Our tips on how to enjoy the house buying and selling process or, at least, how to stay sane throughout it.
Clients and friends regularly share their experiences of buying and selling a home with us. Some core lessons learned come up repeatedly, so we decided to distil these into a quick guide for those of you going through the only thing in the world more stressful than watching your child get their lines right in the school play.
Let’s be clear – there’s no mystery to why buying and selling a home can be emotional and stressful. In fact, there are three very good reasons it should be.
First and foremost – it’s YOUR HOME. This is the place your own life story will be or has been set in. Buying and selling is the next step in your life’s journey and for a few weeks and months (we’ll get on to the time it takes) the next part of your journey hangs in the balance as finances and legalities are sorted out in nerve wracking detail.
Secondly, ‘subject to contract’ is not a legally binding term. Either party can withdraw from the deal without being penalised – right up until the point at which contracts are exchanged. It would be difficult to create a more stress-inducing arrangement than this.
Thirdly, ‘caveat emptor.’ When you instruct a conveyancer as a buyer, you do so under the legal principle of ‘caveat emptor’, which means buyer beware. It is your responsibility to discover any material or legal issues with the property.
No wonder it can be a fraught time. The government has long talked about smoothing the process with ideas like a property passport, longer-lasting mortgage-in-principle offers and a reduction in conveyancing times, but in the continued absence of those things what can we do for ourselves to ease the pain and make one of the most exciting milestones in your life remain just that – exciting?
Here are eight tips gleaned from the stories that keep coming up when our clients and friends reflect on their experience of buying and selling.
1 Decide exactly what you want and what you’re prepared to go through
Set out what is essential to you, whether it’s proximity to schools, the commute to work or a side return so the bikes don’t come through the house. Only you know what you consider essential about your next home.
Discuss this list of non-negotiables with your partner, or a trusted friend if you’re buying alone, to make sure you don’t end up straying too far from it.
Decide up front what you are prepared to pay and what you are prepared to withstand. Your buyer suddenly wanting five grand taken off? Do you dig your heels in and risk losing the house you’ve fallen in love with, or do you tell yourself that the day you hold the keys to your new home you’ll never look back? Knowing where you stand, in advance, will help you navigate the nitty-gritty of the buying and selling process.
2 Check your credit rating early
A credit report can contain a nasty surprise that is easy to fix. You want to be the one discovering it, not your mortgage lender, and you want to have a month or two to iron these kinks out. A late payment from two years ago can be damaging to your rating but can be easily expunged.
3 Pick your team early
The team is made up of two or three players; the mortgage lender, a mortgage broker/financial advisor – if selected – and your conveyancing solicitor.
If you need to chase a solicitor or broker for a quote at the beginning, then they are probably not the one to choose. Rather than feel grateful that someone out there will offer you a mortgage and do your legal work for a fee, pick your own team based on research and word-of-mouth that suggests these companies and individuals deserve your business.
And do it early.
Your own research into mortgages that suit you and are available to you, asking trusted friends and their parents if they have an independent financial advisor to recommend, and finding a communicative, reasonably priced, excellent solicitor (preferably one willing to cap their fees) should happen at the very beginning of the process – not at the point where you fall in love with a property.
Once you are viewing properties, you are, potentially, a moment away from finding the place you want to be your new home, and that is not the moment to be scrambling to find a solicitor and a mortgage. At best, it slows the process down profoundly. More likely, it will mean you miss out on that home.
4 Remember what you CAN take control of
Buying and selling are not transactions you can control every element of. But there are some things you can do on your own terms.
Look at your own house through the eyes of a viewer and imagine the effect it has. We’re not suggesting you redecorate, but temporarily moving or reducing the amount of furniture, and having a serious tidy up, can make a huge difference to how prospective buyers experience your home.
Set times to discuss the house buying and selling process and stick to them. Don’t let it dominate your life all the time. If, for weeks and months, every time someone asks you how you are, you reply that you are ‘stressed about the house’ then that will define your life. Compartmentalise when you work on it, and to whom you talk about it, and these months will feel a lot different.
Whatever your personality type when it comes to organisation, be ahead of the game with packing. Get boxes in weeks ahead of the move. Start packing up things you don’t use regularly. Best of all, recycle and have a clear out.
When you find the right property, be quick to make an offer (we’re talking the same day). Submit your offer in a detailed offer letter confirming the position of your own sale, providing a copy of your mortgage agreement in principle, confirming your solicitor details, and preferred exchange and completion dates. And know for yourself how high you are prepared to go.
5 Prepare for the long haul
Be realistic about how long it can take to find a property you want and get to completion on it. Almost everyone we spoke to said they had underestimated how long conveyancing takes. Quite a few reported having chosen the wrong solicitor who only slowed things down (see our later tip about communication).
6 Enjoy the fun stuff – happy viewing
Buying a new home is often linked to a major life change, whether it’s becoming a homeowner for the first time, moving in with a partner, upsizing or downsizing for a changing family. This is a special time and should be enjoyed.
For most people the fun bit is viewings. It means imagining new interiors and exploring new areas. And when you are viewing with an agent who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the property and local area – a bare minimum requirement of any good agent – it makes the viewing process genuinely exciting and allows you to start imagining your continuing story in this place.
And if you are open to where you are going to buy, the viewing period becomes an adventure, exploring different areas and styles of property. Checking out a new neighbourhood, its restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, parks, and connectivity, and imagining it as your home, is a real pleasure.
7 Never assume anything
Buyer beware. Caveat emptor. Make sure you ask the right questions about the property and when submitting your offer be very detailed. If there is a nagging worry about the place, address it fully and early on. A good, proactive estate agent will help you deal with any tricky situations that arise.
8 Communication is key
Hire a solicitor who communicates with the estate agent. Hire an estate agent who communicates with you. Communicate with your agent and solicitor.
Communication is the key to keeping unstressed when selling and buying. Only work with an estate agent and conveyancer who you can speak to easily about problems and worries. Push for the answers that you need to make yourself feel comfortable. Tell your solicitor you do not want to receive emails at 5.25pm on a Friday, when you can’t call back to get clarity, leaving you to stew all weekend.
Collaborate with your estate agent on the marketing plan for your house. Keep things brief, but paint a picture of your story that shows buyers the life you have had there and how the house served your needs. No one knows your home as well as you do.
Every home has its own story and no-one knows it better than the owner. This is why we take the time to understand what makes a home unique beyond its four walls. Whether you are looking to find your next home or an investment, we act as partners to our clients and provide honest advice and guidance throughout the process.