Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by SPLINTA (Sellers' Pack Law is Not the Answer) (DHB 22)


  1.1  The SPLINTA Campaign was founded in early 2001 by two working estate agents, Nick Salmon of Lurot Brand and Penelope Court of Beauchamp Estates. Both are Fellows of the National Association of Estate Agents.

  1.2  The campaign began after first details emerged from the DETR Pilot of the Sellers' Pack in Bristol and the shortcomings of the government proposals—which were contained in the Homes Bill which ran out of time at the calling of the last election—became evident.

  1.3  Initially SPLINTA drew support on the issues of "Compulsion and Criminality". We believed that the pack should not be compulsory and also that a criminal conviction for selling a property without a pack was inappropriate. SPLINTA acknowledges and welcomes the fact that the ODPM has removed the criminal sanction from the current proposals.

  1.4  The campaign swiftly broadened its criticism of the sellers' pack proposals. We have carried on robust correspondence with ODPM, met with then Minister Lord Falconer; and continue to meet and talk with department officials to discuss the proposals. On a number of occasions we have shared the platform with ODPM officials and pro-pack groups when the case for and against the proposals has been debated. Most observers would have to agree that we have carried the day on each occasion.

  1.5  Our supporters are drawn mainly, but not exclusively, from the residential property industry. In number we estimate our supporters to be in excess of 1,000. Accurate numbers are impossible to state because often a principal has pledged the support of their entire firm. In the case of a firm such as Knight Frank this represents a considerable quantity of people.

  1.6  As well as Knight Frank we hold expressions of support from: IMLA—the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association which represents among others, Bristol & West, Allied Irish, Mortgage Express, and Royal Bank of Scotland; The Independent Association of Estate Agents representing in excess of 900 members; and a former Chair of the Law Society Conveyancing and Land Law Committee. To these we add several hundred individuals and firms from all over the country.

  1.7  As of April 2003 the National Association of Estate Agents has formally recognised SPLINTA's position as the leading body offering constructive criticism of the proposals for Home Information Packs by working with us in making public our shared concerns for the interest of the consumer.

  1.8  Those who have criticised the proposals are sometimes portrayed as being against all change. As will be demonstrated in this document, SPLINTA supporters are not against beneficial changes to the home buying process nor are they wantonly seeking to destroy the proposals for the Home Information Pack.

  1.9  SPLINTA represents a very wide and very well informed body of opinion on this subject. We offer our genuine and well founded concerns to this Committee for their consideration and will be pleased to respond to any request to supply further information on the topics raised. We assume that members of the Committee are broadly familiar with the principles of the proposals and shall therefore not state them in detail here but instead immediately begin by assessing some of the background to the present proposals.


  2.1  Some fundamental statistics are often quoted by ODPM to support their contention that the home buying and selling process requires change. ODPM speak of 40% of consumers being dissatisfied with the process. They say that 28% of sales fall through between acceptance of offer and exchange of contracts and as a result the consumer wastes £350 million a year in abortive costs. These statistics come from the document, "Key Research on Easier Home Buying and Selling" prepared by the then DETR and published in 1998.

  2.2  Statistics are always open to interpretation. Key Research could have said that 60% of consumers are neutral or satisfied and that 72% of sales go through. But that would not have helped the case for the Pack.

  2.3  Further, the £350 million pound figure is based on the analysis and extrapolation of the costs incurred in just 30 (thirty) failed transactions and there is a caveat in Key Research to warn against reliance on the figure. The statistic is therefore highly questionable. It becomes yet more questionable given the widespread change in legal practice since the research was made over six years ago. Today it is common for conveyancers and lawyers not to charge fees in the event of an abortive transaction. If the transaction fails the buyer will normally now only pay for the cost of the Local Search.

  2.4  This voluntary change could significantly alter the purported abortive cost figure and moves the balance of any cost-benefit analysis still further against the Pack as proposed.


  3.1  Looking at the present system Key Research made this statement: "There is a need to spread the risks of the transaction process more evenly between buyers and sellers".

