This is a guestpost from Wiggia, a writer at NO but as it seems an OoL type article, it appears here as well.
I am currently in the process of moving house and the first hiccup and reading a small piece over at the Boiling Frog site a short while ago in a similar vein gave me the impetus to put this all down on this blog – self indulgent, yes, but also the truth.
This could easily be a personal story of what in some people’s eyes could be seen as a string of very unlucky and costly unfortunate events.
That of course would be the view of an outsider looking in, not of someone who has always been on the receiving end of a system that implicates all those who may be trying their best to move house only to have the whole process collapse or worse (and there is worse) because of a failed system that allows buyers and sellers to lie, change their mind to involve themselves in something that they do not have the funds to progress in the first place and numerous other immoral acts that should be illegal but aren’t, all of which cost everyone else money, sometimes a lot, wasted time and in many cases the starting of this tortuous process all over again.
This of course does not imply all transactions are like this indeed I know people who have moved, never had a problem and don’t understand what I’m talking about on the other. I also know many who well understand what I’m saying and have themselves been on the receiving end of a system not fit for purpose.
Before anyone asks why in that case do you move at all, I will answer – I have moved house about a dozen times. The reasons are various, from wanting a better place to live in the early days and having worked hard to achieve that aim to having to relocate for business reasons to get away from the new neighbour from hell before I did something I would regret and a couple of places as with the latest one where in retirement it was something to do, i.e. renovate a property, something that gave me satisfaction but was, because of location, never to be a long term stay.
I have also rented a couple of times between properties something ‘they’ tell you puts you in a wonderful buying position. Well, it never worked for us – all we ever gained was the cost and disruption of two lots of removals but that’s life as they say.
My cynicism was born of my first move, a story of something that can’t happen today and when told is usually met with total disbelief from those who are listening. In 1975, we decided to sell our first end of terrace house, a house we had saved long for and room by room improved over time, we sold fairly easily as it was in a popular commuter area.
We started to look for a new house, after a lot of searching we found a suitable property put in a bid that was accepted and waited for the process to run its course and it did, but not for us. The phone rang on that eventful day to ask if we still wanted to go ahead and exchange contracts as all was ready and we replied yes, half an hour later another call came to say it had all exchanged and so we looked forward to our new home in six weeks time.
The bombshell came a couple of hours later when another call from the solicitor came with what he described (an understatement if ever there was) as some bad news.
Naturally I was puzzled as all had been completed, but the explanation given was that the woman we were buying from had had a change of mind, deciding she didn’t want to change her son’s school after all and had phoned her solicitor, told him this and said she no longer wanted to move.
It has to be explained here that the woman had lost her husband in a car crash a couple of years previously and the solicitor it transpired had been her husband’s business solicitor. After listening to her, instead of saying it was too late, he told her the contracts were still in the office and had not been posted as yet and he wouldn’t if she wanted to remain in the house and that is what they did.
As I said, it could not happen today for two reasons – the transactions are now instant and electronic and you could sue the solicitor for a very large sum. In those days, it was very different and despite pleading with all and sundry and looking into the law at the time on this, we were well and truly stuffed.
Six weeks to find a place to stay, put the dogs in kennels and suffer the expense of it all with no compensation of any sort, needless to say we got over it and after a three month intensive search and nearly 5000 miles on the clock looking at all available houses in our price bracket and area we got another property and moved in.
At this stage it would be easy for me to continue with every other property we have owned and catalogue the endless disasters, near disasters and general despair that at times descended during our attempts at moving house, but I am not going to do that as the next one included almost all the horrors in one lot.
Having settled in to our new home we spent five or six happy years there and were blessed with that rarity today – lovely neighbours, sadly and inevitably that wasn’t to last and the elderly couple on one side needed to move to something more manageable for their advancing years so we resigned ourselves to no more home baked bread and various culinary delights that the lady of the house would leave on our doorstep when we were out at work and awaited the new incumbents.
Suffice to say we got the neighbours from hell, a story on its own but enough to convince us to move on (despite the requests to tough it out etc. No one wants to live like that and life is too short, despite my east end upbringing wanting to end the nonsense in time honored fashion ?) .
