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Seller's Packs

A brief history

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There has long been concern that the process of buying a house in England is complicated, long-winded and expensive. For a country trying to be at the forefront of technology, there is little argument against the fact that the present system is slow and archaic. On average, it takes around eleven weeks to exchange contracts in this country. Most of this time is spent waiting for things to pass back and forth between solicitors in the post.

The flaws in the current process have seen the ugly head of gazumping become a common feature in the market. There is too much room for sellers to gazump the buyer by accepting a higher offer after the sale has been agreed, and a similarly excessive opportunity for buyers to pull out at the last minute.

Championing the new economy and all things dynamic, the labour government decided that it wanted to stamp out the problems. One of the first things that they did was to commission what was to be the most comprehensive ever study of buying and selling residential homes in England and Wales. For full objectivity, they even commissioned a Scottish University (Stirling) to lead the research, in association with the Martin Hamblin consultancy.

The study involved surveys of 1,500 buyers and sellers in England, Wales and Scotland. 800 buyers and sellers and England and Wales were tracked through the processes, with the remaining 700 comprising of recent buyers in England , Wales and Scotland. 700 estate agents, solicitors and mortgage lenders were also interviewed to gain as balanced a view as possible.

After the research, the task force then came up with a set of proposals aimed at speeding up the process. They then proposed a six-month trial of the proposals to test the practical operation of the Government's plans. The trials ran in the Bristol area from December 1999 to June 2000, with some additional testing in the Bradford and Burnley areas and involved tracking the use of the packs with 250 vendors, at a cost of 325,000.

The results of the Bristol seller's pack trials were published in November 2000, with the experiment showing some clear improvements to the house buying process. The outcome is likely to be a green light for the packs to become a legal requirement in the next parliamentary term.

The key findings were as follows:

  • 87 percent of agreed sales resulted in a transaction - 15% more than the amount in a prior study of the existing system.
  • 82 per cent were satisfied with home buying process using the seller's packs - nearly twice as many buyers as in the earlier DETR study of the current house buying process.
  • Six in ten buyers believed they benefited by having early sight of important information in the transaction.
  • The packs managed to cut the time between offer and exchange of contracts by about two weeks, to an average of 48 days.

Although implementation of the seller's pack has not yet reached parliament for debate, the government fully intends to make it a legal requirement for sellers to make the pack available to prospective buyers as soon as their property is put on the market. Failure to do so could land homeowners with a fine of up to 5000. The current forecasted date for the start of the new legislation is 2003.

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