HIP provider OpenBook forced to close

Home information pack provider OpenBook has confirmed it will be winding down operations and shutting down the business at the end of this week.

OpenBook is the second HIP provider to meet its demise in the space of a fortnight following the news last week that Hipstar has been placed into administration.

OpenBook has until now touted itself as a pioneer in HIP provision, as it has been supplying sellers’ packs to clients since 1996.

The HIP provider also took part in the government’s Bristol pilot scheme in 1999 and presented on the subject to the Cross Party Parliamentary Select Committee and the House of Lords in 2005.

Gerard Buckley, chief executive of OpenBook, says: “Regrettably, due to difficult market conditions, OpenBook will cease taking HIP orders from Friday August 29. All HIP orders up until this date will be delivered.”

Outdated HIP searches tackled by OneSearch Direct

OneSearch Direct has launched three new products to deal with the issue of out-of-date property searches originally included in HIPs.

The three products, Validate, OneSearch Now, and OneSearch have been developed in partnership with a number of conveyancing firms and link to data from OneSearch Direct’s database supplemented with bespoke insurances.

The new refresher searches provide revised new information on properties, while OneSearch Direct claims the combined cost of the original and refresher search is “significantly” less than the average cost of single searches commissioned from local authorities.

The firm claims that these new products address concerns raised by NAEA and the RICS that consumers are being penalised by having to pay for multiple searches.

Michael Tolland, commercial director of OneSearch Direct said: “It is no secret that the property market has seen a significant slump in housing transactions. Our new products have been developed in partnership with other property professionals as a direct response to this slowing down. Now, while sellers will commission HIPs including searches at the outset of the process, buyers and others relying on search information will be able to speedily and cost-effectively update the information towards the end of the process.

“One of the oft-quoted benefits of HIPs is that the cost of property searches has reduced as a result of greater transparency in the process. This holds true even when the transaction has been delayed and the searches need to be refreshed. By using these new products, consumers save themselves money, gain detailed information on the property, and can rest assured that that information is up to date and accurate.”

NAEA calls for government HIP review

The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) is urging the government to take action on Home Information Packs (HIPs).

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the NAEA, said: “With the economic situation worsening and the property market still suffering, we are calling on the government to take urgent action on HIPs.

“We have long seen HIPs as not fit for purpose and as the wrong answer to simplifying the house buying process. Quite simply, the government tried to force ‘square pegs into round holes’ and the slower property market is making this situation worse. For instance, the current call for local searches to be conducted as part of a HIP is madness. Due to the length of time properties are on the market in the current climate, a majority of searches are now out of date by the time the property is sold, which means they have to be repeated at extra cost to the consumer.

“The time has come to rectify the situation and come up with a system that works cohesively and efficiently for both buyers and sellers. If HIPs are going to continue, then we, along with other major stakeholders would like to see them including only information that is of some use. Perhaps a simplified pack could include; a sellers’ questionnaire, an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) also reviewed to be fit for purpose, and the Land Registry title and plan. This is the only information that is helpful for consumers and the industry as a whole.

“Indeed it is not only the Association that is taking this stance on the matter, Sir Bryan Carsberg’s recommendations in the recent ‘Carsberg Review of Residential Property’ endorses the Association’s strong standpoint on HIPs, together with many other stakeholders in the industry.”

Hipstar goes into administration

Hipstar, the Home Information Pack provider conceived by Network Data’s Richard Griffiths more than three years ago, has been placed into administration with the loss of 22 jobs, including chief executive Tim Jones.

At launch it claimed to have “developed leading edge technology to offer a streamlined solution for the ordering, production and delivery of our HIPs”.

But despite selling thousands of HIPs and latest research saying the packs could shave up to seven days off the houesbuying process, a general lack of market appetite and a deteriorating housing market forced the Woking-based provider to admit defeat and shut-up shop.

A statement from the company on Tuesday confirmed: “Network Data Holdings has confirmed that its subsidiary, Hipstar, is being put into administration.

“Against a market background of properties sales being the lowest in 40 years, and no sign of any improvement, the directors have concluded there is no realistic prospect of recovering the investment that has been put into Hipstar over the past three years.

“The Hipstar losses have already been written off in the Group’s accounts.”

Hipstar fell under the umbrella of Network Data Holdings which as well as the network also includes Network Surveyors and Network Conveyancing. None of the other companies in the group are affected.

It was a member of the Association of Home Information Pack Providers and had been regulated by the Property Codes Compliance Board.

Earlier this month Paul Broadhead, widely recognised as putting HIPs on the political map, quit his role at AHIPP to join the Building Societies Association as head of mortgage policy. He has yet to be replaced.

