If you're house hunting this winter, a stark warning has been issued – make sure you stay vigilant for signs of Japanese knotweed
The dangerous weed starts to die back in October, at which point it becomes easier to hide.
Research, conducted by Environet UK and YouGov, revealed a dishonest trait in four per cent of us, who admitted that they would try to do just this, in the hope that buyers and surveyors would fail to spot it.
Japanese knotweed turns yellow after the first frost, eventually falling, while the bamboo-like canes will turn brown and brittle.
While you may think the plant is dead, it's actually the beginning of the dormancy period. The reality is the underground root system is still active, staying replenished with new energy reserves from the summer's growth, as it prepares to strike again the following spring.
Homebuyers need to be especially vigilant when viewing houses during the winter months, with property owners taking advantage of the apparent demise of the plant to conceal it. The canes will often be removed but the crown remains visible in the ground. In extreme cases, the membranes are laid horizontally on the ground to hide it, while some have even gone so far as to lay a path or lawn over it.
In a 2018 YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults, commissioned on behalf of Environet, four per cent admitted that if they were selling a property which was affected by Japanese knotweed, they would try to cover it up or obscure it, in the hope that a potential buyer would not realise.
Data collected by Environet has pointed to there being as many as 2,400 cases of knotweed concealment each year during UK property transactions.
With the risk of successful concealment of knotweed increasing this time of year, it's crucial for buyers to know what they're looking out for. Hiding knotweed on your property and answering dishonestly to the Law Society's TA6 form, which is completed as a part of the sales process, could even leave you at risk of future litigation once it's found.
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 doesn't need to be the end for a potential deal when it comes to buying and selling. Simply having a proper treatment plan in place with an insurance-backed guarantee for the work that can subsequently be passed on to the buyer will be enough for many mortgage lenders, so the transaction will be able to go ahead.