Question: We're looking for an estate agent to sell our home after 15 years but have balked at paying for a home information pack (HIP). Several estate agents have offered to pay for it for us but some private home sales websites advertise that we don't even have to buy a HIP. Can we get away without it? JA, London
Answer: You're now legally required to compile a HIP and can't even advertise your home for sale without it, and don't let anyone, or any property website, convince you otherwise. In the 15 years since you last engaged in the home buying and selling process, the Government has decided to give a leg up to buyers, especially first-timers. By foisting HIPs on to sellers like you, the idea is to allow buyers to learn of vital information about your home at the very start of the process – at no cost to them. This way, the chances of buyers happening upon nasty surprises further down the line are supposed to diminish, and so help both sides avoid delays and subsequent extra costs.
However, their lack of useful documents has become a serious flaw. A decade ago, HIP plans included that most vital part of the puzzle – a property survey – but the then housing minister Yvette Cooper dropped the survey's compulsory inclusion in 2006.
They've since limped on in their current form featuring simply evidence of deeds, an 'Energy Performance Certificate' (assessing heat insulation and environmental impact), and results from local searches.
Earlier this month, the National Association of Estate Agents called for HIPs to be suspended to help boost the UK's flagging housing market: with prices falling by 16 per cent over the last 12 months, a Hip's extra expense is no help to the market, it said.
"The cost is punishing sellers in the pocket at a time when they really need all the help that they can," warned chief executive Peter Bolton King. "More galling, they are spending this money in the knowledge that 77 per cent of buyers admit that they paid no attention to the pack whatsoever."
But while Hips only actually became compulsory for all property sales in England, Scotland and Wales in December 2008, yet another set of Hip rules is about to be ushered in. At the moment, sellers can temporarily market their home without all the necessary Hip documents as long as they make an effort to gather all the info. However, from 6th April, "this temporary first-day marketing exemption will be removed, which means a HIP will have to be made available from the very first day it goes on sale," says a spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. In two weeks' time, an estate agent won't even be able to stick photographs and details of your home online or in its window unless you've sorted out a HIP. You will also have to fill out a property details questionnaire to help buyers grasp the basics of your house details.
Question: My son knocked over a paint tin in our living room and damaged the carpet. I claimed on our home insurance but was horrified to find that we're not covered... how is this? I thought accidental damage was a standard part of every policy. FR, Cambridge
Answer: I'm afraid that this is an expensively learnt lesson. It's simply a case of checking policy details – dull, but duly warranted. Some policies feature accidental damage as standard, but vast numbers don't.
"Everyone's requirements are different: young professional couples won't be nearly as accident-prone as a family with youngsters, and won't need it," says Lana Clements, a spokeswoman for More Than.
Something tells me you'll be sure to read the fine print of your home insurance at next year's renewal...
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