Our Experience of Moving House in Cambridge

Fulchers of Cambridge truck loading up our worldly goods

We’ve just moved house. It’s not something anyone with a life would want to do often, if only because of the sheer chore of letting dozens of different organisations know about the change of address, never mind the pain of changing things like TV and telephone services. Most significant of all, there’s the sheer cost of moving. Sure, there are Estate Agents, Solicitors and others to pay, but the real blow – when you live in expensive cities like Cambridge – is stamp duty, which has risen to eyewateringly high levels in recent years. If we stay in this house for ten years, and spread the cost of the stamp duty over that period, it comes to (wait for it) a couple of hundred pounds a month. I hope you make good use of it, Mr Osborne.

But hey, nobody’s going to feel sorry for me buying an expensive house. What I can do is to tell you about some of the services we used, and if they were any good. Almost uniformly, they were.

The Estate Agents

First of all, we had to sell our existing house. We had four estate agents round, and three of them clearly just looked at a nearby house similar to ours which had sold a year earlier, added a bit on to reflect the rise in house prices over the year, and recommended that’s what we put the house on the market for. But I was convinced that the area was underpriced, and amazed that there seemed to be no allowance for the fact we’d spent over £40,000 on a top-quality extension just four years earlier. Enter Kevin Burt-Gray of TuckerGardner (update: see comments below).

Kevin understood all of the above. He realised the value of the location, opposite Cambridge’s best public park. He suggested a price nearly 15% higher than the other estate agents, and what’s more, advised us of a (lower) price at which to put the house on the market, in order to eventually get the target price. He was eventually proved almost exactly right. There’s no way we would have got that sort of price – which was a fair one, by the way – without Kevin.

Now, I’m not a fan of Estate Agents. Last time we moved house, the firm we used did so little work that I resolved to sell the house privately when it came to doing it again. I even set up a web page which would be visited by house buyers regularly, so that when the time came to sell the house, we could just advertise it there (the page still appears well up the top of the Google results, and is visited by hundreds of people a month). However, we wanted to move quickly, and took a chance that TuckerGardner would get us a premium over what we’d be likely to get by selling it privately which would be enough to cover their fees. We were right. And so were they.

The Solicitors

Conversely, last time we sold a house I was amazed at what great work the solicitors did, for what they charged. There was no way we’d look at any short cuts on this front, so all that remained was to choose one. Asking friends and family locally for recommendations didn’t turn up much, so I did some research online: my criteria were that we used a locally-based, independent firm, which specialised in conveyancing. I didn’t want to be sitting in waiting rooms waiting for other clients to finish discussing their impending divorces. Despite their rather uninspiring web presence, Massucco Buttress ticked the right boxes, and a visit to their equally unprepossessing office by Cambridge station confirmed they were the people we wanted. I particularly warmed to Amanda Buttress’ comment that she never tried to be great friends with the local estate agents – that’s just what you want to hear from someone whose job includes banging estate agents and other solicitors’ heads together.

The firm did a thoroughly efficient job, and really helped to make things happen when it all got a bit bogged down nearer sale time. They were certainly a lot more impressive and proactive than the solicitors they were dealing with up and down the chain. Again, thoroughly recommended.

Buying a House

I haven’t mentioned that we were buying a new house. Now here’s an opportunity for somebody. If you’ve never bought a new house before, here’s what happens: you have to start negotiating with the house builders. You’re completely on your own, with no support, against salespeople who have been professionally trained in negotiation. It’s a ridiculous situation. I have no interest, ability or desire to negotiate. Why is it, in a country which has largely moved on from the third-world practices of bartering, that when it comes to the largest purchase of your life, the process is dragged down to the level of an Arab market?

I enquired from people who know better than me what the process entails. “You ring up the house builder and make them a silly offer”, I was told. “Then they say there’s no chance, and declare that you’ll have to pay the full amount. So you say you’ll think about it, and ring back later with a higher offer. They say they can take a bit off, but not that much. And so it goes.”

That’s exactly what happens. I hate this. I wondered if I could get a professional negotiator to do it for me – I’d happily pay someone £5,000 if they could get the house for £10,000 less than I could manage to negotiate. But I couldn’t find anyone offering such a service. It’s a huge market opportunity, if you ask me. Hundreds of new houses are sold nationwide every week, and a fair proportion of the buyers have no interest or inclination to get into a bartering situation with people who do it for a living.

The Move
We asked a few friends to recommend a local removal company (again, I wanted to deal with a locally-based specialist) but not much came of this. So I turned to Twitter, and the response was excellent. Five recommendations within the hour, four of them for Fulchers of Cambridge. We had a second company in to quote, just to ensure the price was OK, but Fulchers were actually cheaper, so that was sorted. They delivered packing boxes well in advance of the move, they were absolutely professional on the day, and they collected the packing material a week later. We couldn’t have asked for better service.

