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Buyer Beware: What You Should Know When Buying A New House

Home sweet hom

It can be incredibly frustrating to get keys for your new house only to discover you are going to spend the first weekend in your new property tidying up after the previous owners, or to find out the sellers have forgotten to mention minor issues with the property.

Due to "caveat emptor”, otherwise known as “buyer beware”, buyers are often disappointed to discover the lack of recourse they have in this situation, so here's what you should know when buying a new house.

Does the seller guarantee the condition of the property?

No. The general rule for residential property is that the property is “sold as seen”. Even if the seller has actively disguised problems rather than simply forgotten to mention them, that doesn’t give the buyer any additional protection. It is essential to work with a trusted conveyancer to address any concerns you may have, and ensure your property purchase runs as smoothly as possible.

What about the central heating?

The main exception to the “buyer beware” rule is that the central heating system must be in basic working order. Buyers have a period of 5 days post completion to report any issues, but even here the warranty is extremely limited. The system has to work and that’s it. If it doesn’t comply with safety regulations or if it is hugely inefficient, that’s not something that qualifies as a defect for the purpose of the warranty.

There is also an “excess” of £400 in respect of any claim. It is only if the system is broken and it would cost more than £400 to fix that there is any comeback. The time period for notifying issues is generally 5 working days from the completion date.

What if the property has storm damage?

The other exception to the “buyer beware” rule is that sellers have an obligation to maintain the property in the same condition it was in at the time the contract was concluded up to the payment date.

While in theory this gives buyers a little protection, the maintenance period runs for the date of contractual commitment and not the date the property was viewed, and in most cases, that will mean a very short window when the sellers have any potential liability.

It can also be very difficult to state with any certainty when damage was sustained. But in theory, if there is any accidental damage caused to the property during that short window, it would remain the sellers’ responsibility.

Are kitchen appliances warranted?

Generally, no they are not. There are regional variations as to what warranties are given. In the central belt it is possible the seller will be prepared to warrant white goods as well as the electrical and gas systems serving the property. In Aberdeenshire the norm is generally to restrict any warranty to the central heating system.

Are buyers not protected by the home report?

Yes, the home report does provide some protection, but it falls short of a blanket warranty andsurveyors will not comment on white goods or cosmetic issues. There is generally only a comeback if the problem was both significant enough to impact on value and the issue was evident to the surveyor at the time of inspection.

Is it possible to oblige sellers to carry out repair work before a completion date?

Yes, it is possible to write this into the contract but a lot of sellers will say no, and insofar as buyers would be relying on the sellers carrying out the work to a decent standard it is usually simplest for the buyers to simply factor in when offering for the property what they will need to do once they have keys.

Do the sellers have to leave the property in clean and tidy condition?

There is an obligation on the sellers to remove personal items from the property as it must be sold “with vacant possession”. While most sellers will make an effort to clean the property it is very difficult to add a contractual obligation to this effect simply because it is very difficult to categorise what “clean” means. Different clients will have different standards and short of a third party being in a position to arbitrate there is no easy way to do this.

Why do contracts not offer protection to buyers?

The short answer is that if there was a contractual obligation on the sellers to guarantee the

condition of the property, there would be follow up claims in virtually every case. Solicitors would need to allow for the time of dealing with those claims and the legal costs for purchasers would hugely increase.

What should I look for when viewing a property to buy?

If you’re looking to purchase a new property, it is advisable to check the property before committing to buy. While in practical terms it’s virtually impossible to obtain reports from a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, and a builder before buying, it is often possible to view a property a second time before offering and to take a friend or family member with you for a second viewing.

Cosmetic problems are much easier to spot on a second inspection with a fresh set of eyes, and it’s sensible to assume that anyone buying an older property will have some remedial work to do. Working with an expert conveyancer will ensure your property sale is as seamless as possible.

Burnett & Reid have been conveyancing experts since 1754, and help hundreds buy and sell residential property each year. Speak to the team today.