They say that moving house is the most stressful thing you can do. While it is certainly up there, I don’t think it’s quite as stressful as some other things. That moon landing malarkey seems rather intense and difficult after all, but then I suppose not everyone has to endure firing themselves at a distant space rock in a small capsule positioned atop a giant tube of explosives. Almost everyone, however, finds themselves moving house at some point in their lives.
For tenants, the process is bad enough, with trying to find the right place to move into whilst timing the notice period of your current place just right, all the while trying to find the first month’s rent and deposit for the new place before you’ve got your deposit back from your old place… And that’s IF you get it back! It’s all very stressful indeed, and I’m glad that it’s been a few years now since I’ve had to deal with landlords.
We find ourselves in the fortunate position of already being on the property ladder, and so we are blessed with the opportunity to pay thousands of pounds to solicitors and conveyancers and surveyors – oh, and of course loads in commission to estate agents, who all too often feel about as necessary to the process as using the foot bath entering a swimming pool. The likelihood of acquiring a fungal infection is probably the same too.
Yesterday, we viewed a couple of houses, both as comparisons to our current favourite one to ensure a degree of clarity and objectivity on the process. Having a top pick is fine, but it’s always good to check it against what else is out there. We’ve looked at fair few houses over the past couple of months, and ruled out plenty. This has given us our core criteria that we are using to look for particular little quirks that would benefit or hinder us going forward.
Some properties, it seems, can’t even get the basics right…
I’ll start with the second of the houses we viewed yesterday. It was ok, not in a bad condition, but in need of some major modernisation. Mostly it was just decor, but there was an old Warm Air ducted heating system running through the house. These beasts were popular in the 1970s, it seems, and when you consider the main unit resembles something that may have doubled as a Doctor Who villain you can see why. These giant units would pump (you guessed it) warm air through a series of ducts that ran throughout the house, with each room having a vent or two in the floor or ceiling.
The cost of getting rid of one of these systems is quite steep, for two reasons
- Firstly, the ducts all need to be removed or filled in, as do the vents, meaning overhauling the floorboards, ceiling plaster, and replastering walls.
- Secondly, they usually contain asbestos in the main unit, which means they need expert disposal. Asbestos ain’t cool.
This house was also being marketed for the same price as our current favourite, so it’s a fair comparison. It did have a much larger garden, however this was on a considerable slope. Although this did in fact lead down to the river flowing at the bottom of the garden, nesteled in some woodland, which was quite quaint. Overall though, not for us.
We were naturally comparing this house to the one that we had seen just minutes beforehand on the next street over. Although at the absolute top end of our budget, it was worth us looking at it in case it was in fact perfect.
We’re not afraid of a little work. I enjoy getting my hands dirty and covering myself in emulsion. We’ve painted, plastered and carpeted the majority of our current property, and it’s been both enjoyable and rewarding.
Of course, we’re not likely to walk into a house that’s decorated to our exact style and standards, but if we didn’t need to spend a penny on fixing up the place, then we could be onto a winner.
So, this first house yesterday… Well, let’s start with the details from the agent. Photos, good; description, promising; measurements, not too bad at all. So going into it, we felt it had a good shot, and we even left room for compromise on some aspects of it. For example, if it was as tidy and well looked after as it appeared in the brochure, then we might be willing to deal with the smaller garden.
This place, in reality, was far from the description we’d been given.
The rooms were all a reasonable size, and the location wasn’t too bad really. The condition of the house, however, was dreadful. Each and every window was surrounded on the walls by thick black mould, the spores and smell of which you could feel hanging in the air. Every room had cracks in the walls and ceilings, and the seals on the double glazed windows were either going or completely gone. One window hinge in the master bedroom was so knackered that you could see daylight through the frame – the only part of the window you’re not supposed to be able to see through!
What had appealed to us about this property was the ‘cabin’ in the back garden. It looked substantial, and was a good size. I could have theoretically used it as a studio when working from home. When we entered it, it was immediately clear that it ought to be condemned, if in fact it did comply with building regulations to begin with. The ceiling was coming apart at the edge of each sheet of plasterboard, and it didn’t feel at all insulated. The ensuite in the cabin was a decent size and undoubtedly convenient, but adequate ventilation for the shower had been forgotten. Damp, cold, cracking and creaking, this wasn’t the zen haven of creativity that we had hoped for. (High standards, much?)
It was difficult to like this place. Even with the log burner stove in the kitchen, we still couldn’t warm to it.
It was almost embrassing for us to try and be polite about the place with the estate agent, although she was possibly the most difficult part of the whole experience.
Both of the properties are on the market with the same agency, so it was very convenient to book the two viewings back to back, making the most of our Saturday afternoon. It became clear, however, that working on a Saturday is something that the ‘senior’ estate agents don’t like to do, as we were greeted at the property by the youngest estate agent we had ever seen.
While she tried her best to be polite, her lack of experience was evident from the outset. Asking simple questions, such as “How old is the boiler?” and “When were the windows fitted?” were met with an unapologetic “Oh, I don’t know but I can phone the vendor and ask in the week.” After which she would make not a single note of our enquiry, despite carrying a large folio filled with details (none of which were about these properties, it would seem).
When greeting us, we noticed that she was chewing gum. Not a big deal, as she’d perhaps just had her lunch break. When she was still chewing her gum an hour later at the end of the second viewing, as she had throughout, it was just downright unprofessional.
If my wife turned up to work to teach her class of children and dismissed any question from them, all whilst chewing gum, I doubt she’d make it through the day without being dressed down by the headteacher. If I met a client and was equally apathetic, I doubt I’d be getting much work from them in the future… Yet this agency think it’s acceptable to charge the vendors of these properties thousands of pounds in commission in exchange for next to no service or guidance.
We try to see the positive in these situations, so we just left the viewings feeling glad that we didn’t list our property with those agents. It really needn’t be this diffcult, or at least it shouldn’t be as expensive as it is if these levels of inadequacy are in some way necessary. It really does make sense as to why so many people are using online services. I’m wondering now why we didn’t…