‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND: A Move Too Far, by Wiggia

                                   

I have been meaning to write on the subject of moving house for quite some time, but simply never got round to it as the whole process depresses me so much.

I have often said I could write the book on the subject, I have certainly had more bad experiences of all the aspects of moving than anyone else I know. If you have never suffered any problems during a move then you will probably believe as many people when told of our latest escapade that we are making it up; a glazed 'they must be lying' look drifts across many a face when told of the horrors we have endured.

If ever there was a couple who could state the whole process is not fit for purpose and give evidence to support the fact it is us, the moving Gods appear to await our sale declaration and start plotting our downfall.

This latest move including renting between properties is our fifteenth and hopefully last, the years are piling up and the resilience to all that is thrown at us is beginning to fade, we are worn down by a process that seemingly is designed for other people.

Despite our undoubted knowledge of the pitfalls that can be encountered there is always it seems a new twist, something that we cannot envisage or be prepared for; it feels sometimes we are the test pilots for the conveyancing trade.

Have we ever had a normal sale and move? Just about, on two occasions, but that is not a very good hit rate considering the total moves. Why do we do it? is often asked: initially for the usual reasons - wanting a better place to live, then the work element and travel factor comes into play and finally as with this one, downsizing to something more manageable after having spent most of our life with biggish houses and large gardens. We certainly have never moved for the fun of it, we would have to be masochists with what we have suffered.

The whole process falls into four segments, the buyer, the vendor, the agent, and the solicitor. All can and have contributed to our woes, on some occasions more than two at the same time, that really gets the old grey matter working overtime as you are not sure who is the main culprit at that particular moment. The simple fact that so many people lie because the process allows it, often makes pinning down blame a Sherlock Holmes moment.

As far as I have been able to tell after looking at the methods other countries employ for the task of selling and buying houses ours is the most open to abuse. None of the others are perfect and I am not going to trawl through all the downsides here to prove a point, there is too much wrong with our own system to be bothered with others, but the one factor that puts most of the others above ours and stops potential pitfalls and abuse is you sign a contract when you agree to buy; sometimes this involves a deposit you lose if you change your mind for any reason other than a catastrophic survey or a natural disaster in the meantime.

Here until exchange no one has any security in their purchase despite by that time having spent money and time on solicitors' surveys and searches. All can be cancelled on a whim of your buyer who can as happens also at the last moment demand a price reduction or he walks away. As with all these events it is the innocent party that is left with the bill as well as having wasted time effort and in many cases stressed themselves to the limit, never knowing if the exchange will actually happen.

You can as has happened to us be waiting on the day of exchange and nothing happens. In our case we had one of the few agents, a family firm, who actually cared and put the leg work in; on the day after a phone call the agent phoned back to say our buyers' solicitor had heard nothing from the buyer despite repeated messages being left, but our agent knew the mortgage manager of our buyers' lender and the company office was over the road from the agents. He called him to find out if the mortgage was still valid only to discover our buyer had not been granted a mortgage to the amount necessary and was looking for a cheaper property; this had happened some time before but he chose to let everyone else carry on in the belief all was well. Again, who pays?

The fact is most of the problems of the conveyancing system revolve around the fact that nothing is binding until exchange, it is an arcane way of doing business on trust with people you have never met before the event. There was a time, I believe when a man's word or handshake would suffice; today everyone knows the angles and many use the system to the detriment of others and without any redress.

Some lukewarm proposals to change the system have been proposed in the past, all have met with further watering down and eventual fading away. You could almost believe the legal profession thinks the system is OK as it is.

Solicitors here don’t make much money from conveyancing. This is shown by how many firms treat conveyancing: normally it is a training ground for office juniors who are overseen by a senior member of staff who rubber stamps the progress. Where solicitors fall down is because of the low profit margins in conveyancing: the minute something goes wrong is when you find out if they are any good, in many cases we have found they shut up shop and await developments, unwilling to spend time and thus money getting a quick solution or actually helping you, the paying client.

The helping the paying client theme can be readily transferred to the estate agent. Not all are bad despite the image they create, but many are. Again, when things get sticky many agents will be only interested in the sale going through at any cost: the times an agent has preferred to get you the paying client to accommodate the buyer's wishes against the our wishes or stated demands are legion; on more than one occasion I have had to forcefully remind them of who they are working for.

Once that bonus is in sight all ethics go out of the window. They also suffer from withdrawal symptoms: unlike in the past when a house was sold you kept it on the market to cover yourself in case of failure to sell, today they automatically withdraw your property and the SOLD sign goes up on their website. It of course is not sold until contracts are exchanged, but that does not stop them following this route; viewings cost money and phone calls to so they will do everything to withdraw your property from the sales listing. Of course if you believe your buyer has made a very good offer you may well choose to remove your property from the market, but it should be your choice.

