Trading laws in the UK have always been strict about what you can and cannot do in order to sell something. Whether it is the weights and measurements enforcement act, CE marking or selling goods to minors, legislation is in place to protect the consumer. But, did you know that, when it comes to selling a property, there are also certain standards you must comply with?
In this feature, we take a look at the issue of disclosure and what you have to tell a prospective buyer when selling your home.
The Myth of ‘Caveat Emptor’
There is plenty of Latin in our legal systems and the phrase ‘caveat emptor’ (meaning, ‘buyer beware’) is one that exists as a fall back for many sellers, particularly in residential property sales. The principle is a simple one; the buyer alone is responsible for checking the suitability and quality of something before they purchase it.
However, consumer law in the UK has moved away from this traditional model and caveat emptor can only be applied up to a point.
The Property Information Form
The Property Information Form is a standard part of the conveyancing process and is the official document where information must be laid out by the seller for the buyers information. Most of the questions asked on this form cannot be answered by any other form of search or survey and is therefore the responsibility of the seller to complete as fully and as accurately as possible.
Also known as the TA6, the form requires details in the following areas:
- Boundaries including notices received or issues under the Party Wall Act.
- Disputes and complaints with neighbouring properties and/or landowners.
- Notices and proposals issued by neighbours, councils or government departments which may affect the property or a nearby property.
- Alterations, planning and building control such as planning permissions, listed building consents and building regulations consents and completion certificates.
- Guarantees and warranties for works completed such as damp proofing, timber treatment, electrical work, underpinning and roofing.
- Insurance including whether the property is subject to any special conditions, unusually high premiums or high excesses. The seller should also state whether they have made any claims on the property.
- Environmental matters such as flooding, Radon and Japanese knotweed. This section also requires evidence from the latest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).
- Rights and informal arrangements including shared driveways, drains etc, joint ownership of parts of the land, rights to mines and minerals, chancel repair plus any leases on the land or parts of the property.
- Parking including any local authority parking schemes in place around the property.
- Other charges such as service charges, ground rent and maintenance (often applies to leasehold premises only).
- Occupiers. Sellers must supply information of all permanent residents of the property that are aged over 17 including dependents, lodgers and tenants.
- Services such as the electrical installation, central heating system (where applicable), drainage and sewerage including any cess pits, septic tanks and associated soakaways.
- Connection to utilities and services including information about the mains gas, electricity, water supply and sewerage as well as telephones and cable providers.
- Transaction information. This is where the seller commits to any requirements about a specific moving date
All of the information provided in this form must be backed up with copies of the corresponding paperwork such as FENSA, NHBC, Gas Safe certificates, building consents, Competent Persons Certificates etc.
It is a requirement of law that if there is more than one party selling the property that all sellers complete (or check the answers) and sign the form.
Any subsequent changes to the detail provided in the TA6, after you have completed it, must be advised to the conveyancing solicitors. Failure to complete the form accurately or supplying incorrect information can result in an incomplete, failed or reversal of the contract and the transaction.
What You MUST Tell Your Buyers
Given the extensive information that you must legally provide on the TA6 Property Information Form, you should always ensure that you do not mislead your buyers before they make an offer. Doing so can result in lengthy delays to the contract process and even failed transactions. Failure to provide (or to lie about) information relating to those areas detailed above can ever result in your being sued (see below).
With this in mind, it is in your best interests to make sure that prospective buyers and the agents representing you make clear any defects, issues or special particulars which relate to the sale of your home. This can include (but is not limited to):
- Feuds with neighbours.
- Cracks appearing in your walls.
- Any alterations to the building particularly if you don’t have the relevant building control completion certificates.
Consequences of Misrepresentation
If you deliberately misrepresent your property, by lying on the Property Information Form, concealing major defects or by providing false information to buyers (either directly or via your estate agent) then you could find your self on the wrong side of the law. The Misrepresentation Act 1967 shifts the burden of responsibility from the buyer (caveat emptor) to the seller. Effectively this means that, if your buyer suspects that you lied on the paperwork or presented your property in a misleading way then it is up to the seller to prove otherwise and not the other way around.
It is important to note here that a verdict of misrepresentation can be found by the courts for both fraudulence and negligence as well as a more innocent fail-safe of ignorance.
Being sued, post-sale, by your buyer could lead to a reversal of the contract meaning that you would need to buy back your property and cover your buyers’ expenses. This could include mortgage interest as well as legal costs.
The Role of an Estate Agent
When you appoint a third party to act on your behalf to market and sell your home then it is vitally important that you advise the individual (or company) of any matters which may come up on the TA6. If they are to act on your behalf, then they should know whether there are any issues which may come up so they can advise you (and your buyers) accordingly.
Concealing information from your agent can also be considered misrepresentation and can significantly delay the process of selling your home. Don’t forget that some issues could also affect the valuation you receive against your property.
And finally, pleading ignorance is no defence in the case of withholding pertinent information about the circumstances, state and condition of the sale of your home. As the legal title deeds holder, it is your responsibility to be forthcoming with the facts.
An experienced and reliable estate agent will be able to advise you on the best way to navigate the marketing and sale of your property in respect of any flaws, issues and missing certification. They should be able to do this within the law and acting in your best interests as well as realising the best value for your home.
Here at Property Assistant, we take great pride in our reputation for honesty, integrity and performance. Not only can we ensure that your home achieves the best market value, but we can also advise on how best to market your home when it is in a less than perfect condition, subject to special conditions or even if you have an ongoing dispute with neighbours.
To find out more about why our clients put their trust in us, contact us today on 0118 912 3270.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.