After 42 years of life on this planet, I finally managed to buy my first home just recently.
Striking really. I have lived in rented accommodation all my life since leaving home.
Shockingly, a rough calculation shows I’ve spent several hundred thousand pounds on rent since 1992 – I could have bought this new home outright by now.
Ah well, no regrets. I’ve had a lot of fun living in different countries around the world. Perhaps the journey would have been very different if I had bought property straight after graduation.
So here are the top 10 things I learned during this experience over the past couple of months I found most striking.
1) Beware. No one will commit to a date.
This one is about planning. And communication. I was rather naive at the outset. Having never bought a house, but knowing a bit about property investment, I thought it would be a good idea to set a target date.
At work, we have a number of clients who like to plan from right-to-left. By that I mean, the target delivery date gets set first and you work backwards from there to determine when everything-else needs to be done.
I took that approach to the property purchase. We set a date with the Estate Agent very early on. You see, we were planning to travel to Australia over Christmas to visit Trish’s family there.
On that basis, once our offer was accepted, I gave the obligatory two months notice on our rental property. That meant the date was fixed when we would be without a roof over our heads.
The clock ticks down very quickly when you have a deadline. It turns out that despite our best efforts, we were not able to complete on the new home in time.
Instead, we had to move all our stuff into storage for a week and find self-catering accommodation for that period. We also had to put our adorable cat Nellie into the cattery too. She didn’t take kindly to that.
2) The Internet is your friend – BUT see the place for yourself
Be sure to do your diligence. Make sure you don’t take anything for granted. There are tons of forms and pieces of paperwork involved with the house buying process.
Yet you need to be brave and do your own checks and diligence.
One of the biggest shocks I had during this process was finding out that 275+ new homes are to be built on the fields just 200m from our home.
This didn’t come to light through any of the ‘searches’ that we were paying for. No. I noticed a comment on one of the questionnaires completed by the vendors of our new home stating they ‘thought’ there might have been a planning application on the nearby farmland.
After carrying out research of my own, I came across the details of the planned development. I was then able to speak to a couple of people in the know about whether this development would be a problem or not.
The consensus was that the town is growing and the value of our home would likely rise. Let’s see shall we. We decided to proceed anyway.
Irrespective of the research you do, whether you use RightMove or Zoopla or any other web-based tool, there is no substitute for a site visit.
During our search we must have visited a couple of dozen properties.
The house we bought we visited three times in fact before we bought it. I know people buy properties on spec. purely based on the research the do at their desk. That works for investment properties.
For a home however, you have to visit and ‘feel’ the place. I recall our second visit, which Trish had arranged. I didn’t know why we were back here because I wasn’t sure after the first visit it was right for us.
My wife was right – (see that!) as usual. And it’s now our home! It felt right. It appealed to us. The property called us.
3) Be proactive & communicate clearly
I’m in the business of customer experience. If you think about it, the success of any project comes down to the communication between the different parties involved.
House buying is no different. I realised fairly quickly that the estate agents were not acting on my behalf. In fact the only people that were were my Solicitors.
Now your Solicitors are also ‘waiting for your instructions’. But what if you didn’t buy a house before. Who informs you what you need to ‘instruct’ your Solicitors to do?!
It can get a bit fraught.
Then there’s the DX system. The Solicitors in the UK use it. But then, not all of them! With time of the essence, I was ringing my Solicitor to find out what they were waiting for.
They would tell me they had send documents via the DX legal postal system to the other party’s Solicitors only to learn that company was no longer on the DX system.
There were several points during the process where my patience was sorely tested. I would find myself calling and emailing both the Estate Agent and my Solicitor multiple times on the same day to ensure messages were being exchanged.
As Stephen Covey wrote: Be Proactive. Don’t wait for people. Take ownership and ensure you communicate clearly with all parties. Particularly if they are not acting on your behalf.
If I think for a moment about the people we bought this lovely house off of. I am shocked their Estate Agent didn’t provide them with a more comprehensive service.
The Estate Agent was sitting there in the middle. They were selling our vendors’ property to us, AND they were handing the sale of the onward property to our vendors.
Our vendors were in their eighties. Not to be insensitive about this, but our vendors are not likely to make (m)any more house moves. As such, it’s extremely traumatic for them.
Having lived in this house for more than twenty years, you can imagine how stressful the whole endeavour was for them. I really feel for them.
I think there’s a gap in the market for a full-service Estate Agent wh handles the end-to-end sales process for all parties involved. This might be especially suited to retired people.
4) Meet the owners and build a connection
We managed to visit the property when the vendors were home. I just wish we had done this weeks and weeks earlier in the process.
you see, they were unaware of our predicament. They had no idea we were going to be without a roof over our heads on a given date. They did not know we had given notice on our rental property. They didn’t know why the dates were set as they were and why we were so eager to move on a particular day.
Similarly, we had no idea they planned all along to have a survey completed on their onward property. Consequently we were stunned when, just days before the planned contract exchange date, we learned they were going to have one done.
All of this could have been resolved with a face to face meeting early in the sales cycle. However, they told us that they were actively encouraged to be away from the property every time anyone was due to visit.
That is different to the policy operated by other Estate Agents we dealt with. On several occasions we visited properties when the owners were in. In my opinion there is no one better able to sell a property than the current owner.
Next time, I will make a point of meeting the owners early on. You build a connection and rapport with one another. As the buyer that gives you greater confidence in your ability to secure the property.
From the vendor’s perspective, they can decide whether they want to let you have their much beloved home. If they do, there’s far less chance something will go wrong.
5) Moving can be stressful but what an awesome experience
I have moved homes several times before. I know the value of having a removal firm come in, box everything up and move my home lock stock and barrel.
This time around, because of the complications with delays between exchange and completion, we ended up splitting our move across a week.
Weeks before the planned move we were boxing everything up. On the day or two before the planned move, we shipped Nellie off to the cattery and we packed in earnest.
The removal crew arrived and did a sterling job. Everything was packed off into two trucks. My God how did we ever amass so much stuff!
We then found ourselves in the weird position of living in a self-catering log cabin for one week until completion day.
We arranged for the delivery of our possessions to our new home for the afternoon of completion day.
During that day, I was left wondering just how tired I would have been had we had the move out and the subsequent move in all on the same day.
So it cost us more money to do things this way but hey – it worked out well in the end.
I have to say, when I first took delivery of the bound information pack from my Solicitors with all the searches and information about the property, I felt emotional.
Then after the removals guys pull away and you’re stood outside your home for the first time, alone, it hits you.
Not to mention what it feels like to have the first sleep and wake up knowing you just bought your first home! (Now the bills start – the plans, the extension, the refurbishment, the repairs 🙂 )
How about you?
What have been your experiences moving home? When did it go badly wrong? When did you have an outstanding experience that just went like clockwork?
Does this differ by country? I have moved between Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand the USA and the UK. When has it worked really well for you? I’d love to know.
Please do share this story with someone you know who might be interested.