Duty of the seller
Unfortunately, there is no duty on the seller of a property to disclose any issues or defects with the property, voluntarily. A seller does however have a duty to answer all enquiries in relation to the property honestly and accurately. Standard enquiries are usually made by the seller being asked to complete the sellers property information form, which is a standard form produced by the Law Society. This asks a number of questions relating to the property and any issues relating to it and the surrounding area, that are within the knowledge of the seller. Your solicitor may also ask further specific enquiries throughout the course of the conveyancing process, which again, the seller has a duty to answer accurately and honestly.
Seller lied on property information form
So, what happens if a seller lies on the property information form or in response to specific enquiries?
This can result in a claim for misrepresentation against the seller. The sellers property information form and replies to enquiries, form part of the contract between you and the seller. It is therefore a breach of that contract if they knowingly misrepresent any of the answers on the form and you then rely on those representations in purchasing the property.
Our property dispute solicitors have acted for numerous clients who have found themselves in this situation. Examples of the types of misrepresentations that we have seen are as follows:
- Structural issues that require extensive remedial works
- Disputes with the neighbours to the property
- Proposed planning in the area that could effect the value of the property
- The presence of Japanese Knotweed in the garden
The above list is by no means exhaustive and there can be a range of other issues that arise.
Bringing a claim for seller misrepresentation
If you wish to bring a claim against a seller for misrepresentation, you firstly have to show that they have answered an enquiry inaccurately or incorrectly and then you have to be able to prove that the seller was aware of the issue before you bought the property. The latter can sometimes be more difficult to prove and usually speaking with neighbours who may be willing to give a statement to support your case, can be very helpful evidence.
If you can prove your case, you may then have a claim against the seller to rescind the contract, which means to cancel the contract, return the property to them and you get back all that you have spent. If the issue is considered to be minor or capable of rectification however, the court may find that it is more proportionate for your claim to be one for damages to reflect either the cost of any remedial works or the diminution in the value of the property.
It is also important to consider in situations like this, if you instructed a surveyor to assess the property before you purchased it, whether the surveyor ought to have noticed the issues with the property, in particular if they relate to the condition of the property. You may therefore have a potential professional negligence claim against the surveyor also.
If you think you may have a claim for property misrepresentation and wish to discuss it with us, call our specialist team on 0203 816 9314 or complete our online enquiry form.
Property misrepresentation FAQs
Can a home buyer sue the seller?
If you have bought a house in England and Wales, with problems not disclosed by the vendor (seller), then you may be within your rights to sue or rescind the contract. From nightmare neighbours to damp walls and pest issues, a seller is legally required to state anything that is wrong with the property, before completing a sale. However, it does depend on the defect discovered by the home buyer and when they discovered it as to what action they are within their rights to take. If a defect is discovered in between exchange and completion, the buyer has the right to refuse to complete the sale, request a specific amount to be knocked off the purchase price or be entitled to damages. If the buyer discovers a defect after completion, the buyer may be able to claim damages in respect of a breach of contract or misrepresentation or they may be able to rescind the contract altogether. As a buyer, you are entitled to claim damages if there is a significant difference between the description or value of the property and how it actually is. Don’t suffer in silence if you have been mis-led when buying your home.
Is a verbal offer on a property legally binding?
In England and Wales, an offer on a property isn’t legally binding until contracts are exchanged. An offer can be made verbally (over the phone or in person) but this should not be taken as final. In reality, there can be up to several weeks between a verbal offer and the signing of contract. Until contracts are exchanged, a buyer’s verbal offer is ‘subject to contract’ which means the price can still be negotiated (usually in the instance of a survey revealing a problem).