Overview: Sellers' packs could prove very useful ... for ministers

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The Independent Online

Cast your minds back a few years to the time when sellers' packs were called just that and the main purpose was to speed up property sales and knock gazumping on the head.

Cast your minds back a few years to the time when sellers' packs were called just that and the main purpose was to speed up property sales and knock gazumping on the head.

Pilot schemes came and went and the debate has carried on with opinion fiercely divided about whether the home information pack (HIP), as it is now called, would indeed improve the buying and selling process.

The case has still not been made convincingly, as the House of Lords demonstrated last week when it voted for the packs to be voluntary not mandatory as the Government wants. Indeed, it regards the HIP as a key element of its Housing Bill.

It does, though, beg the question as to why the Government should be so insistent on introducing such a controversial scheme.

It cites the £350m wasted each year on aborted transactions as a pressing reason for reform and the public might well wonder why anyone would wish to oppose a measure designed to oil the wheels of house purchase. But is it just the public interest the Government has at heart?

In 2007, the date pencilled in to start the scheme, all homes on the market will need an energy efficiency report in order to comply with an EU directive.

The director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy pointed this out after this column had made a case for voluntary HIPs.

Whatever happens to this part of the Housing Bill, he said, "there will still be a requirement for a full survey of all the energy-use particulars of each home under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive".

Could it be, then, that by insisting on a home condition report, this element could be provided at a lower cost if it were part of a number of checks to be paid for by the homeowner? If, indeed, this is a motive, then discussing it publicly would be a more honest approach than masquerading under the banner of public interest.

Likewise, a spin-off from the home condition reports, which form a major part of HIPs, would be a database on the state of the nation's homes - undoubtedly extremely useful, but not an aim of the HIP as far as the public is concerned.

Looking at who stands to gain most - financially and politically - from the pack would be a useful exercise. One thing is for sure, the idea that it is all about gazumping should have been ditched long ago.

* If further evidence were needed that people are choosing to leave the UK to live abroad, then the figures from Hamptons International country house department confirm the trend.

As many as one in five - and in some places one in four - of their clients in the £1.3m-plus bracket gives this as a reason for the sale of a property.

David Adams, the regional director, says that those people with high-value homes have seen an opportunity to bale out at the top of the market and use a substantial amount of the equity to buy properties abroad.

"Many will upgrade from properties they already own abroad," he says. "The reasons why the trend is so marked this year are various.

"The country house market at the top is flying at the moment. It is those below £250,000 that have taken a massive hit."

But he also suspects politics has a part to play. "There is a lot of rhetoric about taxes to worry homeowners, who may feel it is safer to make the most of the capital they have built up."

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