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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 15:16 GMT
Housing shake-up unveiled
Estate agents boards
The government aims to take the stress out of home buying
The government has unveiled far-reaching new measures to speed up the buying and selling of houses and to end 'gazumping'.

It has also drafted proposals to give leaseholders more rights to manage their homes or buy them outright, curbing the power of landlords.

Homeless people will also be given more protection by their local authorities under new laws.

The measures on house buying were unveiled in Wednesday's Queen's Speech, which is likely to be the last before a General Election widely expected in May.

Seller's Packs

Under the Homes Bill, the onus on property checks will pass from the house buyer to the seller in England and Wales.

Sellers will be forced to put together a 'seller's pack' giving buyers access to vital information when they view the property, avoiding the need to pay for a survey on it.

The pack, which is expected to cost between 500-1,000, will include information about local authority searches, planning permissions and a house condition report.

Selling a property without one will become a criminal offence.

Seller's pack contents
Title documents
Replies to list of standard questions on the property
Any planning or listed building restrictions
Warranties and guarantees, for new properties
Guarantees for work carried out on the property
A draft contract
Replies to searches by local authority
A house condition survey

But industry experts have warned that the proposals are not ready to become law, after a pilot study proved inconclusive.

Sue Anderson, spokeswoman for the Council of Mortgage Lenders, said: "The pilot study was in no way a clear enough indicator that the sellers' pack will work.

"What we are looking for from the Government is further work so that when it is introduced it will be workable and of value.

"The house condition report is the point which is causing us the most concern as it is still unclear who should be employed to carry it out. More work is needed."

But the head of Enact, a company which provides legal services to the housing sector, is urging Parliament to push through the reforms.


The Seller's Pack breaks down some of the traditional problems which have bedevilled house-buyers and caused long delays

Anthony Ruane, housing lawyer
Anthony Ruane said: "The Government has recognised that the system of buying a new home in the UK is one of the slowest in Europe and the sellers pack goes someway to keeping pace with modern life and expediting the process.

I hope it goes through the new Parliamentary session without too much political point-scoring."

"House-buyers expect fast, accurate information to be available when they want it and the Seller's Pack breaks down some of the traditional problems which have bedevilled house-buyers and caused long delays and financial hardships."

The pilot scheme showed that more than 80 per cent of homebuyers were satisfied with the process, and that it achieved a 50% cut in the number of house sales which fell through, he added.

Homelesness

The Homes Bill also includes new proposals to help the homeless.

It aims to re-introduce the legal obligation on local authorities to provide temporary accommodation for the homeless until they find a permanent address, which was removed by the previous Conservative government.

And it extends the right to housing to homeless young people leaving care and those between the ages of 16 and 18.

Aylesbury estate agents' office
The Bill aims to speed up the process of buying a home
The Bill also calls for a more co-ordinated and long-term approach to homelessness from local authorities, emphasising the need for decent homes for all.

The provisions were welcomed by the housing charity Shelter which said they bridged a vital gap in existing provision.

Leashold reform

The government is also proposing a new regime for leaseholders, although this is not included in the Homes Bill.

The main elements of the proposed reforms are:

  • Right to manage - leaseholders will have new rights to take over the management of their buildings without paying compensation to the landlord
  • Extending the lease of flats - making it easier for leaseholders to buy the freehold of their building
  • Service charges - the right to challenge unfair service charges
  • Leashold valuation tribunals - modernisation of existing provisions
  • Forfeiture - greater protection for leaseholders threatened with eviction

The proposals, which were set out in a draft bill earlier this year for consultation, also include a new form of property ownership called Commonhold.

Commonhold

Commonhold is designed to give people who live in flats the same security as other homeowners.

It will give the occupants of a block of flats control of communal areas such as stairwells and the garden.

It would also allow the creation of a 'Commonhold Association', a company to manage the property, in which every occupant would have voting rights.


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