Misrepresentation In Property Sales: the consequences of not telling the truth when selling property

Buying property is a big investment for anyone, so it’s only right that the purchaser should be satisfied with what they are buying.

Likewise, the seller should be entitled to some comfort in knowing that once their property is sold, that is the end of the matter.

The Seller’s Property Information Form

During the conveyancing process, the buyer will ask the seller questions about their property. These are called pre-contract enquiries and requisitions on title. As part of the process of selling a property, the seller will normally complete a Property Information Form. Much of the time, the form used is the Law Society’s Property Information Form, sometimes referred to as the Seller’s Property Information Form.

The idea behind this process is that the buyer satisfies themselves by asking the seller relevant questions and the seller answers them. If the seller has been as upfront as possible in response to those questions, the seller cannot normally be held liable for anything else they say.

What happens if the seller’s information is not accurate?

We see a lot of cases where a seller, sometimes unintentionally but sometimes deliberately, misleads a buyer by answering a question on the Seller’s Property Information Form or during negotiations incorrectly – or partly incorrectly so as to create a misleading impression. The buyer then purchases the property and moves in, only to discover that the information provided by the seller was inaccurate.

We have dealt with cases where a seller has:

  • failed to disclose existing disputes with neighbours;
  • suggested that a property does not suffer from a flooding issue when it does;
  • inaccurately maintained that the property does not suffer from Japanese knotweed when it does;
  • stated that the boundaries are in one place or have not moved when in fact they are not or have been changed;
  • suggested that the property does not suffer from damp, when it does;
  • explained something in relation to an existing tenant which is incorrect; and
  • stated that there are no planning or other proposals nearby which could have an effect on the property.

… the list goes on.

In all of these cases, the buyer may very well have a claim for misrepresentation, depending on what the seller said about the position.

If you are interested to read about real cases which have been decided by the Courts, examples can be found in our article Property Misrepresentation in Practice.

Misrepresentation is a false statement of fact that induces a party into a contract causing a financial loss. It does not have to be the sole inducement, but the buyer would have to have relied upon the statement to bring a claim. Read more about reliance in misrepresentation claims here

Depending on whether or not the seller innocently, negligently or fraudulently answered the questions inaccurately in the Property Information Form, the buyer may be entitled to claim damages from the seller. In some cases, the buyer will be entitled to ‘rescind’ the contract. This means that the buyer is entitled to their money back and to return the property to the seller. This does not happen very often and a Court will normally award only damages.

Normally the measure of damages awarded to a buyer is based on ‘diminution in value‘, or the difference between what a buyer would have paid for the property knowing about the issue, and what they actually did pay for it. This may not necessarily reflect the actual cost to the buyer in rectifying the issue. However, in some cases, additional damages can be awarded to cover other expenses incurred.

Diminution in value

To give an example of how diminution in value is calculated, we have acted for insurers in professional negligence claims against surveyors, who have failed to identify that a property suffered from subsidence. The measure of damages was based on diminution in value. The cost to the buyer in underpinning the property to stop the subsidence was greater than the actual loss suffered. This is because the property was situated in a highly sought after location with a large rental market, meaning that the impact on the value of the property was less.

Based on the fact that a hypothetical purchaser would have seen the property as an investment opportunity that could provide a return by renting it to tenants, rather than considering it a family home for life, the expert’s opinion was that a hypothetical purchaser would have been more likely to negotiate a smaller reduction in the purchase price than the full cost of the repairs, to make sure that their offer was accepted by the seller and because even with the defect, the property represented a good investment.

How can a seller ensure that their buyer will not bring a claim for misrepresentation against them?

Sadly there is no way to be 100% certain that a buyer may not make a claim later. All a seller can do is minimise the risk of this as much as possible.

Although completing the Seller’s Property Information Form is not mandatory, it is unlikely that a buyer will proceed with the purchase if their questions are not answered. 

Therefore when completing the Seller’s Property Information Form, the seller should answer questions as fully and honestly as possible. We often advise clients to think about what they would want to know about the property if they were buying it, and how they would react if they bought a house with problems that were not disclosed.

If a seller is not certain about an answer to a question in the Seller’s Property Information Form, they should think carefully about whether they want to answer it. 

What happens if the seller’s replies were accurate at the time they were given to the buyer, but by the time of exchange the information has changed?

In some circumstances, a seller is under a continuing obligation to ensure that their replies to enquires are accurate up to the date of exchange of contracts. Therefore if there is a change of circumstances meaning that the original statement is no longer accurate, there is every chance the seller would be obliged to update the buyer.

The Seller’s Property Information Form also specifically tells the seller that in the event that something happens which would mean that their replies are no longer accurate, they should notify their solicitor of this, who should in turn notify the buyer’s solicitor.

If they don’t do this, the seller risks a potential claim against them for misrepresentation.

What if a seller knows something which is not specifically asked about by the buyer?

Have you bought a house with problems which were not disclosed?  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to give rise to a claim for misrepresentation.

The basic position here is ‘caveat emptor’, or ‘buyer beware’. If a buyer does not ask the seller a question, they cannot then look to the seller for compensation if they discover something that they do not like about the property. It is up to the buyer to satisfy themselves that they want to purchase the property and ask questions about it which are important to them.

As the basic position in a property transaction is buyer beware, it follows that if no statement or answer is given by the seller, the buyer cannot be said to have relied on it to enter into the transaction.

Having said this, sometimes (but this is unlikely unless a special or fiduciary relationship exists) a misrepresentation can take place by a failure to mention something material to the transaction.

In some cases, a “half-truth” or explanation which is accurate on the face of it but misleading about the true circumstances of the matter can also amount to a misrepresentation.

