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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 16:35 GMT
Sellers' packs: do they work?
Estate agents' signs outside houses
On the market: But buying can take months
by BBC News Online's Alison Stenlake

When Tracey Dando and her partner Timothy Richards came across a flat they were interested in buying they found themselves involved in the government's "sellers' packs" pilot scheme.

The vendor of the 150,000 two-bedroom property, Sam Watson, had already put together a pack containing a range of information about it - including a survey, a draft contract and search details.

This meant that before the couple even went and looked at their prospective new home in Redland, Bristol, they knew a large amount of information about it, and could decide whether they felt it was worth visiting.

It stops you seeing somewhere, falling in love with it and deciding you'll have it whatever the impracticalities turn out to be later

Tracey Dando, buyer
They concluded they were happy with what they read - and subsequently what they saw, and just four weeks after Mrs Watson accepted their offer they were ready to exchange contracts.

"Being a buyer, there is a lot of information you usually don't have access to before making an offer on a property, " said Miss Dando, a recruitment consultant.

She told BBC News Online: "We got the sellers' pack at the estate agents, before we even went to view the flat, so we had all the information in front of us."

As they were buying a flat, Miss Dando and Mr Richards, a policeman, were particularly concerned about what management company fees and other costs they would have to pay.

Detailed costs

The information in the sellers' pack went into considerable detail about these, as well as telling them other information they found useful, including how energy efficient the flat was, and what council tax band it was in.

Estate agents' windows
First stop: Sellers' packs would be available from estate agents
Miss Dando said: "With the details of the management fees, we could see how much the costs had been last year, and what work had been done on the property.

"We also had information about what the costs were predicted to be for the next year, so we knew we wouldn't have to be stumping out loads of extra money unexpectedly.

"Normally you don't have access to many details until you set the ball rolling, and your solicitors contact the management company.

'Needs further improvement'

"Some estate agents might be able to give you limited details, but it does depend on which estate agent you use - some are more informative than others.

Because the problems were sorted out in advance, it meant I got the asking price of the flat

Sam Watson, seller
"The sellers' packs are a good, middle-of-the-road way to go about buying a property - it stops you seeing somewhere, falling in love with it and deciding you'll have it whatever the impracticalities turn out to be later.

"It also reduces the chances of being gazumped, which is the biggest worry for the buyer, because of the speed it goes through.

"However there still isn't anything legally binding until you exchange contracts.

"To improve the system further, I think that as well the sellers' packs, there should be some form of legal agreement tying in both the buyer and the seller after an offer is accepted."

Satisfied seller

Mrs Watson, a sales specialist, was also pleased at how the sellers' pack trial worked for her.

She told BBC News Online: "I read about the sellers' packs in the press and jumped at the chance to be involved in the pilot.

"When I bought the property five years previously, I'd had problems myself which came to light in the survey, and which took eight or nine months to sort out.

"I was selling the flat to buy a new property which I'd reserved, and I needed to exchange quickly so that I wouldn't lose it.

"This way I could make sure that any problems that showed up were sorted beforehand - for example, the boiler was quite old and needed servicing, so I got it done and included the certificate in the seller's pack.

Footing the bill

"Because the problems were sorted out in advance, it also meant I got the asking price of the flat, as there was nothing which could bring it down."

Mrs Watson, who now lives with her husband in her new four-bedroom house in Ham Green, near Bristol, supports moves to make sellers' packs compulsory.

But she did add a cautionary note about the cost of the scheme to the vendor.

As she was involved in a trial, she did not have to fund the estimated 600 cost of the pack.

She said: "I would not have minded having to pay in my situation as I was selling a 100-year-old property and I knew there was likely to be something that needed to be changed.

"If I was selling a new place, however, I would not be at all happy about having to pay for a pack."

Bristol estate agent Richard Harding welcomed the idea of sellers' packs and said: "It worked extremely well in the trial and we are very positive about."

He denied the trial was artificial, because vendors did not have to pay for the sellers' packs, and said: "It makes far more sense this way.

"When you sell a house you will have to pay, but then if you're buying as well, which most people are, you don't have to pay at that end."

Mr Harding said sellers' packs would be especially welcomed by first time buyers.

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24 Nov 00 | Scotland
Scotland's 'secure' selling system
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