It was generally believed that the sale or purchase of a property is a transaction covered by “Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.” When it's up to the buyer to ask the questions and the seller or their agent to give honest answers.
However, this is no longer the case. Since 2013 with the repeal of the Property Misdescriptions Act the sale and advertising of property has come under the 2008 Consumer Protection Against Unfair Trading Regulations (CPR's).
In simple terms, the CPR's require a seller to inform any potential buyer of material information that may affect an average consumer's transactional decision, not only to buy a property but even “an omission that may affect a potential buyer's decision to view a property”. No longer can you choose what to tell your buyer or your agent.
Before they market a property, a reputable agent should ask you to fill in a Property Information Questionnaire where you can put down any relevant information. This will include issues you may have with your boundaries or other disputes with neighbours; Notices of any developments nearby; Whether the correct approvals have been obtained for building works such as building regulations or the freeholders consent for alterations such as a loft conversion; Any significant occurrences at the property, such as a murder or a suicide; and details of any major defects you are aware of.
Some may consider telling a white lie or being vague with their answers, but this can come back to bite you, even after you have moved out. For instance you may say there are no problems with a neighbour when in reality there is an ongoing boundary dispute. This is likely to come up in the conveyance process, but if the lie doesn't come to light until the new buyers have moved in, the buyers can still come after you. There may have been major works carried out on the property – such as underpinning – before you bought it. On the form you may say no works have been done while you have owned the property. This sort of half-truth could be considered a misrepresentation.
Ultimately this may land you in the dock answering criminal proceedings with the potential of hefty fines and in the worst case imprisonment.
Estate Agents are duty bound to reveal any material information they know – or ought to know - about a property. For instance if a previous sale has fallen through because of defects that came up on the survey, this must be disclosed.
The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team have recently released updated guidance that all estate agents should be working to. Agents can't make misleading statements or fail to mention something that may put off ‘an average consumer' so if you live next door to a school (which for some buyers might be a bonus) or a power station this must be mentioned, and any photos of the property can't be taken in such a way as to conceal them.
Don't be encouraged to keep potential problems quiet, as not only could you be breaking the law, nearly all the information that should be declared is almost certain to come up during the conveyance process. Hidden ‘faults or disputes' which suddenly appear could lead a buyer to withdraw from the sale, costing both sides a lot of time and money.
At Martyn Gerrard we know how to deal with this sort of information and how to pass it on to a potential viewer or buyer at the outset in a sensitive and positive way.