Let the buyer beware...

Don’t get caught out when you buy your dream house.

Contracts for the sale of land are founded on the legal principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). This means that it is the buyer’s responsibility to investigate the property they are planning to buy.

When selling a property, the seller will complete a Property Information Form for the buyer, but the information contained in this form is limited. If there is a problem later on (such as a leaky roof or dry rot) which the form didn’t cover, you may not have any comeback against the seller.

You would have to prove that the seller had lied to you or had concealed the problem. This would not be easy to prove and even harder to enforce.

Whilst your Solicitor will try to make sure that any problems are identified and resolved, the National Conveyancing Protocol says that we should only ask the sellers questions which:-

  • clarify issues relating to any documents submitted
  • are relevant to the particular property, or
  • the buyer has expressly requested.

We cannot not raise general enquiries, such as questions about the state of the building which could be checked by the buyer’s survey or inspection.

Because of this, we always advise clients to get a survey done, something which can not be overstressed.

A survey should identify things which the buyer may not notice and it will also help the Solicitor to ask the right questions. So, if a surveyor spots dry rot, we can question the seller about this. If a surveyor notes that a wall has been demolished, we can ask whether there was building control approval.

Our advice is to visit a few times before committing to a purchase, preferable at different times of the day or week, and if possible in different weather conditions (something which should not be a problem round here!)

And, always get a proper survey done. That way you will hopefully avoid any nasty surprises.

If you are looking at buying a house and need some advice first, contact one of our property lawyers.

Published 8 September 2017

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