Money & Homes: The pain of uprooting

Rosalind Russell concludes her series on moving house
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As one of life's enriching experiences, moving house is as desirable as an attack of mumps. It can, according to psychologists, take up to three years to get over the trauma. And - despite having made the decision to sell - some people almost have to have their fingers prized off the door frame before they'll let go.

Max Robinson, the voice of radio tennis until his retirement, had a powerful attachment to his old home in Wandsworth, London, for which he'd asked John D Wood to find a buyer. A stipulation of the sale was that he be allowed to come back to the house for two weeks every year - during Wimbledon fortnight - during which time the new owner would be required to make himself scarce.

"This put off several potential buyers, including the late Alan Lerner, the My Fair Lady producer, who could not tolerate this," recalls estate agent Andy Buchanan. Finally a buyer agreed to the arrangement. Max Robertson did come back the following summer for his fortnight, but, it's thought, decided against exercising his rights again.

On the Social Readjustments Scale of 0-100, moving house comes in at number 20. It sounds surprisingly low, given the number of things that can go horribly wrong. "It depends on the people," says psychologist Dr Tony Munton. "For some it's brilliant, but it depends on circumstances. Recent figures suggest one in three of people surveyed expect to move house in the next five years. In our research into job relocation - people moving at the behest of their company - we followed a sample of 200 employees. Fifty per cent find moving house quite difficult and these feelings can persist for a year, sometimes two to three years, depending on the family."

The people who find moving emotionally more difficult are, says Dr Munton, those who have lots of friends and active social circle. It is easier for self-contained families whose friends are not that close so they maintain contact by phone or letter.

"As a species we like being in circumstances we can control or predict - which explains the popularity of package holidays. Being taken away from familiar surroundings is difficult because the home is the most stable thing in our lives. People find it stressful. We asked those in the survey if there was a single event during the move that helped, and if so, what was it. Almost all said it was the moment the furniture van arrived with all their stuff. Then it felt like home."

A move resulting in a change of culture can be even trickier. One couple in the survey moved from a village in Wales to a city in the north of England but had to go back because they couldn't cope with it. They knew everyone in the village. It can work the other way. People who head for the hills expecting an escape from car radio thieves, school gate drug dealers and burglars can be horribly disappointed.

Research shows younger children tend to adapt much better and faster than older brothers and sisters.

"It is more common for those from 10 or 11 upwards to have problems.

Adolescence exaggerates the nature of peer groups and friendships. When asked where they put their parents in a list of people close to them, most teenagers put them at four or five. Friends take the top three positions. Circles are very close knit; it's difficult to make new friends or break into a clique. It is a particularly sticky time for teenagers. Young mothers find it not so bad because they make friends through their children at day nurseries."

It can be a ghastly mistake to return to old haunts to see what the new owners have done to the house. Author Rosie Thomas remembers all too clearly the embarrassment of spotting the couple who sold her their north London home peering over the hedge some months later. They had, they told the nanny who was sent to answer the door, come to hand over the barbecue spit for the oven which they had packed and removed by mistake. But Ms Thomas obviously didn't need it... the rest of the oven had been ripped out and replaced, and was awaiting collection by the rubbish van, in the front garden.

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here