There are numerous examples of challenging moving stories out there. Unfortunately, I include ours in that camp, for some aspects of the process. It’s certainly a privilege to own your own home. However, the stress associated with mortgage applications, documentation, utilities, and a huge financial burden is emotionally draining. I’m so thankful that Lucy and I were able to do it together and support each other. I am grateful that we had a good solicitor, supportive families, and flexible work schedules. In this fourth installment of my house series, I discuss the challenges of buying and selling a house in the UK.
We should have moved in October 2019 but ended up moving in December. This delay was partly down to our buyers having an unhelpful solicitor, and our sellers being stubborn. Part of the delay also had to do with missing paperwork, which I spoke about in: Selling and Buying a House in the UK (Part 3).
I thought this post would be useful as it covers a few things that I was frantically googling. The UK process of selling and buying houses is one of the worst in the world, so be prepared! Some of these things might only apply to the UK, but I suspect there are similar issues globally.
Radio Silence and Communication
We would go for days or even weeks having heard no news. It was a giant game of “go go stop”. You’d hear something and frantically make arrangements, and then nothing would happen. As Lucy commented, our sellers and buyers seemed the type of people that would meander along as it suited them. When their decision was made, they would expect us to have things done yesterday.
We had to remind ourselves about expectations for communication. Firstly, you pay your solicitor (conveyancer) to sort out the legal stuff and communicate for you. Our buyers and sellers would by-pass their solicitors and use the estate agents to chase us directly. You need to be firm that communication must go through the proper channels, otherwise you will be constantly pestered.
We didn’t like being left in radio silence, even if there wasn’t progress. I also didn’t want our solicitor or removals company left out of the loop. A courtesy email acknowledging their correspondence, or requesting an update, kept everyone on the same page. It is your responsibility to clearly communicate your correspondence expectations.
One of our worst communication moments was when we were just about to exchange. Our buyer’s solicitor decided it was an appropriate time to tell us that their deposit was much less than standard. This unexpected financial cure ball impacted our chain, and was very unprofessional communication on the solicitor’s part. I wish you luck and tranquility if you end up in a similar situation.
Living in Chaos
We had boxes delivered a month before we thought we were moving, and then nothing happened. I had packed away things we didn’t need such as books and ornaments, meaning we were living surrounded by boxes for ages. Normally, I am a home-body, but I found myself wanting to escape as much as possible. Home was cluttered, claustrophobic, and dirty.
Home Insurance/ Contents Insurance
In most cases, your mortgage provider will want you to have home insurance sorted for the day you exchange contracts because you are then liable for the property. My advice is start your research early, for example on comparison sites. I spent a couple of weekends shortlisting companies and reading the fine print. We had specific requirements for our insurance, so I downloaded the complete policy book of several companies. Moreover, I found that direct insurance sites had vague policies and overcharged.
Also, make sure that your contents insurance covers your belongings while you are moving. The challenge I had with insurance was mainly due to my computer dying the evening I was purchasing it. It also wasn’t helpful that some companies wouldn’t insure me because of my immigration status.
In the UK, indemnity insurance is becoming increasingly common. Buyers generally use it when they are concerned about liability issues regarding the property. The most common reasons being dodgy extensions or weird covenants. The other reason is if documents are missing, such as certificates. By asking the sellers to pay for indemnity insurance, the buyers are able to expedite the sale process, rather than taking time to chase missing documents.
In our case, we were selling a lease hold flat (no extensions or weird covenants) and we had provided all documentation requested. Our buyer’s solicitor was demanding we pay indemnity insurance for no valid reason. Needless to say, our solicitor told them to take a hike. This is something to be aware as a buyer or seller. If you’re selling, you don’t want to pay for this insurance without good reason. If you are buying something a bit sketchy, it could be a good idea.
Agreeing a moving date
Our sellers were persistently requesting a date that didn’t work for us, nor our buyers, and weren’t providing any alternatives. The date they proposed was also over a month later than they had originally proposed. Our sellers were adamant that they wanted to move as soon as possible. As the middle of the chain we found ourselves [mainly Lucy] being harassed constantly by solicitors and estate agents.
It took a full week to agree on a moving date. I suggest giving your solicitor several moving date options to work with, rather than waiting for everyone else in your chain settling on one date that only suits them.
Water, gas, and electricity were fairly straightforward to deal with. I recommend contacting your utility companies at least 6 weeks prior to moving to let them know that you’re cancelling or porting your contract. On the day of your move take metre readings in your old and new places, including photos for evidence.
A small point about electric and gas: You have to take on the contract of the place you are buying when you move in (unless the power has been shut off). The company will likely put you on a high tariff to start off. I recommend going on a switching site and getting your new contract initiated asap. It takes 2-3 weeks to switch. We moved over as quickly as possible to renewable energy with Bulb, and I’ve been really pleased with them so far.
Our main issue was the Internet. We notified Plusnet 6 weeks in advance that we were leaving our flat, and that we wanted to carry over our account. We had arranged for an activation appointment the day after we moved. The night before moving, Plusnet cancelled our appointment. From there is was one cancelled appointment or excuse after the next. We had to get Open Reach out to re-connect our house, and Plusnet still couldn’t figure out why we didn’t have working phone or Internet. In the end, we were fed up with their false promises and cancelled our order. We went with BT, who again delayed our set up (they at least compensated us for the delay). We should have had Internet on December 5th and it wasn’t until around January that we actually had working Internet with BT.
The nightmare wasn’t over. Plusnet contacted us to say that our Internet and phone were connected and started billing us for Internet that didn’t actually work, and for an order that we had cancelled. It took me harassing their Twitter account over my Christmas holiday for them to pay any attention to us. In the end, we threatened legal action and they finally provided written confirmation that our account was closed and settled.
Nobody in customer service knew how to solve the issue (nor cared), and they kept passing Lucy to different departments without resolution. What was especially frustrating is that Plusnet cancelled our account so Lucy couldn’t log in to check details or payment records. Customer service had no records of our issues because we no longer existed as customers, yet we were still being charged. This hassle also delayed our contract with BT because they couldn’t take ownership of our line.
My take home message is that no matter how organised you are, things can go wrong. It’s important to set your expectations for communication, and be prepared to adapt to other peoples’ schedules. Many of the challenges of selling and buying a house are out of your control. Given that many people are working or learning from home, it is worth thinking about tethering to your mobile internet, or getting a temporary hot spot, in case your Internet activation goes pear-shaped. Whatever you do, AVOID PLUSNET!
These are some of the challenges of buying and selling a house in the UK that we faced. I’m sure there are others that I’ve suppressed! If you’ve moved house, what was the main challenge you dealt with?
In my final post, I will cover our actual moving day, and all the things you need to do for that big life event!