Property: You're not trying to move at Christmas?

Alongside gluttony and sloth, another seasonal sin takes hold of Ginetta Vedrickas. She can't help pressing her nose against windows of gorgeous Georgian houses and coveting their seemingly idyllic Christmas settings. But at least she has a roof over her head. For anyone trying to move before Christmas, stress levels are rising and time is running out.

Stephen Morley is working against the clock. He has a buyer for his North London flat and a house lined up in a village near his native Scunthorpe. But with Christmas looming, his dream of celebrating in a new home may remain just that.

Renovation work needs doing, services need connecting, but practicalities are difficult when you are 200 miles away, particularly at Christmas.

His flat is more Bleak House than A Christmas Carol, although Scrooge would have approved. "We haven't bothered with decorations," says Mr Morley. "Our children visit friends and ask, `Is it Christmas?' There's nothing here, and there'll be nothing at the other end, either."

Packing crates line the walls, and there is no tree with presents nestling under it. Are they forgetting Christmas this year? "It sounds awful, but I haven't got time for it," says Mr Morley.

December is traditionally a quiet time for the market, but with demand for homes running high, some buyers want speedy completion. Joanna Haddon- Knowles, of JHK, a Muswell Hill estate agency, finds that most clients prefer to exchange before Christmas and move afterwards, to avoid chaos.

Of the exceptions determined to go ahead she says, "They must be mad", and warns anyone joining them: "Make sure you've got a removal man. My regular is too fully booked to drive the minibus to our annual party."

The Morleys aren't mad: they simply had no choice. Their predicament has been exacerbated by a buyer who insists on completing before the end of the school term. They've made complicated arrangements, which include staying with friends before finally leaving London.

Where will they spend Christmas? Mr Morley sits, head in hands, and ponders his plight: "We'll probably be heading up the motorway;, I'm carrying my decorations with me at all times."

Most December movers combine change of address with Christmas cards, but timing can be tricky. Mr Morley has neither sent nor received any cards, and friends don't know where he is: "It may have to wait till January."

He has bought presents for the children to distract them when they arrive at a house devoid of decorations, gas and electricity. With true fighting spirit (Mr Morley served in the Falklands), he insists that they will cope: "I think my old camping stove works, but I'm not risking a turkey."

For Liz and Fraser Burchill, who are working on the Christmas show Peter Pan at the National Theatre, this is probably the worst time of year they could have chosen to move. Their vendor is returning to St Lucia and wants Christmas on the beach, leaving the Burchills with a completion date days before.

"We're both very, very tired because of the show. I've been doing the tattooed man and the mermaids and then coming home and packing up the house. We won't be calm until first night," says Ms Burchill.

The Burchills are moving round the corner to a house with more space for their daughters, Daisy and Lydia, and a workshop for Liz to design textiles, and for Fraser who "likes to turn wood to relax".

The children haven't quite grasped the idea of moving, and ask why they're moving to a house with nasty sofas, but they have had a taste of festive fun: "Their aunt instilled some normality by letting them decorate her tree, and I've promised to buy a really nice one the minute we move."

What will Christmas day be like? "We thought it would be fun for relatives to muck in and eat off paper plates, but when we suggested it they went quiet, and said `Do you want to come to us?'"

Moving at this time of year may dampen your social life: "My works party is on removal day, so I can't go," says Ms Burchill. "It should be an absolute scream, as it's going to be in the costume store. I'm really sad."

The season of good cheer doesn't always mean peace to all. Relate, the relationship counselling organisation, sees a seasonal upsurge in calls, and is running a course to help couples to cope with Christmas.

This may be ineffectual if you are planning a double dose of stressful life events. Julia Cole, a Relate counsellor, says: "I suspect it's a fantasy about new beginnings. People believe Christmas will weave its magic, but it often means additional strain. "If you're trying to move as well, you're bound to be stressed beyond belief."

She advises: "If you've got to move now, aim for the simplest Christmas possible - but, better still, wait until spring."

Ms Cole's advice comes too late for Sophy and Julian MacDonnell who are desperately trying to move, with their daughters Amity and Connie, because the vendor promises a pounds 5,000 reduction for pre-Christmas completion. "Our move is being delayed because some vital piece of paper is missing, I'm not sure what. I stamp my foot and shout `Do something, Julian!'" says Ms MacDonnell. Does he? "No, he doesn't know what to do, either."

Moving at Christmas imposes additional financial burdens. "Julian keeps trying to stop me doing Christmas shopping because we shouldn't spend any more money, but I scream at him that I've got to finish it," says Ms MacDonnell, who obviously thrives under pressure: "Moving is more exciting at this time of year. I am hoping there will be lots of parties and it will be easier to meet the neighbours."

Relate: 01788 573241. JHK Estate Agency: 0181-883 5485

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