Confessions of the experts

House sales tend to drag during elections, so now that it's all over, the spring property market can burst into action. Our specialists reluctantly confess their worst (and best) ever house moving stories, and offer hot tips
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The Independent Online
Penny Jackson

Even now I shudder at how we broke every rule in the book. Just hours after viewing a house we had spotted in a Sunday newspaper ad in the 80s, we put in an offer that was accepted only if we would join a contracts race. Fine, we said, without reckoning on the stress caused by sending a lawyer on a high-speed chase. Even worse was the possibility that we might have to take out a bridging loan because our house wasn't even on the market. But this was the frothy mid-80s and the rush to buy was on. For a short time it seemed as if the gamble had paid off. We found buyers and our solicitor was on the home straight. Then two days before he claimed victory, our buyers pulled out after a bad survey. Two houses, two loans and numerous sleepless nights beckoned.

Penny Jackson

Even now I shudder at how we broke every rule in the book. Just hours after viewing a house we had spotted in a Sunday newspaper ad in the 80s, we put in an offer that was accepted only if we would join a contracts race. Fine, we said, without reckoning on the stress caused by sending a lawyer on a high-speed chase. Even worse was the possibility that we might have to take out a bridging loan because our house wasn't even on the market. But this was the frothy mid-80s and the rush to buy was on. For a short time it seemed as if the gamble had paid off. We found buyers and our solicitor was on the home straight. Then two days before he claimed victory, our buyers pulled out after a bad survey. Two houses, two loans and numerous sleepless nights beckoned.

Hot tips: Once an offer has been accepted, don't leave all contact to the agents - whatever they say, the odd personal call can be very reassuring providing the other party has given you a contact number.

Joey Canessa

In 1988, we bought a small flat in Brixton Hill, for £60,000. We were expecting our first baby, and life felt great. We signed the mortgage agreement with shaking hands, reassured by all our friends that we would look back and laugh about our trepidation. Immediately, the market began to slide and by the time five years had passed, the mortgage rate had reached 15 per cent and we were paying £1,200 per month for the flat. We now had two daughters as well as a dog, and were desperate to move to something bigger, but the value of our flat had fallen to only £30,000. Luckily we got a negative equity mortgage and moved to another house. I realised that if we had lived with my mother during those six years and put the mortgage payments into the bank, we could have bought the next house outright. I didn't suggest this to my husband, though - he would have been off like a rabbit.

Hot tip: if you're selling, place pretty tubs of flowers on your doorstep and windows (which must be clean) - and banish all smelly pets during viewings.

Christopher Middleton

My first property sale went like a dream. Within two days of advertising it, I sold privately to a young student whose mother wrote me out a cheque on the spot for £69,000 (I'd bought it for £22,000 five years earlier). Since then I have had a catalogue of poor timing and misjudged offers. In 1987, my wife and I bought a three-bedroomed house for £112,000; four weeks later the hurricane destroyed our roof and mortgage rates went through it. After 10 years, we sold for £150,000 - within 18 months it was worth £300,000. Next, we saw a house we loved at £230,000. Not wanting to seem too keen, I put in a bid for £228,000. When I rang the agents next day, they said they'd sold to a couple who offered the asking price. "Why didn't you?" they asked. Good question.

Hot tip: it's never the right time to buy or sell; unless you're escaping to Mars, it all evens itself out in the end. If choosing between an expensive place which you love and a slightly less expensive place which you quite like, follow your heart.

Cheryl Markosky

My loopiest move has to be a £600,000, uber-chic buy to let in Notting Hill three years ago - right when the market took a dive. Rents were plummeting , but I was desperate to grab the last flat in our six-storey terraced house. Watching our rental slide from £1,000 a week to £700 wasn't great, but at least we have reliable long-term tenants bringing in a five per cent gross return.

Hot tips: investing is for the long haul. Do not believe the hype and worry about house price headlines. If your home is nicer than other investors' properties and at the same rent, you will land the tenant.

Graham Norwood

It is bad enough buying through an estate agent but my mistake was buying from one. Firstly, because I was buying the agent's family home and wanted to keep in his good books, I hired him to sell my house and accepted his hopelessly optimistic valuation of £365,000. After months of not finding a buyer when homes all around me were being snapped up, I had to settle for almost 10 per cent less. Secondly, on moving day I discovered the agent had not hired a removal firm to shift his belongings but instead relied on a small van to carry the entire contents of the five-bedroom house. After countless journeys he finally finished packing at 9pm, forcing me to pay £400 to a storage firm to keep my goods for an extra night. Eventually he compensated me, but only after I complained to a trade watchdog. After all that, of course, I had to pay him his fee. Estate agents - don't you just love 'em?

Hot tips: in the current market sellers should push like hell on commission. Many agents can be pressed into accepting just 1 per cent, or a fraction more. As far as buyers are concerned, not since the 90s have you had more power over the whole deal. See what nearby homes sell for, and remember that many vendors drop their original asking prices by as much as 10 per cent or even more to clinch a deal.

Robert Liebman

In February 1993 I commissioned a chartered surveyor to prepare a homebuyer's report on my first house purchase. As this was to become my first house, I asked to accompany the surveyor around the property, something to which he agreed. To my horror, I then discovered that he had obtained the keys from the estate agent without telling me and conducted the survey on his own. I was gutted, but I learnt my lesson, and the next time I was in such a situation, I got all the agreed conditions in writing. The other thing that always seems to happen every time I move is that my solicitor decides to go on holiday just as the transaction is reaching a critical phase.

Hot tips: don't mistrust all agents. When solicitors and surveyors threatened to drag my house purchase to a halt, the agent gave all of them a well-placed kick. Of all the professionals involved, she was the most reliable and efficient. And if you're buying at this time of year, remember that lush growth in gardens can conceal all sorts of prospective horrors behind your prospective new neighbours' thick hedges and bushes.

Mary Wilson

I wouldn't recommend that anyone buy as quickly as we did in France, but because we had done our research, when we bought our chalet on stilts, in Gruissan Plage, south of Narbonne in the Languedoc, six years ago, it was a cinch. In the two days before we were due to leave, we found the property, told the agent we were only interested if we could get planning permission to double the size of the terrace, had an appointment with the notaire that afternoon, found a builder, who happened to know the mayor, and the next morning a plan of the plot was faxed through to us from the mayor's office with the new terrace drawn in with a bright red tick on it! Can you imagine getting planning permission in a day in the UK?

Hot tips: If you're thinking of buying in France, try to work out what the area you're interested in moving to will be like at various times of the year - a peaceful village in the winter, for example, could be unbearably busy at the height of the summer tourist season.

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