Birmingham City Council Trading Standards have in conjunction with the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB) undertaken a comprehensive estate agent and Home Information Pack (HIP) enforcement exercise.
The survey results provide a revealing insight into the estate agency, HIP and personal search markets. Results revealed that 70% (26 HIPs in total) were rated satisfactory or reasonably satisfactory with 30% (11 HIPs in total) rated unsatisfactory when measured against the HIP regulations, often leaving buyers with no idea who to contact if they have any cause for complaint relating to the content of the HIP.
A HIP, often called a Sellers Pack, has to be provided before a property in England and Wales can be put on the open market for sale. They have been compulsory since late 2007. In the vast majority of cases, it is the estate agent who is responsible for ensuring that a HIP is produced, but individual private sellers must also comply.
The HIP is designed to help potential home buyers make a decision on the sale, by making important property information available at an early stage, including; an Energy Performance Certificate, local authority searches, title documents, guarantees, etc.
The survey set out to test approximately 25% of the estate agent market within the Birmingham boundary. Teams of Trading Standards staff went to previously identified estate agents, selecting properties being marketed and requesting HIPs to be sent to Trading Standards. As a result, 40 HIPs were requested from as many agents across the city.
Only 37 packs were received and examined, as one property selected was found not to require a HIP since it had been marketed prior to the regulations coming into force. A further two agents were unable to provide HIPs on request and were subsequently issued with penalty charge notices and referred to the OFT for failing to comply with the regulations. The HIPs were then forwarded to the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB) for inspection and checking.
Given the complexity of the information, a grading system was developed so that each HIP would be scrutinised using the same criteria and a compliance grading assigned accordingly. Of particular note was the markedly better performance of HIP and Search Code of Practice subscriber firms against unregistered firms, with 87% of HIP Code subscribers ranking satisfactory or reasonably satisfactory and personal searches being found to be on a par with those sourced from local authorities.
The most common faults included:
- no information on complaint / redress procedure
- no consumer information
- no company contact details
- technical Issues with the search
- HIP Index related issues
Chris Neville, head of Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council, said:
‘The exercise shows that the market is generally compliant, but buyers should be aware that not all HIPs can be taken at face value as being accurate. Birmingham Trading Standards will keep a watchful eye on the estate agent and HIP provider market, and we urge buyers to contact us if HIPs are not made available by estate agents at the time of marketing. To avoid any confusion over the accuracy of information provided in a HIP, we recommend that both buyers and estate agents should choose a HIP Code registered firm, as our survey has found these to be the most trustworthy’.