We have even insisted our house stays  up for sale and later after no interest is shown have found it has still been removed, not even a SSTC but a firm 'sold'; this is not only wrong but against the Trades Descriptions Act.

During this sale we made an offer on a property only to be told the following day the owners would accept our offer but an attached piece of land would not be included unless we gave them the asking price. When I queried the efficacy of that statement I was told they could do that as the land was on a separate title; my reply was that nowhere was that fact advertised, it was being sold as one lot and they could not withdraw part of the total in that way because it again broke the TDA. We told them to stuff it but the property was quickly re-advertised with no land attached; good luck with that.

Never let solicitors talk you into bonds to cover any slight legal deviation. You can normally get insurance to cover such things but we were pushed into a bond on the advice of a solicitor on the grounds they could not withdraw any monies without our approval, at the end of the set period we got a letter saying nearly all the money had been spent and we had never been informed about any of it, our solicitor had washed his hands of the matter once the completion was done and we would have had to take them to court to get our money back; that would have involved both solicitors as both had been complicit in the negligence; that time, the cost was not worth it so we suffered the loss.

Having legal house insurance does have it upsides. Twice we have used it, once in a boundary dispute, this was not a 'six inches too far' fence job, it was as my surveyor said (we had to have that confirmed by a surveyor before the legal insurance would touch it) outright theft or attempted theft. It dragged on for three years, another long saga, but I would not give up and the perpetrator then put his house up for sale, you cannot do that with an ongoing legal dispute and we got the sale stopped and finally had our day in court. It cost him dear, but after what we went through it was nowhere near enough.

The other legal insurance case was when a solicitor phoned me the day after exchange and told me a covenant had not been put on a piece of land attached to the house as requested and in writing. They asked us to ask the buyers if they would go along with a belated request; the answer was negative. The solicitor said he would pay the sum required to make his mistake go away but later reneged and offered less; we started legal proceedings and he coughed up before the court date.

One other agent tale: we used a local agency that sold itself on the fact they all worked on commission only; sounds good in practice, but has a big downside: negotiators do not work with one another, in fact they work against their colleagues to the detriment of the client. We had viewings cancelled, the negotiator for the viewer would steer them towards a property he was selling, and property we were interested in with them was never given to us to view as another negotiator was handling it; it was even more complicated than that so we dumped them.

So where did all this start, I hear you ask. Well it started with the sale of our first house: all was perfectly normal, we sold to buyers we knew, and we found a property that was what we wanted fairly easily and our offer was accepted.

I have to put a rider in here as this was in 1975 and conveyancing was a bit different then, all post and phone, nothing digital.

The problem arrived on the day of exchange. Our solicitor, who was an old friend, phoned to ask if we were ready to exchange as all was ready, we agreed and thought that was that. Two hours later there was another call from the solicitor who said “We have a problem.” That was the understatement of all time. It appeared that the woman we were buying from had had a last minute change of heart, something about her son not wanting to change school, so she phoned her solicitor and told him she did not want to go ahead. Her solicitor had been a family friend and her late husband's (the latter had been killed in a car accident) business solicitor, so was well acquainted with the family .

The solicitor told her the contract papers had not yet been posted and would not send them if that was what she wanted, and that is exactly what happened. When told, I phoned the woman and explained that what she had done had put us in an impossible position etc. But no, she would not change her mind.

Today you would sue the backside off any solicitor who did what he did, but when I inquired as what steps we could take I was told the law was that once the contracts had been posted that was that, but hers had not been posted and there was nothing we could do, there was also no redress. We had to find temporary accommodation, put the dogs in kennels, furniture in store, all in six weeks, and of course all at great expense to us.

It has to be said this event was extremely rare even back then ‘75 but none the less it left a little bit more than a sour taste about the whole process and we have been cynics about that process with good reason ever since.

You would think after something like that the moving Gods would take pity and leave us alone, but far from it: the house we eventually purchased after travelling during every daylight hour for three months and covering over three thousand miles looking also had a nasty twist when we came to sell.

After several happy years we decided to move on, partly because we wanted something bigger and partly because we had lost a lovely neighbour, replaced by one from hell, another story in itself, but again an abuse of the boundary was the catalyst. I was a lot younger in those days and the new neighbour sneeringly pushed his luck and I responded, the police were called but as there were no witnesses nothing happened, but it was time to go.

The first buyer was the one described earlier who never exchanged on the day. After that we had a retired business man who got as far as a survey and then his wife had a change of heart and they pulled out. We in the meantime had found exactly what we wanted and were now in danger of losing the property because of the time factor.

The property was then back for sale and numerous interested buyers viewed. Meantime we lost our purchase, we carried on and two months later the property we lost was offered to us again as they had had a waster who measured curtains etc. but had no money; but things dragged on. At last we got a good offer, better than the original, but they had a house to sell and by now we were on a time limit to buy, a year had gone by since we had seen the house we wanted.

