Tailor-made deal that failed to fit: Mary Wilson talks to buyers who are fighting an uphill battle for Plot 24

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The Independent Online
DEVELOPERS have come up with all sorts of schemes to stimulate sales in the past three years. Some are aimed at helping purchasers to sell their homes.

One such offer, advertised in a local newspaper, was from Alfred McAlpine Homes.

The advertisement, which caught the eye of Grant and Ann Walker, featured McAlpine's Options Action Plan, designed 'to ensure that whatever your circumstances, there is an individual purchase packet tailored to fit you'.

Under one option, the Freeway Scheme, the company undertook to sell the old property on the purchaser's behalf, and this is what the Walkers became involved in.

'On 24 February, we reserved Plot 24 on their Castle Downs site in Rochdale and they undertook to market our property,' Mr Walker said.

'We had two independent valuations undertaken by Royton estate agents, and asked for a valuation for a quick sale. One was pounds 57,500 and the other pounds 56,500.

'Despite this, we were informed by McAlpine's that to enter the Freeway, the house from their point of view was valued and to be marketed at pounds 52,950.

'Tracey Carew, the sales negotiator, told us the valuation she put on the house was for a sale within a month.

She assured us that this held Plot 24 for one month and, in the event of the sale going wrong, this hold would continue with the likelihood of part- exchange at a later date.

'After three weeks, we had a first-time buyer for our house. As soon as we had a buyer, we were asked by McAlpine's to arrange for contracts to be exchanged on 10 May. We arranged for a mortgage and valuation and the solicitor drew up contracts. We were in a position to complete by the end of April.

'Things were not moving very fast and we pointed out to Ms Carew that we would not have arranged our own mortgage but for the honouring of the dates set by the Freeway. We were assured that all was progressing, and in the event of the purchasers withdrawing, our property would be marketed with the confidence that a quick sale once again could be achieved.

'But our purchasers were taking ages to receive their mortgage offer and on 24 June we again spoke to Ms Carew.

'She assured us that a mortgage offer would be received that day and that in the event of the sale falling through our property would be part- exchanged.

'The next day, we were informed that our purchasers had separated and would not be proceeding.

'We immediately contacted the site office, to be told that Ms Carew was putting Plot 24 back on the market and if a buyer in a better position could be found, we would lose the property.

'We pointed out we had kept to our terms of the contract, that a mortgage had been arranged at considerable expense to keep an open date for its commencement and that, had we been selling independently of the Freeway scheme, we would not have allowed the sale to be so slow.

'We particularly wanted Plot 24 because it was the only one of its type on the development at the time.

'The next week, we were informed that they had a buyer for the plot who was in a position to proceed quicker than we could.'

The Walkers were only given another two weeks to sell their home. They were worried that they might lose their deposit.

After a call from the Independent on Sunday, Stewart Crompton, managing director of McAlpine's, wrote to the Walkers saying: 'I cannot accept your criticism of our company's sales procedures . . . part-exchange was never a definite option and I must emphasise that at no point could the company offer part- exchange. In any case, Ms Carew is not authorised to offer it.

'I know it must have been very frustrating and I am satisfied that the company went to great lengths to help you.'

Mr Walker said: 'It appears that the flexibility advertised in the local paper by their company does not extend to loyal purchasers. We estimate that on the conservative side, an aborted sale at this point would cost at least pounds 700.'

After the Independent on Sunday contacted Mr Crompton a second time, he wrote again to the Walkers, saying that they were still in the Freeway scheme, but under weekly review. If the company was approached by a purchaser who could proceed quickly, it retained the right to transfer or cancel the Walkers' Freeway reservation, he said, as it had never indicated that it would hold any property for a particular purchaser indefinitely.

Mr Crompton also said that if they cannot come to a suitable agreement, the company will return their deposit, as is normal practice.

He added that it would not be possible for any house- builder to hold for an indefinite period a property for a purchaser who is not in a position to proceed.

But, he said, the company would always seek to do anything else that could help people wishing to buy its houses.

(Photograph omitted)