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A constructive report

Submitted by: MikeC (Admin) on 03-Nov-08 07:50:17 PM

The CLG is being accused of quietly releasing the summary findings of its Home Information Packs, Consumer Focus Groups: Qualitative Research (pdf) last Friday (31st October 2008) in an attempt to "bury bad news".

There could be some truth to the claim for it certainly evaded my usual radar range and it seems most other news outlets have only just picked up on it today too.

Not a definitive study

The survey, conducted between 26th February 2008 and 6th March 2008, could hardly be held up as representative: there were just 102 participants spread across six locations - Stockport, Birmingham, London, Cardiff, Nottingham and Maidenhead - and as the report concedes, it was "...difficult to distinguish the overall attitudes of buyers from those of the sellers.", adding:

"Therefore, by their nature, [the findings] are subjective and should not be interpreted as definitive or statistically representative of the larger target population."

Which hasn't stopped the Tories wading in. Grant Shapps, Shadow Minister for Housing, has said:

"Their own research admits that the people think Home Information Packs are a waste of time and money. The public don’t trust the paper these Packs are written on."

But leaving aside the question of whether the report is representative, there are clearly messages coming through which echo anecdotal evidence from both Domestic Energy Assessors (DEAs) and Home Information Pack (HIP) providers, reinforcing the view that more needs to be done to both raise awareness, and to make HIPs user-friendly... or go back to the drawing board!

Home Information Pack advantages

First a summary of the good bits (or 'perception' of the good bits).

  • Most thought HIPs a 'step in the right direction'
  • Raised confidence that the seller was serious about selling
  • Upfront information would result in fewer sales falling-through
  • HIPs put together by an 'independent party' seen as an 'advantage' (although they should be 'properly regulated by Government')
  • EPCs are 'a good way of raising awareness about more wide-spread environmental issues.'

And now the perceived bad bits

Home Information Pack disadvantages

  • Too much 'jargon' (legalese)
  • Put off by the 'sheer size of the HIP'
  • Missing information; for example, 'the structure of the property, building regulations and local amenities'
  • Searches - i.e. standard searches - did not cover everything buyers wanted to know.
  • Confusion over the period a HIP remains valid
  • "limited knowledge about whether HIPs can be transferred between estate agents, a question which many agents were unable (or unwilling) to answer.

Energy Performance Certificates

The good

Both buyers and sellers found the EPC 'interesting and easy to understand.' and the most 'memorable' part of the HIP.

Most buyers said they would 'implement changes to the property based on the EPC once they had moved in'.

The not so good

  • No allowances in the ratings for older properties and more clarification needed in the EPC about this.
  • No one had acted on the contents of an EPC nor used it as a negotiating tool.
  • Sellers had not taken any action on the recommendations because they 'did not think this information was relevant to them'

Buyers also stressed that an EPC would not influence their decision to buy and thought other buyers would think the same.

Home Condition Reports (HCR)

Unsurprisingly few buyers and sellers were aware of the HCR although people who had procured their HIP from a HIP provider were more likely to be told about them, in contrast to estate agents which informed none of the participants (to their recollection).

Disclaimer dilutes 'any real guarantee'

Some participants didn't like it all, thinking HCRs were 'not thorough enough to offer any real guarantee to buyers, highlighting the disclaimer in the document.

HCRs 'vast' improvement to HIPs

However, most participants thought HCRs would be a 'vast' improvement to a HIP and buyers thought sellers would be encouraged to improve their properties before putting them on the market.

A small number were even 'keen for the HCR to be made mandatory', citing experiences of failed transactions because of a structural defect. Others who had not experienced this even agreed!

HCR should replace Home Buyers Survey

Overall, there was a general consensus that the added cost to the seller would be acceptable if the HCR fully replaced the Home Buyers Survey.

I have to say, I think this is a constructive report. The question is, will the Government act on it?

This is a 45 page report so I have only tried to give a more in-depth overview than reported elsewhere. There is obviously more so you should read it yourself for the bigger picture: Home Information Packs, Consumer Focus Groups: Qualitative Research

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