Question: My house was the scene of a gruesome Victorian murder and is haunted. I am unclear whether I have to declare this to potential buyers. I thought that "let the buyer beware" applied, but isn't there a catch-all section in the Questions for Sellers form that might cover this? Naturally I would prefer to keep quiet about anything that may put buyers off.
Answer: Constracts for the sale and purchase of land are governed by the legal principle of caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. This basic principle means that it is up to the buyer to investigate fully the property they intend to buy. They should inspect it for defects and their solicitor should raise relevant enquiries and searches. A seller is not generally obliged to ensure the buyer has all the information they might consider relevant.
However, if a buyer enquired whether you had ever seen or experienced any paranormal activity, or felt that your house was haunted, you would have to say yes if you believe that it is. If you gave the buyer a misleading answer and they bought your house and then believed they saw a ghost, it is possible that they may have a case for misrepresentation against you — though it might be difficult to prove it.
To ask if there is anything else that the buyer should know is far too wide an enquiry, and you or your solicitor should say so, and not respond to such an enquiry.
There was a case where the seller did not disclose that a murder had occurred in the house, and in that case they were not found liable for misrepresentation.
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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email email@example.com or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a partner in the residential property, farms and estates team at Withy King LLP (withyking.co.uk).