Japanese Knotweed continues to hit property headlines as house sales and re-mortgages continue to fall through as a result of Knotweed blighting properties. Whilst there is no specific onus on estate agents to assume any responsibility for the discovery of Japanese Knotweed, the Office of Fair Trading advises that its presence is what they describe as “material information” – therefore if there is a known infestation, then estate agents have a duty to declare that fact. It is a little more problematic for surveyors as they not only have to contend with looking for this species in its various forms throughout the season (early growth does not look too dissimilar to asparagus, then in September it shoots cream flowers and in winter the stems turn a brown colour and the leaves drop off) but also signs of deliberate concealment. This is on top of identifying problems with the building surveying itself! Whilst there is little a surveyor can do to stop this tactic, they can protect themselves by taking photographs of the external area to demonstrate that there is no prevalence of Japanese Knotweed, thus avoiding any professional indemnity insurance issues. Insurance for Japanese Knotweed also relies on photos and expert opinion as to growth and existence of the plant on land.
Building Societies, banks and other lenders will lend on the back of works to eradicate Japanese Knotweed provided that there is a Japanese Knotweed insurance backed guarantee that has been issued by an approved contractor. A new product offered by Grafton Insurance Risk Solutions will provide cover for the actual cost of contractors works in the first place and will also indemnify the homeowner for legal costs in Japanese Knotweed encroaches on neighbouring land. Typical premiums start from £100 for a ten year policy (or the life of a mortgage – and so protecting lenders effectively free of charge!) – There is no postcode rating or segregation and satisfies the existence in part of the TA6 form that now needs to be completed when selling a property.
Anyone who knows that there is Japanese Knotweed in their local are or knows someone who has suffered a Knotweed problem and is aware of the cost of remedial action ( £3000+) will, without any hesitation, buy a Japanese knotweed insurance policy.