/ Home & Energy

Why is homebuying such a headache?


Buying and selling a home is stressful. It can be a long and uncertain process full of pitfalls. But with homebuying or selling being cited as one of the top consumer concerns by younger people, is it more demanding than it needs to be?

Buying a home is a big decision at any age, but it’s probably the most significant purchase a younger person can make. It can be a roller-coaster of emotions: hope, anticipation, disappointment, anger, sadness, and hopefully, at the end, joy.

Last summer, we heard from frustrated homebuyer, Polly Freeman, about her terrible experience of the home buying and selling process, and a number of you identified with Polly’s story.

Home headaches

In many ways, it isn’t surprising that it’s such a stressful life event. Homes are expensive and the stakes are high. More than just bricks and mortar, you are investing in your dreams for the future.

But with half (49%) of 18 to 34 year olds ranking homebuying and selling as one of their top three consumer concerns, does it really have to be this way?

Consumer Agenda Housing

Which? research has shown some of the challenges homebuyers and sellers face. Three in ten (28%) house purchases fall through and it takes on average four to five months to complete a purchase. That’s four to five months of mental anguish.

If your purchase collapses, you could face being out of pocket by an average of £2,200, with nothing to show for it. For first-time buyers who’ve spent years saving deposits, that is a huge blow to accept.

Time for a review

Everyone has heard nightmare stories about long purchasing chains collapsing after months of negotiations, unreasonable price-hikes at the last minute before contracts are exchanged, or dealing with professionals who demand generous fees but do little in return.

No one would design the system in its current guise. So, it’s time to fix the flaws that leave too many people buying or selling a home angry and frustrated.

That’s why we’re calling on the next government to review the home buying and selling process and make it better for consumers.

In particular, we want the government to consider how to make the conveyancing process simpler and how to help consumers make more informed choices about the professionals they use when buying or selling a house.

So, how would you rate the current homebuying and selling process? How do you think the processes could be improved?


Could Which? investigate other countries systems to provide an overview of what works and does not work?
Just asking the Govt. to do something does not guarantee a good result as vested interests and short-term political expediency may result in a hobbled review.

When this matter was last discussed a few months ago I was extolling the virtues of auctions in terms of pretty definitive results at a point certain in time. This may or not maybe the answer.

Come on Which? surveys prove nothing other than adding newer statistics to a problem that has existed for generations. Research other countries systems and set up an independent expert group leavened by interaction with the intelligent Which? membership. I am sure most expert groups would appreciate the knowledge that their findings would have a very large and varied audience rather than writing solely for other experts in the same field.

I have bought homes in Australia ,Melborne , most are sold by Auction. Be prepared to pay 10% Deposit on the day, Agent holds this. After 30 days that becomes available to the seller.
Be prepared to sign the formal sale agreement.
Balance of sale usually 60 days or by agreement.
Some sales are by fixed price. If making an offer its formal via agent. Be prepared to pay 500 or more up front. If offer accepted then that will be off the price.
They also have sealed bids to the agent on fixed date .
I have also bought a house here. It is a very nerve racking way and it took 4 months. Agent and Conveyance No Problem very good.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Gerry – The auction route is usually much faster than that in the UK. The fall of the hammer equals exchange of contracts. The buyer pays their 10% and completion is usually within fourteen days. That is why the system is popular for executor sales and for property that is either unmortgageable or requires much improvement so will attract developers who tend not to argue about the bits and pieces. At property auctions there are representatives of firms that provide bridging finance for people who have not got the full deposit ready or whose bid overshot their price limit and need extra funds. It’s a very fluid process for selling property but the price all depends on the people present on the day and what competition each lot is up against. I have attended many property auctions as an interested spectator, and in one case as an executor selling a property, and there are often two or three hundred people in the room. The appeal of selling by auction is the certainty and finality of the outcome – there is no opportunity for people on either side to change their minds once the deal is done.

Would Which? care to comment on the Nationwide’s move to kill another housing trap that has AFAIR never been covered by Which?

“Overnight, Nationwide building society has made hundreds, and possibly thousands, of new-build flats and houses almost unsaleable – and they should be roundly applauded for doing so.
In a surprise intervention into the scandal of leasehold flats and houses sold with spiralling ground rents, the society said that from this Thursday it will stop lending against any new-build leasehold flat or house where the ground rent is more than 0.1% of the value of the property. It will also refuse loans on new flats with lease lengths of less than 125 years or new houses with less than 250 years. Developers will now be forced, if other lenders adopt the same policy, to slash the absurd ground rents or find that they simply can’t get any buyers.”


