The Property Information Form

In September 2019 Cunningtons wrote a post (My Seller Lied To Me!) explaining the consequences of misrepresentation when selling property. As buying a home is often the biggest investment most of us make, it’s important to get it right – and you expect someone who’s selling a property to know a lot about the house when they come to putting it on the market.

To encourage a true exchange of this information, the Seller’s Property Information Form (otherwise known as the TA6) was introduced. The form covers quite extensively most of the issues that could be cause for concern when purchasing a property. But it is NOT a legally binding document, as it says in the small print at the end:

“… in relation to the physical condition of the property, the replies should not be treated as a substitute for undertaking your own survey or making your own independent enquiries, which you are recommended to do.

It should come as no surprise to find out that sometimes a seller does not accurately complete their Property Information Form – and not always deliberately – misleading the potential buyer.

Our post has received many comments, many of them frustrated at issues that buyers believed the buying process should have brought up.

Cunningtons are Property solicitors, and part of what we do is Conveyancing. However, our misrepresentation post has encouraged people to contact our Civil Litigation department about Property disputes, as the conveyancing has been done and they are now owners of their new property.

What is abundantly clear from the comments is that many of the issues could have been dealt with before completion – and even before exchange – with a little extra work by the buyer.

There are a number of great guides to help you with the process of buying a house, including Cunningtons’ own guide to buying. And it’s worth taking the time to make sure you are as informed as possible. As top buying agent Henry Pryor told us:

“… people seem to approach buying a house with as much care as they might when buying a takeaway sandwich. I always document what I’m told and double-check it so that if in due course there is a problem then one has a paper trail that points to who might have made the mistake.”

Caveat emptor – buyer beware – even though it’s a phrase in a dead language, is very much a live issue today.

Here are the issues that drove home buyers to get in touch with us:

– Claims made in marketing materials

“… informed by the vendor’s solicitor that there was no share of freehold even though the property was advertised as “share of freehold” “ – Mark C

It should come as no surprise to you that marketing does not always tell the truth. So when the estate agent’s details of a property you are interested in say it is ‘freehold’ or ‘share of freehold’, you should check that this is correct.

You can do this for free by visiting the Land Registry, or it might cost £3 for a printed copy. And if there’s any confusion, speak to your conveyancing solicitor as you progress toward exchange.

“This was also confirmed in all marketing documents. “ – Peter B

You should never rely on any information in a glossy brochure about amenities, it is there to inspire your interest only.

If you are sufficiently interested to move forward with a purchase, you should request written confirmation of any services, and ask your conveyancing solicitor to check the wording before moving on.

– Planning permissions

” … we have since discovered … that the vendors built this extension themselves …” – Phil H

There were a number of comments where a buyer had assumed that planning permission had been granted for extensions and other building works. Assumptions can be costly, and checking is easy. Check for free at https://www.gov.uk/search-register-planning-decisions, and contact the specific local council if you are still unsure.

Any and all extensive building work should have been signed off and have full planning permission. That phone call to the council costs nothing – and can save heartache and expense.

… logs confirm this and so do the neighbours and photographic evidence. The vendor also stated they were unaware of any planning breaches …” – Amanda

You can also check the council tax band, which can reassure you that a property is correctly registered as a private residence.

It is also important to check that there are no upcoming planning applications in your area that would diminish enjoyment of your new home; this includes noisy building work on your neighbours’ homes as well as large housing developments nearby that would increase noise and traffic levels during and after completion.

… they stated that the planning or developments they were aware of were 3 miles away, i.e not next door … “ – Sam

Once again, checking with the local council is important and inexpensive. Your conveyancing solicitor can also carry out a Planning search if you request this which will give a wealth of local information about planning applications, as well as crime rate, schools, medical facilities, and other issues.

– Flood risks and historical floods

… on the TA6 form they stated the property had never been flooded” – Sarah

Flooding is both one of the most harrowing things that can occur with your new home, and it is also one of the easiest issues to predict before sale. When you are completing your Property Information Form prior to putting your home on the market, you would obviously be keen to downplay any flood problems.

I … was told on the property information form that the house had never suffered flooding … “ – Doug

However, if you check https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/long-term-flood-risk you can ascertain the potential of any property to flood. The service is free.

You can easily check the height of a property above sea level, if you are taking a more long-term view.

You can also check the Flood Risk For Planning map: https://flood-map-for-planning.service.gov.uk/ , for more reassurance.

– Electric, gas, water and phone coverage

Flooding can also come from burst pipes and poor workmanship within a property. If you have any concerns about this, you can stipulate it when you are ordering your survey, or pay a plumber to come and have a look.

… has condemned the electrical system and has said it will cost £4k to test and redo. [there were] no certificates.” – Annette

The same goes for electrics – if you have concerns, you should check the electrical supply before exchanging on a property. You can order a safety check, as if you were a landlord, or get an electrician to check. Look at the existing systems, especially if it looks updated recently. This is particularly important if you are buying an older property.

