Buying a property? Read this and you could save money

No matter how many times the Government stresses that the Energy Performance Certificates are a beneficial thing, the fact remains that the public see little or no value.

As of 6 April, all newly-commissioned HIPs will have to contain a Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ) which is a legal document of actual "value" to the purchaser and yet the Government remains eerily silent.

The Government states on its website that ”The new Property Information Questionnaire will be a compulsory document for inclusion in the HIP. The PIQ is designed to be completed by a seller, providing simple, useful information about a property. This can help to inform prospective buyers’ decisions about whether to view, or make an offer on a particular property."

The PIQ will include details of utilities and services to the property, access arrangements, Council Tax bands, changes to the property, parking arrangements, damage to the property, as well as leasehold information.

For the first time, buyers will now be able to obtain information relating to the property without having to incur the costs of a property lawyer to extract such information. For example, you will be able to see whether or not whether or not the property has ever suffered from flooding or storm damage. The seller is legally obliged to disclose whether or not they obtained the appropriate planning permissions and regulations for structural alterations that they have made to the property.

Armed with this information, the buyer can determine whether or not they wish to place an offer on the property. The inclusion of this document more than than anything else should result in HIPs dramatically reducing the annual abortive costs which run into hundreds of millions of pounds, a point that Government seemed so keen to underline when attempting to justify Home Information Packs.

It seems all the more strange then, that the Government is not extolling the virtues of PIQs to buyers and running public awareness campaigns advising buyers to view this document before placing an offer.

According to Fridays Property Lawyers, the only logical reason is because the Government has taken such a pounding in the media that they are too scared to put their head above the parapet again.

Simon Seaton, Legal Director of Fridays Property Lawyers, said each buyer should obtain a copy of the Home Information Pack or at the very least the Property Information Questionnaire, prior to placing an offer on a property.

This represents news for buyers but is potentially dangerous for sellers. Fridays Property Lawyers said they would be advising potential buyers to specifically request a copy of the PIQ before putting forward an offer on a property.

Seaton said: "It is very important for the buyer to have a paper trail evidencing receipt of the PIQ from the estate agent before the price being agreed. Once the buyer has the completed PIQ he can then use this as ammunition should any inconsistencies manifest themselves at a later date. Should the buyer choose to withdraw from the transaction due to inaccurate information in the PIQ, the buyer may be able to recover legal fees and out of pocket expenses which could run in to thousands of pounds.

"Prior to 6 April a buyer would have very little chance of being able to recover legal costs in the event of a verbal statement given to him by the estate agent or the seller directly. For example, when buying a leasehold property many buyers would ask the estate agent how many years remain under the lease. If, for example, the seller or agent say that there are approximately 90 years and it subsequently transpires (most likely after the buyer has instructed a conveyancer and after the price has been agreed) that there are 50 years remaining, the buyer might withdraw from the purchase.

"If the buyer does withdraw (and most likely he would because many lenders will not lend on such a short lease and may require a lease extension), then he or she may have incurred thousands of pounds’ in costs including legal fees, arrangement fees and survey fees.

"The likelihood of recovering these costs would be remote without proof in writing of the representation that the property had 90 years to remain. Under the new legislation, the seller will be obliged to state in the Property Information Questionnaire how many years to remain. If this proved to be inaccurate then the buyer may have all the evidence he needs to pursue the seller for reimbursement of his costs."

Even though the Government remains silent on this, Fridays Property Lawyers said that it was definitely recommended that buyers reviewed the HIP in advance of making an offer on a property.

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