Dummy run? Critics claim sellers' packs are the dummies

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The Independent Online

The Home Information Pack (HIP) staggers on towards its launch next June.

Last week a "dry run" got under way, in which estate agents and home vendors have volunteered to test out the sellers' packs. But at the same time, critics including brokers, surveyors and lobby groups continued to undermine the government-backed plan, which is intended to help property chains run more smoothly.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors voiced concern over the lack of transparency in the approval process and the scheme's criteria. The anti-pack campaign group Splinta questioned "the objectivity of the trial", which is being run by the Government and a pro-pack organisation called the Association of Home Information Pack Providers, made up of firms in the industry.

A government spokesman said an independent monitor would be put in place, although he could not say who this would be - whether independent arbiter or industry representative.

Melanie Bien at broker Savills Private Finance warns that the trial is too limited and far removed from what will happen when the packs go live. "The London housing market is completely different from the rest of the country," she says, "but is not taking part in the pilot, which seems a risky strategy."

When HIPs become compulsory, it will be up to the seller, rather than the buyer, to gather together information on a property. The packs will include evidence of title, a local search, copies of planning consents, guarantees for any work carried out on the home, and an energy-performance certificate assessing the environmental impact of a property.

However, the packs won't have to include a home condition report - similar to but not the same as a survey - after the Government abandoned the idea in July.

Trials are now under way in Newcastle, Northampton and Huddersfield, with at least six agents in each city taking part. From tomorrow, they will be extended to Southampton, Cambridge and Bath. Next week, 10 more locations will be announced.

Ms Bien's worry - that the pilots are unrepresentative - is well founded. For one thing, the sellers now taking part won't have to pay for the packs (although they will in the later stages of the trials early next year). Instead they are being subsidised through £4m of government funding.

"This trial is not even testing what people are willing to pay for the packs," says Nick Salmon of Splinta. "If they are free, of course people will try them. They might take a holiday to Barbados if it was free."

Justin Anim, managing director of Pattinsons, an estate agent taking part in the trial, admits: "The real acid test will be the final phase of the trial, when the full cost of the pack will be charged. This is expected to be between £400 and £700."

Pattinsons has provided a pack to Vera and John Rouse, a recently married couple who have put their two-bed home on Tyne- side up for sale. "We had nothing to lose and were hoping it would speed up the process of selling," says Mrs Rouse, 82.

But underlining concerns over the trial's validity, she and her husband would not have taken up the offer if they'd had to pay for a pack. "We think it is for the buyer to investigate the property."

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