Home Information Packs – again

On Monday, the new, tighter rules for HIPs come into play –

  • the HIP must be complete (well, nearly …) before the property is marketed, rather than being in the course of preparation
  • the HIP must include the Property Information Questionnaire: a very watered-down and pointless version of the full Property Information Form that buyers’ conveyancerswill expect to see; either the HIP should include a full information form or no such form should be required: adding an extra, largely pointless form is … pointless
  • the HIP must include “full” searches – see below

Largely in order to produce HIPs as cheaply as possible – because everything is sold on price, not quality, these days, it seems – most HIP providers use agents to carry out “personal” searches, rather than getting “official” searches direct from the relevant councils. There is also, sometimes, an argument that personal searches can be quicker, but most councils, certainly in Kent, have an impressively speedy turnaround time now

Anyway, many personal searches did not contain answers to all the required questions, believe it or not. Usually, this was because some councils, apparently in an attempt to protect their income streams by encouraging the use of official searches, would refuse to allow access to relevant information unless obliged by law to do so. For instance, though the planning register must be open for inspection, the information relating to possible breaches of planning control need not

(BTW: some councils, including Ashford, offer “value added” searches, by including with the result copies of any conditional planning permissions, plans from Tree reservation Orders, etc – saving the need to apply separately for these once they were revealed by the local search result)

As a result, personal searches tended to paint a partial picture, while official searches painted the full (or, at least, a fuller) picture. Though personal search agents would offer insurance cover in respect of any “nasties” not revealed by the partial nature of the search, that is poor compensation (assuming the insurers in fact pay out) if your dream home is blighted by something that you would have known about in advance had an official search been available.

In addition, a significant number of lenders will not accept personal searches (or only if the buyer’s conveyancer (as opposed to the person who carried out the search) guarantees their accuracy. As a result, if a HIP included a personal search (and most do) the buyer might need (or want) to get an official one too, increasing the cost despite the government’s stated aim of reducing cost.

From 6 April, personal search will not be allowed to say “Don’t know, but if there is a problem you are insured against it” – they will have to include answers to all the questions.

Unless the government is also obliging councils to answer all the questions (I simply do not know what is happening on this score), this will result in official searches being included in HIPs – something that I, as a conveyancer, will heartily welcome


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