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September 2009

INDUSTRY HITS BACK OVER HIP COSTS

THE industry has hit back after a report by the consumer magazine Which? claimed that Home Information Packs can cost substantially more if bought through an estate agent.

The report by Which? Money claimed that vendors who bought their Packs through an agent could pay as much as 50 per cent more than those who bought through a specialist provider, with the difference between the cheapest and most expensive HIPs as much as £300.

But the Association of Home Information Packs Providers hit back, saying that the points highlighted in the report had to be viewed in the correct context.

AHIPP director general Mike Ockenden said: “Cost continues to be a key factor and rightly so. But it is hard to think of any product or service that isn’t cheaper if bought online rather than on the high street. Even taking this into account, comparing the two directly is misleading.

“When an estate agency is appointed to sell a property, they are automatically subject to a host of responsibilities and duties, regulated by law and punishable by fine, or worse.

“As estate agents are the responsible person at law, if presented with a HIP purchased from an independent source they may need to charge extra fees for carrying out additional checks to cover their responsibilities.

“For this reason alone, it is entirely appropriate that estate agents are remunerated accordingly and the potential impact of such hidden extra costs should not be discounted.

“Furthermore, consumers need to check exactly what it is they will be receiving from independent providers as some are known to tie in conveyancing services to the HIP so the discount may not be as appealing as at first glance.

“The only way for customers to avoid hidden costs or unnecessary additional expense is for them to purchase their HIPs from providers who comply with the HIP code.

“These regulations are in place to protect the consumer and, as we all know, online purchasing is one area where consumer protection remains thin.”

The report by Which? said that Halifax Estate Agents offered the most expensive HIP for a three-bed, semi-detached freehold property, charging £413.

Countrywide and Spicerhaart were second most expensive at £401 for the same Pack, while in contrast, online provider Fridays Property Lawyers charged the least at just £189.

According to the report, the most expensive HIP for a two-bed leasehold flat was from Spicerhaart at £516 – £292 more than the cheapest option.

Spicerhaart chief executive and EAN columnist Paul Smith said the example used was not like-for-like with other estate agencies and HIP providers who are also conveyancing businesses and it failed to reflect that the Spicerhaart HIP cited includes additional legal elements.

He said: “The research doesn’t show the full picture. The majority of the lower cost or free HIP providers add on fees elsewhere, for example making it a condition of purchase that you use their conveyancing services for which they charge a higher price.

“Additionally, on freehold properties, which is the bulk of our work, our prices are similar to other agencies. The one case identified happens to be a leasehold property which makes the HIP more expensive because of the additional legal work involved.”