Monday, February 06, 2006

Rational debate

I said earlier that I'm less comfortable writing about the cartoon wars, becasue I can see no counter-argument that should detain us for a minute. I much prefer questions where there is some degree of validity to both points of view. Such a one (grammar) is the question of sellers' packs for houses.

There are those who believe that it is ridiculous that every person seriously considering buying a property should be compelled to arrange, at their own expense, a survey of both structural and legal defects. With a house in a rising market, there may be several potential buyers, and much resulting unneccesary duplication of work. How much easier, they cry, it would be if the seller had to prepare one such survey for the use of any potential buyer. It would prevent duplicate surveys, and reduce the number of people who put their house on the market purely speculatively with no real intention of selling. It is a solution tantalising in its simplicity. Yet, it is wrong, and wrong to such an extent that the proposed benefits are either entirely negated, or even inverted.

The first point is a tediously procedural one: how often should such packs be prepared? Once a year, a month, a week? If it is infrequent, then they will be unreliable; if frequent, they will result in almost as much duplication as the exsting system. This point is, I'm sure, one that could be brought to an unsatisfactory compromise that pleases no-one - standard parliamentary procedure; my second objection is more serious, though perhaps more readily soluble. If the survey proves to be negligent, after the sale is completed, the buyer would have to sue someone. But who? The surveyor has no contract with the buyer, and thus cannot be sued under one. The seller is not responsible to the buyer for the negligence of the surveyor under ordinary contractual law. So, especially given that the potential get-out, the Contract Rights of Third Parties Act, is routinely excluded in property transactions, where does the buyer go for justice?

As I said, I'm sure that, by considerable re-writing of the contractual laws of privity, this problem can be averted. But, given this potential pit-fall, what sensible, responsible buyer would choose to rely on a survey that he has had no control over? Any solicitor worth his salt would recommend to the buyer that he get a second survey to challenge the sellers' pack. If he didn't and there proved to be a problem he would almost certainly be liable for negligence himself. So, the introduction of a sellers' pack would probably not reduce the amount of duplicated surveys currently carried out, and might actually increase them if the laws of privity are not re-written (itself no small task) .

What's nice about this, however, is that an almost equally compelling counter-argument can be made, without either exponent having to march in the streets carrying banners calling for decapitation for those who seek to mock the proponents of sellers' packs


Blogger The Pedant-General said...


Thanks for the passing link above.

To be honest, I think you are very seriously wrong-headed here: I think it eminently sensible to call for the summary and violent execution of those who propose the introduction of sellers' packs.



5:32 pm  

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