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The BBC's Robert Hall
"Changes are to be made if the scheme is to work successfully"
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Nick Raynsford, Housing and Planning Minister
"The government may have to go for the hard sell"
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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 13:12 GMT
Home sellers' packs 'successful'

The house buying process looks set to be streamlined as the government considers major reforms in England and Wales.

Ministers are considering making compulsory a system of "sellers' packs" after trials in Bristol showed they achieved a 50% cut in the number of house sales which fall through.

But estate agents who took part in the trial have warned the packs could force up the cost of moving and the Tories have also criticised the idea.

Housing and planning minister Nick Raynsford said the new scheme could save individual house buyers thousands of pounds, and much of the heartache associated with the house-buying process.

people looking in estate agent's window
The government wants to make house buying easier
Putting the case for reform, Mr Raynsford said: "The one thing that has come out of this pilot is that there is enormous interest in changing our current house buying and selling process.

"It is unduly cumbersome, it is the slowest in Europe, it has a very high failure rate and there are serious problems with failed transactions which cause financial loss and hardship to a large number of people.

"What's been happening here in Bristol is that there has been a ferment of excitement.

"There are a number of voluntary initiatives and we detect people are keen for change."

Access to vital information

But the minister said a proper system of accreditation would have to be in place to ensure the standards of those conducting house surveys.

Under the new scheme, people selling a property would provide potential buyers with an information pack containing a range of documents including a survey, a draft contract and search details.

This would give buyers access to vital information when they viewed a property and avoid them having to pay for a survey on it.

But at a likely cost of between 500 and 700, critics believe the packs could make people in areas with low property prices more reluctant to sell.

Saving time

The Conservatives' local government spokesman, Nigel Waterson, attacked the scheme and said: "We are not convinced that seller's packs will make home ownership anymore accessible.

"Labour have done nothing to deliver on their promises of tackling gazumping."

Buckinghamshire estate agent Trevor Kent also opposes the scheme.

"Sellers don't want to have to spend up to 750 on a sellers' pack.

"They don't want delays - when you decide to sell your house you want the boards to go up straight away," he said.

Mr Kent also said choice and independence could be reduced by banks and building societies providing seller's packs free in exchange for guaranteed business.

"I know people won't shed too many tears, but this could mean several independent estate agents going out of business," he said.

But the Bristol trial suggested that more than four out of five homebuyers who took part were satisfied with the proposed new process, compared with only 45% who liked the current system.

One of the agents who took part, Maria Coleman, already operates a sellers' pack system.

"We find that 98% of our vendors choose to use the sellers' pack. It's more reliable and it increases the chances of guaranteeing a sale," said Mrs Coleman.

Her agency only charges for the pack once a sale is completed, thus avoiding up front charges.

"Once everyone is using the system and because of the benefits of e-commerce, the problems of delays should be reduced," she said.

During the eight-month pilot, some 87% of accepted offers on properties with a sellers' pack resulted in a sale, compared with 72% under the present system.

'Results are inconclusive'

Currently, the price of a property regularly has to be re-negotiated after an offer is agreed - something which happened in just 4% of cases in the trial.

The packs managed to cut the time between offer and exchange of contracts by about two weeks, to an average of 48 days.

But Mr Waterson said: "The results of the government's trial in Bristol are pretty inconclusive and the introduction of seller's packs will involve extra expense for potential sellers.

"Buyers and lenders may still be unwilling to rely on a sellers survey, particular for older properties.

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See also:

24 Nov 00 | Scotland
Scotland's 'secure' selling system
22 Sep 00 | Business
Concern grows over 'sellers' packs'
20 Nov 00 | Business
Housing market remains stable
14 Oct 99 | Your Money
New standards for mortgage lenders
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