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