Buying a house is exciting. Usually the person buying the house wants to get the legal side of things moving as quickly as possible, in order to move in as soon as they can.
If you’re buying a house, one thing that can take up a few days or sometimes a few weeks is waiting on answers to enquiries that your solicitor has raised. These will be questions around the property, its surroundings and its condition, which are necessary to fully satisfy your solicitor (and you if you’re cautious and want to make sure that a proper job is done!) with the knowledge that every possible potential cause for concern has been addressed, before you have committed to buy.
What happens if you don’t raise enquiries when buying a house
Depending on the house itself, if you’re lucky, not asking certain questions could do you no harm. However, for the unlucky few, not asking questions that are pertinent to a problem that occurs when you move into the house, or later down the line in the future, could mean that you’re liable for fixing all manner of problems. An example of this is when a house has been extended without the relevant planning permissions, resulting in the extension needing to be torn down. In other situations, you can be liable for fixing problems that aren’t even connected to your house, such as drainage or upkeep of the road in front of your house.
In the worst circumstances, you can be left with a property that you’re unable to sell for as much as you bought it for. Or even worse, you could be left with a property that no-one wants to buy at all.
How to protect your house purchase with enquiries
The types of enquiries that your solicitor will raise to check that your property is sellable in the future will depend on the type of house you’re buying and its situation. Not all enquiries will be relevant; for example, if the house you’re buying is a new-build, it wouldn’t be relevant to ask questions about neighbour relationships or when the windows were fitted.
Below, we have put together a guide to some of the most common types of enquiries that a solicitor is likely to make on your behalf when you’re buying a house. The result of the enquiries will usually either set your mind at rest that there is nothing to worry about with buying the house, or will highlight areas that you will need to prepare for, or which might make you think twice about buying the house altogether.
House condition and surroundings related enquiries
Making sure that the house isn’t susceptible to potentially damaging conditions like flooding or save you a lot of money and upset if these problems come back around again in the winter when you’re already aware of their potential to occur and have had chance to prepare.
The types of enquiries that your solicitor might raise in this area include:
- When was the property rewired last and has it been rewired in line with current industry requirements?
- Asking whether the property has ever suffered from:
- Structural defects
- Drainage issues
- Has the owner ever been denied insurance for buildings cover? If so, why?
- Are there any additional insurance premiums in place due to environmental factors such as being close to a river liable to flooding?
- Are there any trees in close proximity to the property which could cause structural issues or damage to the property?
- Are the drains at the property clear and accessible if the need for repair arises?
- Who is responsible for the maintenance of the drains and are there any costs involved for the current owner?
- If there is a septic tank at the property, how many properties share this and what arrangements are in place for its maintenance and upkeep?
Maintenance related enquiries
Maintenance of the house itself will become your responsibility once you have completed the purchase of the house. For this reason, knowing whether you should expect to have to replace expensive items such as windows or boilers in the near future may impact on your decision to buy and/or help you to budget for any necessary upcoming maintenance costs.
The types of maintenance related questions your solicitor might ask include:
- When was the last boiler maintenance check?
- When was the last gas safety check?
- When were the windows fitted and is there is a FENSA certificate?
Restrictions related enquiries
Asking enquiries about restrictions is important for several reasons. You might plan to extend the property, but have planning restrictions in place or similarly, there may be an extension already in place which is illegal because it doesn’t comply with planning permissions.
The types of restriction related enquiries your solicitor might raise, include:
- Are there any outstanding planning permissions that haven’t met local planning requirements or where consent has not been received?
- Are there any restrictive covenants in place (these may stop you from carrying out certain activities at the house such as painting your house a different colour or running a business from the house)?
- Are there any restrictions in the property deeds which prevent development of the property or land?
Rights of way and access related enquiries
Sharing a right of way to a property or access through a garden or across a driveway can be a problem for people who like privacy or require a secure, enclosed property for pets, small children or possessions such as bikes and lawn mowers. For this reason, finding out who has access to your property, alongside who is responsible for the upkeep of certain shared elements like hedges, can be really important areas to address before you move in.
The types of rights and access related enquiries your solicitor may ask you include:
- Do any neighbours share access to the back of the property?
- Do any neighbours have shared access to a driveway?
- Is there a shared right of way or path through the land surrounding the property?
- Is there any access to utilities such as gas or electricity from or to a neighbour’s property?
- Where are the boundaries of the property?
- Who has responsibility for fences and hedges?
Neighbour related enquiries
Neighbour disputes can be extremely upsetting, so it is best to know exactly where you stand in relation to your rights and those of your neighbours with regards to each of your properties and their boundaries.
The types of enquiries that your solicitor might raise in relation to whether there are any existing problems with the neighbours on either side of the house include:
- Are there any kind of current or past disputes with the owners’ neighbours?
- Has the owner ever complained to the local authority or police about their neighbours’ behaviour?
- For any shared elements such as a driveway, does both the current owner and their neighbour contribute equally towards its upkeep?
One final area that is important to mention is the contents of a property and its land. There are usually standard questions around this, where the current owner can tick off the items that they are leaving behind and any associated costs. However, if it’s agreed that you would like the items (like a sofa or a shed) there may also be some occasions when the owner wishes to leave items like wardrobes that you may not actually want.
The disposal of furniture that you don’t want to be left in the house when you arrive can take time and money, so it’s important to be clear on whether you want the things that are going to be left, and if so, whether you will have to pay for them or not. This includes contents in a garden or any outbuildings too. For example, if there is a pond at the property, will you inherit any fish that currently reside there?
As well as a list of contents included in the sale of the house, it’s best to ask specific questions about what will and will not be left (if they’re not covered as standard) in addition to these, whilst you have the chance to.
What happens if a seller doesn’t respond to enquiries
A seller of a house could be found guilty of misrepresentation if they fail to disclose problems with the property and its surroundings in response to an enquiry raised by the buyer.
If this was to happen to you, there would usually be the option to sue the sellers of the house for damages. However, if you haven’t asked the question in an enquiry, then you’re leaving yourself at far more risk of the seller being able to dispute your claim and leave you with the bills and burdens for fixing whatever the seller had not disclosed.
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Advice about buying a house
At Bray & Bray Solicitors, our conveyancing teams are highly trained, fully qualified and wholly experienced in dealing with the sale and purchase of properties from start to finish. We want to ensure that you are as happy as possible in your new home, so we make sure that you are as protected as possible during the process of purchasing it.
If answers to enquiries do highlight potential problems, we’ll help you to work out whether in light of this, the property is the right choice for you. However, at the end of the day, it will always be your decision to make; guided by the knowledge and insight that we have been able to provide you with through aspects of the conveyancing process, like raising relevant enquiries.
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