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Questionnaire quagmire

Property Information Questionnaires are mandatory documents from April 6, so how should agents tackle their completion without being held liable for misinformation? Peter Ambrose explains.

From April 6, the motivation of sellers will directly impact the speed with which agents may market their property. The removal of the first day marketing provision from Home Information Packs means that a HIP must be available before a property can be marketed, including the new Property Information Questionnaire.

The PIQ is the most significant change to HIPs since their introduction, and is likely to reduce the speed that properties can be brought to the market.

HIP providers have been busy publicising their approach to the PIQ over the last few weeks, with some offering online formats. But no matter how advanced PIQs become, no technology solution can address what is fundamentally a people process.

As experienced agents know, ensuring clients provide information about their property in a timely manner can be extremely challenging. Indeed, even sourcing signed terms of business can prove difficult. It therefore comes as no surprise that agents already using their own property information forms are reporting delays, which will make the prime Easter selling period - the week after the PIQ launch - an interesting time, to say the least.

In spite of this, agents should in no way get involved in the production of PIQs. Sellers will use any means to blame an agent in a dispute, including details in the PIQ, regardless of the fact that the forms are not signed - a signature combined with evidence of title would make a HIP a fraudster's paradise.

Agents should heed the warning on the PIQ stating that if they help the seller to complete it, the Property Misdescriptions Act will apply.
Some industry players have suggested that agents are failing to perform their duty of care if they do not ensure that their clients return their PIQ within a reasonable time period. But the reality is that sellers will do what they like and when they like, which for the majority will mean one word - procrastination.

The likely outcome will be agents having to work extremely closely with their chosen HIP provider to ensure that PIQs do not delay the marketing process - a far cry from the current situation.

As agents are the first point of contact in the house selling process for most clients, they could provide a blank, paper-based PIQ, or details of where to complete the form online. Unfortunately, paper PIQs need to be returned to the agent, who must then send it to the relevant HIP provider. But though this involves agents in the process, the risks are minimal, especially if they return the forms by post, which, although slower, would eliminate any risks caused by faxing or scanning incomplete documents.

First day marketing
There are clear and justifiable concerns about the implications of the removal of the first day marketing provision. However, many agents are unaware that they do not have to have searches or a printed version of the pack to be compliant with HIP Regulations. Agents are compliant if they have access to a HIP containing the following:
• Index;
• Property Information Questionnaire;
• Energy Performance Certificate;
• Sales statement;
• Evidence of title.

Searches and copies of the lease are not required before a property may be marketed.

There remains confusion about what constitutes marketing. Some industry players have suggested that if the property is not directly identifiable, this does not constitute marketing and the agent may proceed without a HIP in place. However, this is not defined in the HIP Regulations, which merely state that marketing means communicating the fact that a property is available for sale.

As with all legal matters, the HIP Regulations provide a general framework, and such questions can only be clarified by case law. Naturally, most agents are working hard to ensure that it is not their name on the legal precedent, although given the sums involved, it is questionable whether there will ever be cases brought to court to test the law.

Finally, many agents remain unclear about whether all of their stock requires a HIP from April 6. This is not the case - properties that were on the market before the introduction of HIPs do not need one, as long as they have been continuously marketed during that time.

Like it or not, the April 6 changes will require agents to rely far more heavily on their HIP providers than ever before, so it is crucial that they protect themselves from litigious clients by ensuring their provider is responsible for the collection of all data.


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