THE PROBLEM WITH HIPS
The Home Information Pack has failed to win admirers, says Caroline McGhie
Is our relationship with the Home Information Pack (Hip) almost over before it has really begun? Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps has vowed to abolish the compulsory seller’s pack within weeks of coming to power, and replace it with a more robust ‘ready pack’ that will include a draft contract and other legal documents. Estate agents hate Hips, complaining they are stalling the market by discouraging sellers who have to pay upfront for the pack before they put their houses on the market, and by pushing up the price of selling. Certainly, the proposed replacement pack sounds much more comprehensive as it includes legal documents, up-to-date searches, the management accounts of apartment buildings, lease information, listed building and planning consents, guarantees and so on. Properties that come to the market should be as oven-ready as a supermarket turkey. “If your solicitor is away and the junior is on a sabbatical, then the litmus test is that the office cleaner can send out a complete package of documents within an hour,” says Trevor Abrahamsohn of estate agents Glentree in Hampstead, where multimillion houses are staple fare and thoroughness is important. “This will speed up the conveyancing process and minimise gazumping during the vulnerable period between agreement and exchange. It will rejuvenate the market.” There are undoubtedly real problems with Hips. In Lambeth, where only two searches per day are processed, there is now a six-week waiting list. “We are advising clients that if they want to sell in the spring they’ll need to commit now,” says Ivor Dickinson of Douglas & Gordon in London. “But even then, buyers’ solicitors are insisting on their own searches as well – not content with those provided. With spring being the busiest time of year for new instructions, the wait could be up to three or four months.” As London, in spite of the recession, has been coping with a surprise flurry of sales and price rises, the frustration is palpable. But does it actually stop people putting their houses on the market? “In the past, 20 per cent of our sales would be to speculative sellers,” Dickinson says. “They were people who put a property on the market to see what they could get. Then if they found something they liked, they moved. These sales no longer exist. We are operating at half the stock levels of 2008 and two-thirds the applicants.” There are more worries for buyers. Canny ones decide to
Hip replacement: is it the end for the government initiative?
do their own local authority searches. Debbie Pashford, a blogger on the website hipconsultant.co.uk, found that plans to paint double yellow lines outside a house she was buying and garden decking with no planning permission were revealed only by an extra search on top of the Hip one. And searches go out of date when a house remains on the market for a length of time. Each search is only as good as the questions asked and as fresh as the day it was done. As revealed by Which? Money, there is also a wide disparity in the amount people pay for a Hip. Its recent survey revealed a gap between the cheapest and the most expensive of almost £300. For a three-bedroom freehold semi, Countrywide was pricey at £413, while online provider Fridays Property Lawyers was cheap at £189. On a two-bedroom leasehold flat, the top price was £516 through Spicerhaart and this was £292 cheaper through Hip Save. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to buy it from your estate agent,” says James Daley, editor of Which? Money. “Our research shows that the most expensive high-street agents charge over twice as much as the cheapest online Hip providers – so you could save hundred of pounds by shopping around for the best deal.” Agents say that, for the moment, the Energy Performance Certificate element of the pack is routinely disregarded by buyers. But, as global warming becomes more of an issue, we may all start to take more notice.