Surveys show that 36% of Brits would not buy a property where a death has occurred. However, you might be surprised to know that a seller is not legally obliged to disclose that a murder has occurred within a property.
Caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’) is a cornerstone of English contract law. It places the onus on the buyer to identify defects in the property they are buying.
A seller is only required to disclose latent defects in title; they have no duty to disclose any physical defects. Misdescription of, or false statements about, the property may entitle the buyer to rescind the contract or claim damages.
In 2000, unaware of its grisly history, the Sykes purchased a property from the Taylor Roses. During the conveyancing process, the Sykes raised the enquiry ‘is there any other information which you think the buyer may have a right to know?’, to which the sellers replied ‘no’.
The sale completed, and some months later the buyer discovered that the property had been the scene of a gruesome murder. The buyer placed it back on the market, sold at a loss and sued the seller for their losses.
The buyer argued that the seller had misrepresented the property by answering ‘no’ to their enquiry. However, the court found in the seller’s favour in Sykes v Taylor Rose . On the principle of caveat emptor, unless a specific question about a defect was asked to the seller and not answered honestly, a purchaser has no recourse against the seller.
This decision shows that the English courts are hesitant to change the status quo, despite the potential impact on the buyer.
If something is particularly important to a buyer, then they must raise it; no question is a silly question in such circumstances.
Sophie Michaelides is an associate and Elizabeth Schulz is a solicitor at Ashfords