New Seller’s Property Information Form – what you need to know
The old buying adage of Caveat emptor or buyer beware will only go so far when it comes to purchasing or selling residential property. There are certain things a seller must tell a potential buyer, such as any latent defects in the property’s title, if there is no way the buyer would otherwise reasonably be able to find that information before exchanging contracts. An unregistered easement – a right of way – is a prime example of where this situation can arise. In a bid to give buyers some reassurance, the Law Society introduced into the usual conveyancing process, what is known as the Seller’s Property Information Form, technically called a TA6, which gives buyers a raft of important information about the property that they otherwise could not find out through standard searches or surveys.
Recently, the property information form has been extended and updated, requiring sellers to disclose even more information about their properties, including such things as:
- Information on boundaries – for example, those between you and your neighbours. Who takes responsibility to “maintain or repair” boundaries and fencing, including party wall notices regarding shared boundaries.
- Details of any disputes with your neighbours (not just those closest to you)
- Any notices of planning permission or developments of properties nearby (not just those on either side of the property)
- Building work and/or alterations ever done on the property (including details of building control completion certificates – of lack of – and planning permissions)
- Guarantees and warranties – for work such as timber treatment, roofing, damp proofing, double glazing, new doors, wood-burner installations, etc. Where possible certificates or copies should be provided e.g., FENSA or NHBC certificates.
- Details of buildings insurance
- Environmental matters – such as flooding, radon gas, presence of (or suspected presence of) Japanese Knotweed
- Rights and informal arrangements – this mainly relates to access rights and shared use but also ask about any obscure local laws a buyer should be made aware of.
- Parking – whether there are any designated parking zones/space, and any terms and conditions.
- Other charges – such as payments to a management service
- Occupiers – whether the property is being sold with vacant possession, e.g., it will have no people living there when the buyer moves in.
- Services – gas, electricity, central heating, etc.
- Connections to utilities and services – what services are connected to the property and supplier information.
- Transaction information – this covers things such as whether the seller is depending on a purchase on the same day as selling the property, or whether they will ensure the removal of any rubbish prior to the completion date, etc.
The TA6 Property Information Form is a very important document and must be filled in by every seller. The person whose name appears on the title deeds of the property is responsible for completing the TA6 and because if forms part of the pre-contract documentation, it is legally binding. This means that if the seller has been found to have made false representations on the form, or have deliberately concealed something, the buyer can sue.
Some questions on the form may reveal information about the property you would rather remain quiet. So can you find a way around not having to disclose something that the TA6 covers?
Leaving blanks on the form or lying by omission
Although it isn’t compulsory to complete the form, most conveyancing solicitors will require you to do so. And should the solicitor hold Conveyancing Quality Scheme accreditation, they will work to a strict protocol that demands sellers complete the form.
However, in theory, if your solicitor does not ask you to complete the TA6 form, you are within your rights to not mention it at all. That said, in reality, non-completion is likely to raise red flags with the buyer’s solicitor because it is such a standard part of conveyancing; they will probably ask for the missing form, or ask for any blanks to be filled in. If the requested information is still not forthcoming, it will be apparent the seller is trying to hide something, which is likely to result in the buyer pulling out of the purchase.
Providing misleading information on the Property Information Form
What happens if you are tempted to tell the odd white lie, or perhaps a big fat one? You might say, for example, you are on good terms with your neighbours, when in actual fact ever since you cut the branches of their beloved Blenheim Orange overhanging your garden, they’ve being firing slugs into your brassicas with wild abandon. Such a lie is unlikely to come to light before contracts are exchanged, so you might think you are home and hosed. But if the lie is revealed afterwards, perhaps unwittingly by a neighbour, your buyer could sue you, particularly if the neighbours are a real problem and the slug flinging is merely the tip of the iceberg.
If there has been a minor dispute with a neighbour, it is always better to err on the side of caution and include it within the TA6. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure, discuss the matter with your solicitor who will be able to advise you on the best course of action. As a general rule, anything that has been reported to the police or the local authority, or put in writing to a neighbour, needs to be mentioned.
Is being vague on a Property Information Form, allowed?
You might think being vague with your responses and giving away information about your home without incriminating yourself is the way to go. Perhaps your home had been previously underpinned before you purchased it and you want to provide a loose answer to the question of building works – such as saying: “we haven’t done any building work since purchasing the property.” Whilst this may be factually accurate, if flies in the face of the objective and spirit of openness of the TA6.
Any significant building works undertaken prior to your ownership should be mentioned, and half-truths given in the example above can be considered a misrepresentation. The new form has been updated and redesigned in an attempt to prevent vague answers being given, with many responses requiring a straight yes or no.
In cases where you genuinely don’t know the answer, you can state this but shouldn’t use it as a blanket reply to avoid giving unpalatable details. If a buyer can prove you knew something and didn’t admit to it, you can be sued for misrepresentation.
The bottom line is that if the work was declared when you purchased the property, it is almost certain there will be a paper trail somewhere that can prove the lie.
Consequences of misrepresentation
Under the Misrepresentation Act 1967, the burden of proof of the misrepresentation has shifted from buyer to seller. This means that it is no longer down to the buyer to prove the seller lied on the form, but falls to the seller to prove they didn’t.
If the court finds a seller guilty of misrepresentation, which can be negligent, fraudulent, or even innocent – it can make an order against the seller to pay damages to the buyer which may run into tens of thousands of pounds. If the misrepresentation is severe enough, the court can order the contract to be rescinded, meaning the seller would be forced to buy back the property and cover any expenses of the buyer, including legal costs and mortgage interest – a potentially ruinous sum.
It is important to remember that misrepresentation is not confined to the Seller’s Property Information Form. A seller can misrepresent their property by deliberately concealing things such as progressive cracks, or other structural damage. The same can be true if a seller merely suspects there is a problem and keeps it to themselves.
Protecting yourself with a survey
A buyer can give themselves peace of mind by paying a chartered surveyor to carry out a detailed survey on the property. These are very different to the valuation a mortgage provider will carry out on the home, which only assesses whether the property is worth what the provider is lending for it.
Surveys range from a basic condition report, summarizing the property’s condition, to a full structural survey which highlights defects and potential problems, together with suggesting repairs. The surveyor should be able to pick up major problems that may have been omitted from the Seller’s Property Information Form. And if a surveyor misses anything, you can make a complaint and may be able to claim compensation from them.