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.
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.
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.