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Shooting from the Hip

There has been much deb-ate recently about the housing market’s abilities and desires to produce home information packs and the options available to them.

However, it would seem that one important factor may have been overlooked in these discussions and that is the all-important customer. How much will they be prepared to pay to get or view a Hip and who should pay and at what point in the process?

We tried to find out the answers to these questions by commissioning BRMB to conduct a survey of a nationally representative sample of consumers in England and Wales who are either homeowners or intend to become homeowners and the results make interesting reading.

The survey found that only 44 per cent of respondents know about Hips. However, after being given a brief description of Hips, 78 per cent think they are a good thing.

This indicates that while attitudes are positive, know-ledge is perhaps not high and a good deal of awareness-raising will be needed.

Interestingly, when resp-ondents were asked if they felt Hips would affect the time it takes to complete a property sale, only 34 per feel it will shorten the time. Almost two-thirds feel it will either stay the same or lengthen the time it takes to complete a property sale/ purchase. This indicates that while they say Hips are a good thing, consumers do not yet appreciate one of the proposed major benefits.

When questioned about who they would approach to produce a Hip, almost half say they will contact a professional, that is, a solicitor or estate agent, and only 4 per cent will contact a lender.

This will place the estate agent in a strong position as it is likely that they will also market the property for the customer. However, 11 per cent expect the estate agent to cover the cost of the Hip.

Another surprising finding was that 19 per cent say they will prepare a Hip themselves, again suggesting a lack of understanding of the content, complexity and importance of a Hip. Doubtless, somebody will now be working on a DIY Hip kit.

The cost of the Hip and the question of who pays produced significant gaps between market and consumer expectations. The market and the Government’s view is that a pack is expected to cost about 850. However, in our survey, most respondents feel that the cost should be 600 or less and the average price that the custo- mer considers appropriate is 478.

Around 42 per cent say the cost should be added to the value of the property and only 25 per cent think the seller should pay for the Hip. This is an interesting view from the customer when you consider that the Government’s view is that the Hip will place more of the burden on the seller and reduce the potential expenses of the buyer.

There appears to be further confusion when considering the timing of payment for a Hip. The current proposals are that, in most cases, the full cost of the Hip will be deferred until completion.

It is again interesting to note that 44 per cent of consumers feel the Hip should be paid for prior to putting the property on the market.

This view would seem to fit more with the Hip concept, with an up-front payment acting to reduce the number of speculative homeowners testing the market without any firm intention of selling.

Having been told the potential size of the document (we said about 80 to 100 pages), we had ano- ther surprising response when we asked how consumers would like to read the pack.

About 75 per cent of respondents say they will want a paper version, whe-ther they were a buyer or seller. This does not sit well with market expectations that Hips may only be available in an electronic format but it could lead to a significant increase in the sale of quality printers.

An even split of respondents are prepared to pay to view a pack as a buyer, paying on average 20 to the Hip provider, which appears to be closer to market expectations of 25.

However, the consum-ers’ confidence and trust in the contents of the Hip is in question, as 71 per cent say that, having viewed a Hip prepared on behalf of the seller, they will still want to have their own survey conducted.

What is clear from this piece of research is that understanding of what is proposed and what the market is developing does not entirely fit.

With deadlines on the horizon, it is important that the customer is not forgotten as the industry develops and implements this initiative. The education of all parties involved in this new process really will be key to the success of Hips.

Expectations of cost, timeliness and format must all be set soon and a major education programme for both the public and indeed the industry is needed.

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