Surveyors and mortgage lenders have joined forces to stem the
latest threat to Britain's ailing housing market, the spread of the
pernicious Japanese knotweed that has been dubbed the 'Attack of
The Victorians innocently introduced the weed, which in 100 years has aggressively colonised the British Isles. Lush green in summer and bearing plumes of white flowers from now until September, Fallopia japonica seems innocuous enough.
But its dense mat of rhizomes extend relentlessly underground, undermining foundations, piercing walls, floors and plumbing. It is almost impossible to kill because a fragment of its cut flesh can generate a thriving new plant within days.
It is so damaging that some lenders have refused to
mortgage properties where it is present, making the homes
But earlier this year, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published advice enabling surveyors to 'risk-grade' properties so lenders, sellers and buyers could more reasonably assess the threat.
The institution worked with the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Building Societies Association and says the measures appear to be taking effect, with lenders adopting a more reasoned approach to lending where the weed is present.
Surveyor Philip Santo, who oversaw the project, says: 'We had reached a point where at least one national lender placed an embargo on lending where a property has any knotweed within its boundaries.
'Knotweed is extremely durable and where established can push over a wall or destroy light outbuildings,' he admits. 'But it does not cause structural damage to houses except in highly unusual circumstances.'
Horror stories of homes being demolished because of the weed sparked 'unnecessary panic' among both lenders and the wider public, but he adds: 'I would not underestimate the difficulty of removing it. The cost can be immense.'
Simon Wreford, of weed-clearer Japanese Knotweed Ltd, says: 'We had one property seller claiming their buyer had been refused by ten lenders as a result of knotweed.'
The new, risk-graded approach to knotweed is likely to mean lenders will not refuse loans out of hand. CML spokesman Bernard Clarke says: 'Lenders will continue to make their own decisions about lending on properties affected by knotweed.
'Where lenders are aware that remedial action is in place, knotweed will not generally affect lending decisions and the launch of the new group to oversee standards for dealing with the problem will further reinforce lender confidence.'
One surveyor who has personal experience of the knotweed nightmare is Richard Boucher, who works in the property division of a multinational company.
Richard, 49, struggled to sell his home near St Austell, Cornwall, last year because the buyer's lender, Santander, refused a mortgage on the basis of knotweed growing 'in the vicinity'.
Richard says: 'There was no knotweed on the plot, but it was growing along the road. This is what Santander meant by "general vicinity", which could apply to most of Cornwall.'
Richard and his buyer tried to work on a solution, including finding another lender, but in the end Richard had to find another buyer.
'I had known what knotweed was and I knew it caused problems for developers, but I'd no idea it could kill the sale of a house,' he says. 'I found the process extremely frustrating and our estate agent said that the issue could wreck the Cornish housing market. Hopefully, the RICS's work on the matter will have solved the problem.'
Artilce souced from the Daily Mail