More pain than gain when it comes to buy­ing my own home

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Cover Story - Ed­mund Con­way

This col­umn is usu­ally some­where you can find some ex­pla­na­tion about what’s go­ing on in the prop­erty mar­ket but in­stead, for the next cou­ple of weeks I’d like to de­scribe what I’ve en­coun­tered in the field when buy­ing a prop­erty of my own.

As I write this, I am within hours of com­plet­ing the pur­chase of my home – or at least I think so. Early on, I had been warned that it wouldn’t be a fun ex­pe­ri­ence, but as the scep­ti­cal sort, I tried to ig­nore this ad­vice. Fre­quently, I was told that old saw about how mov­ing house was al­most as stress­ful as suf­fer­ing a be­reave­ment in one’s fam­ily. How I scoffed.

And how wrong I was. Leav­ing aside the mat­ter of prices and af­ford­abil­ity, the whole process has cer­tainly been gra­tu­itously stress­ful. One ex­am­ple is still fresh in the mind: the other day, at the last minute my so­lic­i­tor dis­cov­ered that the ser­vice charge I would be pay­ing at the flat was go­ing to be twice the amount I was orig­i­nally told.

To add to this, I have also dis­cov­ered that the lease is for a shorter pe­riod than I was first told and that there are thou­sands of pounds worth of re­pairs and dec­o­ra­tions that need to be done to the place.

Now, to be fair, at least the place wasn’t fall­ing over, and I sup­pose th­ese costs were small in com­par­i­son with the over­all price, but they nev­er­the­less made the pur­chase less at­trac­tive than when I put my of­fer in.

The Catch-22, of course, is that with my lawyer hav­ing by now done a cer­tain amount of work on the trans­ac­tion, I have al­ready in­curred costs that mean it prob­a­bly wouldn’t be worth­while to pull out.

To dis­cover th­ese things at the last minute means the mar­ket is not work­ing prop­erly. When peo­ple are pay­ing for some­thing, they should be able to know ex­actly what they are putting their money to­wards – and if not, the seller should be pre­pared to sell at a dis­count.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Home In­for­ma­tion Packs, say­ing that, al­though the aims of the scheme were laud­able, it might strug­gle to get off the ground at all in its cur­rent state. The Gov­ern­ment has al­ready back­tracked on its orig­i­nal pro­posal that all sell­ers will have to com­mis­sion a Home Con­di­tion Re­port (sim­i­lar to a sur­vey) for their prop­erty.

Now, a num­ber of crit­ics are call­ing on it to get rid of the en­tire scheme. I strongly urge it to re­sist th­ese de­mands. The mar­ket clearly needs a mech­a­nism whereby buy­ers – and, for that mat­ter, sell­ers – can avoid th­ese un­pre­dictable costs. The prob­lem is that the Gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent plan was badly or­gan­ised, and with nine months or so left un­til its in­tro­duc­tion, too much is still shrouded in con­fu­sion.

There are also still too many ques­tion marks over who is to carry out the en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency tests and how much they will cost. But my last-minute panic would not have hap­pened if the seller had had to pro­vide a pack with this in­for­ma­tion in it. I would have known about the ex­tra costs when putting in my of­fer.

Like­wise, I see no rea­son why sell­ers should have to pay for a sur­vey be­fore sell­ing their homes, pro­vided the scheme is well-or­gan­ised. The in­tro­duc­tion of Home In­for­ma­tion Packs will not nec­es­sar­ily trans­form the mar­ket, but it might just mean those long, drawn-out few months be­tween putting in an of­fer and get­ting the keys might be less stress­ful – and maybe even shorter. Þ ed­mund.con­[email protected]­graph. co.uk. Ed­mund Con­way is Eco­nomics Ed­i­tor of The Daily Tele­graph.

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