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Don't drop home reports, says consumer body

30 July 2008

The Scottish Consumer Council (SCC) has called on the First Minister not to bow to pressure from lawyers’ organisations to postpone or scrap home reports.

Douglas Sinclair, the SCC chair, says the Scottish Government "cannot let down the Scottish housebuying public at this late stage".

Home reports are due to be introduced in December and will have to be provided by anyone putting their house on the market. They will contain three documents for buyers, including a single survey containing information on the condition of the property, an energy efficient report and a property questionnaire. The Scottish Government today denied that there were any plans to postpone their introduction.

Critics have claimed that they are an unnecessary hurdle at a time when there are more sellers chasing fewer buyers.

Mr Sinclair said: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the housebuying process in Scotland forever, whether the market happens to be going through a buoyant or a downward cycle."

"Vested interests"

He added that home reports would bring "new fairness and transparency" into the business of buying and selling houses. "When it’s harder to get a mortgage you want to be surer than ever that the property you are buying is sound and represents a good investment. When it’s harder to sell then you want prospective buyers to know that what you are selling is up to scratch."

First time buyers, he claimed, had the most to lose from the reports being postponed or scrapped. "When it’s tougher than ever to get on to the first rung of the housing ladder, at least first time buyers won’t have to pay for surveys under this scheme. To scrap them now would be another kick in the teeth for people who want a first home of their own.”

Calling on the Scottish Government not to "simply listen to those who shout the loudest", he criticised the continued lobbying against home reports from "those with a vested interest in the process, particularly among the legal profession and its professional body, the Law Society of Scotland".

He continued: "Lawyers in Scotland have long had a combined role as both legal advisers and estate agents. The profession’s continued and forceful opposition to the introduction of a measure which will make the housebuying process better for consumers might lead some to question whether the traditionally lucrative estate agency work has clouded their judgement in terms of what is best for their legal clients."

Society's "reservations"

The Law Society of Scotland said it hasn't been informed of any change to plans to introduce home reports on 1 December, and that it had long supported increasing both the quality and quantity of information that prospective house buyers can access before they make any offer to buy. The Society had been involved in the development of home reports.

James Ness, deputy director of professional practice, said: "The Society recently asked the Scottish Government to postpone the introduction of home reports because of our concerns for the housebuying and selling public in light of the current economic climate, as change at a difficult time in the property market could cause even further slowdown.

"However, as far we are aware there has neen no change to the Government's plans to introduce home reprts on 1 December and we are currently organising seminars to brief solicitors on what they will need to know.

"It's widely known that the Society has had reservations about the single survey being included as part of the home report pack. We have a number of concerns, including the survey's shelf life.

"Any property survey is not viable after a few weeks and sellers may have to buy two or more surveys to ensure that the report is still relevant. We also envisage that buyers may have to commission their own surveys to satisfy lenders. This is increasingly likely during a downturn or in those areas of the country where properties traditionally take longer to sell."