Alison Brace says you've got to be HIP when it comes to buying and selling property. While you are at it, a gold star in the energy saving stakes won't go amiss either
First they were in. Then they were out. Now, after much controv- ersy, HIPs are here. At least, if you've got a four-bedroomed house. Since last Wednesday you need a Home Information Pack, including an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), if you want to put your home on the market.
Homes with fewer than four bedrooms will not need an HIP for the moment. A roll-out to other properties will happen once more energy inspectors have been trained up.
The Government is determined to see HIPs revolutionising the housing market. Ministers believe they will speed up the house sale process, cut gazumping and make home-owners more environmentally aware.
Currently, according to government research, one in four property sales fails due to glitches in the post-offer sales process. This costs buyers an average pound;442 in legal fees and survey costs. And, as a whole, property sale collapses cost consumers a whopping pound;350 million a year.
On the environment front, housing is responsible for 27 per cent of the UK's carbon dioxide output. An EPC aims to focus the vendor on making their home more energy-efficient by, at the very least, insulating walls and roofs.
So why have HIPs been dogged by so much controversy? Well, first there's the issue of cost. Figures bandied about range from pound;150 to pound;600 for an HIP. And that's paid out by the vendor, and not the buyer.
Realistically, however, an HIP is more likely to set you back about Pounds 300.
Then there were claims by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that there were not enough accredited inspectors to provide EPCs, and the National Association of Estate Agents called the HIP an "administrative burden" that will adversely affect the market.
In spite of all of this, trials in eight locations have had positive feedback, with participants claiming that the packs speeded up the house-buying process.
"The critical thing about HIPs is that they are providing information at the beginning of the sale process rather than at the end," says Howard Garde, a chartered building surveyor and managing director of HIPs Direct (www.hipsdirect.com) which has been involved in the initial trial.
"I think these mandatory documents will demystify the process of conveyancing and encourage people to pay more attention to their energy efficiency."
So what's in the pack and where can you get one? The basic version should include a copy of the title deeds, a sale statement, the local authority searches and the EPC, which gives homes an energy rating and suggests ways of improving it.
If you are in a hurry, evidence of title and an EPC have to be in place before you put your property on the market. You are allowed 28 days' grace for local searches to be produced.
"The searches aren't a new element just the timing of them," says Mr Garde. "The onus is put on the vendor rather than the purchaser."
When it comes to gaining an HIP, try your local estate agent first many of them are offering HIPs for free if you put your home on the market with them. Otherwise visit www.homeinformationpacks.gov.uk for further details and to see which companies compile HIPs in your area.
Remember to shop around prices do differ and if you want some of the non mandatory extras thrown in, such as a home condition report, then they will cost you more money.
If you don't have an HIP, Trading Standards officers can issue a pound;200 fine each time details of an HIP-less property are handed out to customers.
Private sellers can also be fined for marketing their home without an HIP. In reality, this is unlikely to happen until the system has well and truly settled in. However, it's worth bearing in mind.
HIPs are still a contentious issue particularly since the idea for including a mandatory survey was dropped.
Still, HIPs are probably here to stay. Forget GCH and DG (that's gas central heating and double glazing), the latest acronym to enter the estate agent's patter means you won't be able to get as far as the ensuite bathroom without mention of an HIP or an EPC