So where will your home stand once the sellers' pack storm is over?

As HIPs count down to their launch date, will they really speed up the housebuying chain?
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The Independent Online

Less than three weeks to go and the two sides of the home information pack (HIP) debate are locked in arguments amid accusations of ill-preparedness and public ignorance of the change.

Sellers' packs go live on 1 June in England and Wales but a rough ride - and likely recriminations - still lie ahead.

The new packs, which will cost the vendor £300 to £400, make sellers responsible for compiling such information as local searches and a "green" certificate showing the energy efficiency of a home. The idea is to speed up the housing chain by giving the buyer all the details at the start of the process; the reform is also intended to combat gazumping.

However, plans for HIPs to include a "home condition report" - a de facto survey - were ditched in a government U-turn last July. That has left the packs open to criticism that they will bring no benefit.

An early-day motion signed by David Cameron has been laid down by the Conservatives for this Wednesday in a last-gasp attempt to scupper Labour's plans. Technically, this final vote will determine whether the packs are annulled or go ahead on 1 June.

But given the level of support so far from Labour MPs, the launch seems unlikely to be postponed.

The early-day motion is just the latest in a long line of political rumblings as the country heads towards HIP implementation.

Earlier this month, a House of Lords committee poured cold water on the packs when it issued a report calling into question whether they would "effectively achieve their policy objective".

The HIP industry itself - pack providers, estate agents, search organisations, insurers and finance companies - is still unhappy that it was not consulted for the Lords report. "[Most] organisations have made a substantial investment to ensure the smooth and successful implementation of HIPs on 1 June, yet [our] collective voices appear to have been ignored," says Mike Ockenden, director-general of the Association of Home Information Pack Providers (AHIPP), which represents 87 members of the fledgling industry.

This grievance is shared by opponents of the new system. "The reason HIPs have come to a vote so late in the day [nine years after the idea was first floated] is that concerns from lenders and other parties in the property industry have been ignored and the Government has ploughed on regardless," says Bernard Clarke at the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

"There are still doubts over whether the packs have been sufficiently tested, and concerns surrounding their implementation. We would like to see HIPs postponed to prevent an added cost to the homebuyer for something that will not deliver what it originally set out to."

But the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), in its response to the House of Lords report, maintains that its aims will be met.

The first of these, it says, is to improve the buying and selling process by offering greater transparency and "improving the flow of timely information". The second aim is to cut carbon emissions by insisting that tests for a new energy performance certificate (EPC) are carried out every time a home goes on the market.

This will also meet the requirements of an EU directive to reduce emissions from buildings, which must be fully implemented by January 2009.

But whether there will be enough home inspectors and "domestic energy assessors" (DEAs) in place when the packs go live has been called into question by the Conservatives and by property professionals.

The AHIPP has denied the existence of a problem. It says there will be more than 3,500 trained operatives by 1 June, comprising 1,130 home inspectors and over 2,400 DEAs.

However, supporters and critics are agreed that the absence of a home condition report will make it hard for HIPs to achieve the original aim of presenting all relevant information upfront. Mr Ockenden says the AHIPP will continue to lobby for the reinstatement of the HCR as a mandatory element of the packs.

All sides of the debate agree on the principle of an EPC, but the National Association of Estate Agents and other industry players want to see this survey separated from the HIP.

When they go live next month, the packs will contain an index of contents, a sale statement setting down its terms, evidence of title and an EPC. The estate agent (or solicitor) selling your home will usually compile the HIP, but you could do it yourself. It may be cheaper this way, although you will need to do plenty of research.

After 1 June, some sellers will be granted 28 days to gather documents such as leasehold or commonhold information, from the date the home goes on the market. This "grace period" will apply only if they can prove they have had problems obtaining the documents.

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