch to have a great bunch of talented people.

In law, there’s always a need to focus on the human-side of things. A lot of lawyers know the law, but being able to connect with people is just as important. The law can be complex, but the way a lawyer helps their client to understand the law and how it applies to their situation, that’s the real skill.


Cavell Leitch’s culture has been maintained by hiring the right people. Working with people who are naturally inclined to care about other people. The lawyers at Cavell Leitch need empathy and the ability to listen because it’s common for lawyers and financial professionals NOT to listen. So that’s a point of difference. We listen very well.



Is there a way a client can know that is true and not just a piece of marketing?


One of the fundamental values for Cavell Leitch is providing the best client experience. That’s unusual in law because often time or billing can be higher priorities. At Cavell Leitch, it’s different because we start with having a connection with our clients (getting to know them, their family, and their business) and ensuring they have a great legal experience when working with us – that’s a focus for us on what we track and measure.



Why is it that some people say that they hate the ‘law’ or lawyers?


People often come to lawyers when they have an urgent or unexpected problem that they need help solving. These times can be very stressful for people so the legal relationship can often start with that feeling. A good lawyer will help support their client through the difficult times and alleviate as much stress for them as possible by giving clear and practical advice.



You wrote a great article, that stated Christchurch is a great place for first home buyers. What makes Christchurch a better option for first home buyers, compared to other areas?


Lower prices is a starting point – lower cost of living and lower house prices – but still with a high amount of earning potential and city-life available. Most things are reasonably simple here. There isn’t crazy traffic which saves time on driving and means more time being where you want to be, as opposed to ‘traveling to’ where you want to be.


There are many options to try new things. It might be more difficult to just ‘do something’ like a start up in Auckland or Wellington given the higher prices. The earthquakes kind of forced kiwi-ingenuity as people had to adapt and there was no rule-book. The earthquakes helped strengthen community and allow innovation.


Christchurch gives more lifestyle choices because property is cheaper so people aren’t as burdened by debt. Therefore they can save more, or buy more properties or investments, which has a huge effect on their wealth later on in life. That is a better balance over the long-term. Cam can speak to this because making a decision about how much debt a person takes on early in life has massive effects on their life years later, and not everyone realises that.



What are some things that you feel many people don’t really understand about buying or selling real estate?


It’s not so much that people don’t understand – these days we can all look something up pretty quickly and easily online. Kiwis have a great DIY nature, but life (and property law) can be very complicated.


Knowing when to transfer the stress, and admin of a transaction to professionals is key. Property law is always changing, so it’s not easy for people to stay up to speed with everything that’s going on. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs.


A good lawyer will give clarity and certainty around your decision making and ensure you have the best level of support and protection possible.

Here’s an example: There are so many ‘online experts’ or personalities on YouTube selling a ‘hot idea’, but those people aren’t giving customised or bespoke help for any individual’s situation. They can’t, it’s not what they are qualified to do. They are just blurting stuff out.


I also think there is no real substitute for time in a professional field. A person can read for 100 hours about something, but that’s not going to replace 10 years of working in the field, with other professionals and having formal training. There’s a difference.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see property buyers make?


1. Signing contracts before doing sufficient due diligence. If you do the work up front, you will have a better result than if you just jump in and try and fix things after the fact. Do the deep thinking and financial planning before signing up to something life changing.


2. Taking a minute to stop and think through the implications of signing a contract. Excitement can make it hard to slow down. Almost nothing is as time sensitive as a salesperson will make it seem. Speak to your accountant, lawyer, and financial adviser before making anything official.


3. Be clear about what you want. Professional advisers and lawyers don’t ‘give answers’, instead we tend to give options and context about how each option could play out. Clients that understand what they want for their families, businesses, and motivations are typically happier with their results. It can be difficult to know that on your own, but that’s where the professionals come in. A good professional is separated from a bad one because they listen to a person and tailor advice to what they are hearing, as opposed to just assuming everyone is the same.


If you could change anything regarding the world of real estate and property lawyers, what would it be?


I don’t think there is one magic idea that will change the system for the better. It’s a multi-faceted system with lots of moving parts. For example, you would need to look at banking and finance regulations and processes, property legislation, taxation, the increased administration and compliance associated with legal transactions – all of these things are already constantly changing and improving simultaneously.


As a client, being informed is good start – do some research on what you want to achieve and you will have better conversations with your professionals.

What are some key considerations for people that are selling properties - How can they best protect themselves?


1. Words matter. You can read two conditions on paper that might look almost identical, but they can legally mean entirely different things.


Here’s an example: In a standard sale and purchase contract there are ‘standard conditions’ in the fine print. Relying on those standard conditions can place higher obligations on you as a buyer or seller, whereas using bespoke conditions will often better protect your position from the outset. If you rely on the standard conditions, you will have a harder time negotiating the contract terms or cancelling the agreement if you find something wrong. Take the time to get those conditions right, up front.


2. Talk to your lawyer and professional advisers WAY EARLIER than you think you should and get some good advice.



What can it look like when things go bad?


Unfortunately, there’s a full spectrum of ‘bad’ that we see, as property lawyers. At one end, people can get stuck purchasing a property they don’t want. Not all properties are created equal – a random building report issue or title issue (like with cross lease properties) could crop up and could cost thousands of dollars to fix. This is why getting your contract correct at the outset is so important.

Dealing with legal issues also has very human impacts. When legal things go bad, this can cause stress for you and your family and take away your most important resource – time - time you’d rather spend with your family, relaxing, or working on your business.


Something like 70% of New Zealanders see buying their first home as the biggest financial decision they will make in their lives – so why would you not want to get some good legal advice and make sure your biggest life decision is a good one? I guess it’s like insurance, nobody likes paying their premiums, but oh boy are you glad you paid it when something has burned down.

We are lucky as property lawyers that we get to be a bit more constructive and provide good news to clients. It’s nice to be able to help people from the outset, like being a fence at top of the cliff.



What do you think financial advisers could or should incorporate that would better help their clients who own or invest in properties?


It’s about having a great network of people that the adviser can reach out to in order to keep their finger on the pulse. A good financial adviser should have a way of being informed, of knowing what trends or upcoming changes will help their clients make better decisions. Get access to people that have that information.



What kind of clients do you work well with?


At Cavell Leitch we are lucky to have some awesome clients. I get to work with a wide range of people from first home buyers and investors to developers and larger corporates on lots of interesting matters. I love getting to know people – catching up with clients about their lives, their families, and their businesses – whilst supporting them with their legal matters. So, anyone who likes a good chat will be a good match.



Why do you do what you do?


People will often ask ‘what do you do?’, but not always ‘why do you do that’ – that’s the much more interesting question. Often, when someone answers that, it’s about helping people. To make someone’s life a bit easier or better.


A good lawyer will be transactional and get things done well, but a great lawyer will go a step further and ask ‘why’ – providing that higher level of support and guidance to their clients in an efficient and effective way. Being a great lawyer doesn’t just help people with a small transaction or single situation, it should help improve their overall quality of life.



About James Allen






A Lawyer and Financial Adviser Discuss Property, Advice & Making Good Choices
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