HomeOwners Alliance Christmas Wish List
The government has delivered on a few of our wishes for reform. But there is still so much to fix....
December 7, 2015
1. Ban unfair estate agents practices
Lengthy sole agency tie-in periods, hidden fee charges, a right to commission beyond the term of the contract, sale by tender….the list goes on. But in short, you have some really nasty practices aimed squarely at milking consumers. No government wants to introduce regulation but we’re not sure the current Code of Practice – despite it’s recent refresh – is having much effect.
With more data and information available to home buyers and sellers than ever before, estate agents could really provide a service by publishing more information about properties – being explicit about leasehold or freehold and what that means, service charges, maintenance charges and, to help combat a world where new homes are getting smaller and smaller, details of square footage.
Here’s just a little glimpse into the world of not so great estate agent practises and other industry practices which could do with a shake up
- See our mystery shop of estate agents if you need more examples of sharp practices
- You can switch your energy supplier or bank – but why not your estate agent?
- Why don’t estate agents tell us the real value of our homes?
- Online vs High Street Agents?
2. House builders committed to providing quality homes and customer care
The government needs to challenge the monopoly of the big house builders who are making very good money through the system as it is and have no incentive to speed up, innovate or provide customers with high quality housing or after-sales care.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re applauding as loudly as the next person at the promise of 400,000 new homes. But homebuilding is not just a numbers game; we need quality homes in the right places and at the right price. We can’t have tax payers money ploughed into poor quality. These guarantees of government hand outs and a high demand might leave some developers thinking they can simply build homes that sell, rather than quality homes to last.
Furthermore, some developers are pretty much self-regulating which calls into question whether they are delivering homes to a high standard and taking care of their customers. Government should use its might to improve the quality of housing and the way some developers treat their customers.
3. Take the stress and cost out of buying and selling homes – let’s get rid of the chain
Buying a home is one of the most stressful times in people’s lives but it doesn’t have to be so. Let’s stamp out gazumping and gazundering. Failed transactions also cost consumers £270 million a year according to government. We would welcome your thoughts on how to fix the system. We think it is simple. If a seller pulls out of a purchase before exchange, they should be required to pay the costs the buyer has incurred – survey costs, mortgage costs, as well as compensation. And that the price agreed after the survey results is binding – to stop one party take advantage of the other by last minute price negotiations.
The government wants to inject innovation into the process of home buying and will publish a call for evidence in the new year. Many property professionals have a vested interest in keeping the current system going – estate agents use uncertainty and a lack of transparency to raise offers, surveyors win out by surveying the same properties over and over again and not one step of the conveyancing process has a recommended time of completion. We’d love to hear your views on what should be done – please leave your comments below or email us at email@example.com
4. A better deal for leaseholders
It’s time to narrow the divide between homeowners that are leaseholders and those that are freeholders.
There are 4.1 million privately owned leasehold homes in England, and 1.9 million flats rented in the social sector. That’s 25 per cent of all housing. The number of leaseholds is only set to grow: over the last 10 years, 40 per cent of all new build has been flats, with that figure rising to almost 90 per cent in the Capital.
Many leaseholders are struggling to extend their lease before they depreciate in value. It’s costly, complicated, stressful and only acts to line the pockets of freeholders.
For many people living in leasehold properties, let’s do more to banish unfair lease conditions with massive exit fees, stop leaseholders losing their homes because of the unfairness of forfeiture, and better enable homeowners to get rid of dodgy property managers. Give buyers more information about what buying a leasehold property involves. For example, we have worked with the Law Society to improve the LEP1 and LEP2 forms and with the Leasehold Advisory Service on an information leaflet for estate agents to give to prospective buyers.
We have also been alerted to the lack of any protection for those who have bought new builds on privately managed estates – there seems to be no right to manage, no tribunal, just service and maintenance charges that continue to escalate.
We want to see reform to the leasehold system to unleash homeowners from this costly bureaucratic and outdated form of property ownership. By continuing to sanction leasehold we continue to make life difficult for homeowners.
We can make a difference!
If you’ve bought or sold a home lately, you’re probably thinking “what’s the use?! The UK home buying process has been like this for decades and won’t change”. But look how far we’ve come with the help of homeowners in just three years:
Estate agent fees
How much should I pay the estate agent? is the number one question people ask us. And after fighting for more transparency in the system (see our report Why the Mystery: an investigation into the murky world of estate agent fees and contracts) we think we’re getting somewhere. In October this year The Property Ombudsman’s guidance positively encouraged estate agents to advertise their rates. And then Rightmove followed up by allowing agents to show the fees they charge on their site. Consumers are slowly being allowed to shop around and compare agents with all the information to hand.
Looking for an estate agent? We have independent search tools, whether you’re going with a traditional high street agent or online.
Changes to Stamp Duty
The Chancellor is listening. In the Autumn Statement 2014 he had taken heed of our many articles and research pieces and reformed the slab approach to calculating stamp duty. But we didn’t stop our campaigning there, insisting in our Christmas Wish List 2014 for a cut in stamp duty for homeowners by increasing it for property investors. And ta-dah! the Chancellor kindly delivers in this years Autumn Statement.
So please leave us your comments on what needs to be done and join us today to benefit from membership or simply to put your voice to ours.
The HomeOwners Alliance
We’re on your side
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