So here we are, a few weeks later, and I have to say, as far as house moves go it was relatively painless. That said, it was still a massive upheaval, and something I wouldn’t want to do again for many years. Let’s hope we don’t have to.

17 Replies to “Our Experience of Moving House in Cambridge”

  1. Hi Chris,

    Its great to hear a first hand account of the house moving process and I think this is what’s missing from the online property media as most home-movers are so exhausted after the whole process the last thing they do is publish an account for others to learn from.

    Well done.

    JC

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  2. Hi Chris

    Great to see such positive feedback from you – I was accused by numerous parties of over-valuing this house, mainly due to their lack of homework and grasp of what exactly was on offer. It was ALWAYS going to achieve a premium!

    Anyway, good to be proved right.

    Strangely enough, this episode was one of the catalysts for leaving Tucker Gardner to join Pocock and Shaw – who seem to appreciate my desire and drive to get the best possible price for all my clients and not take the lazy/easy option so often adopted by Estate Agents.

    All the best

    Kevin

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  3. Since when have “estate agent” and “solicitor” been proper nouns, Chris?

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  4. Since Shakespeare’s writing, which pays its own respects to the dignity of ordinary trades and professions. I’ve always subscribed to the school of “if it looks right, it is right” English. Job titles always look better to me with capitals, and if you use them for job titles, you also need to use them for professions, or you get “He was a Chief Inspector, she was a ticket inspector”. But if the pedants want to revolt on this, so be it.

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  5. Lauren Thompson 15 May 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you so much for your frank reviews of your house buying experience. We have literally offered on a house today (waiting to hear back to see if the vendor has accepted…fingers crossed!) and have been looking for reviews of local conveyancing firms as we would much rather stay local. I too came across the contact details for Amanda Buttress and was impressed by her warm tone and helpful manner when I called this afternoon. So…you’d recommend her then?

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  6. Best of luck, Lauren. All I can say is that I’d unhesitatingly use Amanda’s services again!

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  7. I’ve used Kevin in his new role at Pocock & Shaw. He was full of praise for my property and gave me the highest valuation of all the agents I spoke to. The problem is he couldn’t deliver even close to this figure and I sat on the market for months.

    A typical estate agent trick, don’t always go with the highest valuation.

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  8. Hmm… interesting post.

    Hi John – not sure exactly what property you refer to or who you are but I take all complaints seriously. However, I have just trawled through ALL of my property instructions since joining Pocock and Shaw and not one property fits this description. You state that I ‘could not even get close to this figure’ – again a few more facts and detail would be good – it implies that offers were made on the property?

    Maybe you could also provide me with the property address or Road? This will allow me to provide you and the readers with a transparent and honest reply to your comments whilst allowing you to retain your anonymity – and me my honour.

    However, I think we can dismiss the rather pernicious comment about estate agency ‘trickery’. Valuation can be nothing more or less than an informed opinion. There may be agents out there who are prepared to over-value to increase their market share of new instructions – I am not one of them.

    There are still a few of us out there (estate agents) whose moral compasses are set to true north and genuinely and passionately want to provide the very best advice and service possible to their clients. I would like to think I get it right …most of the time.

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  9. I used Kevin last year to sell my property in Hazelwood Close, Cambridge. He valued it at 15-20k higher than the other agents and sold it in a week. Pretty good ‘trick’ i’d say!
    I didn’t go with him because his valuation was the highest, I went with him because he struck me as the hungriest and willing to put the work in the get it sold. Lower valuations are for the lazy. Remember, no sale, no commission!

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  10. We put our Cambridge house on the market in September 2012 and the whole sale process went quite smoothly for us. Kevin could not have been more helpful. He took the time and trouble to assess our house properly and then described its features in appropriate detail, supported by great photos (he came back twice to capture the garden at its best!) We appreciated Kevin’s experience and enthusiasm, and as the post above says, he definitely went the extra mile for us.

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  11. Kevin sold my home during a very difficult time and was very sensitive and sincere. Thanks Chris for putting your experience here for others to read.

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  12. Just wanted to add my own recommendation for Massucco Buttress. I’ve been a client of Mark Massucco for over 16 years. He was part of a different firm when he did his first house purchase for me, but subsequently set up his firm with Amanda Buttress. He’s worked for me 4 times in this period as we moved up the property ladder, and every time the level of service and competency has been excellent.

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  13. Hello Mate
    I’m new to the area. Thanks for the article.

