Day 365 in the big leaky house

Well, it’s been a year since we finally moved (and it’s not far off five years since we first tried!) so now seems as good a time as any to grumble about the whole process. Hopefully there will be marginally less cursing a year on but if you’re an estate agent, look away now.

Photo © Andy D’Agorne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Actually, to start with one positive, I’m pretty sure we’d have lost our buyer before completion without our estate agent on the case, especially towards the end when they were getting increasingly twitchy. Perhaps there is a point to estate agents after all?

One of the reasons that our buyer was getting so twitchy was the length of time the whole process took. There were a few big delays along the way although, surprisingly given our usual decisiveness and the slow market, we did find somewhere to buy pretty quickly. So quickly that we were asked to appear in the estate agent’s newsletter. It’s just a shame that purchase fell through. Annoying it fell through because the solicitor discovered that the description of the house wasn’t entirely accurate: it had one parking space, not three. What’s more annoying is that it was being sold by the same estate agent we used, they knew parking was high on our list of priorities, we specifically confirmed with them that there really were three parking spaces, we lost money on the purchase, and there’s pretty much nothing we could do about it. Finding out that the vendor had put the house back on the market via a friend who noticed on Rightmove, instead of hearing from the estate agent first, was a pretty low point in the process. (And if you think they fixed the description before putting it back on, think again.) Maybe we’d be better off without estate agents after all.

The second purchase was only marginally less bumpy, mostly due to the vendor’s exceedingly poor choice of solicitor. Even when we finally made it to moving day, they didn’t release the keys until 4pm- thank goodness we were at the start of the chain! On the subject of solicitors, their solution to everything seems to be an indemnity policy. So just in case some nasty legal thing happens, like the church wants money for no apparent reason, you should pay for protection…. isn’t that extortion? It’s lucky we didn’t end up buying a house with a shared driveway because covenants seem to be another legal mine field.

After the event we also discovered that the survey was erring towards fiction in places. It seems to contain details which you probably couldn’t get from street view, although I still wouldn’t be surprised to find out no one had actually been to look at the house in person. I’ve always thought surveys were a bit of a rip off, but this one wasn’t really worth the paper it was printed on.

I guess that’s more than enough moaning, suffice to say that we aren’t in any hurry to move again! By the time we do inevitably move again, I sincerely hope things have improved. Here are a few ideas that might help, some more crazy than others:

  • Home information packs were an expensive waste of space but it would be useful to simply have the full deeds, with covenants, available with the estate agent before a house being marketed.
  • Both parties should deposit money when an offer is accepted, and perhaps even lenders if they’ve agreed a mortgage. This would need to be well defined and universal, with arbitration for any disputes that arise if a sale falls through, otherwise it’s just a distraction/another legal cost.
  • Quite sensibly buyers and sellers cannot use the same solicitor, but there is also a massive conflict of interest if you buy and sell through the same estate agent. (Avoid it if you can!) In fact, estate agents working for the seller seems increasingly backwards to me. Why not simply register a house for sale, and use buying agents instead? Without the traditional estate agent working for the seller there might also be less opportunity for passing the buck- solicitors could be wholly responsible for the smooth running of the sale process instead.
  • Does anyone really think it’s right that parish churches should still be able to demand money for upkeep? We should put an end to that little racket.
  • Instead of indemnities for everything, couldn’t we do better at making it simple to address problems in title deeds and covenants?
  • Perhaps you should get something in return for that stamp duty, like managing notice of house sales (so buyers and buying agents can still find houses easily without estate agents), title deed/covenant adjustments, arbitration services, etc.

There’s a good discussion with other ideas and examples from other countries in the comments on the “House buying process suffers withdrawal symptoms” post. Unfortunately there are probably just too many vested interests for any real change.

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