Will you trust the reports that pledge to unkink the chain?

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The Independent Online

Will HIPs break the back of the housing market? Last week, the Government published draft regulations for the Home Information Packs, or "sellers' packs", that are planned to become compulsory from early 2007 in England and Wales.

While ministers pledge they will "speed up and simplify the buying and selling process", concern is growing that they could end up doing the opposite.

The idea is that all relevant documents will be readily available for any potential buyer. The packs will include evidence of titles, local authority searches, planning consents, copies of guarantees and warranties, and a home condition report (HCR) based on a professional survey.

In essence, the changes will transfer responsibility for, and the cost of, the sales process from buyer to vendor.

The Government is launching HIPs in the belief they will remove obstacles currently costing British consumers and industry £1m a day. At the moment, structural problems become clear to buyers only after an offer has been accepted and a survey completed; pulling out late in the day then wastes everybody's time and the buyer's fees.

Delays at the buyer's end also mean there is more time for their offer to be gazumped by a higher offer from a rival buyer.

However, critics believe HIPs will cause more problems. The assembling and updating of the packs will add an "unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and cost", says Simon Tyler at broker Chase de Vere Mortgage Management.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders has warned that HIPs are likely to add up to £1,000 to the cost of buying a home.

But the Government rejects this and claims that the bill will probably average £635 - half of which will pay for the HCR.

This report is the second bone of contention for critics.

Although the HCR is set to go into greater depth than the current basic valuation carried out by a mortgage lender, it will be less detailed than the existing Homebuyer's Report or a full structural survey - and may not inspire confidence in buyers. "Vendors will just add it to their selling price, and then buyers may not trust it so will pay for their own survey," warns Mr Tyler.

There are also concerns that HIPs could leave sellers open to exploitation by unregulated providers. The Liberal Demo- crats have warned that they will be a "breeding ground for cowboys" happy to ignore problems.

But the Government points out that home inspectors are being appointed who will be independent and will have to qualify under a certification scheme.

A more general concern about the HIPs is their possible effect on the market. "There are fears that the packs will lead some people to panic and try to sell their property before the [2007] introduction so they can save on costs," says Melanie Bien, associate director at broker Savills Private Finance.

That could then be followed by a dip in activity, she adds."This may have a negative impact on the market - at least initially."

Despite the criticism, the consumer group Which? supports the packs, and Sophie and Simon Chasser agree. It took the couple two days to sell their terraced cottage but four months to buy their new home in Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

After they made an offer, a survey uncovered problems with the roof. "We then had to get contractors in to give us quotes - and negotiate over the costs. All of which took a long time," says Sophie.

"The process would have been quicker and simpler with access to a Home Information Pack at the outset."

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