In fact in matters relating to property it seems the Guardian is alive to the problems of the last few years than the consumer champion.

I think this is a thoroughly good move by the Nationwide and I hope other mortgage lenders follow suit.

Another scandal that needs to be addressed is the recent and expanding practice of selling houses on new developments as leasehold properties and then selling the freeholds on to an investment company which, over time, milks the leaseholders. The only reason I can see for self-contained properties being sold on leases is to pitch the price in a lower bracket and potentially make it more readily saleable, however I doubt that there is sufficient transparency to prove that it is advantageous to anyone other than the developer and the freeholder. Leasehold is understandable for apartments where there are common structures, services and spaces that require competent management and maintenance for the safety and benefit of all the leaseholders and there is legislation in place to protect leaseholders’ rights and control freeholders’ behaviour; these rights are also available to leaseholders of free-standing property but are largely irrelevant [because there are no common parts with freeholder obligatioons] and almost entirely unenforceable in practice.

Colin says:
8 May 2017

It is perfectly feasible to manage even blocks of flats without resorting to leasehold. Flats or tenements have traditionally been one of the main types of housing in most Scottish towns & cities – to a much greater extent than in England (apart from London) until recent years, yet leasehold is virtually unknown in Scotland. In Scotland, management & maintenance is enforced by a Tenement Management Scheme, applicable to both purpose-built and converted buildings.

The whole UK housing market is flawed. I put my house on the market hoping to move into a new build but soon learnt that the whole procedure was governed by the developers need to ensure everything went in their favour by springing a few last minute surprises whereby I had to agree to use their own appointed solicitors for the sale of my own property as well as the purchase of theirs after I had genuine buyers all ready to go with the purchase of my own property, and although not true to the original floor plan, access to the cloakroom had moved from the hall into the kitchen diner area. I pulled out of the sale.

I then quickly found a second hand property but unfortunately found myself stuck in a chain and was constantly fed with host of misrepresentations and downright lies, procrastination and at times intimidation. I ended up staying put but had to let my buyers down who had already paid for a complete home survey and were all set to move in.

It was a complete shambles, the only way forward was for me to go into rented accommodation, not an option at my age, and this would leave me again at the mercy of the next link in a chain of dysfunctional sellers and estate agents whose sole aim is to acquire an unregulated amount of commission decided by the terms of their own contracts.

Extract for Guardian comments.
“No-one is encouraged to use “the builder’s own solicitors”.”

Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what happens. I was a practising solicitor for over 35 years, and when one of my clients was buying a new build they were told to use a solicitor selected by the builder on almost every occasion. Indeed, in some cases they were offered free legal fees as an incentive.

Those solicitors were nothing more than prostitutes. Their real client was the builder, as they needed the flow of fees that the referrals produced. Their nominal client was merely a unit to be processed in a way that would keep the builder happy.

There was a blatant conflict of interest, but nobody ever stopped them, and it carries on today. In fact a quick look at the Persimmon website contains the text: “If you’d like help in buying your home or would like us to recommend a local independent solicitor, please feel free to contact Persimmon.”


A readers comment on the Guardian thread about builders/solicitors and the evil ground rent and leases being introduced over the last decade or so. The whole mess is shameful and I am totally embarrassed that Which? the consumer champion I have supported for thirty years seems blinded to the problems and a newspaper is the only source for this information.

What really sticks in the craw is the £21m losses on Which? Mortgage services [funded by subscriptions] and the that is after £12m plus of fees from building societies, solicitors etc etc. It seems to me that Which? has joined the financial circus and avoided mentioning the shoddily built houses, the cartel on land, and these insidious new tweaks of old laws to what otherwise would be freehold houses.

I would add that Which? has a preferred large solicitor Shoosmiths who were £200 more expensive than my solicitor in fees on selling a property.

Buying and selling property is a nightmare. It is unreasonable in this day and age to only be certain a sale is definitely going to go happen on moving day.

When a seller accepts an offer on their property, that offer should become legally binding and both parties should deposit £10,000 with a solicitor or estate agent that they lose to the other party if either side pull out unless a survey highlights serious problems.

A sale should be completed within 3 months or the offending side loses £1000 per week of their deposit to the other side. If the buyer’s £10,000 has gone, the seller has the option of putting the property back on the market or insisting a further £10,000 be deposited. If the seller’s £10,000 has gone, the buyer has the option of pulling out or insisting a further £10,000 be deposited. A few unforeseen circumstances might have to be taken into consideration, but would compensate those who are messed around by the other side.

