What are ‘Replies to Pre-Contract Enquiries’ in Northern Irish conveyancing?

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Gateley Legal NI

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Vendors in Northern Ireland selling their property have to complete a set of standard form Replies to Pre-Contract Enquiries with their solicitor as part of the conveyancing process. 

The Replies have been prepared by the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s Home Charter Committee for use in all conveyancing transactions. There are a separate set of Replies for the sale of agricultural properties. It is very important that the set of Replies are completed accurately and in full by the vendor.

The Replies deal with all manner of things that may affect a property including but not limited to:

  • rights
  • ground rent
  • complaints or breaches of covenant
  • occupants
  • boundaries
  • works carried out at the property
  • mains connections
  • flooding 
  • insurance.

They also contain a fixtures and fittings list which must be completed by a vendor confirming what items they are removing from a property, what items they are leaving at a property and if there are any particular items that they wish to sell to a purchaser exclusive of the sales price.

If the property is being sold subject to an existing Tenancy Agreement, there are also appropriate sections within these to be completed as regards to the Tenancy Agreement, rent and deposit.

If the vendor does not know the answer to any of the Enquiries, they should state this rather than leaving the reply blank.

The importance of accuracy

The Replies that are provided then form part of the contract of sale between the vendor and the purchaser. If a vendor gives inaccurate or incomplete Replies, the purchaser may have a right to refuse to complete or may be entitled to sue the vendor for compensation.

Replies should therefore always be completed to the best of the vendor’s knowledge, information and belief and the vendor must make reasonable Enquiries to assist in completing the Replies. A vendor is not expected to have expert knowledge of legal or technical matters that affect a property, but a vendor should know whether they have carried out work to a property and obtained the appropriate planning or building control consents. They should also be aware of whether they pay ground rent and if the property is one with shared facilities, they should have all management company and service charge information at hand.

When completing Replies to Enquiries, it is important that vendors gather together any correspondence, agreements, or other documents they have that will be relevant to completing the Replies. This includes any correspondence from statutory bodies. If a vendor is aware of something that they need to disclose in the Replies, but they do not have the necessary documentation, they should speak to their solicitor at an early stage to ascertain whether it is possible to obtain duplicates or if any further documentation is required. They should also seek guidance from their solicitor as to whether they need to contact a third party to answer a particular question as that contact could invalidate a title indemnity policy or the availability of a policy to deal with an issue. 

A collaborative and efficient approach to prevent delays or issues

A purchaser may raise further Enquiries or seek clarification on any of the Replies given by a vendor and it is important that the acting solicitors take a collaborative approach in dealing with further Enquiries as this is often what stalls the conveyancing process. The Latin health warning for all conveyancing matters still applies: ‘Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware’!

The early and accurate completion of Replies to Pre-Contract Enquiries assists a conveyance to go smoothly and often more quickly. Incomplete Replies to Enquiries do slow down a transaction and it is therefore vitally important that vendors and their solicitors ensure that these are completed in full before they are issued to a purchaser’s solicitor.

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