When purchasing a property, it’s essential to make sure that you have a clear picture of precisely what you are buying. This is where inspecting your property can be helpful, alongside those which are carried out by a professional surveyor. After all, a property is likely to be one of the most significant purchase decisions you will ever make. So, it pays to be prepared. This article outlines some of the things you should be aware of when inspecting your property.
The checklist below is not definitive and is not a substitute for having a proper inspection carried out by your surveyor to assist you with identifying physical defects and discrepancies. On this topic, you should send your solicitor a copy of your Home Buyer’s survey (there is usually a section in there titled ‘for your legal advisers’).
However, these tips should assist you in pointing out any concerns you have to your solicitor, as they do not physically inspect the property. There are some practical examples to illustrate the point, though these are not exhaustive; bear in mind that all sorts of scenarios can arise.
Inspecting your property: a checklist
The first one might seem like a silly question, but worth asking:
Have you inspected the property you are buying?
If yes, what was the date of inspection?
It is recommended that you re-inspect the property before exchanging contracts to ensure nothing has changed.
Did you inspect all of the property?
Remember, you are bound by anything a reasonable inspection would reveal, even if you did not see it on your inspection. An example could be, where a house comes with a garage, make sure you have checked inside the garage. It might identify things you want the seller to remove from there. Although the seller should remove them, there have been instances of garages being locked before purchase and keys not being located after completion, and subsequently finding that there are stacks of rubbish in the garage that the buyer ends up having to get rid of!
Did you check the physical extent of the property you inspected?
Your solicitor will provide you with a copy of the title plan showing the extent of the land at the Land Registry edged in red. However, Land Registry plans are not always accurate. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that the red edging incorporates the land you think you are purchasing when inspecting your property. For example, if you expect parking or a garage as part of the property you are buying, it should be identified and edged in red).
You could also imagine overlaying the red lines over the physical boundary features on the ground (e.g. walls or fences) – the red outline should match the physical boundary features or outline on the ground. Land Registry title plans are on a small scale. They are not intended to show the precise location of each boundary, but applying this ‘imaginary’ overlay could identify any areas that are not the same on the ground as they are on the plan. Do mark any areas you have questions about, and refer any significant discrepancies to your solicitor so that they can seek clarification from the sellers. Please also note that you should inform your surveyor as this is not within the particular expertise of solicitors.
Did you compare the property and garden with the description in the estate agent’s particulars?
This will also need to be reflected accurately on the contract and title documents. Here, when inspecting your property, you are trying to identify what you have seen physically as being consistent with the information in the documents you have. You may not be able to do this at the outset without having seen the title plan.
The starting point is comparing your viewing with the estate agent’s particulars. By way of example, there may be an extra piece of land that the seller has ‘forgotten about’, which covers a parking space or front garden labelled in the estate agent’s particulars but not shown on the red edging on the title plan. You may need to come back to this point once your solicitor sends you a copy of the fixtures and fittings list and title plan so you can compare what the agent has stated is being left at the property with the legally binding fixtures and fittings list. For example, the estate agent’s particulars could include a washing machine, but in the fixtures and fittings, it’s ticked as ‘excluded,’ or has a price. If there are any discrepancies or anomalies, please make a list and let your solicitor know.
Did anything you see when you inspected your property reveal issues concerning the state and condition?
If there is any evidence of defects or disrepair, you should provide details to your solicitor. Solicitors do not usually deal with price re-negotiations if substantial repairs are required and you are looking to reduce the price. Here, we suggest that you obtain a quote for the works needed and present your argument to the estate agent.
If a price reduction is agreed:
- Your solicitor will require an official confirmation from the estate agent
- You will need to inform your mortgage lender to ensure the price is accurately reflected on your mortgage offer (potentially, this may also reduce the amount of money being borrowed).
Please also note the seller is not obliged to provide the property in a ‘top notch’ condition. These investigations are for you to understand if the property needs any major works in the short term that will cost you a significant amount of money. They are also for you to decide if these works are within your affordability levels. If repairs are required, it is best to commission these works yourself whilst you are in the property. If there are any issues with the work, you can then call the contractors back out to rectify any defects, as the person who commissioned it.
Ensure you read your survey report and/or valuation.
Is anything mentioned in the survey report or valuation that requires further investigation?
