When I was buying my flat, five years ago, I often wondered if there was any more unpleasant, time-consuming way of conducting a business transaction. Don’t get me wrong: I was also piteously grateful that years of paying virtually everything I earned in rent were behind me. I still am. But if I had to pick between buying a flat again, and buying a used car in a dark alley from a stranger, I’d go for the potential serial killer every time. At least you know where you are with a crazy person holding an axe.
There’s a reason why moving house is listed as one of life’s more stressful processes. And that reason is not estate agents. Well, it’s not just estate agents. It’s everyone involved in the whole miserable, soul-grinding affair: the mortgage advisers, the surveyors, everybody. No one involved in the house-buying business has anything but their own interests at heart.
No wonder the Office of Fair Trading is now looking into the quick house-sale industry, which has been flourishing lately. If you haven’t sold a house recently, you may already be howling on the floor, clutching your sides at the very idea that a house sale can be quick. It took me three months to buy my place, and I had to shout at pretty much everyone in London to make things happen that fast.
But quick house-sale providers are all about the speed: they offer a cash purchase in a matter of days, with a discount on the market value to make up for the fact that you get the money sharpish, with no chains. At least, that’s the idea. The trouble is that some customers have reported a less rosy picture: agreed prices suddenly being slashed at the last minute, for example. Accept the new, reduced price, or walk away from the deal and find yourself liable for huge valuation fees.
The OFT is concerned that sellers who need a quick sale may well be in vulnerable situations, and they’re clearly right to worry. Who needs to sell a house in a rush? The bereaved, the divorcing, those whose debts are about to topple over and crush them.
Besides, other than professional investors, we’re all vulnerable when it comes to buying property, and prone to being scammed, even by reputable companies. My mortgage lender called the day before we were due to exchange, to demand a 25 per cent deposit rather than the 20 per cent we’d previously agreed. I only have my flat now because I’d been lucky with work during the house-buying months, so had the money. Otherwise, the whole thing would have fallen through. If the OFT is wondering what to investigate next, I’d happily suggest mortgage lenders.
A word in Bergerac’s ear
Ah, the BBC knows how to make my day, as it proved when it announced a remake of Bergerac. Ah, Bergerac (as John Nettles used to be before he was DCI Barnaby): the only detective who drove a lovely vintage Triumph while investigating shady businessmen who were nearly, but not quite, French.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like Nettles will be returning to the Channel Islands, as the series is being given a reboot. Just as ITV has extended the Morse brand to focus on both his younger colleague, Lewis, and his younger self, Endeavour, so the Bergerac brand could surely be stretched.
Given how exercised we all are about tax havens these days, the best plan is clearly a hi-tech spin-off, in which Bergerac’s daughter deals with tax-dodging traders and dubious bankers. I hope they keep the cheesy old theme tune, though. Can we call it retro?