They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do. The last six months has proved this to be true. I’m writing this mainly as a note to myself, but others may find it useful.
Before you start
There are lots of things you probably need to sort out before you even start talking to estate agents.
Make sure you have documentation ready. This will include payslips, bank, credit card and mortgage statements. If an account isn’t very active, you may find you don’t get regular statements, just make sure there are no transaction gaps. You’ll also need photo ID – so it is worth checking that your passport or driving licence are in date before you start. This also goes for things like guarantees and inspection certificates. If you have them all to hand before you start, it makes everything much less stressful down the line.
If the house is cluttered, you may want to think about de-cluttering before you get agents in. Once the decision is made things move *very* quickly, so getting things in order before saves stress.
Make sure you’ve got enough money to cover initial expenses. There will be a lot of things you have to pay up front (EPC, mortgage application, survey – the list goes on). You can recoup this in your mortgage if necessary, but there are a lot of things that you’ll need to pay well before the mortgage is drawn down.
There are a few things to consider at the start of the process. The main one is choosing an estate agent. It is tempting to use one you’ve used before, but unfortunately you can’t guarantee that a good experience in the past will be any indication of a good experience this time. It is definitely worth speaking to a few and quizzing them to see how they operate.
- Will you mainly have the same agent looking after you?
- How much involvement does the local office have in the process?
- Which property sites do you work with?
- How much are your fees, and what are the terms?
Personally, I would recommend using a local rather than national agent – that way you are more likely to have a named person in an office you can visit. Experience seems to suggest that online agents have all the disadvantages of national agents (who tend to centralize a lot of functions) and are even harder to get hold of when the inevitable problems arise.
A lot of agents, especially big chains, will offer additional services like mortgage advice, insurance and conveyancing. This will be pushed as a something that makes life easier, because the agent has more access to parts of the puzzle, but in practise you are probably better off using local companies if you can. I would go with companies based on recommendation from friends and family over bundled services. I have had nothing but bad experiences with pool solicitors provided by estate agents. You can also find great mortgage deals online and go direct to the lenders (a lot of the best deals are the major high street banks).
Getting ready to list
Once you’ve chosen an agent things will move very quickly. It can be less than a week from signing the contract to people arriving to take marketing photos and surveying for an EPC, to being listed on the property sites. There seems to be a house style for property listings – so don’t be surprised if you’re running around moving things from room to room in order to keep things the photographer doesn’t want in shot out of the way.
Discuss with the agent the price. There’s been a recent trend for ‘offers over’ and ‘offers in the region of’ – which mainly seems to be about getting into search thresholds. Make sure you have a good idea of a realistic price (after all, a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay) and that you are happy with the marketing strategy.
On the market
Once you’ve gone ‘live’ on the property websites you’ll find an initial flurry of interest and hopefully viewings. I prefer to be out of the house when the viewings happen – I think if the owners aren’t in the property, people are more honest in their feedback. How much interest you get will very much depend on how the market is and what sector you are in, but those initial viewings should give you an idea of if you’ve got the price right.
Accepting an offer
Hopefully one of the viewings will result in an offer to buy. The estate agent will do due diligence to make sure that the offer is genuine, and the buyers have finance agreed in principle. One thing that is really important is to get an expectation of how long things will take. Are there any set in stone deadlines (ends of rental tenancy that can’t be extended, life events like births and weddings) that everyone needs to know about? Communication is key in making property transactions work, and everyone needs to be on the same page from the start.
Finding a house to buy
Make a list of your requirements – location, number of rooms, type of property, etc – and rank them. Some will be ‘must have’ while some will be ‘nice to have’. Don’t be tempted to over-stretch your budget. When you’re searching online saving things that look good is a starting point. You can then rank them based on your requirements and draw up a list of properties to see. Compare room sizes with what you already have (you’ll have the nicely drawn up particulars from the sale to give you reasonably accurate room dimensions) to get an idea of the physical space – property photos can be deceiving! Work fast, the best properties will go quickly. If you have any deadlines further down the chain you can’t dawdle.
