Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

Kirsten's flat was a rental, so the Home Information Pack wouldn't have been much use to her. However, it wouldn't have been much use if she had been buying, either, because the reason the deal fell through was because the landlords changed their minds.

There's nothing illegal about a change of mind. No one has yet found a way to frame legislation that prohibits people from faffing about. From the vendor/ landlord's point of view, it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But as a result, white vans must be unhired. Strong-armed brothers and fathers have been stood down. Trips to John Lewis have been cancelled. Hearts have been broken. Panic has set in.

According to research from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Information Pack is being introduced because currently, one in four property transactions fails. Of these failures, 43 per cent are down to problems with the valuation or the survey. Either the surveyor feels the property is not worth the amount being asked (which affects the mortgage offer), or the property has some sort of structural problem (which negates any mortgage offer). If, the ODPM argues, these facts were known at the outset, the sale would not be held up further down the line.

Ahem. No, the sale would not be held up at a later stage because not many people in their right minds would put their home on the market in such circumstances. Imagine the conversation with the people coming to view: "Hi, come in, yes, nice place, isn't it? Shame it's falling down/fallen foul of the planning committee/riddled with dry rot."

If it turns out that there is something badly wrong with a property, it's far easier to talk yourself out of love with it. I can look back on certain properties I've been keen on in the past, where the purchase fell through because of some bricks-and-mortar defect, and heave a sigh of relief that I didn't succeed.

But I still feel furiously vengeful towards the couple who accepted my offer of the full asking price on their house on condition that I moved quickly - then changed their minds about selling after I'd sold my own house for 30 grand less in order to speed up the sale. (No, I did not back out of my own sale, because, eccentrically enough, I believe you should treat people fairly and decently even if you are selling a house to them.)

In my cautious experience, even the most astonishingly convoluted and problematic pieces of conveyancing can be combed through eventually. It just takes perseverance (and the odd bottle of whisky).

But when some idiot decides that they might leave moving for another year, or they might get a better price in six months' time, or they might not find a place that fulfils all their bizarre, uncompromising criteria ("must be within walking distance of Westminster school AND with views of open countryside"), all you can do is burst into tears or foam at the mouth.

It's difficult to see how the much-criticised Home Information Pack, due to be introduced at the beginning of 2007, is going to help in cases like this. My personal advice is to buy only from vendors who are leaving, or have indeed left, the country. My current house was bought from a family who had gone back to New Zealand, and the one before that from a family who had been relocated to Singapore. Both transactions were as smooth as vinyl emulsion.

However, there is one aspect of the HIP that may give volte-face vendors pause for thought. Apparently, it will cost householders about £635 to assemble one of these things and that might, just might, be enough to deter those who are not 100 per cent serious about selling their homes. In other words, it might make the faffers faff off.