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.

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