Property: Would you pay someone to find you a home?

And would it pay you to do so? Two househunters give contrasting views
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The Independent Online
There are those who simply move house and there others who relocate. Relocation, an Americanism if ever there was one,is the sort of term applied to managers who are required to move to different towns, with all the details worked out by their employers.

What happens, however, if you need to move to a different area to start an entirely new job? There are services that non-company men are prepared to pay for: agents will cut out the hard graft of househunting for a fee. Yet does this really take the pain out of the search, or do you end up paying someone for a job you could do equally well yourself?

Miranda Chalk knows all about the frustrations of looking for a home. She has had to think hard about where to find her family's summer clothes; it isn't a matter of what cupboard, but which suitcase in whose attic. Since leaving her five-bedroom house in Twickenham she and her family have been camping with friends and relations. She never imagined that eight months after deciding to move to Cirencester for her husband's job, they would still not have their own home.

After her husband, David, moved jobs as a marketing executive, she continued living in Twickenham, househunting at weekends when she and her two sons, Edward and Guy, joined him. Then her parents, who by coincidence had just moved to the Cirencester area,took pity on them. Like many families, she knows the strains will begin to tell if they all stay too long under one roof. So her life is one long house-hunt and in this part of the country five-bedroom houses of the sort she is looking for are in short supply.

Mrs Chalk, who used to be the director of a charity, did not want to take on a new job until the family was well dug in. She has since discovered that moving is in itself a full-time occupation. "There isn't time for anything else. I'm either waiting for an estate agent to ring or I'm looking at houses. It's like being on an emotional roller-coaster and it's exhausting keeping the momentum going."

It seems clear now, she says, that they should have started looking for property in earnest far earlier. But once the decision had been taken to move out of the London area, their first consideration had been schools. This, more than anything else, provided the focus of their search.

Could Miranda Chalk have done anything that would have smoothed her move? A greater initial sense of urgency may have helped, she feels, but apart from that they have done it by the book. She had considered paying for a homesearch, however given that her difficulties are chiefly those of a shortage of houses in the area, it might not have been of any benefit.

However, for anyone without theinclination to read through wadges of house details, a homesearch agency has its attractions. Tim Donovan, whose work in international relations takes him abroad a good deal, was faced with his office moving out of London to Canterbury. He decided, though, he did not want to live in Kent.

"I thought I had six months, so started looking by myself in Pimlico, Greenwich and Blackheath. I was absolutely exhausted, because there was no time to do it properly. I was also nervous about buying because I was panicked into buying a flat in Croydon eight years ago which I couldn't sell. I bought it for pounds 38,000 and my company was prepared to buy it from me for pounds 22,000. I didn't want to make the same mistake again."

After two months, Mr Donovan, went to a Homesearch Agent, Moving On. They eventually suggested his best option would be a house in Greenwich. "They would go and see about 10 houses a week and take me round two or three. They were good at pointing out little things I might not have noticed. They also found out where the biggest supermarket was and the best route to Canterbury. It made me feel more confident and I found a place after a month."

Tim Donovan paid a pounds 500 fee and one and half per cent of his purchase price on completion. "It turned out to be an essential luxury for me," he says. "One of the most sensible things that I have spent my money on."

But what happens if the agent is unable to find the right house? The original registration fee generally covers a three- to four-month search period and it is important to check whether the agency will carry on looking. Some may require a further fee, but if that is the case it is usually deductible from the final fee. Nicholas Beaumont, director of Moving On, says that he charges only one fee and continues to the bitter end. "As long as you are doing a good job, clients understand if there is nothing suitable coming on to the market. My contract does not specify a period of time and I try to see clients through until they do find something they want."

Association of Relocation Agents 01273 624455. Moving On 01233 813535