The HIP debate still rages, but the home inspectors march on

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Meet James Cartwright, former submarine engineer in the Royal Navy, recently turned home inspector.

Mr Cartwright, 31, is one of the first of a growing team needed by the Government to implement its Home Information Packs (HIPs), or sellers' packs, which are to be required by law from June 2007.

Having invested £3,000, most evenings and every weekend for over a year to get his diploma in home inspection, Mr Cartwright is preparing for a hard slog on the frontline.

"I took a risk, but HIPs are going ahead and I think they'll provide a challenging new career," he says.

He has now set up his own company, House Inspect.

To date, the UK has only 196 fully qualified home inspectors, with just over 2,000 in training, according to figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The Government estimates it will need 7,400 by next June.

Another newly qualified home inspector, Jim Dutch, has been a chartered surveyor since 1981.

"I'm slightly resentful I had to retrain after this long," he admits, "but, on the other hand, how many people would pass their driving test again tomorrow?

"There was a lot of new material to learn, including how to compile a home energy report [into the environmental impact of a property]."

HIPs are intended to ease the burden on buyers, particularly first-timers, by shifting the responsibility for surveys and searches on to sellers. The packs cost up to £1,000 each, and the Government says they'll speed up the house-buying process and eradicate gazumping, as rival buyers will have less time to step in.

But critics of HIPs are concerned that they do not have to include a valuation, meaning that homebuyers will still have to fork out for one themselves. The packs are also likely to lead to fewer houses going on the market, as speculative sellers balk at their cost.

Only last week, lender GMAC-RFC presented research to the House of Commons suggesting that the introduction of HIPs could create a 10 per cent reduction in housing transactions in the first year. Critics argue, too, that it will actually become easier to gazump another buyer, since all the information required to make a last-minute offer will already be available in the HIP.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders reported last week that many of its members are worried they may not be able to adapt their technology in time for the introduction of HIPs.

The administrative wheels are also turning slowly for Mr Cartwright and Mr Dutch, neither of whom has yet been licensed by the Government, despite having passed the test for the home inspection diploma.

The two men are waiting for government vetting centres, authorised by the Department for Communities and Local Government, to be set up and start issuing official authorisations. There's no time to waste. While sellers' packs won't become compulsory until 1 June 2007, a "dry run" (during which sellers will not have to pay for HIPs) begins in October. SAVA (Surveyors and Valuers Accreditation), the industry body supervising the training of home inspectors, says it could take up to five weeks for a standard licence application to be processed; it hopes to start giving out licences in September in time for the dry run.