Picture this: you’ve just arrived at a house viewing for your dream home. Whether you’re walking down the neat driveway of a 1930s semi, passing through an arch of rose bushes at a country cottage or stopping on the pavement outside a terraced Victorian townhouse, you look at the front door with a good feeling about what’s to come. When you get inside, you fall instantly head over heels with the space/the period details/the light/the view/the geometric architecture (delete as appropriate). It ticks everything on your list and you’ve decided to put in an offer before you’ve even got back to the car.
But here’s where things can get a bit sticky. Though there’s an awful lot you can tell about a house on a viewing, there’s an awful lot more you can’t. While you’ve been losing your heart to an incredible view, or a statement kitchen island or original Edwardian tiles… all sorts of other factors might be drifting under the radar, ready to surprise you in an altogether less pleasant way later down the line.
After all, even the most chilling tales often have idyllic beginnings.
When does reality kick in?
Once the offer has been accepted, the real work of buying a house will begin. This is the point at which you want to have a solicitor who really knows their stuff by your side. Your conveyancing solicitor will arrange for the property information form to be sent over and for searches to be ordered. They’ll also very heavily encourage you to get a property survey booked in.
Though you’ve made a reasonably big commitment towards buying the house in starting the conveyancing process, be assured that at this point it’s still far from a done deal. The point of this fact-gathering stage is to build a full picture of the property and any potential downsides, whether they’re of the subsidence, right of way, nasty neighbour or shady past variety.
Once all the results are in, a good solicitor will nicely suggest you set your rose-tinted spectacles aside. They’ll talk you through the good, bad and ugly of the results, making sure you understand everything. They’ll also make recommendations on anything they think could be grounds for renegotiation… or potentially even grounds to run screaming in the other direction.
So what if reality really kicks in?
Though there certainly isn’t a specific question relating to this on the property information form, generally speaking a seller would be obligated to tell you if there was anything particularly unpalatable in the property’s past. This is because the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 state that sellers have to tell potential buyers anything that could reasonably be considered to affect the value of the property.
‘Material information’ in this sense would include fairly commonplace things such as planned building work nearby, as well as more ghoulish facts such as violent crimes, murders or suicides that had taken place in the property.
Despite this, you wouldn’t necessarily be entitled to be told whether anyone had died of natural causes in a property, as this is a legal grey area. There’s also no official obligation for sellers to disclose any ghostly activity they believe they’ve experienced in the property. After all, there aren’t exactly any legal precedents for paranormal proof being presented in the court room. (Though we must confess to finding the thought quite entertaining).
Should you buy a house with a dark past?
There are so many personal decisions that go into choosing whether or not to buy a property. Things that are absolute deal breakers for some will seem barely worth mentioning to others. For many people, a horror in a house’s past would really change the way they see the place – even if it did have the designer kitchen of their dreams. It’s perfectly reasonably to feel squeamish and uncomfortable about any violence or death that might have taken place in a property, and you would be perfectly within your rights to call time on the purchase and run straight into the arms of an estate agent who could show you properties with much cleaner energies.
On the other end of the scale, many buyers wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest by the thought of ghosts, ghouls or general bad vibes. If you’re the type that doesn’t hold with that sort of thing, the good news is that you might just be able to get a great deal on a property with a past that would put others off.
If you’re unsure about buying or selling a property with a ghoulish past, we’re always on hand to offer advice. Just don’t ask us to weigh in on the legal position of any supposed ghostly activity… though we happily recommend all sorts of professionals, we don’t happen to have the details of a ghost hunter on file.