Amazingly the buyer who had pulled out came back with another change of heart. I was naturally dubious and the offer was not as good but he had completed the survey, had done nearly all the solicitor side of things and was our only hope of getting our new house. It did go over the time limit imposed on us but not by enough to stop us getting the house.

Again the system let us down. No way should our buyer have been allowed to walk away at that stage and leave us with costs, and letting him back in grated to say the least, but you cope with what you have and plough on.

One of the few mistakes we have made was within that move. The house was all we wanted, and looking back it was the only one I ever got attached to, but despite our research we failed to to realise just how bad the train service was into London on the Liverpool St – Cambridge line. My wife worked in the city for a bank, in clearing, and she had irregular hours; on late nights trains were cancelled, or late and slow, all right on the odd occasion but it was killing her with getting home at 10 at night on far too many occasions and we had to sell up or divorce, it was that bad.

Naturally being a sale we did not really want to make it was a relatively easy one, who would have guessed! Only stupid endless questions about a piece of adjoining land held up the sale. It went through  nonetheless and we rented for awhile.

There followed a series of moves for various reasons. All had problems but nothing like the earlier ones, but to most people they would seem very stressful. We were gazumped, left at the gate on exchange day again and lied to about properties we looked at, naturally spending money before we found out about the lie.

The gazumped one was interesting and we did ourselves no favours because by then we had an attitude of 'take it or leave it.' We were contacted by the very dodgy agent in Old Woking to be told the house had been surveyed and the roof was found to be faulty, so the buyer pulled out; ‘were we interested as the work had been priced and would be removed from the asking price?’

I requested to see the estimate and it seemed about right, but what about a reduction for all the aggro of the work to be done while we were there and the extra costs of an engineer's report etc.? Oh no they said, just the roof costs. I told them to stick it. I should have held out, but being gazumped makes you a bit uppity.

A new build with a big plot followed but we had to sue the builder to complete works and also found the house guarantee from NHBC had been given in the uncompleted state and there was no loft insulation; their answer was a classic: 'We cannot inspect everything' ! Putting your head through the loft hatch is obviously too difficult, we are not the only ones to find this organisation to be not fit for purpose but they have a stranglehold over builders as no lender will give a mortgage without their guarantee, only Zurich to my knowledge give a similar but much better guarantee.

When we decide to sell that we had some real gems as viewers. All agents say they vet their potential buyers, but that is nonsense, there is no way they can actually check if someone who declares they are a cash buyer has even two pennies to rub together as we have found over the years as they waste everyone's time.

A young couple from a neighbouring town came to view. We had asked the agents not to allow a viewing from anyone who had not actually got their house on the market, but as usual this was ignored and the young couple told us their house would sell overnight - such belief! We let them peruse the place and they took their time and left. Three weeks later, their property still not on the market, they came again and spent even more time looking out of windows at the view or whatever they were doing. They eventually left and I told the agent no more time wasters.

Lo and behold they requested another viewing and stated they had put their house on the market and duly turned up. Again they spent an inordinate amount of time looking at what they had looked at before and when they returned from their solo tour upstairs said could they take some measurements for their furniture etc. I was getting a bit fractious by this time as they had the layout of the place and could with the time spent here be well aware of what may or may not fit, but the coup de grace was measuring the kitchen and eating area for their supposed table and chairs.

The husband did the measuring and when he finished sighed that the table would not fit the house. By the way we had a separate dining room, the kitchen and eating area was 26ft by 15ft. I knew where they lived by now, lost my temper and told them to leave and stop wasting my time. The reality was they were sightseers, a whole class of viewer that can often be difficult to detect but a total waste of space and time.

An even better example at a later house sale was the viewer who turned up in a camper van, with family and mum; nothing that odd in that. We lived in a barn conversion with a big garden and after they had finished viewing I saw a blanket being put on the grass and the man asked me as they had come a long way if they could have a break before moving on; by then the hamper was appearing and I smelled a rat.

No way could they stay anyway as another viewer was due in half an hour so I told him sorry but I can’t allow you to stay, and he then said that’s alright we do this a lot in the summer, just view houses!

I had to walk away from that one such was the bloody cheek of them and off they went to waste someone else's time. As before there is no way you can weed out these time wasters and it seems they are more prevalent: those that arrive with the details in their hand and declare the garden is just far too big, yet the brochure has already told them it has an acre of wonderful garden; the people who think you will fence two acres so their dog can’t get out; those that say the road is a bit noisy when you have the only house in the street that is 100ft off the road.

