Trial of Estate Agents must proceed

8 November 2013

The High Court was told that in August 2009, Bycroft & Co were agents for the sale of a property known as Hazeldene at Kings Loake, Hemsby.  In the sale brochure, the property was described as a 'charming period detached family house immaculately presented and set within superb gardens of approximately three quarters of an acre (sts)…'.  Norfolk County Council's Trading Standards Department prosecuted Charles, Julie and Daniel Bycroft – the husband, wife and son, who are partners in the estate agency firm – for breaching the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991.  The District Judge stopped the trial in November last year, stating that the word 'approximately' in the property description and the phrase 'sts' (subject to survey) amounted to an effective disclaimer.  However, the county council's legal department appealed the decision and the High Court has allowed the appeal, stating that the case must be re-determined.  The Judges were told that the estate agents had relied completely on the vendors estimate as to the size of the garden and took no measurements of their own or sought to check the information given. 

It is a case which could have a considerable effect on the property business and certainly sends a very clear warning to estate agents, generally about the pitfalls of providing specific measurements when trying to tempt buyers as part of a property sale.  It would seem that if a non specific phrase such as 'substantial gardens' had been used then Bycrofts would not find themselves in this current situation. 

The solicitor for Norfolk County Council, Catherine Girvan said "this case is a warning to estate agents from the Court to take care when giving specific measurements, or even general measurements, in relation to anything – but particularly land.  They are not obliged to give measurements, and in this particular case perfectly good description would have been 'large garden'."

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.