Esther Shaw: Sellers' packs are a long way from home and dry

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The Independent Online

A delighted friend rang me last week to say she had just had an offer accepted on her first home - a feeling I could identify with as it's almost exactly a year since I got the same good news.

And almost exactly a year from now, the Government hopes other house-hunters will be celebrating. For next June is when its much-hyped Home Information Packs (HIPs) will become compulsory.

The packs - which will make vendors, rather than buyers, responsible for compiling and paying for surveys and searches - are being introduced in a bid to reduce the £1m a day that the Government estimates is wasted as a result of sales falling through at a late stage.

But HIPs, which will cost sellers up to £1,000, are still meeting resistance at almost every turn. Last week was no exception, with the campaign group Splinta (Sellers' Pack Law is Not the Answer) claiming that in the majority of cases where a transaction collapses, the packs would make little difference.

In theory, I'm in favour of any moves to provide more information at the start of the process. This should speed things up, reduce the risk of gazumping and help ensure there aren't any nasty surprises late in the day about the condition of a property. Or at least, that's what the Government is promising.

But I have to question whether, in practice, HIPs are the right solution. For while the packs will contain a home condition report (HCR) carried out by independent inspectors, as well as evidence of deeds and local authority searches, one glaring omission will be a valuation.

The Government insists the HCR has been developed so lenders will feel confident they have all the information they need to arrive at their own valuations. But like many in the industry, I fear the lenders won't feel so assured and that buyers will end up paying for on-site inspections themselves.

Further, a broker warned me last week that while the HCR is designed to alert buyers to things that might be wrong with a property, inspectors may resort to highlighting problems with "almost everything" - to cover their own backs.

If this, as he suggests, puts potential buyers off the property market altogether, we'll be back at square one.

The Government has until the end of this month to provide detailed information on how HIPs will work - including the rules for the packs' contents and the procedures for making a complaint.

Once this information is published, the Council of Mortgage Lenders points out, the industry will be far better placed to judge the Government's assertion that implementation is on course. But how HIPs will affect the market, we won't really be able to tell until they're in force. I just hope that's not too late.

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