Delays in answering preliminary enquiries


        One of the first jobs for the buyer’s solicitor is to submit a long list of questions to the seller’s solicitor. These are standard questions printed on a form and include availability of mains services; responsibility for boundaries and any associated disputes; guarantees for work; NHBC warranties; planning and building regs consents; and details of fixtures and fittings. There may be some extra questions added below the standard ones.

            Traditionally these are met with blame-deflecting answers such as ‘Not known’ or ‘Please rely on your own enquiries’. But a seller who makes a false declaration can be liable to being sued for damages. The most problematic questions often centre around the following:


            Boundary disputes

Minor disagreements between neighbours about boundaries have a habit of flaring up into open warfare, and may even be the reason your seller is selling. Sellers are legally obliged to declare any such disputes, although they will obviously want to downplay the significance.

            If any problems come to light it’s best to arrange a meeting with the neighbours in question to ascertain whether this is a deal-breaker. Perhaps the issue will be of no consequence to you, or maybe a compromise can be reached. Sometimes personal chemistry and pride has a lot to do with such disputes. Any agreement to resolve the problem should be confirmed in writing and witnessed.


            Restrictive covenants

Suppose you’re buying a property on a small housing development. It may be that the original developer put a restriction on the deeds of all the houses preventing them being extended, for fear that ugly extensions would later disfigure the estate.

If you’re thinking of building even a small conservatory in future this needs to be resolved. Normally an indemnity insurance policy can be arranged within a couple of weeks to swiftly resolve such problems.



            Planning and Building Regulations

When planning consent is granted for new housing developments it is quite common for ‘permitted development rights’ to be removed. These normally allow you to build small porches, conservatories, loft conversions or extensions without making a planning application, so if the house you’re buying has such a restriction, it could hinder your future plans to add on.

            More commonly problems arise when existing extensions and structural alterations have been carried out without consent. Such omissions are sometimes only discovered just prior to exchange, because no one bothered to check earlier. As well as being illegal, this raises questions about the quality and safety of the building work.

Worse, if the property you’re buying is Listed, as the new owner you become liable for the cost of rectifying any illegal alterations carried out previously that subsequently come to light, which could prove ruinously expensive. 

Mortgage surveyors normally flag up any potential concerns and if consents weren’t obtained, it’s normally possible to apply retrospectively. But this can take several weeks, and consent could still be refused or the unauthorised building works demolished. 

However, the Council’s right to take planning enforcement action lapses where four or more years have passed since construction (ten years for a breach of a planning condition) and two years after a breach of the Building Regs.




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