Christopher Fildes

A pack on your back — it’s the latest way to gum up the market in houses

A pack on your back — it’s the latest way to gum up the market in houses

Just what we need: a well-meant effort to gum up the market in houses. This market now seems to be gumming itself up, but never mind. A new Housing Act has been passed into law, and with it the concept of sellers’ packs. Anyone who wants to sell a house will have to put one of these packs together or, more precisely, to order one. They are supposed to contain all the information that a buyer of the house might want to have, and members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors will be happy to provide them for anything up to £1,000. Who are these surveyors? Well, if you wanted to annoy them, you could describe them as estate agents with their Sunday suits on. Preparing the packs will help to keep them busy and provide a welcome boost to their incomes — for business has been slackening off, and Countrywide, which owns the biggest chain of estate agents in the country, now forecasts that in the last three months of this year it will lose money. Good news, too, for the 7,500 inspectors who will be recruited to police the scheme, and for the lawyers, who can see new scope for litigation. The packs will be with us in two years’ time, and will be compulsory all over England and Wales the year after. You might ask why willing buyers or sellers could not decide for themselves whether to ask for all this information or provide it or pay for it — but ministers and their advisers, just like estate agents, need to be kept busy. Here comes the latest instance of Sir Peter Middleton’s Law: ‘Even if you have a badly functioning economy — which in many ways we still do — it is always possible to make it worse by government initiatives.’

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