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  14. Hi,

    We are in the early stages of buying a house and we are with Kevin and the Massuccos, same as you did years ago 🙂

    Hope the deal will go thru

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    1. Do let us know how it went, after the event! And best of luck.

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  15. Hi Chris,
    Thank you so much for this posting. You provided me with exactly what I was looking for.
    I was looking for a very special estate agent to help me with my slightly unusual situation and Kevin was perfect so thank you for letting me know he existed – I would never have known without your blog and it has made a great difference to my life.
    2 years ago I had 3 agents to look at the house and they all said: “3 or 4 bedroom semi” and told me what the other semis nearby had sold for. Now this house is over twice the size of the nearby houses! We have put a large extension on the side and back. It also has a block of 3 good sized workshops in the back garden suitable for a range of domestic or commercial use – what a joy in a place like Cambridge. It has a 90 foot landscaped garden and dozens of amazing features; so….” 3 or 4 bed semi” just did not do it for me! How can these people be that lazy? I wanted someone who could see what I see in the property and could convey that to the buyers. For this reason I was very interested in your blog. I am also the seller from hell! You see I love the house. I had when I extended it and built the workshops and garden; I had no intention of ever selling it. I intended to live here for the rest of my life and so I put in years of work, tenderly creating everything I ever wanted for a beautiful home, garden and workshops. Then my partner took early retirement and we decided to move to the sea and his family. Hmmmmm I wanted to take the house with me! Since that was not possible, I was determinded to find a buyer who could see what a special house it is. I’m terrible! For me it’s like selling a faithful pet of 18 years.
    We moved to a new house by the sea in Dorset and kept the Cambridge house – just to make sure that we were as happy there as in Cambridge. After 2 years we decided we really should sell up in Cambridge and commit to our new life on the coast.
    After seeing your blog I called Kevin and he was amazing. He really does go the extra mile. He could see what I see in the house and was happy to indulge me in my various quirks that included me showing the buyers around myself! The house has many unusual features and I wanted to show potential buyers and also to answer their questions. It was also my way of saying goodbye to the faithful old house. In addition, I have 4 tenants living in the property who are fabulous people and have been great to me and have become good friends. I wanted to make sure they were well looked after as we sold what is after all their home.
    All of this Kevin took in his stride. He understood my love of the house and returned on various occasions to take better and then even better photos of the garden in perfect light conditions! (This is so far above and beyond any previous agent that it astonishes and delights me.) He created a prospectus that matched my demanding criteria. He changed it several times at my request and with no hint of complaint. He really does have the attitude that the happiness of the seller is paramount. He was fantastic with the tenants and they now really like him! He looked after all my rather unreasonable needs and requirements as if it were all perfectly normal! When I visited the office I was greeted by name by one of the shop staff who I had not previously met! What service! What lovely people. They even let me bring my bike in briefly when I turned up without a lock! (Please don’t do this yourself – it’s a terrible thing to do!)
    When it finally came to agreeing a sale Kevin spoke repeatedly to the many different people that wanted the house and was businesslike but also kind and respectful to each person. It is a difficult time for buyers when they are in competition with others. I felt he handled it very well. He arranged a price 30K above the asking price – which I am delighted with – and – wait for it …. We even found a buyer who wants to keep my lovely tenants in the property – which was not expected but is wonderful.
    It’s not over until the fat lady sings but so far Kevin has been truly exceptional and gone way above the usual call of duty to fulfil on our complicated emotional needs as well as selling our home for a really good price. Well done Kevin.
    I am a very thorough person so as part of my original research, I visited various estate agent’s offices to see what their welcome was like (what would the people buying my house be faced with?) None of them had such a good welcome as Pocock and Shaw and some of them were truly disgraceful with scowling secretaries or the office on a floor far above the shop window accessible only by a lift.
    An elderly friend of mine sold a house near to me through a very expensive estate agent. They got an acceptable price but just before completion the buyer asked for a £10,000 reduction which the estate agent recommended she accept! They did nothing to negotiate on her behalf and seemed to care nothing for her situation (she has leukaemia). Kevin assures me that he never accepts this form of black mail and has ways of holding the buyer to the agreed price (or reselling the property). Music to my ears.
    Sorry to give such a long post. I felt my experience was unusual enough to want to share.
    I am so grateful Chris that you posted your experiences and so pleased with the extraordinary Kevin and his team at P&S.
    I feel happy now to leave the house in good hands and move on to my new life. Thank you for that.
    Best wishes for the future. Clare

    Thanks – glad it went so well. – Chris

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  16. Lautaro Vargas 18 May 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Excellent piece, well done.

    Reply

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