Major change may be on the horizon in the way that homes are marketed, with more useful information provided and a clear indication when that information is not included.
A recent project by the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team is at the root of the amendments to the future of both the estate agency and conveyancing.
In a residential property transaction, there is a fine balance to be struck between a seller’s duty to disclose information and a buyer’s duty to elicit relevant information through their solicitor’s questions and a physical survey.
In recent times, the seller had to provide information including elements of searches and a survey in a Home Information Pack, before marketing the property. This was suspended in 2010 and the responsibility shifted to the buyer, who had to find out the information for themselves. Currently, the buyer’s solicitor will undertake all search elements and raise any relevant questions with the seller’s solicitor; the buyer also arranges for a surveyor to prepare a survey. ‘Buyer beware’ (or ‘caveat emptor’) is the principle here.
But this too could soon become another thing of the past. Phase one of this new project commences at the end of May and will see estate agents having to market properties with more ‘material information’ than is currently included.
This information will initially include council tax band/rate, property price and tenure information, which seeks to regularise the information across all estate agency postings. A lot of estate agencies are ahead of the curve in this regard, but now websites will clearly show potential purchasers what information has been left blank, so that they know to ask for it if it is not immediately available.
The real changes in conveyancing aspect will come later, when further information is required at the marketing stage, including whether a property has any restrictive covenants affecting it, is in a flood-risk area, or is affected by any other specific factors.
There is potential here for lawyers to be needed earlier in the process as many homeowners might not know the specific factors affecting their property before they put them on the market and will need legal input to ensure they market the property correctly.
Transparency in the process can only be a good thing as it will lead to all parties knowing where they stand early in the transaction. Potential problems can be flagged early enough that lawyers can resolve them ahead of sale rather than during a sale transaction, which will hopefully lead to less frustration and delays for all parties.