  3.2  It is widely believed that the current proposal for HIP's does nothing more than take most of the onus off the consumer as buyer and places it squarely upon the consumer as seller. The seller will be compelled to provide and pay for the package of legal information and the Home Condition Report—regardless of the fact that currently, 80% of buyers do not feel the need for such a survey. There is nothing in the proposals to compel buyers to do anything in particular (eg have their finances properly arranged prior to making an offer) nor to be responsible for any part of the cost of the pack.

  3.3  ODPM responds to this criticism by saying that most sellers are also buyers and that therefore sellers benefit when they transact their ongoing purchase. However there is no compulsion in the Bill for the seller to update searches or surveys that expire by effluxion of time. The onus is on the buyer to do this if required. In practice a mortgage lender will probably insist that searches are refreshed and a prudent buyer would want to refresh the HCR.

  3.4  Looking at the statistics from the Bristol Pilot, if the Beazer Homes sample of new homes is excluded, there were 159 properties for sale on the open market through estate agents. Of these 87 failed to sell during the nine months of the pilot or had been withdrawn during it because of lack of interest.

  3.5  At the end of December 2000 the sellers were contacted again to see what had happened to them. Contact was made with 62 sellers (it is presumed that most of the non-contacts had moved because they were not at the address). Of the 62 contacted 22 had withdrawn the property for sale. The remaining 40 had either sold or were still for sale. This is 12 months after the start of the pilot and at least six months after the last property joined the scheme.

  3.6  Had the pilot been a live situation the buyers of the 40 properties would have had to refresh the searches themselves (average cost then, £120 pounds) and would probably have had to pay for another survey—at the very least the lender would want a valuation—again, at the time, another £120 pounds on average.

  3.7  The statistics show that 25% of open market sales then took 6 or more months to sell.

  3.8  If there is no compulsion on the seller to refresh the pack then in a quarter of cases a buyer who is also selling their own property will have to prepare a pack for their own property and refresh an expired pack on a property that they wish to buy.

  3.9  Further, many other types of sales do not result in an onward purchase. Substantial numbers of probate sales take place each year when the seller has died. Many people emigrate.

  3.10  These combined figures call into question the assertion by ODPM that sellers always benefit from the free provision of the onward purchase pack.


  4.1  The Bill proposes that no "marketing" of a property may take place until the Pack is prepared. The inability to begin marketing a property until the pack is prepared is a serious erosion of the personal freedom to dispose of one's property at a time of one's choosing and is likely to cause deep anger and resentment among consumers. Indeed, after a SPLINTA presentation in Norwich in April 2003, Norman Lamb MP voiced his concern with this very issue. In a subsequent letter he characterises the inability to begin marketing as "an impediment to the property market which is in no-one's interest."

  4.2  Committee members may benefit from putting themselves in the shoes of the eager seller in this commonly experienced example scenario:

  One Saturday morning whilst walking in their local High Street, they notice a property for sale in an estate agent's window. It is a house they have always wished to buy and it is a price they can afford when they have sold their current home. They go in and express interest and ask the agent to come round that very afternoon, take particulars and get their house on the market.

  4.3  Currently the agent can immediately respond, can telephone potential buyers and tell them the house is coming up for sale. They may arrange viewings on that very first weekend of marketing.

  4.4  Under the HIP proposals such a scenario would immediately result in the agent saying to the eager seller: "We have to get the Pack together before I can so much as mention your property to any prospective buyer. I cannot advertise it. I cannot send out details. I cannot tell anyone about it. If we can't get all the information for the Pack and the Home Condition Report together in 14 days then I can start marketing—but by that time you will probably have lost the one you want to buy because someone who has already sold will beat you to it."

  4.5  ODPM say that in such a case the eager seller would be wiser to wait for the Pack because when a purchaser is found there will be a better chance of the deal going through. That is a fallacious argument when one refers back to the "Key Research" figure showing that 72% of transactions proceed satisfactorily without a Pack at all.


  5.1  It is clear from the proposed legislation that no action to market a property will be possible unless the Pack is in place.

