When you have found a property you love, you may feel you need to act quickly for fear you could miss out on this opportunity if you don’t immediately sign the offer to purchase.
You may be tempted to sign the documents without reading them carefully, but this would be a grave mistake.
An offer to purchase is a legal document, and the terms are binding on all parties whose signatures are on it. Once you have signed it, you cannot withdraw from the deal on the grounds that you didn’t read the document or signed it without understanding what it entailed.
It's essential to take time to acquaint yourself with the terms in the contract – and understand the finer details. For example, if there are any suspensive conditions to the sale of a property, these details must be written into the contract in full to avoid any misinterpretations.
A good agent will spend as much time as needed explaining everything in the agreement to buyers and sellers. There should be a separate appointment between buyer and agent, where each clause is read through and explained, if necessary.
Estate agents must adhere to a code of conduct and are licensed by the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (previously by the Estate Agency Affairs Board) to act on behalf of their clients in dealing with property. Agents are legally obliged to hold current fidelity fund certificates (FFCs) before being allowed to deal in property selling. Agents who sell property without an FFC are also not entitled to claim commission on the sale of a property.
Before signing an offer to purchase or any other legal document, you should always be sure that you understand the terms of the contract and the possible consequences.
If you have any doubts about what is in an agreement, instead, take the contract away with you and discuss it with your attorney or someone else who understands what it says and can explain the terminology.
Above all, never sign any documents that have gaps in them, even if your estate agent says they will be filled in later. This is not the correct legal procedure and cannot constitute a complete contract.
Writer : Sarah-Jane Meyer