Estate agencies need regulation, inquiry concludes

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The Independent Online

The former head of of the Office of Fair Trading, Sir Bryan Carsberg, urged the Government yesterday to regulate estate agents and to make Home Information Packs (Hips) voluntary, as he published conclusions from his year-long review into the housing market.

Much of the 56-page report is essentially a blueprint for regulation of the estate agency sector, building on Sir Bryan's belief that Britons are vulnerable when buying a property. "The sums involved are high and the potential for things to go wrong, with financial and personal consequences, great," he said. "Everyone needs accommodation and many customers are poorly placed to protect themselves because of their lack of knowledge or understanding of the law."

But Sir Bryan said that Hips did not serve the interests of buyers and so should be made voluntary. All sellers of residential property through an agent must now provide a Hip for any potential purchaser.

A Hip typically includes a number of local searches, as well as an environmental assessment of the property. But after the legislation was watered down two years ago, it is no longer necessary to provide a structural survey within the packs. Sir Bryan said that while Hips might have been created with good intentions, they had not achieved their aims.

The Carsberg report was commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), along with the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and the Association of Residential Letting Agents (Arla) last July, following the industry's disappointment at the Government's decision to push ahead with the implementation of Hips.

Commenting on the report yesterday, Gillian Charlesworth, Rics' director of external affairs, said: "The processes for regulation and redress do not go far enough to protect the consumer and we agree [with Sir Bryan] that participation in regulatory and redress schemes ... should include all estate agents, letting agents, managing agents and landlords."

The Government showed no signs of being moved by the report. A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "It is right that consumers are better informed about the homes they are buying and Hips have started this process."