For me all that is difficult to handle. The wife is much better and shuffles them round at a much faster rate, and in recent years we insist the agents do the viewings, at least then we only get the silly feed back, something else I ask to be stopped as the only feedback I want to hear is a decent offer. There are too many steps when the photos can answer their quesions; what am I supposed to do about it? Ridiculous people, who in many cases for reasons I never understand cannot say just 'nice house but not for us' and feel obliged to make up some stupid reason for not making an offer; this happens a lot more now, part of our modern culture, a sort of evasiveness for the sake of it.

By now anyone reading this will have joined those who think we make it all up or are masochists; the latter is nearer the mark but not by choice.

I will leave out the other minor moves with more normal problems, including the house with the wood burner that nearly killed us as the flu had a huge hole in it hidden round the back so that the first time it was lit we nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning - luckily for them the owners had left for NZ by then - I wished them ‘bon voyage’. Quite incredible they could leave the wood burner like that, still we survived, just.

And so to our latest move and hopefully last, too bloody old for all this nonsense and the stress this time did get to me.

Four years it has taken to sell this property. We had three buyers who pulled out at the last moment or similar until this last one, so fed up with the with proceedings we took a break after each one fell through, which did prolong the sale but we had to have a break for our sanity. The first buyer was one of two GPs, both seemed to think - as did the last, a dentist - that the world is there for their bidding? What this says about the medical profession you can make your minds up about, but the first was in a period when there was very little coming onto the market and we had trouble even finding anything suitable to view. He got frustrated and suggested we sell to him anyway and then rent our own house back until we find a new one at market rates; our saying that that appeared a bit one-sided was enough for him to withdraw his offer.

The second GP  was not totally at fault for the sale failure. We had found another property but there was an issue over the drive; we were told one thing by the owner but our survey told us something else and it wasn’t acceptable, more money wasted because of a lie. We did find another house but on the second viewing items came to light meaning we did not proceed further; our GP buyer thought we were not serious sellers, I could not be bothered to answer, so another sale fell through. Another break, then another attempt.

This time we sold to a young couple from London, fortunately for us and not for the couple the husband was told shortly after putting his offer in he was on the short list for redundancy and they had to pull out of the purchase; not much you can do about a situation like that.

So to the last buyer, the dentist. To be honest in normal circumstances I would have told him to do one, he was a pain to the end, making decisions without consulting us or our vendor, our chain was our buyer with no house to sell and our purchase whose owner was not buying another property at the time; should have been ideal!

At no time did our buyer co operate. Dates were put up as a fait accompli, items they wanted they refused to pay for after originally agreeing to purchase, and their solicitor was out of step with everyone else demanding a Covid clause in the conveyance: the Covid clause is in effect a get out after exchange if anyone gets the virus, meaning they could cancel the completion; this is open to abuse so hardly any solicitors used it, but of course our buyer's solicitor did; the only way round it was to agree, again, to the buyer's solicitors demand that we exchange and complete on the same day!  

In early January our solicitors sent an email stating that after a board meeting they would only be conducting house sales on the same basis, same-day exchange and complete; this they later backslid on as no other solicitors locally were going that route and they would naturally lose trade if they continued with the diktat.

What was wrong was we were not told of the change though we sussed something along those lines was happening when we were offered a short period between exchange and completion. By then it made no difference and our buyer's solicitor would still not agree to anything other than the same day formula anyway.

The same day scenario is not unknown, it has been used for years but in 90% of the cases it is people buying empty properties for cash or those in rented accommodation buying empty properties. It has never been used until this virus came along for general conveyancing and as we found out it is not universal which makes one solicitor in a chain create havoc with everyone else.

The big downside is that no removal company will touch a move with the same day ex and comp unless you pay up front to book the date and then you stand to lose all the money if someone pulls out the day before; by this time we had no choice, so far in were we.

Three days before the move our removal firm phoned and said they could not do the move as the crew had gone into self isolation, but he had called in a favour from another company and they would it for the same fee but on slightly different dates, not something you want to hear so near the date.

On the day, standing in an empty house awaiting a phone call for the exchange was nerve wracking to say the least. Suppose it didn’t happen? A last minute change of mind would be par for the course for us, and all the loaded lorries would have to return and unload at the old house; but at last the phone rang: it had gone through; now we waited for the money and three hours later that happened as well.

That should have ben the end of it and was regarding the move part but we still have one item the previous owner has to put right after the event, it is in writing with the solicitor and is being done but slowly.

Is it the last move? I would like to think so, no way could we now at our age go through this again, war-weary is the nearest I can describe our experience; too old, too tired and too much wrong with a system that is out of the dark ages in the way it operates, it should have been consigned to the rubbish bin decades ago. Why it still remains in its present form is a mystery to anyone who has endured the system like we have.

If I do move again I suspect it will be to something smaller, around 6ft by 2ft.

1 comment:

Paddington said...

We have lived in our current home for 18 years, on 9 acres in a very rural area in the US. Before that, I lived at my previous home for 20 years. Prior to that, I had moved something like 25 times.

I do not intend to move again under my own power.