Property: Time-wasters should be made to pay

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The Independent Online
FOLLOWING last week's wave of support for changes in the way houses are bought and sold, a number of readers have written to say they would prefer evolution to revolution. A system of vendor surveys, by which the seller would commission a survey and sell it on to the successful buyer, continues to be a popular option. One common basis for support was to stop time-wasters who, many felt, were more to blame for the collapse of sales than the professionals involved.

Mark Kempton, of Ipswich, suspected many of those who support a change to the Scottish system of buying and selling were deluded in their belief that the grass was greener on the other side of Hadrian's Wall. 'There are several weaknesses in the English system that can be addressed by fine tuning, rather than complete change,' he wrote. 'Most of the problems arise because of a lack of commitment by both buyers and sellers.'

Mr Kempton points out that anyone can phone an estate agent and make an offer without proving they are capable of meeting it. Similarly, people have nothing to lose if they put their houses on the market without any real intention of selling. He recommends vendor surveys, which only serious sellers would be willing to pay for, combined with 'withdrawal compensation contracts'.

The Hensons of Ulverston, Cumbria, who have moved twice in the past 12 months, agreed that vendor surveys would discourage non-serious vendors from entering the market. They also supported a system of paying the estate agent a small amount of money up front, to cover advertising costs and further to discourage time-wasters.

Both Mr Kempton and the Hensons felt the Scottish system was not suited to England because of the busier market and higher rate of home ownership here. The Solicitors' Property Group in Cuffley, Hertfordshire, made the same point. 'Regretfully, we believe their chain-free conveyancing will not transplant south of the border,' wrote Leslie Dubow, the group's chief executive.

Mr Dubow suggested, instead, a radical solution that had the support of another reader, Tony Evans, of Nottingham: establishing property dealers along the same lines as car dealers. You might buy a house from, say, the Halifax Dealership, which would take your old house in part-exchange.

This would certainly be a way of eliminating chains but, given that our car dealership system seems to deliver vehicles at the highest cost in Europe, I am not sure the public would view it as a price worth paying. Please keep the letters coming.

ONE leading estate agent says he is seeing two houses a week come up for sale as a result of Lloyd's debts. This is a far higher figure than in previous years and a clear indication that many investors have reached the end of the road.

It may be no coincidence that there has been a flood of country estates on to the market over the past month. At least 10 are now up for sale, one of the grandest being Chilham Castle in Kent, being sold following the death of Viscount Massereene.

Chilham consists of a 17th-century castle, a keep with foundations dating from Roman times, about 290 acres of grounds, two cottages and a heronry. Savills is asking pounds 3.5m for the estate.