As from 6 April 2009 the Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ) will be the latest flawed but mandatory addition to the Home Information Pack.
The Property Information Questionnaire is a protracted form comprised of questions relating to the property to be sold and is expected to be completed by the owner or seller of the property. Fridays Property Lawyers has been at the forefront of advising the public and estate agents about the potential risks in completing the from with inaccurate information. Whilst care needs to be taken to complete the questionnaire accurately to in order to avoid the risk of potential litigation, some estate agents and conveyancing lawyers are advocating that one way of bypassing the risk would be to answer most of the questions in the PIQ “don’t know”.
The advice on the government prescribed PIQ itself dictates that any agent that assists or completes the Property Information Questionnaire is potentially liable for inaccuracies under the Property Misdescription Act 1991 which has criminal implications. The “don’t know” option may be extensively utilised where an estate agent completes the PIQ as they seek to avoid litigation for inaccurate information.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the risks which go beyond potential litigation for providing inaccurate information in the PIQ.
There is yet further risk that in answering questions in a particular an unqualified fashion, you may deter potential buyers. This hazard is potentially even more concerning as its’ effect will be impossible to quantify. Unlike the risk of litigation (whereby the vendors exposure is limited to the buyer’s wasted legal, mortgage and survey costs), in answering the Property Information Questionnaire vaguely or incorrectly, a vendor may unwittingly put off buyers and jeopardize their sale.
The majority of the questions within the Property Information Questionnaire give the option to the seller of ticking the answer “don’t know”. For example, has the property ever suffered from flooding? Has the property suffered from storm damage? Do you have a right of access over your neighbour’s property?
To fully understand the danger of peppering the answer “don’t know”
throughout the PIQ one must delve into the psychological relationship between buyers and sellers.
Most conveyancing lawyers and estate agents would accept that there is an underlying distrust between sellers and buyers. Often a litigious tone emerges eary in the evolution of a transaction. This is illustrated by the legal parlance used by a conveyancing lawyer in referring to the counterpart lawyer representing the other party in the transaction as "the other side" or even the "opposing solicitor". These terms should better describe the dynamic of a litigation rather than a conveyancing case where in theory everyone is working to the same end.
It is generally accepted practice by estate agents to keep the buyer and seller apart, not because they live in fear of unpaid fees but rather because, more often than not, a direct relationship between the two often results in a breakdown of the transaction. In other words contriving a distance between the two maximizes the chances of success.
Simon Seaton, Director of Fridays Property Lawyers http://www.fridaysmove.com/ explains that “The reason why such transactions break down is rooted in the inherent distrust between buyer and seller with buyers often feeling as though the seller has something to hide. Perhaps this inherent distrust originates from the legal doctrine of ‘caveat emptor’ (Latin for "buyer beware"). The concept of ‘caveat emptor’ has been in existence since the 1660s and is deeply engrained UK buyer’s psyche.
In the circumstances, a Property Information Questionnaire riddled with “don’t knows” is likely to nurture distrust that may have been otherwise dormant in the buyer. This may be less dangerous in a sellers’ market where there are queues of buyers lining up and the seller can (as they did throughout the previous decade) adopt a “like it or lump it”
attitude towards buyers. Times have of course changed and sellers now need to do everything they can to maximise the appeal of their property including providing frank and transparent answers within the PIO.
This does not mean to say that a vendor cannot couch his or her answers in such as way as neutralize a negative or turn a negative into a positive. For example, the question on the PIQ asking whether or not the property has suffered from flooding is, assuming the vendor knows that the property has suffered from flooding, easily answered with a “yes”. However, there is no reason why the vendor cannot qualify the answer by explaining the circumstances of the flooding and whether or not the situation was remedied. For example, it may well be that the property was flooded due to blocked drains and that simply unblocking the drains resolved the issue. One might further state that the drains have been subsequently checked every two months. Left unqualified, a “yes” answer to this question, whilst being technically true, leaves too much to the buyer’s imagination and could put them off.
It might be suggested that when presented with a “don’t know” or an apparently negative answer, a buyer would seek clarification from the estate agent. That may indeed be the case with 80 per cent of buyers but it still leaves 20 per cent will not. There are plenty of buyers that will be considering multiple properties and as such will shortlist based on the answers on the Property Information Questionnaire. Can any vendor therefore really afford to risk alienating any prospective buyers in the current market?”
In light of the dangers, Fridays Property Lawyers have created a free 'Online legally assisted PIQ'
that simultaneously negates the legal risk whilst phrasing answers so as to maximize buyer appeal.
About Fridays Property Lawyers
Simon Seaton is a director of Fridays Property Lawyers, a law firm specialising in residential property conveyancing. Registered with the Council of Licensed Conveyancers, Fridays are highly experienced in all aspects of conveyancing. They were the first to provide a free, online “assisted” Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ) service and continue to provide Home Information Pack and conveyancing services.
Contact Information: email@example.com Telephone: +44 (0)20 7239 1354 Web: http://www.fridaysmove.com/
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