Upon making an agreeable offer, the potential buyers, Mr and Mrs G proceeded to instruct solicitors and a surveyor. Unfortunately, during this process it came to light that the basement, described in the sales particulars as having been converted to a further room that could be used a bedroom, did not have the required permission. Mr and Mrs G withdrew from the transaction and complained that the Agent’s sales particulars had misled them.
The Agent argued that it was not their role to investigate building regulation approval for properties they market. Broadly, I agreed that it is beyond an estate agent’s role and expertise to do so. However, I pointed out that I expect agents to be aware from professional experience that conversion of storage spaces such as lofts and cellars into habitable rooms requires building regulation approval. The Agent also pointed out that their sales particulars contained the caveat that the information was believed to be accurate but was not guaranteed as such. Whilst this was the case, I did not consider this broad disclaimer to be sufficient to alert applicants to the potential problem in a case such as this.
In the absence of any specific statement to the contrary, I considered that Mr and Mrs G would have reasonably understood the Agent’s sales particulars as indicating that the basement could be used legally as a habitable room and that the conversion complied with the requirement for building regulation approval. I did not consider that the duty fell to Mr and Mrs G to satisfy themselves that the property was suitable for their needs as the CPRs placed the onus on the Agent to be diligent in determining the precise position in relation to describing the aspects and facilities of the property to avoid misleading prospective buyers. In this case the Agent took no such action and I supported the complaint making an award of £700 with reflected Mr and Mrs G’s abortive costs as well as an element of distress, aggravation and inconvenience.
Caveat emptor no longer exists in relation to an Agent’s responsibilities under the repealed Property Misdescriptions Act. As the professional instructed to market the property, I expect agents to be aware of the building requirements surrounding conversions to basements, attic and rooms as well as common extensions. If such a conversion is apparent, it is the agent’s duty under the CPRs to take the appropriate steps to ensure that they satisfy themselves that the necessary permissions have been obtained. If such permissions cannot be produced, a suitable warning specific to the issue, should be included on the sales particulars. General disclaimers are not suitable.