Column: Simon Gerrard warns sellers of their legal responsibilities

Simon Gerrard

Simon Gerrard - Credit: Archant

President of the National Association of Estate Agents, Simon Gerrard, explains that sellers are as legally responsible as their agent to disclose material information about their property.

Energy rating chart for properties

Energy rating chart for properties - Credit: Archant

Consumer Protection

It is generally believed that the sale or purchase of a property is a transaction covered by “Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.” However, this has not been the case since 2008 when the Consumer Protection Against Unfair Trading regulations came into force.

CPRs cover the sale and purchase of all goods and services and, since October 2013 when the Property mis-descriptions Act was repealed, CPRs represent the main consumer law covering the advertising and sale of property.

Under CPRs, it is an offence to not only make false claims about a property but also to omit any information from property particulars and advertising that may affect the buying decision.

In simple terms, the CPRs require a seller to inform their estate agent of any material fact that may affect a normal purchaser’s decision not only to buy a property but even “an omission that may affect a potential buyer’s decision to view a property”.

No longer can you choose what to tell your agent, or use an agent who may not know pertinent facts about the history of your home or neighbourhood. Ultimately this could land you in the dock answering criminal proceedings with up to a two-year sentence and £1,000s in fines as a potential consequence.

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A reputable agent will know how to deal with this information and pass it on to potential buyers sensitively. If you are unsure if you have an issue, please feel free to pose your question anonymously by emailing the address at the bottom of my column. I will answer them in a future Q&A article.

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

Since 2007, it has been a legal requirement that before any property is marketed ‘for sale’ or ‘to let’, an EPC certificate has to be commissioned. If the property has an existing EPC report which is less than 10 years old, this should still be valid – so long as no material works that may affect the EPC rating have been undertaken.

Be very wary of an agent who will allow you to go to market without first obtaining or commissioning an EPC report as they, and you, will be breaking the law.

An EPC is prepared by an accredited Domestic Energy Assessor who will need to visit the property to carry out an inspection. They will produce a report about how efficiently the property uses energy and its impact on the environment. This is graded from A to G and is shown on a graph – like the ones you will see on fridges and washing machines. A is excellent while many Victorian or Edwardian properties will have a lower rating, commonly D or E. The average rating of a dwelling in England and Wales is D.

The regulations state that, when advertising a property, the EPC rating must be shown, if a picture of the property is used, a description of the accommodation is given and the price is quoted. On written details, either printed or online, a copy of the EPC graph must also be shown.

Money Laundering Checks

Worldwide, money laundering is big business and, even in the UK, it is estimated to account for some £18billion. As a result, the European Parliament is making every effort to clamp down on this activity and, along with other businesses such as financial institutions, accountancy and the legal profession, estate agents have to comply.

Money Laundering Regulations 2007 make it a legal requirement for all estate agents to a) be registered with HMRC and b) confirm the identity of their customers. The ID may be checked using a passport, photo driving licence, Inland Revenue tax notification, etc, supported by proof of address such as a recent utility bill or bank statement. If the seller is not a private individual but a company or other entity, separate more detailed checks need to be carried out.

You should not be shocked or insulted when your estate agent asks to see your passport or other ID as this demonstrates that you are dealing with an agent who recognises their legal responsibilities. In fact, you should be more concerned if these checks are not carried out!

If you have a question for Simon Gerrard, email ham& Mr Gerrard is managing director of north London estate agents, Martyn Gerrard.

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