Tuesday, 25 May 2010

If you want to speed up homebuying, reform conveyancing!

The news that the UK Coalition Government is to abandon sinking HIPs (that’s Home Information Packs for the uninitiated) will be welcomed by all those wanting to sell their homes and the property industry in general.

Originally conceived as a way of speeding up the homebuying process (homeowners had to have all manner of documentation ready in advance of getting an offer, including energy performance ratings and local searches) ultimately HIPs achieved little of what it set out to do. In fact, a persuasive argument could be made that HIPs actually discouraged people from moving home at exactly the time when we should have been trying to refloat the housing market.

To be fair, the previous Government correctly identified the problem, even if it ultimately came up with the wrong answer. Moving home can be an interminably slow business, but I would argue this is more often down to conveyancing lawyers rather than homeowners not having their ducks in a row. The Law Society many years ago, in a review of conveyancing practices, found that the adversarial nature of English law was responsible many of the delays. In other words lawyers could not get it out of their minds that the other side were trying to pull a fast one when actually, all both vendor and buyer wanted to do was move and get on with their lives.

My own experience is a classic illustration. We were selling a Victorian terrace in Bedfordshire many years ago and got a buyer on the first morning it was up for sale (oh the heady days of the property boom!). Of course what should have been wrapped up in a matter of weeks dragged on as the buyer’s solicitor asked all many of extraordinary questions.

It reached its nadir when my solicitor received a letter one morning expressing some concern that the roof of the property had been rebuilt at some point. Could we provide details of the contractor who had completed the job and give guarantees about the quality of the materials used? Bearing in mind that the roof had been replaced in the mid-1950s the answer was ‘no’ and ‘no’.

The French have an entirely different conveyancing system which avoids much of this unnecessary angst. Under French law one solicitor acts for both parties, acting as an impartial referee during negotiations, suggesting compromises and solutions rather than just throwing up problems.

Of course such a system would halve total conveyancing fees overnight, which is precisely why it won’t happen over here.


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