/ Home & Energy

Are Home Reports in Scotland working for you?

Question mark on house

Buying a home is the biggest purchase most of us ever make, yet people in Scotland often purchased with less information than they’d look for if they were buying a new TV. Were Home Reports the answer?

Now that the housing market’s recovering, many of us are starting to think about moving. Whether it’s trading up, down-sizing or just getting that first step on the property ladder, most of us have a strong interest in what’s happening with the housing market.

However, like lots of people across the UK, nearly 95% of homebuyers in Scotland bought with almost no useful info on the condition of their new property. This meant they could easily find themselves landed with a large repair bill once they got the keys.

That’s why Which? decided to campaign for Home Reports in 2005. These would include a questionnaire on the condition of the property being sold (filled out by the seller) and a survey, which would give further information on the condition of the house. They’d also include a valuation, so that potential buyers would be better able to judge the real value of the property.

What about England and Wales?

Ahead of the implementation of Home Information Packs (HIPs) in England and Wales (a variant of Scottish Home Reports) in 2008, it was decided that they would not include a condition survey. However, since this made HIPs much less useful, it was no real surprise that they were abolished just two years later by the Government.

And yes, that means there’s no legal requirement in England and Wales for a seller to provide information upfront to a buyer about the property for sale, other than an Energy Performance Certificate. But the Scottish Government decided to keep the survey as part of the Home Report, and in 2008 they became compulsory and they are now paid for by the seller.

Your experience of Home Reports

The Scottish Government is now asking people who’ve bought a property in Scotland over the past five years whether Home Reports are doing a good job. Are they informing you of potential issues with your new home? Are they helping you understand in advance how much cash you’d need to spend on immediate, or not so immediate, problems?

To help us influence the future of Home Reports in Scotland, we want to hear from you. So if you’ve bought or sold a house in Scotland over the past few years, what was your experience of Home Reports? And for everyone else, what type of information would you like before you purchase a property?

Please mention what part of the country you’re in and whether you’ve been directly affected by Home Reports in your comment.

Comments
Member

I live in England but am still very interested in this because I thought the Home Information Pack would be a potentially most useful document for prospective purchasers. Once the valuable bit, the condition survey, was stripped out it became useless [and the EPC isn’t exactly wonderful either]. I am hoping the Scottish experience will demonstrate the value of this kind of report, first to speed up the conveyancing process and second to avoid frustrated sales as the truth emerges during the legal work.

At present, homebuyers have to rely on the estate agent’s imperfect and usually partial particulars, what they can see with their own eyes on a restricted viewing opportunity and, if they’re lucky, a second viewing, and what eventully they deduce from the seller’s Property Information Form and Fittings & Contents Form [which usually are not received until significant search fees and legal expenses have been incurred]. The PIF has lots of questions that depend on the openness and honesty of the seller, like “is the central heating system in good working order?” to which “yes” can be answered so long as a vestige of heat and no audible clanking are discernible. I would prefer questions like “how old is the boiler?”, “what type is it?”, “when was it last serviced [and enclose a copy of the test report]?”, and “has it been necessary to have any repairs or replacements made to any parts of the system in the last three years?”. I would also want to know whether any alterations have been made to the electrical systems [and have a copy of the certificate], and when any structural alterations were made [building control certificates required]. I accept that it is difficult to know where to draw the line between what the seller should tell the prospective buyer upfront, and what a buyer should employ a surveyor to discover. Perhaps the usefulness of this depends on whether a mortgagee is involved and will have a valuation survey done. However, if the buyer could learn at the outset that there had been ingress of water or dampness, infestation or rot, or any structural problems, overflowing gutters, drainage problems, double glazing failures, they could make a more informed judgment on whether or not to have a fulll survey carried out; at the very least, they could factor in the cost of rectifying these issues and possibly seek some moderation of the purchase price. A particularly useful question would be “has any buildings insurance cover been declined or issued on special terms?”. Some sellers of unmortgaged properties haven’t even sought buildings insurance cover and the reason why could be informative. I shall be very interested to see all the other concerns that prospective purchasers have about property information, and what any sellers think about this issue.

