Plain English Is Plain Good Sense

Wednesday, 22 July 2009, 10:29 am
Press Release: REINZ

News Release 15 July 2009

Plain English Is Plain Good Sense

Home buyers and sellers in New Zealand will find understanding the process they are signing up for a great deal easier with the introduction of plain English forms.

‘People who are buying or selling a property have a right to understand the implications of what they are signing. The new forms are designed to do away with ambiguity and complexity,’ says REINZ chief executive Christine Le Cren.

That is why the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) has been working on the development of the forms, engaging a team of writing and legal specialists to ensure the forms achieved their objective of simplifying the process while maintaining the forms’ legal integrity.

‘It took some 50 drafts before everyone was satisfied, but we believe the result gives us the best of both worlds,’ says Mrs Le Cren. ‘We have not compromised the law, but we have written the law and contractual terms and conditions in plain English and we have followed plain English principles in both the text and the design and layout.’

Plain English specialist, Write Limited, was hired for the challenging task of making the agreement forms for buying and selling real estate clear, simple and user friendly. Design and layout specialist Optimal Usability was engaged to design the forms to complement the principles of plain English.

‘We believe the new forms for private treaty agreements, sale by auction agreements and sale by tender agreements not only read better; they are better laid out and designed to copy and fax and to prepare and produce online,’ Mrs Le Cren says.

An enormous degree of consultation went into the development of the new forms.

Ensuring the word of the law was not lost in translation, REINZ appointed Barry Gunson, a lawyer from Hamilton, as head drafter for the documents.

Mr Gunson says ‘It has been a privilege to be involved with the preparation of the new REINZ agreement forms.

‘Every effort has been made to make the forms easy to understand. However, the overriding consideration has been to make sure they are legally sound and suitable for the current real estate environment’ he says.

‘Barry had a number of legal specialists in property law peer review his drafting and three large groups of real estate agents and salespeople were also formed to comment and give feedback through the drafting process,’ Mrs Le Cren says.

‘Then, Chris Moore, chairperson, and the executive members of the Property Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society reviewed and commented on the drafts.’

From a consumer point of view, the forms are getting the thumbs up.

In the process of buying an investment property, Ian Glogoski was shown the new form at the user testing phase and said he found it a great deal easier to read than the existing form.

‘It was more in your face with bold headings and open text. The old form’s small print was a struggle to get through, whereas with the new form, you could easily see what you needed to read and what was relevant to you. It wasn’t nearly so much of a slog.’

The Director of Write Limited, Lynda Harris, is delighted with the Real Estate Institute’s commitment to giving real estate agents the opportunity to communicate openly with their clients.

‘Plain English is about giving greater clarity and precision to a document, with the reader’s needs uppermost in the writer’s mind. Redrafting in plain English takes time and an intelligent mind. Our views and work are based on solid research and practical results by many lawyers who have embraced plain English and gone on to widely publicise its benefits.’

To critics of plain English who suggest it is simply ‘dumbing down’ a document to the point where it loses its meaning, particularly from a legal perspective, Ms Harris is confident the documents hold up.

‘We realise there will always be some tension between the relative safety of using precedent documents and terminology, and their plain English equivalents. However, according to a lawyer who presented a paper at the 2008 international Plain English conference, CLARITY, there are no recorded instances of plain English contracts being the subject of litigation or dispute because of the plain English wording. The expectation is actually quite the opposite.’

Says Mrs Le Cren, ‘we believe the forms will be overwhelmingly popular with the public who need to have absolute confidence when making an important life decision.