When viewing properties, try to be clear-headed. The house may be lovely, but the location is impractical or there is a compromise you just can’t accept. Make notes so you can compare against your requirements. You’ll soon realize what is important and what can be compromised on.
Making an offer
At some point you’ll find the perfect new home and want to make an offer on it. If the property is advertised as ‘offers in the area of’ or ‘offers above’ try and get a feel from the agent what the vendor’s expectations are. Going in with what you think is an asking price offer, only to find that the vendor is expecting 5% more than that is a rather frustrating experience all round. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but set yourself some limits. Have a plan B and be prepared to walk away. Make sure any deadlines are communicated in the offer.
This is where we get into hurry up and wait territory. There will be lots of things to action, which hopefully you’ll be all ready for, and more things to arrange. While sorting out the formal mortgage offer you’ll need to decide what kind of survey to get. There are three kinds – a valuation, usually the minimum required by the lender, a home buyers’ report and a full structural survey. A home buyers’ report can be useful to highlight any work that might need doing, but can vary very much from surveyor to surveyor and won’t cover anything that isn’t easily accessible/visible. A structural survey should be very thorough, and would be very important if you’re considering major building work or renovations. For everything other than a valuation I would recommend getting the survey independently from from lender – that way you can choose a surveyor based on reviews and personal recommendations rather than having one assigned from a pool (which can be very hit and miss). Allow for the cost of things that need doing in the first six months in your new mortgage.
This is the most frustrating part. You now have to wait for the rest of the chain to complete. Provided everyone is motivated this shouldn’t take too long and often if the chain starts getting too long someone will ‘break’ it by moving into rented or with family for a while. This can be risky, especially in a rising market, so think carefully before offering to do this yourself. This is the time where the agents and solicitors will prove their worth. Good ones will keep things moving, bad ones will let things slide and need lots of chasing. The longer the chain gets the higher the chance of it collapsing – so keep an eye on everything to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings. Communication (or lack of) can make or break a property transaction. Realism is one of the most valuable traits I can think of in a solicitor – you need someone that will tell you things straight rather than downplay problems or be unrealistically optimistic.
Resist the temptation to communicate directly with either of the other parties in your link – making it personal just adds stress and there is a high chance that someone will take advantage of the fairly natural desire to be helpful. You may think answering questions directly saves time and money, but it just tends to add thankless stress.
Exchange and completion
Until you’ve exchanged contracts it can still all fall apart. I think this is what makes the whole process so stressful. All it takes is one person to not be fully committed to the move and the risk of things not happening feels high. If the whole chain has a realistic date to aim for all the better. Problems arise when different parties have widely different expectations and this is where the good agents make a huge difference and bad ones just make things worse. Always be prepared for the worst.
Some important points in the final stage:
- Don’t book removals until exchange of contracts, you could lose any deposit on the removals if the date changes.
- Be realistic about what can be moved and bear in mind you won’t have much time to pack!
- Buildings insurance needs to be ‘on risk’ from the date of exchange. The valuation will tell you the minimum cover required.
- Exchange and completion are normally five working days apart, but there can be shorter or longer gaps. Convention is for completion on a Friday but it doesn’t have to be.
Unless you can afford a full pack and unpack service this will be the most stressful day of the whole experience! Be prepared to have no idea where to put things and for boxes to remain unpacked for months! Make sure you have stuff for tea, coffee and the first night’s meal (takeaway is traditional) ready to hand.
In theory the transactions should start completing from noon, so depending on where you are in the chain you may not get the keys straight away. There’s supposed to be a chain of authority (the estate agents release keys when it is confirmed that the money has arrived in the seller’s account) but that very much depends on how organised the sellers are! Be prepared for delays right to the end.
Once the removals have gone and you’ve cleared a space amongst all the boxes give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve made it through one of the most stressful things you can do! Now just to make a list of all the things you need to update your address for!