“Caveat Emptor” – What Does That Mean?

Author: Alison Gourley
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“Caveat emptor” is an ancient Roman law basically meaning “let the buyer be aware”. One of the areas where this rule applies is in relation to the purchase of a house.

Let me differentiate between new houses and old houses. With a new house the purchaser will have a contract with the builder. This contract will, no doubt ,contain clauses to the effect  that the builder will deal with snagging issues after the purchaser has taken entry and that the purchaser will receive an NHBC or Zurich Certificate (or similar) providing a form of insurance cover for structural problems arising in the first ten years of the life of the house.  So although the rule of “caveat emptor” still applies the purchaser has some right of recourse in terms of the contract.

However, when a purchaser is buying an old house I would always advise clients to remember that the house has been lived in and will have its own quirks and foibles. A kitchen tap may drip, it may take longer than expected to run a bath and the stairs may creak and the purchaser just has to accept that. With an older house you cannot expect to buy a perfect property.

I have seen some ridiculous post-settlement claims being made by purchasers like drippy taps, a bulb missing  in a light fitting or in one case (and I am serious) the fact that the seller’s underwear was left stuffed down the back of a radiator.

There is now some debate as to whether the “caveat emptor” rule should be removed and whether the seller should be made to warrant certain things. Most sale contracts do contain certain warranties but these usually relate to legal matters such as Planning Enforcement Notices, Repairs Grants etc

Consumer interests would more than likely wish to see the sellers warrant more in the contract but my own personal view is a purchaser should make their own enquiries and employ their individual surveyor or timber specialist if need be.

I think it is asking for trouble if we start arguing about warranties. The purchase of a house may then become like a company purchase with pages and pages of warranties and disclosures.  Legal fees will also increase due to the additional amount of work.

We shall see what happens and whether legislation is put in place, but I personally hope not.

In the meantime when viewing a house, take the time to ask questions and make sure you are happy with what you are buying. While you cannot possibly inspect everything it is important to do your research and above all get a surveyor or expert to check it out before you buy if the Home Report  throws up any matters of which you are not sure. As for the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of an older property then any purchaser will just have to live with these.

If I can help with any property enquiries then please contact me Alison Gourley on 0141 552 3422 or by email ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

About Alison Gourley

Alison graduated from Edinburgh University School of Law in 1991. She joined Mitchells Roberton in 1996 and became an Associate thereafter. Alison specialises in both commercial and residential conveyancing, advising individuals, large and small businesses, banks, charities and further education institutions on all property transactions. Having 20 years experience in property law Alison has developed excellent relationships with surveyors, independent financial advisers and banks so is ready to act swiftly and effectively to meet her clients’ needs in an ever changing property market. She enjoys getting to know her clients and is committed to giving them an efficient service and is always friendly and approachable. She is also involved with the marketing aspects of the firm. Alison is a residential conveyancing tutor in the paralegal course offered by Central Law Training through the University of Strathclyde. Alison is married to a photographer and has one child. In her free moments she likes to keep fit. She is a talented amateur artist and loves nature and the great outdoors. Email: ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

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