All is Not What It Seems
You have moved into your new home. The cheque is cleared, the lawyers are paid, the removers have gone and you have collapsed, tired but delighted to be finally in and putting your feet up.
Less delightful, however, is the post the following day that includes a cheque from an energy company for the lease of the solar panels on your roof; a request for the repayment of the loan under the new Green Deal for the gleaming, energy efficient boiler recently installed by the previous owner and a sharply worded letter from a neighbour demanding to know “what is going to be done about the Japanese Knot Weed that is spreading into their garden from yours and threatening to damage their property. “ How has this happened? Why were these issues not identified before you committed to buy the property?
Many of the energy saving schemes implemented over the last few years require contracts to be entered into by current owners that bind not only themselves but also future owners of the property. Some schemes mean that installations are merely leased and do not in fact belong to the property owner. These and other issues will only come to light by seeking information from the sellers solicitors and by considering the comments made in the Survey Report , which will highlight not only the condition of the property but also points for your lawyer to follow up. Failure to do so could mean a nasty surprise.
The Law Society has recently updated the Protocol Forms that sellers complete as part of the contract documentation to include questions relating to, amongst others, the Government’s new Green Deal initiative and highly invasive Japanese knot weed. All solicitors adhering to the Conveyancing Quality Standard (CCQS) are obliged to use the most current forms of contract documentation and you need to ensure that a copy of the Survey Report is sent to your lawyer for any points of this nature to be raised with the seller.
The issues above, however, pale into insignificance when you then receive possession proceedings from the previous owner’s lender, requiring immediate vacation of what you had thought was your new home!.
Unfortunately, in a small number of cases fraud is being perpetrated by criminals who pose as the owner of the property, sell it, take the sale proceeds and disappear, leaving the buyer with no rights of ownership despite having paid for it and a lender with “a new owner “ living in the property. Another fraudulent scenario is when a genuine seller has been duped by instructing a bogus firm of solicitors established by criminals – sometimes cloning a genuine solicitor’s website. On receipt of the sale monies in to their bogus firm’s bank account the criminals disappear with the funds without repaying the mortgage or accounting to the seller for the sale proceed. All of which has a devastating emotional and financial impact on all parties.
In an attempt to reduce fraud the Land Registry has implemented an extra identity check, as part of the registration process and the ability of a present owner, whether they are living in the property or not, to put an additional restriction on the registered title to require evidence of their identity to be provided to prevent someone posing as them and selling the property without their knowledge. In addition property lawyers are required to check the validity of the lawyers acting for the other party in a transaction and are now also checking the bank account details of other firms before sending funds in order to prevent being duped.
All this goes to prove that you need to be vigilant. You need to be satisfied that you are dealing with a genuine seller who answers all the questions, which are checked and correlated with other sources of information and you are instructing and dealing with a genuine, experienced and validated property lawyer who is also conscious of any potential threats. When that’s done you can indeed sit peacefully in your Knot Weed free garden, feet up and enjoy the summer - whatever that happens to bring us this year!