“They also said the boiler had been serviced and it broke in two weeks” – Hester

Another issue we have found is the condition of the boiler – it can be a good idea to ask for a demonstration of it functioning. Ask the vendor to run it for a few minutes to verify that it heats up properly. If the house has oil-fired heating it is also important to check the tank and supply lines as clearing heating oil spills is very costly and disruptive.

The most expensive utility on a property would be a septic tank. If you are considering buying a property that uses a septic tank, it might be a good idea to have a separate survey undertaken. You should also find out the date it was last emptied.

We have subsequently had to outlay approximately £10,000 installing a new sewage treatment plant … ” – Sasha

And all appliances and fixtures should have their documentation, particularly something as expensive and important as boilers and septic tanks.

Phone coverage can be another bugbear, and just looking at the phone company’s coverage map is often not enough. To verify mobile phone signal, you have to:

  1. ask the owner,
  2. ask the neighbours, or
  3. try it yourself.

– Pest infestations

It is difficult to detect a pest infestation without checking through a house yourself, as it is not a question on the TA6.

… we found out that … mice were in the flat ” – P

Although if there has been a serious issue it could well have been reported to the local council – so this is another item to put on your list of questions to them.

– Japanese knotweed

An unwanted guest that we surprisingly had no comments about was the famously invasive Japanese knotweed. The TA6 does have a question for sellers to complete on this issue but you should bear in mind most sellers are not horticulturalists and may not recognise it, and so any answer is going only to be based upon whether they have had a problem.

This is something you should be asking your surveyor to check, not only on the property itself, but neighbouring gardens too. Another question to ask the neighbours.

– Invasive tree roots

… revealed that the roots of the trees … are causing the house to subside“ – Ben

Not quite as foreign as Japanese knotweed, but just as invasive, tree roots in the wrong place can cause huge problems with drainage and subsidence. You should make it clear in the instructions to your surveyor that these need to be checked, if you have concerns.

Otherwise, if you think there is a problem, ask a local builder or a tree surgeon to see if there is a problem.

 

More ways of preventing misrepresentation:

Ask The Land Registry

there were no fences separating the properties until 1970 and the owners could effectively access each others gardens. “ – David

You can find out a good deal about property boundaries and ownership at The Land Registry website. This is where you go to get basic information about your proposed purchase – and it’s not expensive.

On the property information form, the vendor did not answer the question relating to parking but did state that there had been no changes to the boundary in the last 20 years “ – Barry

If you are relying on extra space that you assume is part of the property, such as a parking space and access, make sure it’s part of the plot as stipulated in the property’s Land Registry entry.

Ask your conveyancing solicitor to check too, as they will not necessarily know there’s an issue unless you tell them. If you are not sent the plan to check, you should ask for it, and make it clear if there’s any land you think is included which is missing from the plans.

Check the neighbourhood

There’s a lot of information to be gained by walking around the local area at different times of day. Can you see anything that makes you feel nervous about your prospective purchase? Are there noisy roads? You can also spot things that might make you concerned about flooding or development, without having to spend any time online.

You can see if there are the amenities you need, and get a feel for the area – something that is difficult to achieve using the Internet. Are there large open spaces which might be developed and change the nature of the area? Again, a Planning search can provide information on current applications.

Ask the neighbours

Unless the neighbours have been specifically asked not to speak to any potential buyers by the existing owners, they are a potential mine of information. They live in the area, they probably know the vendors, and they will probably be keen to be helpful to anyone who is thinking of becoming their new neighbour.

“… neighbours have told me independently that the previous owner had had ongoing flooding for 20 years ” – Clare

Asking the neighbours can be particularly useful if you are thinking of buying a newbuild property in a development – as all the houses are probably built to the same standard, you can have advance warning of anything to look out for.

And, of course, another huge benefit of asking the neighbours is that you get a chance to introduce yourself to people who could potentially become YOUR neighbours.

Order a full buildings survey

If you’re buying a separate survey, there is little point unless you buy a full buildings survey. It may save you a lot of money, and even allow you to negotiate a cheaper price if you are forewarned of any issues. However, when you order a survey make sure you understand the scope of the work to be undertaken.

If you are assured of anything verbally, make sure you also get it in writing, and mention it to your surveyor if it needs physically checking.

Buyer beware indeed!

It might be helpful to read all the comments on My Seller Lied To Me! to get an idea of what can go wrong – and take them into consideration. As Charlie H said in a refreshingly positive comment:

I just wanted to say thank you for this very informative blog of some very sad events that occur when sellers don’t complete the TA6 honestly. And of course how important it is to understand caveat emptor. Being aware of all the ‘tricks’ that may be pulled ensures being forewarned to be forearmed … – Charlie H

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do yourself to make sure you spend time talking to our Conveyancing department instead of our Civil Litigation team.

 

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