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Caveat Emptor: Look Before You Buy

 We've all heard the leaky condo stories. But besides hiring a housing inspector, what else should you check before buying a home?
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A buyer's first question should always be: Does the seller own the land? The land title office has a registry of the legal owners for land in B.C. Your lawyer can make sure the seller has title to the property.

Even if the seller is the registered owner, there may still be many restrictions on the property. By reviewing the title records, a lawyer can tell you about any mortgages, easements, rights of way, restrictive covenants, and other items. These "charges" may give others the right to enter or take your property. They may also restrict what you can build and to whom you can sell the property.

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Builder's liens

Another type of charge is a builder's lien. On new houses, or where there have been recent renovations, contractors may file liens for unpaid construction costs. Since, as the new owner, you could be liable, ask your lawyer to hold back part of the purchase price to cover these costs.

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Building location

Your dream house may encroach on a neighbour's property. For example, a fence or shed may extend into their yard. If you can't settle the issue with the neighbour, you may have to tear down whatever encroaches.

The only way to check is to order a survey. A professional land surveyor will take measurements, prepare a plan showing the lot's boundaries, and provide a sketch showing all the buildings, easements and rights of way. This normally costs about $300 CDN for a house in Vancouver, but could be well worth it.

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Most buyers assume a house meets all zoning bylaws. However, it may be a good idea to check, especially if you intend to build a new house on the land later. Even areas zoned for single-family homes may have restrictions on height, balconies, floor space and so on.

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Environmental issues

Some aspects of the property may raise environmental issues. For example, if there were an oil tank on the property, or asbestos or toxic materials used in the construction, you may be liable for any future environmental problems.

As with any major purchase, caveat emptor! Buyer beware. A few dollars spent today could save you many more tomorrow.

More questions? Phone us at (604) HELP-LAW.

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Legal disclaimer:  The information provided on Lawyers-BC.Com is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered. Your access to and use of this Web site is subject to additional terms and conditions.

This page last updated: August 13, 1999
© copyright 1999 Lawyers-BC.Com Services Ltd.