When the Property Misdescriptions Act was repealed [possibly only in England & Wales] and its purposes effectively subsumed in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations it was said that the principle of “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) no longer prevailed and that estate agents would, as a matter of course no less, have to provide all the information reasonably required by a potential purchaser to make a sensible judgment on whether or not to proceed. If only! As you would expect, agents hide behind “we have not tested this or that”, they don’t show pictures of every room, their measurements are “for guidance only”, their floor plans – if they exist at all – are not to scale, the details say nothing about any boundaries, building dates, or the number of power points in each room, and even the Council Tax band is a mystery! Most agents also think the world will end if they give the street door number and postcode [in case you’d like to go there without asking them I suppose]. The fact that anyone can, without too much effort, find this out from a spell on mapping and postcode finder websites, appears to have escaped them.

One of the estate agents in Surrey currently has this enticing introduction to their property description : “Enviably situated on the River Thames is this fantastic detached bungalow . . .”. I hope they are immediately amending their advertisement [and maybe even the price] for this particular Chertsey residence in order to comply with the law. I have enormous sympathy for the owners who obviously didn’t bargain for the heavy flooding when they put the property on the market. This unfortunate event will blight houses along the River Thames for years now.

Member

“Enviably situated on the River Thames” seems to me absolute honesty by the estate agent – it would only become misleading if and when the floods subside.

Member

Anyone who purchases a dwelling on the banks of the river Thames (a) should expect to be flooded at some time and (b) will they be able to obtain insurance cover? I live near The Thames but high enough and far away enough to be granted insurance cover.

Estate Agents never comment on prospective neighbours either. If they are tenants does the landlord carry out his/her legal responsibility to maintain the exterior of the property which can impact on every other property in the immediate vicinity? Also we have all heard of “the neighbours from hell”………….

Member

I think the practices of estate agents and their shortcomings are worthy of an entire Conversation! I think it is nearly three years since the last one not dealing with tenancies, and with the market reportedly picking up again it would be timely to take another look at this activity.

Member
Rosebud says:
14 February 2014

I think it’s worth investigating exactly who is providing Home Reports in Scotland. I believe there is one large company that operates under the guise of many different names, dominating the scene.

Member
Anna Taylor says:
14 February 2014

Last year I sold my house in Glasgow. I had a home report done by surveyors recommended by the estate agent I was using, Slater Hogg. It cost over £700 and contained misinformation about by house, saying that it has been divided into 3 flats, which it never had been. This resulted in me having to get a letter of comfort from the City Council . The surveyors absolve themselves of responsibility for anything in their survey by demanding a letter of comfort. When the council surveyor came out they said there had been no need for a letter of comfort and that a qualified surveyor would be expected to know this. The purchaser had their own survey done anyway so obviously didn’t trust the home report. I think the home report is institutionalised easy money for surveyors who are not prepared to accept responsibility for anything for fear of being sued. The surveyor who came to my house said as much. I made complaints to all the bodies suggested to me, including writing to Which but there does not seem to be any independent regulatory body that was prepared to pass an opinion on my complaint. The ombudsman passed me to the chartered surveyor Institute who passed me back to the ombudsman. It’s a very bad system that adds unnecessary cost to the house selling process and offers no protection to the buyer.

Member

I have been looking at the documents required under Scottish law. Provided they are filled in competently and honestly, the Single Survey form [completed by a surveyor] and the Property Questionnaire [done by the seller] seem to me to be superior in scope, detail and usefulness to a buyer at the preliminary stage than the equivalent documents supplied in England & Wales. The Property Questionnaire asks some very pertinent questions and I would strongly advocate its universal introduction; it doesn’t even have to be mandatory – buyers could decide whether they wanted to ask any or all of the questions and it would be difficult for the seller to resist. I share Anna Taylor’s concerns over the value of the Single Survey element of the Scottish Home Report since so much depends on the conscientiousness and diligence of the surveyor which, possibly, are in some sort of ratio to the amount paid. What Rosebud said about a possible monopoly in the production of Home Reports is also worrying and could occur across the UK if the other countries adopted the Scottish system without some regulation.

Member
J Cowie says:
14 February 2014

Four years ago we purchased an old stone built cottage which had been extended into the roof and generally refurbished just over 10 years previously. Being from an architectural background, I should have been more savez. But this was my first experience of the Home Report. Essentially it was a valuation report based on a visual inspection by a surveyor. It did not provide any real depth to the
survey. There was no requirement to validate any certification over work carried out. That, at least, was dealt with through the solicitors. The fixed wiring test which I instructed picked up on some matters which, while not critical, could have been influential in the decision to buy or not. Also, I later learned that much of the improvement work carried out had been courtesy of a previous occupant who perhaps lacked the skill for some of the work. An older property most definitely requires greater scrutiny than the HR provides. A guide it is but no more than that.