A property litigation lawyer has reminded "off plan" apartment buyers of the need for caution.

The warning, from Michael Lawrence, senior associate at Birmingham and London law firm Martineau Johnson, came in the wake of the dispute between apartment purchasers and the developers of Birmingham's tallest residential block.

Buyers at the 39-storey Beetham Tower claim that they were promised "the highest quality apartments ever seen in Birmingham", a promise which they say has not been delivered.

Mr Lawrence commented: "The problem is that claims made in sales brochures are likely to be regarded as little more than sales patter and are not usually included in the contract.

"The law requires that all the terms of a contract involving the sale of a property are set out in a written document signed by the parties and the contract also usually has a

clause to the effect that it contains all the terms of the agreement between the buyer and the seller.

"If the developer is not in breach of contract, a disappointed buyer may nevertheless be entitled to make a claim based on misrepresentation.

"However, such claims can be difficult and come down to one person's word against another. In addition, there is often a specific clause in the contract, to the effect that that the buyer has not entered into the contract on the basis of any representations made by the seller. Exclusions like this are usually effective in preventing misrepresentation claims

"Purchasers faced with a property that does not live up to their expectations, or who have lost their deposit for fail-ing to complete their purchase should take legal advice as soon as they can as delays can prejudice any potential claims."

Mr Lawrence's advice though is aimed at buyers much earlier in the process.

"Prevention is better than cure and prospective buyers should consider whether the required specification of the property is set out, or referred to, in the contract before they sign it.

"If it is not, then buyers are probably unwise to rely on any statements about the apartments.

"Those who buy 'off plan' can be influenced by claims in marketing literature or statements by sales people and this is where the problem usually arises.

"Buyers can get the benefit of buying at a favourable price, giving them more prospects of capital appreciation, but they have to bear in mind that they are taking a risk too.

"If they can't get the formal contractual assurances they need on features that are vital to them, they might be better advised to look elsewhere."

Mr Lawrence said: "When the trend towards city living started, most apartments were sold to investors, who are generally less likely than owner occupiers to be particular about specific fittings.

"There has been a shift and a greater proportion of buyers these days are owner occupiers who are likely to be more concerned with the way in which properties are fitted out."