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Home reports: oh no they won't

14 July 08

Defence of the author's views on home reports following previous replies

by Graeme McCormick

May I thank everyone who responded to my critique on home reports (Journal, April, 60). It seemed to strike a unanimous chord, which is a rare experience for me.

Since then I have again met with Stewart Maxwell MSP, who from his response (Journal, May, 60), is almost Thatcherite in his inability to turn. This meeting raised more concerns as to his failure to grasp even the basic technical issues of implementing his perfunctory proposals. Other conveyancers have told me of similar experiences with him.

I also attended the first of the Law Society of Scotland’s roadshows, when a number of Tayside solicitors were present to hear the Society’s current thinking on guidelines, and the sales pitch of Neil Ferguson, the civil servant driving the government policy. While I did not contribute to the session, it was clear to all present that more questions than answers were raised. Significantly Mr Ferguson even admitted that some aspects of the seller’s questionnaire were not as robust as he would have liked.

While there is an acceptance that practitioners have to prepare for home reports, a significant body of SNP MSPs have voiced concerns to me over the issue, and efforts are still being made for a change of direction. As the Society plans further roadshows in September designed to firm up on implementation procedure and relative guidelines, there is still time to force a change.

May I urge all conveyancers to write to or email their MSPs (of whatever party) and the First Minister to call a halt to the home report as proposed.

With reference to Graeme Hartley’s letter (June, p 8), while I admire Mr Hartley’s defence of his profession I cannot agree as to my understanding of the effects of current and future housebuying procedures. I have never recommended to a client to accept a valuation report in preference to a homebuyer survey, but most vote with their wallets and take the risk. Every so-called stakeholder who contributed to this and the previous administration’s exercise in reform went in primarily to protect their pitch. Initially the exercise was to dispense with multiple surveys.

When solicitors resolved that matter with “subject to survey” offers, the emphasis changed to the quality of the private housing stock.

In the current minister’s haste to address the pilot debacle, he simply removed the obligation on the purchaser to pay for the survey and didn’t ensure that all the principal lenders bought into it. Nor did he bother to provide a national register of home reports to record centrally and publicly the quality of the private housing stock and how individual properties may change from one sale to another.

My criticism of the survey element is that apart from duty of care issues, the meat in valuation, homebuyer and home reports is the same. If it were not so, lenders would have demanded long ago a homebuyer style report to protect their interests. The rest of these reports, whatever their length, is indicative and non-disruptive, often leaving solicitors and others to make further enquiry. Estimates by surveyors of potential costs are not guaranteed, nor would any reasonable person expect them to be.

Apart from the energy efficiency element (which costs about £50 per house in England), the home report changes nothing. My concern is that the public are going to be hugely disappointed and underwhelmed when this “major reform of the housebuying system” is tested. When a so-called “reform” can’t even guarantee that the heating system is working satisfactorily (the major concern of purchasers apart from getting the keys on time), one must seriously question the whole point of the exercise.

I have the greatest of respect for surveyors, but if their governing body thinks that home reports as proposed offer some major advance on the housebuying and selling experience, then they are complicit in fooling the people some of the time.

l Graeme McCormick, conveyancing Direct, Glasgow