The moral of the story

Sellers should be upfront about any issues that affect the property and buyers should take all steps they consider appropriate to obtain the information that they want before committing to a purchase. 

If a seller doesn’t know or is unsure of the answer to a buyer’s question, they should consider not answering the question. However, by not providing a response the seller could be putting their sale at risk, as the buyer may not be prepared to proceed without an answer.

Sometimes a seller will qualify their response, but this in itself is not always enough to prevent a claim. It is important to discuss it with your property solicitor. You can be sued 

If you are interested to read about real cases which have been decided by the Courts, examples can be found in our article “Property Misrepresentation Claims in Practice”.

If you are facing a claim for property misrepresentation or believe that you have a claim yourself, please do feel free to get in touch.

This article is for information only. It is not a precise statement of the law and should not be relied upon as or for a substitution for proper legal advice.

The circumstances of every case are different. We are always happy to discuss your circumstances to see if we can assist.

Questions people ask about misrepresentation

As you can see, buying and selling property is not always as simple as you think. We’ve tried to address some common questions below, but if you are still unsure please feel free to contact us for an answer.

> What is property misrepresentation and what are property misrepresentation claims?

There is no specific definition of this but broadly this could be described as a claim which arises by reason of a misrepresentation occurring during a property transaction.

> Can I sue the seller if I bought a house with problems that were not disclosed?

A seller does not have to volunteer information about a property. If a seller stays silent on something, a representation has not been made and a claim for misrepresentation can arise.

> What compensation will I receive in a property misrepresentation claim?

Damages for all types of misrepresentation cases are intended to put the claimant in the position that they would have been in had the misrepresentation not been made.
In property misrepresentation cases, this is normally the difference between what you paid for the property and what it would have been worth, had the truth been told. This is called diminution in value.

> What should a seller disclose when selling their property?

The seller does not have to disclose anything but if they do not, then a buyer might decide not to take the risk of buying the property.
Normally a seller will fill out a property information form. For residential purchases, the Law Society published a standard property information form for this purpose, called a TA6 or a TA7.

> What if the seller lied on the property information form?

If a party to a contract deliberately misrepresented facts relating to the property with the intention of misleading the buyer, a fraudulent misrepresentation can arise. Often, such a representation does not need to be in writing.

> Do I have to declare planning applications, like a neighbour’s extension?

There is case law on this and it will normally depend on whether or not you have received a formal planning notice.
Have a look at our article Property Misrepresentation Claims in Practice for a case on this point.

398 thoughts on “My Seller Lied To Me!”

  1. Having spent a year in counselling due to domestic abuse, whilst supporting my own father who battled leukaemia and ultimately died an excruciatingly painful death which my brothers and I were by his side and all traumatised by. The same solicitors who were instructed to act for me in family law, also undertook conveyancing of my house move so they knew the stress I was under at the time. I moved to Glasgow and was told the flat was valued at 115k, I have documentary proof of this from the mortgage provider at the time, 2008. 6 months after I moved in locals told me I paid far, far too much. It appears other, similar 2 beds sold for 60-90k at the time, I paid 115k. Flats in the street are now selling for 120k some 15 years on. The estate agent who sold the flat to me at the time are now refusing to give a valuation in writing. Event though I have two 1st class degrees I’ve not been able to get a job in Glasgow. I feel like I was trafficked here, been held in destitute servitude on £368 a month UC, lied to and financially raped as I now can’t even afford to move back to the smallest houses on the cheapest side of the street I came from when I was told it was a like for like exchange. What action would you advise?

    1. Thank you for contacting Cunningtons, we are sorry to hear of the difficulties you have experienced.

      As you are resident in Scotland we would advise that you seek legal advice from a Scottish law firm who are qualified in that jurisdiction, to try and assist you.

  2. Hi, Great article thankyou. I’m considering exploring this in relation to a property we purchased in April 2022. The sellers deliberately misled the surveyor by replastering walls heavily damaged by ongoing water ingress to the middle floor bedrooms with heavy duty plaster, that we have been informed by builders should only be used for ground floors and basements. In addition, they used heavy duty wallpaper on top of this plaster and painted it magnolia. It was only apparent after a few weeks of residing in the property that the wall was in fact wallpaper. Once removed, this revealed severe damage, which we have now discovered is due to a large structural crack in the building. Are we able to bring a claim of misrepresentation against the sellers?

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      There would generally have to be an actual factual representation made about the condition of the property for there to be an argument that the seller “misrepresented” that fact. “Concealing” defects in a property, when nothing is said about the defect in question, would be very unlikely to form the basis of a claim. Whilst arguably morally objectionable (at least to the buyer but from the seller’s point of view, they want/need to get the best price that they can and why should they not leave it to the buyer’s surveyor to check for problems?), it is not necessarily going to be enough to bring a successful claim.

      There might be other factual misrepresentations that have been made which could be considered. For example, in the standard property information form (the TA6 – published by the Law Society), there is usually a question about insurance and whether or not any claims have been made. If there has been a structural problem and an insurance claim has been made, then there may be a misrepresentation if the seller said “no” to this.

      Whether or not you have a professional negligence claim against your surveyor will depend on a number of factors. It is not uncommon for a surveyor to limit the scope of their retainer (this is the agreement between them and their client) to just matters which can be identified from a visible inspection. To a degree this is understandable, as a seller, you would not want a surveyor moving your belongings about, drilling, taking up carpet or otherwise performing invasive inspections. It is not uncommon for sellers to “hide” issues with their property by painting or papering over cracks and defects. Whether or not you should have been advised by your surveyor of such things to put you on notice of such a risk is questionable.

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