In short, our first buyer disappeared on the day of exchange, it transpired he could not afford the house and had already acquired a mortgage on a cheaper one without informing anyone including his solicitor!
We sold again and this time the wife of our buyer changed her mind at the last moment so that sale fell through, we tried again but were up against a time limit on the property we were trying to buy.
We then had two offers, one of which was the buyer who’s wife had changed her mind and had now changed back again. In normal circumstances, you would tell them to do one as they say but they had done all the paperwork originally and this with a time limit and the fact they were cash buyers meant they were ahead of the other couple who had offered more money.
The time limit passed and of course the cash buyers in fact weren’t and the delay was because of a mortgage application. We had no choice but to go with it or lose the house so against all the natural instincts we did and finally moved. There were other factors bought to play in all this but as a summary this is as short as I can make it, I think by now anyone reading this will get the picture on why I’m a total cynic on anything to do with house sales and purchase!
Following on from these two episodes, things were relatively straightforward in our house moving experiences or they were to us in the context of what had gone before, nonetheless we have been gazumped gazundered and generally messed about by all and sundry.
Only two purchase/sales have gone through in a relatively straightforward manner and for good measure we had the solicitor who failed to invoke a covenant we required and after saying he amicably settled an agreed amount in recompense, failed to, meaning we had to sue to get our compensation.
Now all of these tales of woe could be put down to a degree to bad luck, and in the end a very bad series of experiences and that could in part be accepted (though it never will be) if during this period things had improved with the process of buying and selling houses, but of course it hasn’t.
Nothing has changed, other than ever more red tape at every turn of the page and ever more intrusion, usually using that great catch all “money laundering” as a reason to intrude into things that have absolutely no bearing on what should be a simple transaction.
Only two rather insipid attempts at anything that would ease the process have been made during my time on this earth and both disappeared without trace following a short period in action, the first the infamous or useless however you want to look at it introduction of HIPS the pack paid for and provided by the seller to allegedly ease the selling process. It failed miserably, the only plus was for a brief period it provided jobs for the boys who put the pack together for the home owners for nothing.
During the long winded parliamentary process of putting HIPS together, some obvious flaws in it emerged. One in particular was the fact that the searches as provided in the pack had a limited shelf life rendering them null and void after six months so if you didn’t sell in that period, they had to be applied for again, this was overcome by saying that the seller wouldn’t need to reapply that the searches could be left as they were, only of course if you were the buyer they couldn’t and would have to re searched anyway the only people who gained from this were lawyers and local authorities who received another set of search fees.
Before this final piece was announced, I wrote to my MP explaining the failings of the HIPS pack as it stood and asked why such a dogs’ dinner had emerged after such a long consultation period from a HOC stuffed with lawyers and why couldn’t they see the flaws and didn’t he think the whole thing in its current form was a waste of time?
The reply I got was perverse to put it mildly, I was told and the letter said little else “that as they (he was a Conservative MP) were not in power there was nothing they could do and there was little point in raising questions!”
That of course raised the equally valid question of what was the point of having an MP at all, I always meant to keep and frame that letter as a reminder of how useless they all can be but in my rage upon reading it I must have destroyed it.
The MP, in case you wondered, was the windmill man himself – Tim Yeo.
The only other very half-hearted attempt to do anything about the buying and selling process was a watered down deposit system but as the government wouldn’t make it law, it was voluntary and died a very quick death.
There really does have to be a better way. Many will put forward the Scottish system and several of those used abroad as alternatives, they are normally rubbished by those (mainly the legal profession) and the status quo remains.
None of these other systems are perfect but all are better than the one we are lumbered with. If nothing else, they ensure that having decided and agreed to purchase a property, you have to put down a deposit that you lose if you back out for no good reason, that deposit going towards the costs of others who have spent money with good intent.
This really shouldn’t be that difficult to implement and would serve to also stop all those who see this whole thing as a game that they can’t really lose at. It just might also stop those viewers who have no intention of ever buying anything but make a hobby of spending weekends taking the whole family around properties wasting everybody’s time and picnicking on my lawn, but somehow I doubt it.
Answers on a postcard please.