Five years on from the introduction of home reports in Scotland, the Scottish Government has opened a public consultation on how home reports are working, as the first stage of a policy review exercise.
Seeking the views and experiences of people who have used the home report, and of professionals involved in the house buying and selling system, the consultation aims to establish:
whether the home report is meeting its objectives, and whether these objectives are still the right ones;
how the home report operates in the current market, exploring issues raised such as costs, commissioning, timescales, access, enforcement, access to mortgage finance, exceptions and redress; and the content, layout and usefulness of the home report documents.
Initially strongly resisted by many solicitors, home reports have become less controversial as time has passed, though hostile attitudes remain, as the letters column of the Journal reveals from time to time, while others take the view that they have acted as a dampener on the market in a time of recession. Others still have been converted to them in the light of experience.
The original objectives of the home report were (a) to improve information about property condition, and thereby provide an incentive for repair or maintenance works to be carried out; (b) to address the problem of buyers paying for multiple valuations and surveys in “market hotspots”; and (c) to address the problems created by the practice of setting artificially low asking prices.
An interim review carried out in 2010 found that it was too early to determine whether home reports were having a positive impact on the overall condition of Scotland’s housing. It also recognised that individual buyers were no longer having to purchase multiple surveys on a number of properties, as the practice had already developed of making offers “subject to survey”; and that the practice of setting artificially low asking prices had ended due to the shift to fixed price sales during the recession.
The paper recognises that the housing market has “changed dramatically” since home reports were introduced, but proceeds on the assumption that the system will remain in place: it goes on to consider other possible objectives that the home report could be adapted to support, such as by adding to, and/or giving greater prominence to, the energy efficiency information. It also asks whether the time is now right to establish a national register of home reports, as ministers already have power to.
Those who complain at practical aspects of how home reports operate, such as the seller having to pay upfront costs, or the 12 week deadline for marketing a property, or the attitudes of mortgage lenders, will find questions where they can give vent to their views. And a further section provides an opportunity for comment on the format of the three constituent elements of the report: the single survey, the energy report, and the property questionnaire.
The Law Society of Scotland, which opposed the introduction of home reports, will consider its response to the consultation at the Property Law Committee’s February meeting. If convener Ross MacKay’s initial thoughts are accurate, the Society is unlikely to change its position that home reports are the wrong response to the perceived problems. He adds that even if abolition is not on the Government’s agenda, “we are keen to discuss amendments at least”. He encourages solicitors to give their input direct to the Scottish Government.
Responses to the current phase of the review are due by 27 February 2014. A report on the analysis of responses will be published in April. It will be followed by a research study, due to begin in late spring or early summer of 2014, which will consider the findings along with the interim review to evaluate how the home report has performed to date. It will also contain a market analysis, to provide a comprehensive review of home reports.
On the basis of personal experience, having completed a sale and purchase in late 2012, I would say the home report was useful to have from a purchaser’s point of view along with the usual sale particulars – but does not necessarily prevent unexpected repair bills after taking entry. What sellers do to their properties before marketing still appears to be down to the individual. As a seller, it was undoubtedly an additional cost. It probably had an effect in narrowing the likely price range each time. With both transactions having proceeded fairly smoothly, we did not have to address issues of the report becoming stale, nor did lender attitudes come into the equation.
The policy review is expected to conclude by the end of 2014
In this issue
- The DCFR, anyone?
- Cloak and dagger in cyberspace?
- One person's entertainment
- Scouting for professionals?
- Reading for pleasure
- Opinion column: Alan McIntosh
- Book reviews
- President's column
- Working smarter, working harder
- Hang tough
- At home with home reports?
- E-missives: what now?
- Hedges: a financial plague
- Rights: a bold agenda
- Timetable twist
- Overprovision: what next?
- Sustainability is the key
- LLP rules unveiled
- Relocation: locking the stable door
- Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal
- Island futures
- An onerous obligation?
- What's in a name?
- How not to win business: a guide for professionals
- Merging: a safe partner?
- Ask Ash
- From the Brussels office
- Law reform roundup