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Tories backtrack on HIPs but still want massive house sales reform

The Conservative Party says it wants greater competition and more digitisation to cut the costs and reduce the amount of time involved in moving house - and claims that this does not necessarily mean the reincarnation of Home Information Packs. 

This contradicts the suggestion by leading Conservative Michael Gove who last week told the BBC that the party’s manifesto pledge to “reform and modernise the home-buying process so it is more efficient and less costly” could mean looking again at HIPs. 

Gove said: “One of the things we can revisit is to look for example at the way in the past  ... the arguments behind Home Information Packs which Labour hoped to deliver before 2010. They had some validity. The implementation of Home Information Packs was botched but we can look again at this process.”

However, the Conservative Party has now told Estate Agent Today that the manifesto pledge does not mean the reintroduction of HIPs - but even so, the party clearly wants extensive reform to the way homes and sold and bought.

“The government wants to speed up the home buying and selling process, to cut costs for consumers and make the experience of buying a home more consumer-friendly and less stressful. This will include encouraging greater competition in the market and more digitisation” a Conservative spokesman told Estate Agent Today.

“Evidence shows that large numbers of transactions are delayed or fall through and the financial, and emotional, costs to consumers when this happens can be high. This is not only bad for individual consumers who spend £270m per year on failed transactions.

“Millions more are lost to estate agents and conveyancers operating on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis who incur costs they cannot recoup directly when transactions fall through. These costs are likely to be passed on in the form of higher fees and commissions, meaning many consumers will pay more for these intermediary services than they should.

“The last Labour government’s attempted reforms were a failure. Labour’s Home Information Packs duplicated costs and no-one trusted them.”

The prospect of radical overhaul of the house buying process - with or without HIPs - has been questioned by one leading estate agent, however. 

Jeremy Leaf - now a north London estate agent but chairman of the RICS residential faculty at the time of the original HIPs debate over a decade ago - says a bigger priority now may well be increasing supply rather than making it easier to buy.

“It is very interesting that Michael Gove has raised the spectre once again. It does beg the question whether this is really the right time” says Leaf. 

“There is nothing wrong with examining the home-buying process from time to time to look at ways of improving it, but at a time of severe housing crisis - which has been acknowledged by all the major parties - we should really be concentrating more on improving accessibility and supply, allowing people to get on with their lives” he continues. 

Leaf says the most contentious part of the HIP was the condition report which the then-Labour government originally wanted before it became bogged down with arguments over the report’s impartiality, cost and usefulness during marketing a property.

“If the Conservatives are really serious about improving the home-buying process, there is still much that can be done that wasn’t done and continues to be ignored” he says. 

“Areas to look at include greater transparency, better communication, availability of information and, particularly [for] leasehold, control of availability and cost of management information. If these issues were addressed, it would go a long way to improving the experience of buying and ensuring deals are more likely to be completed quickly.”

Meanwhile Andrews Property Group has expressed disappointment that no aspect of the Tory manifesto - details of which you can see here - addresses stamp duty.

“What is disappointing ... is that the currently punitive SDLT charges have not been reviewed. Simply these are putting a lot of people off of moving and landlords off of investing which is having a negative effect on fluidity and freedom in the housing market” insists David Westgate, chief executive of Andrews Property Group.

But the agency did back some other Conservative commitments. 

“The Tory pledge to crack down on unfair leasehold practices such as escalating ground rents is a good move. All too often we’re seeing properties on new build developments being sold on leasehold arrangements that tie the leaseholder in to costly long-term leases with disproportionate cost increases” says Westgate. 

Ian Westerling, managing director of Humberts, says it backs any move to speed up the house buying process.

“We would be delighted to see any measures that could speed up the conveyancing process which, despite the advancements in online services, is laborious and anti-consumer friendly. In terms of costs, clearly, the current stamp duty levels are having a major impact on the transactional volumes in house sales in the £1m-plus sector and, making this more affordable, will increase the volume of properties that will be bought and sold in the UK” he says.

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