Purchasing a house is one of the biggest decisions somebody will make in their lifetime – but research has shown that it is also one of the fastest. Lexie Jacobs explains.
Various research studies have revealed that it takes anywhere from 8 minutes (yes – just 8 minutes!) to half an hour for buyers to decide whether they want to make an offer on a property. That’s a surprisingly short amount of time to decide whether to invest a huge amount of money in a property.
There are many small things that buyers should look at or seek answers to when looking around a potential property before making a decision whether or not to make an offer; all too often, none of these factors are considered. Unless you are purchasing a new-build property directly from a developer/house builder then any property you consider is, in effect, a second-hand item. A few basic questions ought to be considered when viewing the property. They may not necessarily affect your decision to buy but may affect how much you’re prepared to pay. If appliances are to remain, are they in good working order? Do the toilets flush properly? How long does it take for hot water to start running from the hot taps? If there are window locks, do they work properly? Is there a full set of keys for everything with locks in the property?
As more sellers start to use ‘online’ agents and in order to accommodate viewers who are working during the day, more property owners find themselves showing potential buyers around their property themselves. We find it very easy to assume that because someone lives at a property everything must work properly, and we find ourselves too embarrassed to walk around someone else’s house running taps, flushing toilets and trying cupboard doors.
Like most second-hand purchases the basic rule is ‘buyer beware’. If you don’t ask the question or test the product, then you buy it as it is and the seller is under no legal obligation to point faults out to you. The legal purchasing process asks a standard set of questions of the seller in the form of the Seller’s Property Information Form and the seller must answer these questions truthfully. However, if a question is not asked then the seller is not obliged to advise the buyer. Imagine the frustration if on the day of moving in mum pops round with a lasagne to heat up in the oven so you don’t have to find the nearest takeaway or worry about locating a pan to cook with – but you can’t get the oven to work. It transpires that the oven is broken and the seller has been using their microwave (which they took with them) for the past heaven knows how long because the repair to the oven was deemed too expensive.
This type of issue alone wouldn’t stop you from buying a house but you would have possibly chosen to bring your own oven with you from your previous property, you could have ordered a new one to be delivered on moving day (or shortly after) or possibly you may have agreed via the solicitors that the seller would repair the oven and have it working by the time the sale completed.
Where questions are asked and replies are obtained, in writing, via the solicitors then you as the buyer may rely on that information. One of the most common issues on moving day is rubbish being left behind at the property. The Seller’s Property Information Form requires the Seller to confirm that “all rubbish is removed from the property (including from the loft, garden, outbuildings, garages and sheds) and that the property will be left in a clean and tidy condition”. Should you turn up on the day of completion to find the loft is full of the seller’s old unwanted possessions, or the garage has several old tins of paint, items of furniture and unwanted belongings stacked in it then this goes against the confirmation given by the Seller’s Property Information Form and constitutes a breach of the sale contract. It will clearly cost you both time and money to rectify, not to mention the aggravation of dealing with it.
We at Pinney Talfourd would recommend that as soon as you become aware of a problem of this nature, you should telephone your solicitor who is dealing with your purchase because the sooner they are aware, the easier it can be to resolve. If it is early enough in the day the Seller may be able to come back to the property and remove the offending items (it is possible that in the chaos of moving they had simply forgotten to check everything was taken out of the garage/loft!), or the seller’s solicitor may be able to hold back sufficient monies to cover the cost incurred for your own removers to take the items away and dispose of them. Once the day of completion is passed, if the seller does not agree to return and remove the items or settle the cost of removal then the remedy is to make the clearance arrangements and pay the costs yourself. You would then have to sue the seller to recoup the cost you have incurred. Not a great start for your new home!
Next time you head out to view a property, (to utilise a current popular advertising campaign slogan – other slogans are available) ‘Check it. Don’t chance it’. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions and test the product. Most sellers have nothing to hide and will be happy for you to ensure everything is as you expect it to be.
Happy house hunting!
For more information and advice on buying or selling a property, please contact a member of our Residential Property team for impartial legal advice. Call on 01708 229444 or email us using our contact form.This article was written by Lexie Jacobs, Associate at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of June 2018.