  5.2  We refer to Section 133 of the draft Bill. Para 3. "A residential property is put on the market when the fact, that it is or may become available for sale is, with a view to marketing the property, first made public in England or Wales by or on behalf of the seller." Para 6. "A fact is made public when it is advertised or otherwise communicated (in whatever form and by whatever means) to the public or a section of the public".

  5.3  This presents the absurd situation where, without the pack in place, the agent would break the law by telling someone in England and Wales that the eager seller's house was on the market but would not break the law if he communicated the fact to someone living in Scotland, Ireland or abroad.

  5.4  Estate agents often appraise properties that do not immediately come to the market. A potential seller may obtain an idea of the value of their home and then set out to find a place to move to. When they find it they will put their own property up for sale. But it is good estate agency practice to informally mention to potential buyers such properties that may one day come to the market—especially if the owner has said: "I don't want to go on the market right now but if someone paid me the right price I would sell." It happens frequently though the practice must never be confused with any sort of fraudulent "under the counter" dealing. It is completely above board.

  5.5  If a ready, able and willing potential buyer expresses general interest in the type of property previously appraised it is perfectly proper for the agent to contact the potential seller and tell them of the possibility of arranging a sale without going to the open market. Many sellers respond favourably to such an approach and it is most definitely in the consumers' best interest.

  5.6  Such a process becomes impossible under the HIP proposals unless a Pack has been prepared before the agent first makes mention of the property to the potential buyer.

6.  COST

  6.1  It is acknowledged that some of the information in the HIP is required in any case when a transaction proceeds therefore the cost is unavoidable. The additional cost to the consumer arises from the imposition of the Home Condition Report. Whereas today less than 20% of buyers commission a structural survey the proposals require 100% of buyers to have one—paid for by the seller. The additional cost of the HCR adds up to between £300 million and, by some estimates, £500 million per annum.

  6.2  ODPM figures estimate the pack will cost sellers on average £630—whether or not the property eventually sells. Many sellers will be put off marketing their home by the cost of the pack resulting in less choice for buyers. Anecdotal research by Friends Provident Group suggests that up to 35% of sellers are acting "speculatively". These include those who will only move if they find and secure their next property. These "speculative" sellers are erroneously dismissed by ODPM as "time-wasters". They in fact form a core element of the supply side of the market.

  6.3  ODPM suggest that "The Market" will come up with solutions to the issue of cost. It is said that some, mainly corporate, estate agents will absorb the cost of the Pack as part of their service. Other agents may defer the cost of the Pack until completion of the sale. Voluntary Pack schemes already in operation rely upon participating lawyers and surveyors to defer their fees until completion. The agent thus offers a "free" pack. But these voluntary schemes have been operating in a buoyant market with steady turnover. A slower market with lower sales volumes is unlikely to sustain the deferred cost arrangement.


  7.1  Fewer properties for sale mean higher prices—adding to inflationary pressures—as relatively large numbers of buyers chase relatively few properties for sale. The situation has existed for some time in the South-East and figures show that in the foreseeable future the rate of new home building will fail to keep pace with demand. Demand is mainly fuelled by employment and the growth in single parent families; divorced couples etc.

  7.2  ODPM dismisses the idea that fewer properties will be put up for sale. They quote "research" by Countrywide Assured, the largest corporate estate agency chain in the UK and also the experience of Denmark when it introduced a pack system some years ago. Countrywide advised ODPM that there will be very few less properties for sale post-pack and the Danish experience is said to bear this out. We question the objectivity of Countrywide in carrying out this "research" as they are in the forefront of the commercial enterprises who would benefit from the compulsory introduction of HIP's. We amplify this statement in section 18.

  7.3  In Denmark there are less that 70,000 property transactions each year compared to some 1.3 million in England and Wales. The Pack in Denmark is markedly different to ours and it is disingenuous to use the Danish experience as being comparable to the HIP proposal contained in the Housing Bill.


  8.1  The impetus for changing the home buying process grew out of a desire by government to do something to end the perceived ill of "gazumping". However when research was carried out in the 1990's it was found that gazumping was occurring in "less than 2% of transactions" and was a manifestion of "hot spots" of demand in local markets.

