Victoria Summerley: City Life

'HIPs may give us the relevant facts about homes, but what we need are BIPs – Buyer Information Packs'
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The Independent Online

So here it is, 1 August, the big day, the moment when the Home Information Pack finally comes into force. All the arguing, the legal battles, the committee stages, the recriminations, are over. From now on, the average property transaction will behave like a well-tuned machine, its bureaucracy gliding along on oiled wheels.

Yeah, right. While the HIP may give anyone who cares to show an interest all the relevant information about the property at stake, and possibly some about the vendors (that they are responsible householders who kept their nest in good nick, for example), there is one vital ingredient missing – any sort of insight as to the personalities involved on the other side of the transaction. In fact, one might argue that what is needed is a BIP – a Buyer Information Pack.

Just as vendors are supposed to sort out or admit to any problem with their property – leaking roof, faulty boiler, bonkers neighbours, etc – before they sell, estate agents are supposed to check out the credentials of any potential buyer. I don't know what happens – maybe they go all misty-eyed at the thought of the huge commission – but agents rarely seem to do this in anything more than the sketchiest manner. If I had a pound for every time an agent told me that someone who viewed my house was a cash buyer, I'd be, um, a cash buyer.

Realistically, I suppose, it's difficult for estate agents to be more forensic in their enquiries, but it would save a lot of heartache down the line. For example, your potential buyer might be the sort of blackguard who can't stump up on completion. What do you mean, no one ever fails to pay on completion? It happens, believe me – my mother was a victim a couple of years ago. If your solicitor says he or she has never heard of such a case, then all I can say is that either they don't practise in London or they've led a very privileged life.

Or perhaps you've come across the sort of buyer who, having put in an offer, finds they've got as much chance of raising a mortgage as Paris Hilton has of becoming a Trappist monk. It's difficult to imagine exactly how imbecilic you have to be to think you can go out and buy a house without sorting out finance in advance, but people do it all the time.

A friend's house-sale recently fell through because the couple who made her an offer found that a) he was not eligible for a building society mortgage because he was not a British national, and b) she was a student and thus had no income to maintain a home loan. Of course, they only discovered these pitfalls a couple of months into the conveyancing process.

I've had experience of the kind of buyer who is determined to show you how hard-nosed he or she is, and insists on starting with a very low bid – say, £100,000 under the asking price. You sensibly reject this, only for them to raise their bid in painful, £2,000 increments every few hours or so over the next two weeks in the hope that you'll lose the will to live and succumb to a lower offer. You're more likely to succumb to an overwhelming inclination to wring their neck.

Then there is the buyer who puts in a perfectly acceptable offer on your house, only to disappear. Meanwhile, in blissful ignorance, you find a house you like, put in an offer, choose paint colours, measure for curtains and blinds and plan a new kitchen, only to have all your pleasant daydreams shattered six weeks later when your estate agent reveals that there has been absolutely no progress on the conveyancing. Tracked down by the agent, for once zealous on your behalf (there's nothing like the thought of all that commission evaporating to rouse a negotiator to action), your erstwhile buyer will airily reveal that they found something cheaper/better/more upmarket.

Some buyers pose initially as perfectly sane, normal people. They'll come round, say nice things about the flat or house, and promise to contact the agent forthwith. Then they'll proffer some derisory sum based on the excuse that they don't like the classic white bathroom suite or the original marble fireplace in the living room. (God help you if there's any genuine problem, such as dry rot or damp.)

Yet others are merely inconsiderate, as another friend, who moved recently, can testify. Just as the removal men were about to start loading all her furniture into the van, her buyer turned up with a BT engineer in tow and insisted that a new telephone line had to be installed in the hall at that very moment, thus impeding the only route into and out of the house.

Why do people behave like this? Do they think that buying a house is a bit like buying a sweater from Marks & Spencer – that it's something to be purchased on impulse and returned two weeks later when they've decided they don't like it?

Unfortunately, with the exception of reneging on completion, where the prospect of a punitive fine for the miscreant is scant consolation for having a fully loaded removal van outside and nowhere to go, there are no penalties in the world of property for being a complete tosser. It's a great pity.

v.summerley@independent.co.uk

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