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Buyer Beware! Property Sale Contracts Mean What They Say!

Lawyers don’t use much Latin nowadays but ‘caveat emptor!’ – roughly translated as ‘buyer beware!’ – is still a fundamental principle that applies to property sales. In one case exactly on point, a builder defeated a breach of contract claim brought by a woman who tripped over a defective paving stone and broke her back.

Uneven pavement1The pensioner bought a newly constructed home from the builder about 18 months before she suffered the catastrophic fall in her garden. She was left paralysed in all four limbs and confined to a wheelchair. The uneven stone had been shoddily laid by a subcontractor. The woman sued the builder for around £3.5 million.

In dismissing her claim, however, the High Court noted that she had formally agreed in the sale contract that she had inspected the property and that she was purchasing it in the condition it was in on the date that the deal was finalised. She had been expressly advised by her solicitors that any snagging defects that required to be remedied needed to be itemised in the contract.

However, that had not been done and the woman had instead relied on the fact that the property was covered by a National House Building Council guarantee. The builder had assured her that he would ‘sort out’ the defective paving but the Court found that that did not give rise to a collateral contractual obligation to do so.