A number of headline changes to HIPs were introduced yesterday, including the new Property Information Questionnaire and first-day marketing arrangements. But, more importantly, it also saw key "under the bonnet" changes to the way in which HIP information is gathered.
CoPSO said the ending of transitional insurance provisions would mean that property search companies no longer used insurance to cover instances when local authorities have not provided access to information.
Customers now have peace of mind that if information is not included in HIP searches, then it is not available. In those cases where official searches yield information previously described as unavailable, then CoPSO will consider legal action to ensure that information is made available to customers, to allow them to access information by whatever means are used for HIP searches.
Ahead of the changes, CoPSO published guidance to its members advising that they must make every effort to obtain property records held by the local authority or competent authority, regardless of cost or difficulty in accessing.
That guidance urged them to eliminate the phrase "information not available" from their search reports and to replace it with "no answer" as a matter of last resort. The only time this phrase will now be used is where the property record does not exist or is not available under any circumstances.
CoPSO Head of Communications Kate Nicholls said: "These changes mean that consumers can be more confident than ever that their HIP contains the fullest and most up-to-date information that’s available.
"It this crucial time for the property market, and just at the point when we might just be seeing the first ‘green shoots’ of recovery, it’s absolutely essential that transactions are both wholly transparent and that buyers and sellers have complete confidence in them.
"Our industry has fulfilled its side of the bargain. Our members will obtain information regardless of the time and cost involved. Now it’s up to local authorities to hold up their end of the deal and make sure they’re playing their part in guaranteeing the integrity of HIPs. If CoPSO finds that there is information in official searches than our members cannot get to, then we will use that as evidence as obstruction of access and, if appropriate, consider legal action."
Meanwhile the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, has also commented on the HIP changes.
Gillian Charlesworth, RICS director of external affairs said: "RICS maintains that trying to engineer the home buying and selling process through the HIP is of limited use. RICS wants to see the Government quickly joining up to achieve much more for home buyers and sellers in the form of a proper regulatory regime for estate agents.
"Currently anyone can set up as an estate agent and when the market turns up, no doubt it will once again be an attractive place for the unscrupulous. We believe that much more will be achieved by regulating the practitioners, rather than trying to control the process."
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