A house has a history – what to check before you buy

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As lawyers we hear lots of horror stories about buying a house. Opening the wardrobes and checking behind the doors may reveal the most obvious skeletons but worse things than ghosts and poltergeists can haunt houses and lead to buyer’s remorse.

When we buy a house we think about what we will do there. What we might change, make it better. While buying with a view to the future is all very well, have a mind to what has gone before. What has happened in a house previously can be hard to know and expensive to fix. A house has a history. Sometimes the history comes with a bill.

Traditionally as lawyers we check to see if a house has all the necessary consents and compliance certificates. This will show that the previous owners complied with the necessary council rules and regulations and got the permits they needed. The best means to do this is to get a LIM from the local council. This is only part of the picture however. It only shows what is at the council. It won’t show if works have been done and the council has never been advised. Renovations by an inveterate home handyman may not have been notified at all to the council and a buyer needs to check that the Council’s records reflect what is actually on the ground.

A more recent issue concerns the manufacture of methamphetamine or P. This is a matter which, again, can be hard to spot. If a house has been used to manufacture P the chemicals used can leave invisible residues which are dangerous to inhabitants and expensive and difficult to remove. The only way to check is to carry out tests. These tests need to be carried out be trained professionals. If P is detected then experts need to be engaged to remove the chemicals. A coat of paint and a good clean are not enough.

While there might be remedies for a purchaser who discovers defects in their property after they have completed the purchase, these remedies are not guaranteed and depend on a number of different matters. Far better is to identify issues before a contract goes unconditional and negotiate a fair adjustment to the price. This way everyone knows what they are getting and agrees to the outcome. Even if you are happy with the current situation it is best to fix it, or like any good horror movie the monster can rear up again right at the end – when you try to sell the house. Speak to your lawyer and discuss what checks you want to do and how you go about doing them.

As to how to fix the mysterious noises in the night and the walls dripping blood that’s another story.

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