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Caveat emptor - just more legal jargon to confuse a house buyer?

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Protecting deposits - and your pocket

Simply put, no. Whilst the phrase itself does derive from Latin origins, that is as flamboyant as it gets and it translates to “let the buyer beware”. 

It applies to all property transactions, which are contractual agreements.  

The obligation is on the purchaser to not only see for themselves the state and condition of a property, but to with the assistance of  a surveyor, or contractor, establish if there are any structural issues or issues with gas boilers or electrical installations. Any acting lawyer will advise their clients to consider this fundamental element when buying property. 

It is stressed to all clients who are purchasing a property, that even though they may be quite content with reports they have obtained and inspections they have carried out, a final inspection just before exchange of contracts should be done to check the property is acceptable. This is especially important with properties which may have been subject to a tenancy agreement and the tenant has since vacated.

This advice could not have been any more welcome in a case recently in which I acted for a client who made an offer to purchase a property after viewing it in July. At the time of offer the property was furnished and seemed satisfactory. Due to reasons outside of her control completion only became a topic of discussion some four months on, by which time the seller had vacated. An inspection revealed various points of concern including large areas of raised laminate flooring which were previously concealed with rugs, rotten window frames which again were not obvious at the time of offer, as well as cracked radiators. Lead had also been taken from the windows and the roof. Work to correct the issues was estimated to be in the region of £5,000. From the purchaser’s perspective these works were not accounted for and so had to be factored into a budget. The exchange of contracts did not proceed as a result of this.

Buyers can also fall foul when they view a property and the boiler has been turned off due to the property being vacant (which may be considered as practical). Even though the seller may have produced a gas safety certificate at some point in the preliminary enquiries stage you need to consider the date of it. Whether a week or months have passed since it was issued and it is still in date it is always advisable for a buyer to have a contractor do a further inspection. The boiler if a fundamental piece of equipment which you will be very much dependent on to enjoy and live in your new home comfortably and can be expensive to replace. The certificate is issued from an inspection and whilst the seller will usually act in good faith and inform you of any issues, the good will of another cannot necessarily be relied upon. 

In summary, it is best to inspect and obtain expert reports before committing yourself to one of the biggest financial investments you will make so that you are fully aware what you are committing yourself to and ultimately making an informed decision. Once you have exchanged contracts remember you are committing to purchase the property in its current state and condition. 


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