A High Court ruling in a case in which the size of a property’s garden was over-estimated by 85% in particulars of sale has sent out a warning message to estate agents and property buyers who decide to dispense with a full survey.
Estate agents who were acquitted by a magistrate of a charge under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 are facing a re-trial after two senior judges ruled that the ‘plainly false’ statement as to the garden’s size could not be cured by disclaimers contained within the sales particulars.
The purchasers of Hazeldene House, Kings Loke, Hembsy, near Great Yarmouth, were surprised to find that the garden, which had been advertised as extending to ‘approximately’ three-quarters of an acre, in fact measured only 0.4 of an acre.
Estate agents, Charles, Julie and Daniel Bycroft, who are partners in Yarmouth-based Charles Bycroft & Co, were prosecuted by Norfolk County Council's trading standards department. They were acquitted by the magistrate on the basis that the sale particulars made clear that there was no guarantee as to the size of the garden.
However, allowing Norfolk County Council’s appeal against that decision, Lord Justice Elias, sitting with Mr Justice Singh, said that the statement that the house had ‘superb gardens of approximately three-quarters of an acre’ was ‘plainly false’.
Whilst emphasising that it was not alleged that the estate agents had any ‘intention to deceive’, the judge said that the fact that the particulars of sale stated that the approximate measurement of the garden could not be guaranteed and was ‘sts’ - subject to survey - did not amount to a defence to the charge.
Prospective buyers would have understood the statement to mean that the garden measured ‘at least somewhere in the region of 0.75 of an acre’, said the judge, who added: ‘It makes no sense to positively assert a fact and then disclaim it’.
The case will now go back to Great Yarmouth Magistrates Court for a retrial at which it will be open to the estate agents to put forward a defence that they exercised ‘due diligence’ in preparing the particulars of sale.
The estate agents conceded that they had relied on the vendor's estimate of the garden's size and made no independent checks. The purchasers had not commissioned a full survey and did not find out the true extent of the garden until after they bought the property.
If you have bought a property which has been seriously misrepresented to you, contact us for advice on what steps you can take.