House selling: Describing your property correctly
This article from Lawpack's Sell your own Home Kit discusses the duties and requirements imposed on a house seller by the Property Misdescriptions Act.
The Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence for estate agents and property developers to dishonestly and misleadingly describe property they are selling. The Property Misdescriptions Act does not apply to individuals who sell their homes privately. However, this does not mean that you can be economical with the truth. In fact, quite the reverse.
If someone buys your property on the basis of misleading information you have given them either verbally or in writing, or in the property details you have written, they could sue you for damages for misrepresentation; if they discover the misrespresentation after contracts have been exchanged (or missives concluded in Scotland) but before completion, they may even be entitled to pull out of the deal.
A quick look at the provisions of the Property Misdescriptions Act which in effect extends to estate agents and property developers the same obligations that a private seller has, is a good guide to what is acceptable practice when describing a property for sale.
You must make no misrepresentations of fact, and if you don't know the answer to a particular question asked by the house buyer, it's better to say so than to make up what you think they might want to hear.
The Property Misdescriptions Act can be downloaded from the Office of Public Sector Information's website at www.opsi.gov.uk and is enforced by local Trading Standards Officers. One local authority has produced the following guidance for estate agents and property developers which provides useful tips as to what is acceptable practice under the Act.
- A property can be presented in its best light, provided it doesn't mislead.
- Terms such as 'immaculate condition' or 'recently decorated' can be used but they must refer to the whole property unless otherwise stated.
- Attractive features can be used as selling points but not to the exclusion of bad features if the overall result is a misleading description. You are not required to disclose a leaky roof, say, but your description taken as a whole must not give the impression that the property does not have this defect.
- Don't stretch geographic areas, such as Cotswolds, Peak District or Lake District, beyond their accepted boundaries. Use instead the correct postal address. And if a property is in one county geographically but its postal address is in an adjoining county, both should be given equal prominence.
- Phrases such as 'easy access' or 'close to' or estimated journey times to local amenities or transport links should be avoided in favour of the actual distance in miles, i.e. '10 miles to junction 12 on the M4', or 'six miles from Cirencester'.
- If a house has open fields on three sides but an abattoir or a nightclub on the fourth it is best not to refer to the outlook at all, and if you use photographs, clearly label them.
- Photographs can be misleading. Avoid using a very wide angle lens which can make a property look much larger than it is and avoid digitally enhancing a photograph or cropping if the resulting effect is misleading. For example, do not include a view of the garden from the bedroom window if there is a rubbish dump next door and you have cropped the picture to remove it.
Details produced by estate agents normally include a disclaimer and although this may not be legally binding, it is useful to remind house buyers that even with the best will in the world, mistakes can be made and buyers should beware and check for themselves the accuracy of all measurements and statements.
A disclaimer could include the following:
- These particulars are intended to give a fair and substantially correct overall description for the guidance of intending purchasers and do not constitute an offer or part of a contract. Prospective purchasers and/or lessees ought to seek their own professional advice.
- All descriptions, dimensions, areas, references to condition and necessary permissions for use and occupation and other details are given in good faith and are believed to be correct, but any intending purchasers should not rely on them as statements or representations of fact, but must satisfy themselves by inspection or otherwise as to the correctness of each of them.
- All measurements are approximate.
Published on: June 3, 2008
Did you like this article? Share it!