  8.2  The conditions leading to gazumping are a function of supply and demand. If the HIP means fewer properties for sale it also means more likelihood of gazumping.

  8.3  Conversely buyers will be able to hold sellers to ransom—so—called gazundering—because they won't have to pay to see the HIP and won't have to make any financial commitment at the time of making an offer.


  9.1  ODPM believe that sellers will put right any faults in the property identified in the HCR before selling and will price their properties "realistically" when in possession of the facts about their property's condition. These are unrealistic assumptions.

  9.2  When SPLINTA took ODPM officials on a field trip to Exeter in 2001 a round table discussion with members of the public revealed that for many the cost of carrying out pre-sale repairs would be unfeasible. Even a relatively modest sum of £500 could be beyond ready reach. Sellers may be willing to negotiate a price based on works to be done but most will not put their house in order before coming to the market. Asking prices will remain just that, asking prices.


  10.1  Exchanging contracts without a pack in place will break the proposed law. This is anomalous since the stated aim of the proposals is to speed up the transaction process and exchange of contracts is the point at which buyer and seller are bound to one another. If a seller should be fortunate enough to find a buyer who will take a view on, for example, needing a Home Condition Report a sale might be arranged very quickly. Yet under the proposals it would become an offence.

  10.2  SPLINTA has suggested to ODPM that there should be an opt-out for such circumstances in the short period between agreeing a price and exchanging the contract or for use in allowing marketing to commence while the pack is being prepared. This suggestion has not been incorporated in the measure proposed.

  10.3  The suggested wording is as follows: "This property is offered for sale without a Home Information Pack or Home Condition Report being currently available. Intending purchasers may be exposed to an increased risk of financial loss if adverse legal or structural matters affecting the property become evident after negotiations for the purchase have begun."


  11.1  Although containing date-sensitive information the Pack will have no statutory shelf life—which means that if a property is on the market for more than a few weeks the buyer may be given a HIP that is already out of date. The buyer may then have to pay to get updated information. This will double up some costs.

  11.2  The Home Condition Report (HCR) will also have no statutory shelf life, ODPM only saying that it "should not be more than three months old at the time marketing commences." No prudent buyer should rely on such a potentially outdated report. It is unconvincing for ODPM to suggest that a buyer should simply pay for a fresh report if they feel it necessary.

  11.3  SPLINTA has presented its case directly to many hundreds of people in the past two years. Audiences have included ODPM officials; estate agents; lawyers; conveyancers; lenders; members of the public; pro-pack lobbyists; journalists etc. On each occasion the audience has been asked to show their hand if they would rely on a three month old Home Condition Report as a basis for making their purchasing decision. To date not a single person has put their hand up.


  12.1    The Home Condition Report will not estimate repair costs. To flag issues of repair without indicating their cost may well lead to argument between seller and buyer (as it does today) and to renegotiation of the sale price. Exactly the scenario that ODPM seeks to avoid.


  13.1  The Home Condition Report will not cover in detail unseen and potentially expensive items such as drainage and electrical systems that can be specified for specialist testing in current structural surveys. It will be misleading if the buyer is allowed to believe that the HCR is a full survey.


  14.1  Currently it is part of the conveyancing function that information provided by the seller is checked and verified by the buyer's solicitor. This usually leads to a series of questions and answers that may either assist or prejudice the transaction. The position will be no different when the HIP is introduced.

  14.2  Presently anyone may set up in the business of estate agency. SPLINTA calls for licencing and mandatory minimum qualification standards for all estate agents. The estate agency industry is receptive to this call yet successive governments have apparently held no appetite for such measures. The consumer would undoubtedly benefit from its introduction.

  14.3  Most estate agents have no formal training in law or surveying. They are not qualified to advise a buyer on the content of the Home Information Pack. It will therefore be necessary for the buyer to consult with those who are professional at law and in surveying in order to have the Pack explained and verified. As there is no obligation in the proposals to compel such professionals to act with any more speed than at present there will still be plenty of scope for delays and frustration.

