Ghost stories are as much a part of festive season television as family mayhem in EastEnders and repeats of The Morecambe & Wise Show, and each one usually goes like this: young couple (woman expecting first child) move into their “dream home”, deliriously happy… until they start to hear strange noises and see apparitions.
But what if this was real and you found an unexpected houseguest at your new abode. Would you have any comeback against the seller?
One could argue that “vacant possession” had not been granted, but a seller has limited control over the presence of a ghost, just as they have limited control over an unwanted burglar.
The onus is on buyers to satisfy themselves on the heritable property that they are about to purchase. Lawyers use the term caveat emptor, meaning “buyer beware”. During a property transaction this implied legal position is varied according to the terms of the contract (“the missives”) entered into between the parties. It is standard to include a condition warranting the sellers that, so far as they are aware, there are no structural issues or timber problems such as wet rot, damp or infestation. Where problems are disclosed, the solicitor will recommend that the buyer instructs a specialist contractor to inspect the property for advice and estimated costs of repair. There is no requirement within a standard contract to disclose the presence of paranormal activity and I have yet to see an additional clause added to a contract by a purchasing agent. However, one of my colleagues has read a clause within a home report highlighting local knowledge that the property had a history of things that “go bump in the night”.
Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 there is a duty of care upon estate agents to advise potential purchasers of any material information that would affect a decision to purchase a property, although a seller could argue that they were not aware of the spooky presence, which may be difficult to prove otherwise. The responsibility remains with the buyer to ask the pertinent question of the seller at the time of offering for the property. In the same manner as asking if any of the neighbours partake in an annual battle of Christmas light exhibitions.
• Joanne Grimmond is a partner with Blackadders, solicitors