Estate agents back anti-gazumping plan

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The Independent Online
ESTATE AGENTS welcomed moves by the Government yesterday to stop gazumping by ending the historic rule of caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.

Ministers will propose making the house seller responsible for providing property surveys to speed the process and limit the scope for gazumping.

The National Association of Estate Agents rejected claims that asking sellers to pay for structural surveys would add pounds 1,000 to the price of each house. The association estimates it would cost between pounds 175 and pounds 250 for a survey.

"We support any measures that speed up the amount of time between an offer being accepted and the exchange of contracts. This would reduce the occurrence of gazumping," said Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, chief executive of the association. The agents will be bringing out their own proposals next month to place more responsibility on the seller.

The Government is hoping to improve the process of house buying without legislation by asking estate agents to encourage sellers to produce "sellers' packs" giving more details of their homes.

But Jim Atkins, vice-president of the association, said: "I personally don't see that as workable. You would have a two-tier system if somebody was selling their property privately. If it is so important for the Government to support it, it should be mandatory."

He added that house buyers should be able to trust sellers' reports because they would have to be carried out by independent surveyors. It raises the possibility that surveyors could be sued for false information.

The Housing minister, Hilary Armstrong, is due to publish the Green Paper next month offering a range of measures to tackle gazumping - when sellers accept a higher bid at the last minute, leaving original purchasers out of pocket and faced with finding another property. Gazumping was rife in the 1980s, but largely disappeared when the housing market collapsed. Some estate agents claim it is back.

In a year-long survey, the Government tracked 1,000 house sales in Scotland, Wales and England and found that sales were on average taking at least three months.

"It is one of the most difficult and traumatic processes that many of us go into," said Ms Armstrong.

She added: "We want a public debate. We want to make sure we can get a system which doesn't push prices up, and makes sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for."