This is a short piece on the perils involved in moving house; far away from the daily nonsense about leaving the EU - which in real terms we won't - it was the fact I am in the process of house hunting and this article that brought this on...
The article is a simple rehash of proposals made many times about simplifying the transaction process and as before, little meaningful will be achieved.
Do I have the credentials to write anything on this matter ? Probably more than almost anyone, would be my answer. For reasons never explained, each time I have moved or attempted to move house I have somehow found myself the guinea pig to all the nefarious items that can arise during the process.
Without detailing all, it started with our first move when after exchanging contracts we were told two hours later we had a “problem”: our contract had been posted and the vendor of the house we were buying had changed her mind and phoned her solicitor who told her he still had the contracts in the office and would not send them if that was what she wanted. All legal in those pre-electronic days, but we were effectively homeless and all with no redress, a rare event even then but it gives a fair insight into what has followed.
You name it and it has happened to us and that includes incompetent solicitors, two of whom we have had to take to court for redress when they failed to do the job we paid them for. So yes, I am qualified to have an opinion on the whole process.
Government action in this area is bound up with vested interests: the Commons is stuffed with legal representatives of all colours. They have no reason to simplify the house moving process as they will lose money. In fairness - and I don’t like being fair to solicitors - they don’t earn much from a straightforward conveyance, which probably accounts for the number of errors and over-sights we have encountered; giving our house conveyance to the office junior and not checking has consequences.
The only government attempt at reform was the disastrous HIPS pack that took four years to clear Parliament and came with more holes than the Titanic. Again as I pointed out to my useless MP at the time, if the Commons stuffed with legal eagles could not in four years issue a document on the simple ? matter of house purchase there had to be a reason and it would not be a reason acceptable to the public if revealed. He didn’t like that; they never do.
Estate agents, that merry breed of winkle-pickered, tight-trousered and -waistcoated, size-too-small-suited and (in modern times) mainly bearded individuals, also have a large part to play in the process. They are of course supposed to work for you, the person who pays their commission fee, but that will only apply with an easy (i.e. no work involved) sale. As soon as things go wrong - wrong meaning a slow sale for a variety of reasons - you will find them working for themselves: no sale no commission, so they get you to lower your price after four weeks on the market , start telling prospective buyers behind your back you will take an offer much lower than the asking price and start to tell you of all the factors your now rubbish property has that is affecting the sale and why the price should be dropped further. They have no interest in you, the payer of their commission, only in getting it off the books, whatever.
I am convinced that the ‘feedback’ one has to endure is part of the wearing down process: the conveying of a viewer's opinion on your house is pointless. "Garden too big" - what am I supposed to do? Didn’t they read the brochure? "Too many front steps" - you can count them in the photos. "Dogs can get out" - my problem? Endless drivel that you could do nothing about even if you wanted to and you can add the comments of those professional viewers to whom house viewing is a weekend pastime: they never actually buy anything, just look and say whatever comes into their heads when asked about the place. It is all a wearing down process, that is if you let or are new to the game; personally I now state I do not want any feedback other than when someone makes an offer.
There are certain elements to selling that are very difficult to assess. A good example in the rare event of several offers is the “cash buyer”: there is no way anyone can prove that a buyer is in that position, it puts him at the head of queue as regards offers for obvious reasons and can demand a premium discount for that; but I have had a so-called cash buyer who - when it came to the crunch and everyone was wondering why the sale was slow - turned out to be negotiating a mortgage. I was not happy but you are then a long way down the train of events and are you on principle going to tell him he lied and get on his bike? Nonetheless there should be a way of verifying a person's status; agents claim they can, my experience says they can’t.
The late discovery of an alleged structural problem is another offer-reducing tactic. Despite having had a survey, at the last minute there is a query on your drains! Or "Do you really own that boundary fence?" Anything to delay and hopefully get a further discount. None of this should happen if the survey has been done and dusted and the searches completed; that should be it, but often it isn’t.
Never get involved in leaving deposits to cover a perceived eventuality discovered at the last moment. Most minor problems of that sort if real can be covered by a simple insurance. If a cash deposit is asked for you can guarantee you will see none of it again despite your own solicitor's guarantee you will - got caught with that one myself and the solicitor totally failed in his duty to keep tabs on it, a story in itself; they are only interested in getting the conveyance off the books.
The one thing that has never been addressed in house buying and selling is having a deposit system whereby when someone makes an offer a deposit is given so that in the event of a buyer pulling out the vendor will not be out of pocket in any way. Why should he? He will have incurred costs by that stage and wasted time. It is the buyer's choice to pull out so he should suffer the costs. This is not of course in relation to survey findings and the like, just the change of mind syndrome. This was once actually proposed but a myriad of dubious reasons came up and it was dropped; again there was no interest in protecting the innocent party.
It would also stop an awful lot of chain break downs caused by one party wanting to bail out on a whim, as often happens. Many people out there treat house buying as a game; it isn’t.
There have been many attempts (and that is all they were) to shorten the time it takes from offer made to exchange and moving in. Many excuses for the drawn out process are made but all are spurious. During the late eighties property boom houses in London were sold and completed by specialist solicitors in less than 48 hours. Yes you had to pay for a lot of running about getting documentation, but it was proved to be possible, so why the long-winded performance we put up with. Is it another example of being seen to be earning the fee by the time spent on the job?
Gazumping and gazundering should not be allowed, - how many times have we heard that? Yet the position remains that until the exchange actually takes place both practices can be employed, usually at the last moment when someone who is desperate to get the whole thing over and done with will capitulate and accept the lower price or be told they will have to stump up more than agreed as another party has emerged (or not) from the woodwork.
The "other offer" ploy is also used by agents when selling. It can be true but how can you know? I had it used a week ago on a property I was viewing: “We have had a lot of interest and two offers on this property, Sir.” So why have you still got it on the market, I asked, are two offers not enough? Silence; the owner who was present told me later there had been interest but no offers. At times like that you can really build up an intense dislike of the estate agent class.
And there lies another problem. Over many years listening and being involved with what is basically a seriously flawed and corrupt system one does become cynical with a big “C”; estate agents' words and blurb, solicitors “solutions”, all are received with an incredulity as to their worth.
So how is the current move going, you ask. Not good at the moment and we have run out of houses to view. There is a shortage of what we want on the market so our sale is in jeopardy. Not for the first time we may have to start over.
Of course many will ask, why do you keep moving. That is another story. Many moves have been simply because of changing circumstances,not necessarily choice. The only thing that helps with all this is I do not get attached to the property I am in; only once did I feel a pang of remorse when leaving a house. As long as the place suits it will be my home whilst I am there, I do not put down roots; just as well!
I have told before about the image at the top of this piece. It appeared in an estate agent's listing by mistake (?) The photographer took the picture after the house was put up for sale; it was not intended for the house details, but for a short time it found its way onto the site. Yet I had been told about this pig in the house long before that sale came about, as my plumber had been called to the property/sty to do some work there and saw said pig in situ. The world is a wonderful place...