It is a well-known fact that spring is one of the best times of year to sell a property.
People are full of enthusiasm for the year ahead, gardens are beginning to come to life, and the summer holidays are still a far off dream. The problem of Japanese knotweed however, does not rear its ugly head until late March, making it easy to miss at this time of year. In terms of Japanese knotweed identification, it is really makes this the worst time to sign on the dotted line for a new property.
There are two ways that purchasers normally find out about Japanese knotweed – the Survey, and the Pre-Enquiry Form.
Property surveyors are now much more proficient in Japanese knotweed identification, however they are not experts, nor should we expect them to be. Whilst knotweed is an easy spot in the late spring, summer and autumn; winter and early spring identification requires a level of investigation that many surveyors cannot provide as part of their service. Quite often the diligent vendor will have spruced the garden up ready for inspection, removing all the dead foliage, including the tell-tale brown woody canes of the knotweed, making the task even harder!
In the summer months, failing to identify knotweed is pretty unforgivable, and purchasers have successfully brought cases of professional negligence against surveyors where this has happened. In late winter and early spring however – unless it’s in a prevalent position, it is not reasonable to expect a surveyor to find it, and from a legal position it leaves little recourse for you as a purchaser if it turns out to be present down the line.
The Pre-Enquiry Form
Vendors are required to answer a set of pre-contract enquiries which typically follow the Law Society’s TA6 Form. This form has a specific question relating to Japanese knotweed and is phrased:
“Is the property affected by Japanese knotweed?"
Which can be answered "Yes", "No" or "Not known”
Where the question is answered “No” the vendor is expected to make “due enquiry” in support of this answer. If knotweed is later discovered on the property, as the purchaser, you may have a case under the Misrepresentation Act if it was answered incorrectly.
“Not known” is to an extent, the vendor’s get out of jail free card. If your conveyancer does not pick this up, and the purchase goes ahead without further enquiry, you would need to find some pretty compelling evidence that the vendor did know of the knotweed’s presence to successfully bring a case of misrepresentation.
So I guess what it comes down to is “Buyer Beware” - don’t take for granted that the presence of Japanese knotweed will be handed to you on a plate. We are certain you would instruct an expert to undertake a survey if you suspected the property had subsidence issues, so please make sure you give due consideration to what might be lurking in the garden. If when you’re visiting a property, you spot a plant that may be knotweed, take a few photos. We can identify these photos for free. Don’t get caught out with an unexpected bill for thousands of pounds for Japanese knotweed removal. If you have any concerns and would like advice on a property you are looking to purchase, please get in touch today.