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Scottish Executive Housing Improvement Task Force

1 February 02

This is a laudable policy initiative but the Conveyancing Committee want to see more input by the profession

by Conveyancing Committee

The policy initiative behind the housing task force is laudable but the Conveyancing Committee want to see more input by the profession into the decisions being taken.

As you may be aware, the Minister for Communities announced the establishment of the Task Force on 12 December 2000. The Task Force was set up to consider:

  • The forms of financial assistance available for owner-occupiers;
  • The powers available to local authorities to compel private owners to invest in their properties;
  • The likely effect of providing better information as part of the house purchase process – taking account of proposal for sellers surveys and sellers packs;
  • The arrangement in place for the management of flatted blocks in private ownerships;
  • The proposal for stronger regulation of the privately rented sector, for example by extending the existing arrangements which have been recently introduced for houses in multiple occupation and lastly the effect of tenancy legislation in the private rented sector.

The Task Force first met on 28 March 2001 and agreed to work through 4 sub groups to produce a report examining the legal, administrative and financial elements currently in place which prevent or encourage housing improvement. Their report is to be published early this year.

There are 16 members of the Task Force representing the Council of Mortgage Lenders, Banks, Housing Associations, Surveyors, Solicitors, the Scottish Consumer Council, Property Factors Association, Shelter and Local Authorities. One of the members is Professor Robert Rennie who is also a member of the Society’s Conveyancing Committee.

These groups have been looking at owner-occupiers resident in housing that requires improvement or repairs, individuals buying and selling property, landlords renting property in the private sector (and the interest of tenants who occupy these properties) and common or shared obligations in respect of property. The Society is most interested in sub-group B which deals with individuals buying and selling property.

The remit of this group has been to examine and report on costs and delays for house purchasers as a result of the house buying process in Scotland; the information available to intending purchasers about the condition of the property and its likely future maintenance; the scope for reducing multiple surveys and valuations; and the role of lenders in encouraging owners to maintain and improve the condition of their properties.

Full details of all the papers which the sub-groups have worked through and details of responses made to them can be found on the Task Force web site which is at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/hitf/default.asp. I would commend this to you and suggest it would be worthwhile looking at the progress report dated 10 September 2001.

This report confirms that sub-group B consider that the house buying process in Scotland has a number of strengths that require to be retained. They point out that the system is reasonably quick, largely free from gazumping and provides outcomes that are generally predictable. They also have noted that most buyers and sellers are satisfied with the way the system works.

On the down side they have noted that buyers often only have limited information about the condition of the property they are buying and rarely have detailed knowledge of any likely repairs and running costs. The group feel that feel there are a number of barriers in the current housing buying process which prevent house buyers accessing this information and advice not least of all reliance on Scheme 1 valuations and inspections. These comments seem to suggest that the sub-group might favour some form of sellers’ pack.

The Conveyancing Committee’s position is that while the policy initiative behind the Task Force namely, to improve Scotland’s housing stock is laudable, matters are moving very quickly and the profession should have more input into the decisions being taken by the Executive.

The Committee consider that some form of sellers pack would be appropriate and helpful for purchasers. It could contain the title deeds, a coal report (if necessary) planning consent, building consent and specialist guarantees etc. This information would not only be of benefit to the purchasers but would also encourage sellers to contact their solicitors prior to any sale. The Committee has reservations about local authority property enquiry certificates being included in any pack, particularly in areas where there can be a slow turnover in property. This is because of the chance of the sellers having to incur extra expense since the CML Lenders Handbook states that these certificates are out of date if more than three months old.

At an initial meeting with the Executive before the Housing Task Force was established the so called “multiple survey problem” was discussed. The Committee discovered that most of the Executive’s information about this appeared to be anecdotal. As a result of this meeting the Committee sent a questionnaire to the profession to obtain some real information about multiple surveys and the outcome of this was that there are very few hotspots and that multiple surveys over Scotland do not appear to be too common. This information was submitted to the Executive to help inform their thinking.

The Committee considers that it should play a part in influencing the Executive’s decisions if possible and are keen that the interests of solicitors should be highlighted and understood. For this reason we would like the profession to be informed about the Task Force and would like you to inform us of your views about any potential changes to the house buying process.

We will be submitting a response to the Task Force interim report and would like this to be truly reflective of the views of the profession. We would therefore commend the Task Force web site to you and would ask you to let the Committee Secretary Linsey Lewin have your views so the Committee can prepare a co-ordinated response. You can contact Linsey by telephoning 0131 476 8174 or e-mailing her.

Finally you may be interested to note that you may be contacted by DTZ Pieda Consulting who have been commissioned by the Executive to undertake a study into the House Buying and Selling process.