What can I do if I have a problem with my property purchase after the sale is final?

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In most cases, if you buy something and are unhappy with your purchase, you can go back to the seller and ask for a refund. However, it does not usually work that way with property.

When you buy a property, you must take responsibility for uncovering any problems with the property before the purchase goes ahead. If a problem occurs that you missed, the seller will not necessarily be legally required to compensate you or put the matter right.

However, there are certain circumstances where the seller may be required to fix a problem with the property, for example where it is a new build property that is still covered by a warranty, where you believe the seller lied about the property or where the seller has broken the terms of the contracts of sale.

If you had a building survey before buying, you may also be able to take action against the surveyor if you believe they missed a problem they should have uncovered.

How to claim on the warranty for a new build property

New build properties are typically covered by a warranty for the first ten years after they are built. However, after the first two years only more serious issues such as structural flaws will normally be covered.

It is important to be familiar with the precise terms of your warranty, so you should have your solicitor review the warranty before the sale is final, to make sure you understand exactly what is and is not covered.

The developer who built your property should have an established process for raising any issues and taking court action should only be required as a last resort.

What to do if the seller has broken the contracts of sale on a property

Once the contracts of sale are signed, the terms are legally binding on both buyer and seller. This means that if either party fails to stick to those terms, the other party could demand compensation or take legal action.

If you believe the seller has broken the agreed terms, for example, they have removed furnishings or appliances that were included in the contract, you should first have your solicitor contact them to try to resolve the matter amicably.

If the seller disputes that they have broken the terms or is unwilling to offer a fair settlement, you may need to initiate court proceedings to secure compensation.

What to do if a seller lied about a property

In the past, properties were generally bought and sold under the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘buyer beware’. This meant a seller was not legally obliged to inform a buyer of any issues with a property.

However, under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, sellers are now required to disclose specific information about the property in a Property Information Form. This cover various issues that may affect the property and its occupants, including, disputes with neighbours, boundary issues, public rights of way across the property and nearby proposed developments.

The seller cannot mislead the buyer by providing incorrect or ambiguous information in the Property Information Form, or by omitting to provide material information.

Additionally, if the seller holds information of an adverse nature – perhaps a poor survey, a planning problem, or a covenant in the property deeds – these may well also need to be volunteered.

If the seller falls short on any of these obligations, the buyer may have rights of redress, including in some circumstances a right to undo the sale and/or claim damages.

How to make a claim against a surveyor

If you had a property survey and it failed to identify an issue which later ends up causing you problems, for example, subsidence, damp or other structural faults, you may be able to make a professional negligence claim against the surveyor.

You will normally need to contact the surveyor first and give them an opportunity to make things right before pursuing court proceedings against them. It is also important to bear in mind that property surveys usually contain a number of caveats to protect the surveyor in case of these kind of disputes, so you will need to consult with your solicitor to clearly establish your legal position before thinking about taking any action.

How to protect against unexpected problems when buying property

When buying a property, there are a number of important steps you should take to minimise the risk of any potential problems after the deal is done.

Use a reliable conveyancing team

The lawyers handling the purchase for you are your first line of defence, using their experience and expertise to identify potential issues and advise you of any additional precautions you need to take. Choosing a reputable firm with accreditation from the Conveyancing Quality Scheme, such as Chubb Bulleid, is essential.

Make sure the right conveyancing checks and searches are carried out

Depending on the type of property and its location, different types of checks and searches will need to be carried out. This will normally include checking with the local authority to find out about things such as whether the building is listed, in a local conversation area etc., as well as whether there are any planned developments in the area.

Your solicitor may also advise specific types of searches, such as checking the risk of flooding or whether you are liable to contribute to the repair cost of a nearby church.

 Get a property survey

Unless the property is a new build, having a survey is essential. There are various types of survey you can have, from a simple Condition Report that gives a basic indication of any causes for concern, up to a full Building Survey that will involve a thorough investigation of the property and should identify any issues that could require attention.

What type of survey you need will depend on factors such as the age of the property and its general condition. In most cases, we would recommend paying for a full Building Survey to give yourself peace of mind that any problems will be found before it is too late.