Caveat Emptor – or watch out for misleading statements …

It is interesting how many vendors seem to develop a selective memory, when it comes to responding to the standard Property Information Form question asking whether ‘any changes have been made to the whole or any part’ of their property, including building works.  Maybe too many are tempted to avoid the delay, bureaucracy and possible risk of submitting formal applications for changes, but this can have severe ramifications when they come to sell – especially if they are tempted to dodge the question.

This has been highlighted by a couple of recent client purchases.  In the first, our suspicions were aroused by the complete absence of any Listed Building applications for a village house first Listed Grade II in the late 1950’s (after all, few houses at that time could boast five bathrooms!).  The owner may have been deluded in believing that interior alterations to a Grade II listed house did not require such an application – but he would certainly have been upset to find that he had committed a criminal offence (which would have passed on to our clients, once they had purchased).

In the second, it became apparent that several internal walls had been removed thirty or so years ago, but there was no trace of any Completion Certificates being issued under Building Regulations. Whilst it might appear safe to assume that any structural problems would have manifested themselves well before now (and enforcement action by the local authority is time barred after twelve months) the absence of the necessary Building Regulations consents would still have left the property un-mortgageable.  In such circumstances, as a local authority will not grant retrospective consent for works undertaken prior to 1985, a vendor has no alternative but to employ a structural engineer to expose the supporting steelwork and give their own reassurance.

It is not always easy to spot such breaches; whilst we can refer to previous sale particulars in many cases, in most we just have to trust to our own enquiry.  In the case of the Listed village house, in the absence of historic sales detail, we ensured we knew what records were held by the local planning office whilst our client embarked on some Google detective work of his own (the house had been owned in the 1930’s by a star of the silver screen), before we felt confident enough to exchange contracts.

It would be predictably annoying to a client if, in properly applying for Listed Building consent for their own alterations, they were only to find that the local authority required them to reinstate walls that once divided the magnificent kitchen/breakfast room, or for several new bathrooms to be removed.  Diligent enquiry before purchase is the safest option!