Man is free – but not while his house is caught up in chains

snakes& lad­ders

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Land & Sea - Rosie Murray- West

Any­one who has ever been in­volved in buy­ing or sell­ing a home knows how tor­tu­ous the process can be. Not only do you have to give your whole fu­ture into the hands of lawyers and es­tate agents, but you have to learn a whole new vo­cab­u­lary as well.

Words like ex­change, com­ple­tion, con­tract and gazump­ing haunt your dreams. Chains – once Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions – be­come the stuff of night­mares. It is Mur­phy’s Law that what­ever chain you find your­self in is quickly full of con­tes­tants who wouldn’t look out of place on The Weak­est Link.

Even Anne Robin­son wouldn’t be able to with­stand the dither­ing of the lady near the top who isn’t sure whether the new home would suit the Pekinese.

Mean­while, a cou­ple in the mid­dle of the chain are get­ting di­vorced – or are they? It’s amaz­ing how quickly some­one else’s can­dlelit din­ner can ruin your house pur­chase. It is equally amaz­ing how you can end up hat­ing peo­ple you have never met, when they de­cide that they can’t get the fi­nanc­ing for the house two steps up. Don’t feel too bad about it, though – they are prob­a­bly stick­ing pins in an ef­figy of your lawyer be­cause he is be­ing so slow.

Be­ing stuck in the mid­dle of a chain re­ac­tion is never fun, but most peo­ple man­age to cope. Not ev­ery­one has time to wait around, though, as re­tire­ment home group McCarthy & Stone has found out. If you have taken the con­sid­er­ably stress­ful step of de­cid­ing to move into shel­tered ac­com­mo­da­tion, you aren’t go­ing to want to wait on a group of in­de­ci­sive yup­pies nearer the bot­tom of your chain be­fore you can get rid of your home.

With the hous­ing mar­ket be­com­ing slack, this has quickly be­come a prob­lem. McCarthy & Stone warned ear­lier this year that it could sell 10 per cent fewer homes be­cause of the prob­lems with most chains. About two thirds of its cus­tomers need to sell their homes be­fore they move, and they just aren’t shift­ing. This month, how­ever, McCarthy & Stone told the stock mar­ket that they had come up with at least a par­tial so­lu­tion.

Around half the com­pany’s sales to cus­tomers are now done through part-ex­change, us­ing com­pa­nies that spe­cialise in trad­ing sec­ond­hand homes. This has the ad­van­tage of speed­ing the process up con­sid­er­ably, and has meant McCarthy and Stone’s vol­ume de­cline was in fact un­der 4 per cent. The com­pany con­ceded that it has had to dis­count its own homes, be­cause Granny is get­ting less for hers – so it has hit the profit mar­gins.

Since buy­ing a home us­ing the cur­rent process is enough to turn any­one’s hair grey, you can’t blame granny (or McCarthy & Stone) for want­ing to get the whole process over and done with as pain­lessly as pos­si­ble. For most of us, though, us­ing a part-ex­change ser­vice is an ex­pen­sive price to pay for our own im­pa­tience. Un­less some­one dras­ti­cally sim­pli­fies the whole buy­ing and sell­ing busi­ness, we’re stuck with it for a while.

Rousseau, well known for his wise com­men­tary on the Bri­tish hous­ing mar­ket, had it right: “Man is free, but ev­ery­where he is in chains”. Þ Here’s a top gim­mick for mak­ing an es­tate agent’s job eas­ier. Peter­mans, which is based in south Lon­don, tells us it is the first es­tate agent to of­fer free “House Doc­tor con­sul­ta­tions” for all houses worth over £ 300,000.

Ap­par­ently, th­ese con­sul­ta­tions, which are worth £175, could add up to 15 per cent to the value of your home (al­though pre­sum­ably only if you take their ad­vice). It must also be nice for the es­tate agent to be able to show prospec­tive buy­ers round a saleable home. When we were be­ing shown round var­i­ous prop­er­ties three years ago, one agent was un­able to stop him­self from apol­o­gis­ing for some of them – in­clud­ing one where the newly laid lam­i­nate floor had gone so wrong that it re­sem­bled a rather bumpy Scalex­tric track.

I reckon, though, it is the buy­ers who re­ally need the con­sul­ta­tion. A trained eye wan­der­ing through a wreck of a house ex­plain­ing how much bet­ter it would all look if it was just painted prop­erly and wasn’t full of hideous furniture would be hugely help­ful for those of us who are un­able to see past our noses.

Sell­ing un­saleable prop­erty would sud­denly be a dod­dle - and ev­ery­one would think they were get­ting a bar­gain.

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