Are you house hunting this winter? Then this is the one thing you'll want to make sure you're aware of...
Homebuyers who are seeking a property have been advised to watch out for signs of Japanese knotweed. This follows a warning from experts that as it dies back in October, it can be easily concealed, thus leaving you unaware of its existence.
Research, conducted by Environet UK and YouGov, has revealed that when it comes to selling a home that is affected by knotweed, four per cent have admitted they would try to conceal it, in the hope that a buyer and surveyor wouldn't notice.
Following the first frost, leaves of the weed begin to turn yellow, before eventually falling. At the same time, bamboo-like canes will lose their green appearances and begin to turn a brittle brown.
This will, in fact, be the start of the winter dormancy period, at which point the plant can appear dead. However, it's actually got an underground root system that is very much alive, reinvigorated following its new energy reserves from the summer's growth, as it gets ready to make a reappearance the following spring.
Homebuyers are being advised to stay particularly aware this time of year, as property owners can take advantage of the apparent demise of the plant to completely conceal it. This could be done by removing the canes, but the crown will still be visible. In some extreme cases, membranes can be used to conceal it, with a path or lawn laid over it instead.
A survey of 2,000 British adults, conducted in 2018 by YouGov and commissioned by Environet, revealed four per cent of respondents said if they were to sell a property affected by Japanese knotweed, they would either cover it up or otherwise hide it, in the hope that a potential buyer would remain oblivious to it. In fact, Environet data has suggested there could be up to 2,400 cases each year during UK property transactions.
Successfully concealing knotweed is much easier to do during the winter months, as it's vital that buyers are aware of what they're looking for. There could be repercussions if this is done - sellers who hide it on their property and then answer dishonestly on the Law Society's TA6 form (this is completed as a part of the sale process), leave themselves at risk of future litigation when it's discovered.
Nic Seal, Founder and MD of Environet, said: "People buying property during the winter months are undoubtedly at greater risk from knotweed concealment and should be actively looking for signs of the plant. A surveyor should be able to identify knotweed if it’s visible, but they can’t be reasonably expected to dig up the ground, so if a seller has gone to great lengths to hide it by snapping off the dead canes and covering the crowns, it could easily be missed."
"Deliberate concealment of Japanese knotweed is unwise. Dishonest sellers are likely to find themselves being sued for misrepresentation and may have to pay the cost of professional treatment, legal fees and compensate the buyer for any decrease in the property’s value."
Having Japanese knotweed in your home doesn't necessarily need to be the deal breaker when you're buying and selling a property. If a professional treatment plan is followed and has an insurance-backed guarantee for the work, it will satisfy most mortgage lenders, letting transactions go ahead without a problem.