Don’t bet on HIPs being hip again

Magazine and newspaper sub-editors probably thought they’d never need to dust off their ‘HIP’-related headline puns ever again, given the demise of the packs back in May 2010, following the formation of the then Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government.

However, judging by the recent Conservative Party 2017 manifesto, and comments made by Michael Gove MP, we are likely to be seeing more headlines along the lines of ‘HIP to be square’, ‘Time for a new HIP?’, ‘HIP replacement’, ‘HIP, HIP, hooray?’, and the like. There’s no charge to use any of those by the way.

Anyway, it is an interesting development to hear HIPs talked about by the political classes after reference to the ‘HIP’ word had become tantamount to using the word ‘Voldemort’ in the world of Harry Potter.

So, to hear a senior Tory politician such as Mr. Gove effectively put HIPs – or a variation of them – back on the agenda was somewhat surprising but welcome. As you will hopefully know, we have talked about delivering E-, or rather now, D(igitial)-Home Reports in order to provide that elusive upfront information for potential purchasers.

One of our Strategic Plan work streams is on this and we are seeking to identify and collate a comprehensive collection of forms that would make up the D-Home Report and would ensure we were much further down the path to exchange/completion before we effectively start. In that sense, we are back in the territory of HIPs – I think most would agree that the fundamental principles behind the packs were sound, it’s just that the implementation and the content got lost somewhere along the way, to such an extent that the sum of its parts was far less than anticipated.

Since the abolition of HIPs, the introduction of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations has added even greater weight to a D-Home Report to avoid duplication – for instance, there are at least 51 questions on the Law Society’s Property Information Form which duplicate questions in the NAEA Residential Estate Agency Property Information Questionnaire.

I don’t think that anyone would argue that exposing the purchaser to any potential issues with the property far earlier in the process remains a fundamentally good idea. Having this quality information available at the beginning of the process, it having been read by the conveyancer and those issues having been dealt with, in our view, cannot fail to cut out some of the delay.

However, recognising some of the obvious issues with the HIP will be the priority. For example, having incomplete property information collected and the seller obtaining a local search which meant that the buyer’s conveyancer felt compelled to request their own search creates the opportunity to remove a large chunk of the cost of the D-home report, and means that we can focus on providing relevant information such as title and full property information forms compliant with CPRs and Conveyancing Quality Scheme requirements. Simple programmable logic, as well as a conveyancer review, can identify title issues which can be resolved ahead of a sale.

Indeed, with the technological advances that have been made over the course of the last seven years, and the rise of digital data capture and blockchain, that ability to provide the information in a digital form is easier to deliver and the advantages are much plainer to see.

What we perhaps have been starved of is political will, and while Gove doesn’t speak for the entire Government – or indeed whoever the new Government will be post-General Election – the fact that it has appeared back on the agenda, and we also have a Conservative Party publicly committing to ‘reform and modernise the home-buying process’ within its manifesto – something the CA and other stakeholders actively lobbied to be included – is a major step forward and will be welcome to all those (like ourselves) who are serious about delivering on this aim.

There are those who might not like the thought of a new Government being so active within our conveyancing process, but to make the changes that are absolutely necessary we need those in power to understand what we need to change and to act upon it. This will need political impetus to deliver and, to my mind, it is a positive that we appear to have a Government-in-waiting – judging by the opinion polls – which will have the motivation to help us achieve it. 

Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association

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