  14.4  Setting minimum qualification standards for estate agents would aid the consumer and also set the stage for agents to take an active role in the forthcoming change to e-conveyancing. This is a quote from "E-Conveyancing, A Land Registry Consultation" published in 2002: "There is no doubt that estate agents will seek to be more involved (in the on-line conveyancing process). This will demand very detailed knowledge of the overall process and will entail the adoption of new working practices."


  15.1  The HIP will not contain a valuation of the property. Although it is acknowledged that methods of valuation are changing, lenders will not be obliged to accept the HIP and many buyers will still have to pay for a separate valuation inspection—particularly in cases of high loan-to-value and where construction of the property is unusual. If the ODPM had the courage of its conviction it would make acceptance of the pack an obligation upon lenders. That it does not do so is instructive.


  16.1  SPLINTA questions the position regarding the willingness and ability of the insurance industry to provide Professional Indemnity Insurance to Home Condition Inspectors and also Hidden Defects Insurance. Professional indemnity insurance premiums have risen sharply in recent times and in a society that is increasingly litigious and encourages blame-culture, the P.I. insurance market can only harden.

  16.2  The industry has been very quiet on the subject and SAVA appears unable or unwilling to make any definitive statement on the subject. We believe that Her Majesty's Government may well have to step in as "lender of last resort" in order to underpin the requirement for such insurances to be in place if the Pack is introduced. The political ramifications of such a move are beyond the scope of this submission.


  17.1  SPLINTA has concerns that members of the public will resist the idea of the Home Condition Inspector being responsible to seller, buyer and lender. However, that resistance will increase when it becomes clear to the public that the Inspector may be the employee of the selling estate agent or a related firm.

  Despite the assurances by SAVA that checks will be in place to prevent inspectors from favouring particular properties it must be acknowledged that the potential for conflict of interest is better avoided by not allowing the situation to arise in the first place.


  18.1  It has become clear over the past two years that many of those who are most active in promoting the Pack and in advising ODPM are those who stand to gain the most from its compulsory introduction.

  18.2  We illustrate this contention with three examples of those who have been directly involved in developing the Pack proposals with ODPM.

  18.3  The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The body represents the most substantial group of professional surveyors. Their members clearly stand to gain financially from the introduction of the Home Condition Report that provides a pot of extra money to the tune of at least £300 million each year.

  18.4  Countrywide Assured. This group own the largest chain of corporate estate agencies in the country. They are in the business of providing the "one-stop shop" where estate agency; conveyancing, lending services and surveying are all under one roof. Whether this is in the best consumer interest is a subject for separate debate. Countrywide Assured Annual Statement in 2000 contained the following statement: "We have recently taken an investment amounting to a 47% equity share in Teramedia (now T.M.) a company that has been granted a licence to access and provide land registry and local authority searches electronically. The company plans to extend its electronic infrastructure to enable it to become the primary source of land and property information throughout the UK and to become the UK's leading facilitator of sellers' packs. The potential for the group from this change is very significant and consequently we are devoting considerable resources towards the development of a product to take advantage of our market position."

  18.5  Maria Coleman/Open Book. Maria Coleman is an estate agency practice in Bristol that took part in the Bristol Pilot. It has used voluntary sellers packs for some years. Maria Coleman herself spoke at DETR/DTLR organised meetings and was invited to tour branches of the National Association of Estate Agents during 2000-01. Her enthusiasm for the then Sellers' Pack proposal was clear. However it was only after SPLINTA made the fact public that it emerged that Ms Coleman is in control of a company promoting the sale to estate agents of "Open Book" a voluntary sellers pack scheme. Maria Coleman now presents at SAVA promotions.

  18.6  SPLINTA does not find anything questionable in these companies and organisations making the most of commercial opportunity. However their blatant self-interest must call into question the objectivity of the advice and encouragement they may have given to ODPM.


  19.1  Referring to the Government's own research SPLINTA contends that the Home Information Pack is incapable of dealing with the overwhelming majority of the stated causes of failed transactions in the home buying process.

