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Exclusive: Setback for house buying reform as top expert moves job

Estate Agent Today understands that the civil servant who has been at the heart of plans to reform the house buying process is moving from his current role at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Matt Prior, the lead officer in the reform process for several years, will instead be working on leasehold issues rather than changes to house buying and selling.

Although a behind-the-scenes figure, Prior was central to many of the proposals which lie at the heart of the reforms.

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He spoke publicly at events held by Propertymark, The Guild of Property Professionals, an ESTAS Legal conference and many other bodies.

Since 2018 Prior was a member of the Home Buying And Selling Group, considering proposals for reform and consisting of agents, property lawyers, mortgage lenders and representatives of organisations such as Land Registry, the Law Society, the Society of Licensed Conveyancers, Conveyancing Association, Bold Legal Group, the Residential Property Surveyors Association, Northwoods, The Property Ombudsman, Rightmove, and the Building Societies Association.

Prior led research which looked at options for the future of referral fees and focus groups on public attitudes to property transactions, and in 2019 notably told an industry event that when it comes to selling ”very few people embark on the process with any happiness.”

In the same year he announced that trials of reservation agreements were to be held in early 2020 - some did take place but a more comprehensive programme was deferred because of the pandemic.

There has been a slowdown on the progress of reforms during the pandemic although the Home Buying And Selling Group has met and progressed some individual elements such as the BASPI - the document containing Buying and Selling Property Information.

Prior will be working on leasehold and commonhold issues; an internal document sent to members of the Home Buying and Selling Group names two DLUHC officers working on reforms “in the interim”.

The work which was undertaken by Prior was separate to the issues surrounding the Regulation of Property Agents, another initiative which appears to have run into the ground in recent years.

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    Woods and trees spring to mind.

    There is never going to be a 'big bang' reform of the home buying process. The group named in the article has been established on the flawed premise that you can speedily reconcile the irreconcilable.

    What is needed is a much smaller group that steadily chips away at the problems many of which have been created by successive governments. So for instance :

    1 stop burdening professionals with extensive anti-money laundering duties
    2 pass simple legislation to exclude liability for all homeowners from most developers planning obligations
    3 pass legislation to exempt homeowners from the sins of developers who have contaminated the environment.
    4 pass legislation to remove liability for church chancels

    Any solicitor working at the coalface of real conveyancing will say the same.

  • Rob Hailstone

    Putting ‘big bang’ or ‘chipping away’ to one side, what would help is getting sellers to instruct conveyancers when a property is first marketed so at least when an offer is accepted, they can hit the ground running. Or at least hit the ground walking a bit quicker!

  • Simon Brown ESTAS

    Couldn't agree more Rob, if agents could only list a property if the vendor had appointed a conveyancer it would take 3-4 weeks off the process straight away without changing anything else.

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