Japanese knotweed warning issued to buyers as winter approaches

Japanese knotweed experts have warned house buyers that the invasive weed poses a greater risk between the months of November and March as it’s harder to find and “easier to hide”.

Buyers viewing property at this time of year need to be more vigilant of the plant as it dies back in autumn and can be more difficult to spot and therefore easier for sellers to conceal.

Now, invasive plant specialist Environet UK is warning buyers that by the end of November and into early December, the plant’s growth above ground will have died back and the leaves will have shed which means only the dead canes will remain.

Buyers and homeowners should not be fooled by this as while the plant may look dead, it will resurge in growth during the spring and summer months.

Japanese knotweed has an extensive underground rhizome which can spread for metres.

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In winter, it’s easier for sellers to conceal the plant even though it’s a legal requirement for homeowners to declare whether the plant is on the property on the Law Society’s TA6 form when they come to sell.

If sellers ticks “no” or “not known” on the form under the Japanese knotweed question when they haven’t carried out the property checks, they are putting themselves at risk of future litigation when the knotweed is discovered.

Despite this, there are still thousands of misrepresentation cases from disgruntled buyers every year to try and recover costs for treatment, legal fees and the diminution of the property’s value.

Nic Seal, founder of invasive plant specialist Environet, said: “Risks to homebuyers are considerably greater during winter, when knotweed is easier to hide.

“As well as removing the dead canes and covering the crowns, we’ve seen cases where it’s has been covered with decking, had a pathway or patio laid over it, or even a shed.

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“But knotweed will grow back next spring and when it does, sellers who have been dishonest could find themselves seriously out of pocket.

“One seller in Raynes Park, London ended up with a £200,000 bill at the start of this year after he was sued for failing to declare knotweed growing behind the shed at the bottom of his garden and the case went all the way to court.

“Buyers viewing properties over the next few months should check carefully for evidence of knotweed and ask their RICS surveyor to be extra vigilant for signs of concealment.

“If in doubt, commission a specialist to carry out a Japanese knotweed survey, backed by a warranty.”

Japanese knotweed is not a deal breaker when it comes to buying and selling a property as long as there is a treatment plan in place with an insurance-backed guarantee.

If a plan and insurance are in place, most mortgage lenders will offer a loan and the transaction can go ahead.

For those looking to buy a property, here are four ways to identify Japanese knotweed during home viewings:

  • Plants with green, heart-shaped leaves will turn yellow, then brown, before falling from the plant
  • The hollow canes will turn brown and die but they usually remain standing upright
  • The plant’s distinctive crowns will remain visible and will emerge through the surface of the soil
  • In spring, red or purple asparagus-like shoots will appear and will quickly grow into green bamboo-like stems.

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