  19.2  In Key Research it was found that there are 13 main reasons for sales and purchases failing:

  Failed Sales:

    Change of financial circumstance—11%

    Could not get mortgage—8%

    Could not sell own home 8%

    Buyer decided new house too large or small—5%

    Chains/completion delays—14%

  Failed Purchases

    Adverse valuation survey—30%

    Seller withdrew to sell to someone else—14%

    Buyer gazumped or another cash offer accepted—14%

    Unfavourable survey—13%

    Unacceptable delays—11%

    Seller would not negotiate terms or price—10%

    Seller withdrew as no longer wanted to sell—6%

  19.3  It is the ODPM position that "43% of abortive transactions are the result of a failed survey". It can be seen from items 6 and 9 in the table above how that figure is derived. However it is profoundly misleading because, as quoted above, the word "survey" is used in both items. In reality item 6 should have been set out in Key Research as "Adverse Valuation Inspection". Lenders' inspections are not the same as any form of structural survey. The lender's inspection is only required to protect the interest of the lender.

  19.4  The ability of the Home Information Pack to deal with the stated causes of failed transactions is highly questionable. At best it would deal completely with only Item 9—an unfavourable survey. It could arguably influence Items 5 and 10.

  19.5  Unfavourable surveys apparently account for 13% of all failed purchases. However if this figure is set in its proper context it is not nearly so high as might first appear.

  19.6  If the national fall-through rate is accepted as being 28% of all transactions, the 13% of failures due to an unfavourable survey is in reality the cause of under 3.64% of all failed transactions.

  19.7    The enormous additional cost, bureaucracy and disruption that will result from the Home Information Pack is out of all proportion to its efficacy in dealing with the real problems of the home buying and selling process.


  20.1  Everyone appears agreed that the introduction of the Home Information Pack would have a profound effect on the property market. Some say for good, others for bad. Given its agreed capacity to affect the market it is surely reasonable and prudent to expect the effect of the HIP to be measured otherwise we may be saddled with a very expensive yet ineffective measure.

  20.2  SPLINTA has questioned ODPM as to how the impact of the HIP on the market and the home buying process is to be monitored and what performance criteria will be used to assess whether the HIP meets its objectives. In February 2003 ODPM responded that it was not possible (at the time) to provide details of the likely methodology to monitor the impact. They further said: "We have no intention of setting specific targets to assess whether sellers' packs (now Home Information Packs) have met their objectives."

  20.3  In the light of this statement it appears to border on the foolhardy that ODPM has also rejected SPLINTA's call for a properly monitored regional trial of the HIP to take place before it carries out its stated intent of a total, national roll out of the scheme.

  20.4  ODPM say that such a trial would not be effective because unless everyone is using HIP's the benefits cannot be demonstrated. SPLINTA contend that if the voluntary pack schemes currently in use in local areas are as effective as they are said to be when they are not operating in an environment where every transaction has a pack, then a regional trial should be perfectly feasible and would in fact give a very good indication of the efficacy—or otherwise—of the ODPM proposals.


  21.1  SPLINTA recognises that at the last election the government made a manifesto commitment to improve the home buying process specifically by the introduction of a "sellers' pack". It is regrettable that the commitment was so specific in its wording for many would agree—SPLINTA included—that the government has already created the climate for voluntary change.

  21.2.  If the pack could do what ODPM say it will—reduce the number of failed sales—then it would be welcomed with open arms, not least by estate agents who only derive their income when sales are successful.

  21.3  It is a measure of the doubt about the proposals among property professionals in the residential sales market when the SPLINTA supporters and firms are added to the 9,500 members of the National Association of Estate Agents and the 900+ members of the Independent Association of Estate Agents. All are profoundly sceptical that the Home Information Pack will substantially improve the home buying process. With the greatest respect, surely this combined group of critics has more first hand knowledge and better experience of the residential property market than all the ODPM officials combined? It is clear from the draft Bill, when compared with the original Homes Bill, that ODPM, with the exception of dropping criminal sanctions, has failed to react to any of the valid criticisms levelled at the proposals.