The Conservative Party, rocketing ahead in the opinion polls, has already pledged to scrap HIPs should they win the next General Election.

The party recently stepped up its attack on HIPs, arguing that the packs discouraged speculative sellers and that they had increased sales costs.

Prepare for EPCs, landlords reminded

Residential landlords have been warned to prepare for the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) which become law from 1 October.

Merseyside estate agent Venmore has reminded landlords that from October 1 tenants will be able to ask their landlord for an EPC, otherwise any attempt to sell or let a property without an EPC is a minimum £200 penalty, plus the cost of the certificate.

The EPC, which costs from £75, will provide ‘A’ to ‘G’ ratings for all buildings, whenever they are built, sold, or rented out, with ‘A’ being the most efficient and ‘G’ being the least and the average being ‘D’. An EPC can only be issued by a licensed Domestic Energy Assessor (DEA), which Venmore can provide to prospective and existing landlords.

Venmore partner Phil Furlong said the EPC, which measures the energy efficiency of a home, will be a unique selling point to potential tenants. Therefore, it is vital landlords are prepared for this introduction.

He added: “Venmore supports EPCs as they provide really useful information for both tenants and landlords. However, we would urge landlords and tenants to take professional advice from a letting firm on EPCs. They could be time consuming and expensive.”

In the rented property sector, an EPC is valid for 10 years and can be reused as many times as required within that period. Landlords do not have to commission a new EPC each time a new tenancy starts, but they are required to give a copy of the latest EPC to new tenants.

However, Furlong said that there is no requirement for landlords under law to make any improvements if their properties give a poor rating. This has caused some property associations to believe EPCs could create friction between tenants and landlords.

Furlong added: “Providing the EPC process is properly managed by a letting agent there should be little conflict between tenant and landlord. However, those renting properties built in the 1960s compared to those built in 1990s and upwards are obviously going to be more effected by the EPC ruling.”

The EPC already forms part of the Home Information Pack, instigated last year, and was introduced by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

HIPs delay hitting homebuyers

Political one-upmanship by the Government and opposition parties is preventing home information packs (HIPs) from being delivered in full, and letting down homebuyers, AHIPP says. The Association of HIP Providers claims HIPs have so far been successful in bringing down the cost of local authority searches, but says the product needs to be allowed to develop further.

AHIPP also claims the introduction of the must-criticised packs has also reduced the average time taken to exchange contracts.

The introduction of HIPs has so far caused the cost of local authority searches to fall by 30%, according to AHIPP.

AHIPP also claim the introduction of the packs has decreased the amount of time taken to exchange contracts by an average of 12 days.

“Even in their present incomplete form HIPs are already having a positive impact on the market. Consumers are benefitting from faster transactions, reduced stress, cheaper searches and better protection,” says Paul Broadhead, deputy director general of AHIPP.

“With more consumer friendly information in packs from the beginning of next year along with the ending of estate agents marketing homes without packs, the benefits will be increasingly obvious for all to see.”

AHIPP is urging political parties to cease bickering over whether HIPs should exist and implement the packs fully so they can provide major benefits to consumers.

However, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) has branded the packs a disaster.

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the NAEA, comments: “The launch of HIPs onto the marketplace was far from smooth with delays and u-turns, together with a fundamental error on timing.

“Indeed the debate still rages whether the timing of the launch has had a crippling effect on what is already a rocky time for the property industry.”

AHIPP says politicians are largely to blame for the problems HIPs have experienced and Broadhead has called on ministers to get on with fully implementing the legislation.

“I would call on the government and the opposition parties to get over the politicking and get on with the job in hand. People are entitled to information early in the process about the property they are buying. Continued delay in delivering this in full is letting down home buyers and is just not acceptable,” he says.

Promise reports HIP interest boost

Promise Homepacks has reported a 35% increase in new enquiries since the launch of its ‘No Sale No Fee’ option.

The Promise Homepacks No Sale No Fee or ‘HIP Expenses Guarantee’ facility enables the consumer to order a Home information pack on day one using the Promise Homepacks deferred payment option, providing the consumer with a nine month period where there is no cost incurred to the consumer. At the end of this period if the property is still on the market, the HIP expenses guarantee will cover the cost of the HIP, the deferred payment fee and the expenses guarantee fee.

Darren Beech of Promise Homepacks, said: “The phones have been red hot with enquiries this week from sellers, estate agents and solicitors. As well as the No Sale No Fee option sellers are also attracted to the fact that we only charge £255 plus VAT for our standard HIP. The BBC said HIPs can cost up to £400 so sellers were relieved that the actual figure is much lower.”