Remember, the basic principle in the conveyancing process is BUYER BEWARE. You are taking the property in the condition that it’s in on the exchange date. This means that if you have not made an effort to discover before you buy, tough luck!* Any repairs or problems will become your responsibility, so do check the property’s condition. The seller does not have to disclose defects or issues that could cause you issues once you’ve moved in.
* taking legal action against the seller after completion could end up being more costly than actual repairs!
Did you see anything on your inspection that could be evidence of a third party having an interest in the property you are buying?
Examples of third parties could be:
a) Is there evidence of anyone living in the property, other than the seller (s) or children under the age of 18?
b) Is there evidence of anyone having any form of tenancy or occupying the property or any part of it?
c) Is there any evidence of neighbours or anyone else using the property for any purpose, e.g. parking a car on the driveway, using the property for access or refuse collection or removal?
d) Has the seller (s) advised you verbally of any formal or informal arrangements with anyone else about using the property?
It is essential that if you see anything on your inspection or are told of something by the sellers or anyone else, you inform your solicitor immediately. If there is a dispute in the future, you can only rely on the information passed between solicitors. So, it is crucial to obtain clarification in writing from the seller’s solicitors on any issues before exchange.
Once you have the Report on Title
You can compare written information against your observations from inspecting your property.
Have you read the information provided by the seller in the Property Information Form sent to you by your solicitor?
a) Was any of the information provided by the seller incorrect?
b) Does anything need clarifying?
The section of the Report on Title will let you know whether or not the property benefits from rights over neighbouring properties. Frequently seen rights referred to on title documents are:
- Rights of way over neighbouring land, which could be a footpath, road or access/driveway;
- The rights to connect to and use services (e.g. drains/pipes/wires) that run through neighbouring land. These may or may not be subject to contributing towards maintenance and repair.
A physical inspection of the property may reveal the following, so we recommend you and your surveyor do so with these in mind:
- Routes of the water supply and drainage into the property (not always visible, but you may see manhole covers within the boundary). Do ask where the water meters and stop cocks are located.
- Any means of access, such as a route to access a parking space or a rear gate. This is especially important if the parking space is not located immediately adjacent to or within the property’s boundary.
Please tell your solicitor immediately if you have any particular concerns.
These rights benefit neighbouring properties over the one you purchase so that others can come onto the land or property. If there are any that will affect you, they are frequently set out as ‘rights reserved’ on the title and expressed similarly to rights granted. Do consider these carefully in case there are any arrangements that you would not be comfortable with.
However, sometimes rights are not mentioned on the title, so you will need to watch out for ‘physical’ signs that someone has been coming onto the land – for example, a gate in a fence giving access to a specific neighbour but nothing mentioned on the title deeds.
Right to Light and Air
Sometimes you may see a declaration stating “No Right to Light or Air” or exclusion of Section 62 of the Law of Property Act 1925. This means that if neighbouring landowners develop their land with a structure that blocks light into or airflow entering your property, then you have no legal means of seeking compensation from such development. You should therefore inspect the area in respect of potential developments now. However, this is not to say that the position will remain the same, and development could still happen in the future that may cause you an issue.
Covenants are promises or obligations concerning the property you are buying. They will state any restrictions on what you can do to the property or any requirements to do specific activities, such as looking after a certain boundary. You will be expected to comply with any covenants imposed on the title. Your solicitor will point out the location of these to you. It is important to read through these key points, which may affect your enjoyment and use of the property. Ensure you check through any ‘covenants’ and let your solicitor know if you spot anything that you have seen on the property that the seller was not supposed to do or is required to do but hasn’t done.
Another practical tip, not a legal one!
Get to know your neighbours! Whilst the seller may have ticked the box that they are not aware of any disputes with the neighbours, it might be worth just introducing yourself and getting an impression of your neighbours. They may also give you information that the seller does not. For example, if someone in the immediate neighbourhood is known to be a nuisance or behave anti-socially, that would put you off purchasing.
Any information the seller supplies relate specifically to the property in question, not any property near or next to it. Remember, buying a house is not like buying a consumer product like a faulty toaster – you can’t return it, so you have to have carried out your investigations before purchasing!
Overall, purchasing a property is a stressful process. Inspecting your property pre-purchase to ensure that you’re happy with it is just one part of the equation. It’s important to have the right solicitor by your side to help ensure that everything runs smoothly. Here at Setfords, our talented team of professional conveyancing solicitors are here to help you. Please get in touch today to see how we can assist you with your property purchase.