One in ten sellers would give false information about Japanese knotweed

The consequences of failing to declare the presence of Japanese knotweed on a property during a sale are well documented. Yet a new YouGov survey we commissioned last month suggests that despite the likelihood of a legal case against them, nearly one in ten people selling a property with knotweed (9%) would give false information.

Based on approximately 1 million residential transactions that took place in 2023, we estimate as many as 4,500 homebuyers could be duped into buying a home each year, completely unaware that the plant is present. Once the transaction is completed, they have little choice but to either swallow the cost of removal or treatment themselves or pursue a civil claim against the seller. The research indicates that around 3% of British adults have found themselves in this unfortunate position at one point or another.

The risks of non-disclosure

Seeking damages for misrepresentation after a seller has answered the knotweed question on the TA6 form dishonestly, is a well-trodden path. Some sellers may be hoping to plead ignorance but that defence won’t work where a “No” answer has been given to the question, “Is the property is affected by Japanese knotweed?”. In most cases an expert will be able to determine its maturity and whether it would have been present at the time of sale.

Last year a seller in Raynes Park, London, was ordered to pay £200,000 in costs and damages to the buyer of their 3-bedroom family home after knotweed was found growing at the back of the rear garden, behind the shed. The seller claimed he couldn’t see the plant as it was obscured, therefore he wasn’t aware of it, but after reviewing expert evidence the judge decreed that the knotweed had been present for several years and would have certainly been visible during summer, making the seller liable for the resulting diminution in the property’s value and significant legal costs.

Awareness and knowledge are different things

UK-wide awareness of knotweed is now at 77%, according to the research, yet only 12% of the general public are able to correctly identify Japanese knotweed out of a gallery of six photographs of different plants, including bindweed and lilac.

Although sellers aren’t expected to become gardening experts, they are expected to take reasonable measures to ensure the questions they give on the TA6 are correct. Answering “No” when you can’t confidently identify knotweed during the different seasons is asking for a misrepresentation claim against you.

Even if knotweed was professionally treated years prior, there is still a legal requirement for sellers to disclose that fact due to the dormancy risk, where the plant can suddenly re-emerge if any rhizome remains in the ground even after a long period of time.

As the Raynes Park case shows us, sellers are expected to educate themselves and check their garden properly, including land adjacent to and abutting the property.

Ask the experts

To avoid the risk of a legal case in the future, any seller who can’t be completely certain there’s no knotweed present on their property, including beneath the ground and close to the boundary, should commission a survey and attach the results with the TA6 along with the warranty.

Environet’s JustCheck™ survey was created to meet exactly this need, providing protection to both buyers and sellers by determining whether or not a property is affected by knotweed. Our surveyors check the property for any sign or suspicion of knotweed, and where possible on adjoining land. Assuming none is found or suspected, a 5-year warranty is provided to cover the cost of up to £20,000 of treatment in the unlikely event the plant should later appear.

Armed with an “all-clear” report and warranty, with an abundance of caution, sellers are still advised to answer “Not Known” to the TA6 knotweed question and attach the survey report showing the property to be knotweed-free to the best of their knowledge.

Properties with knotweed can still be bought and sold

Declaring the presence of Japanese knotweed may make a property more difficult to sell, but certainly not impossible.

Choosing the right course of action, the research shows 68% of sellers would be proactive and commence professional treatment, allowing their sale to proceed. If an infestation is professionally dealt with (ideally, removed from the ground rather than herbicide treated), with an insurance-backed guarantee, it is possible in most cases to restore the value of the property to a large extent – although the so-called ‘knotweed stigma’ can still have some impact.

Buyers are also becoming more pragmatic, with two-thirds (67%) saying they would go ahead and buy a property with knotweed, as long as it was professionally dealt with by the seller or the price was discounted to reflect the cost of removal.

Even though most lenders are happy to mortgage properties affected by Japanese knotweed, there is still a large contingent of buyers – 33% – who would walk away, not wanting to take on the burden. With the pool of buyers who would potentially purchase a property reduced by a third in such cases, house prices are likely to be negatively affected to some extent in the current buyer’s market.

Nevertheless, the potential financial cost of a legal case, including diminution in value of a property and legal fees which can easily run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds, is far greater than having to accept a small reduction in the property’s price. When it comes to knotweed, honesty is always the best policy.

Kindly shared by Environet

Pictures Courtesy of Environet