  21.4  The consumer faces at least £300+ million each year in extra costs. They will be disappointed to find that nothing in the proposals binds the buyer and seller together any earlier than now; that the sale/purchase is still not secure until the contract is exchanged and that chains will still control the progress of most sales. They will be right to question why this flawed proposal was considered to be the cure for the ills of the home buying process yet fails to deliver on its promise.


  22.1  Since the pack was proposed over five years ago technology has leapt ahead and many beneficial changes are already well advanced. These include the beginnings of e-conveyancing; on-line mortgages and 24 hour a day conveyancing. SPLINTA welcomes and supports these initiatives.

  22.2  Dr Michael Wagstaff, who, for the DETR/DTLR was closely involved in the production of "Key Research" and the operation and analysis of the Bristol Pilot, is on record as saying in July 2001: "The new technologies will cause a bigger bang than the sellers' pack ever would. Together these changes could do exactly what sellers' packs aimed to do."

  22.3  SPLINTA offers the content of this submission as a warning that for all its research and consultation the ODPM has so far failed to make the case for the Home Information Pack. Even before it can be introduced the Pack is becoming an unnecessary and expensive irrelevance.

  22.4  On publication of the draft Housing Bill the ODPM has decided only to consult on two specific items—the content of the pack and the application of the Pack in areas of low value/low demand. It has limited the consultation to these two issues because it says that consultation on the fundamental question of whether a Pack is desirable or not was dealt with by "The Key to Easier Home Buying and Selling" a consultation issued in 1998.

  22.5  At that time very few people were aware of the detail of the proposals. That critics have come to the fore in the past two/three years is an indication of how under-informed the industry and public were in the past.

  22.6  SPLINTA suggests that the issues raised by critics of Home Information Packs are sufficiently serious that it would be appropriate for a full and fresh consultation to take place on the whole issue of the desirability of the Home Information Pack.

  22.7  Following SPLINTA's Norwich presentation, an attendee, Dr Ian Gibson MP wrote of the Home Information Pack in April 2003: "On balance the debate must go on and the meeting certainly made me think that full consultation needs to continue."

  22.8  We urge the ODPM to reconsider the proposals.


  23.1  SPLINTA is not and never has been against beneficial change to the home buying process. Nor do we suggest that it is anything other than sensible to provide a prospective property buyer with information about their intended purchase. We do contend that this information must be accurate, relevant and should only be provided at the appropriate time. We therefore offer the following proposal to ODPM and the Committee.

  23.2  Instead of being required to have it in place on Day One of marketing, when no-one may want or need it, the seller should only be obliged to prepare the pack when it is requested by a genuine prospective buyer. The interested party should be required to put down a modest deposit to show good faith. The seller will show good faith by commissioning the pack—most probably via the estate agent. The important and desirable "binding together" of the parties to a possible sale would have begun.

  23.3  With this simple alteration the core objections to the pack would evaporate and everyone would get what they want.

    Sellers would only have to pay out when the information was truly needed and would get their properties on the market without delay.

    Buyers would get free information on which to make their buying decisions.

    Estate agents could market properties immediately on instruction and not have to carry the cost of providing the pack from Day One.

    Lenders would have current information to assist lending decisions.

    Government would fulfil its manifesto pledge to bring in the pack and over time receive its audit of the nation's housing stock and energy efficiency.

  23.4  At a stroke an unpopular, defective proposal would be transformed into a more practical, more cost-effective and perhaps even welcomed measure.

  24.   Appendix.

  ODPM. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

  DTLR. The Department for Transport, Local Government and The Regions

  DETR. Department of Environment, Transport and The Regions.

  SAVA. Surveyors and Valuers Accreditation Ltd. A commercial organisation funded in part by government. Responsible for working up the Home Condition Report and the accreditation and monitoring programme for would-be Home Condition Inspectors.

  "Key Research". Published by the DETR in 1998 "Key Research on Easier Home Buying and Selling" sets out the information upon which the ODPM bases its proposals for the sellers' pack now termed the Home Information Pack.

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