Somebody didn’t like your proposals, Alfa, and gave you the thumbs-down, but I agree with you. It is the basis for tightening the relationship between the buyer and seller once an offer has been accepted and before all the legal ramifications have been dealt with. The details would need to be developed but it is a practical proposal.

Some years ago when we were selling our house in London in a difficult market a prospective purchaser made an offer that was conditional on us taking the property off the market immediately [he had obviously been watching too much Phil Spencer]. I said I would be prepared to do that if he promised not to look at another property between then and exchange of contracts. He didn’t think much of that idea so walked away.

There was a time when the buyer would make a token payment to the seller’s estate agent, acting as stakeholder, to kind of lock them in, but the amounts at risk of forfeit were so small that there was little incentive to see a purchase through if something cropped up. Your substantial stake would be far more compelling. It would also require estate agents to produce far more informative property particulars rather than leave sellers to read between the lines to discover possible drawbacks. To some extent the home condition report proposal [Home Information Pack – England and Wales] would have provided a better basis for making an offer on a property but that policy was cancelled by the Coalition government before it had a chance to demonstrate its value and the only part we are left with is the largely disregarded [and largely pointless] energy performance certificate. The Home Report remains in place in Scotland as a legal requirement.

We moved from Scotland to England 18 months ago. It all went very smoothly, but I think we we possibly lucky with our purchase. No chain involved. The Scottish system (an accepted offer is binding) is much more sensible. However, if market is buoyant, the Scottish blind bidding system is just plain silly.

Alk says:
6 May 2017

Having spoken to a number of friends who recently moved, the resounding point was that had Home Information Packs still been required, the process would have been much smoother.

In France you receive massive reports of around 80 pages covering the electrics , plumbing, asbestos, and in certain areas termites. The house is covered room by room. This is not a structural surveyors report though.
These are valid for a year.

People selling privately, and a lot of people do, I imagine need to produce the reports before a proper offer and acceptance can take place.

Perhaps which? could make some concrete proposals as to how to improve the home buying process, other than just passing the buck to the government to “improve conveyancing”. In my experience the formalities – solicitor, survey, building society – need not be taxing providing you are buying a sound property at the “right” price (your building society will want to recover its loan if you fail to repay). the main problem with a second hand house seems to me to be the chain. you are totally dependent upon the proposed buyer of your house having the money to buy it, which they rarely do until they have sold theirs – and they are in a similar position with their buyer. Equally, you cannot buy a house without money – which comes from your sale. So all these participants don’t have any actual money to spend, just a promise. Break this chain and a major obstacle has gone. Given this problem I don’t see how imposing penalties on most transactions would either help, or be fair; you simply do not know what will happen in the chain or when, so it would simply add another obstacle.

One way, of course, would be for commercial companies to act as an intermediary – buy houses, release the cash, so the buyer can make a fully-funded offer on their next house, possibly on sale by the same commercial companies.

Which? did put forward some detailed proposals on the survey some years ago and lobbied hard for the government to regulate that sellers and not buyers would have to provide the survey. IIRC the government watered down the ideas and left things much as they are,which is less than satisfactory.

The real problem is that it requires legislation to change things since otherwise there are far too many people involved in the lucrative business of property conveyancing and sale for real change to become a reality. But I don’t think the chain is the main issue. Buying any house, be it brand new or more often – pre-loved (!) – has a whole nest of complications awaiting the unwary.

Solicitors often have to be chivvied. Estate agents are more heavily regulated, now, but were not averse to making as much as they could through whatever means they could in days of yore. Problems about which the sellers might have known for some time may not have been revealed, even with a survey, and surveys are remarkably worded – almost written in invisible ink, in fact – and reassure the buyer that virtually nothing they say can be relied upon or used against them if they get it wrong. And the building survey only covers – well, not much, actually; any gas fittings have to b inspected by a Gas Safe Registered Engineer, any electrical work has to be inspected by an NIC EIC registered electrician and phrases such as “…we recommend that enquires are made with your solicitors in order to confirm etc. etc.” abound. In addition, what they actually do cover is often mildly amusing: “Where a number of concrete paving slabs have broken, these would benefit from replacement.” is roughly analogous to “Where there is a deep hole you would benefit from not falling into it”.

Other equally meaningless phrases include “appears to be in a serviceable condition however areas of deterioration are evident. Where the mortar pointing to the verge has deteriorated, we recommend these areas are repointed in the immediate term.” and in fact might even be standard placeholders. Some items are so utterly obvious that a blind man at midnight in fog would notice what a surveyor is being paid rather well to provide.

What concerns me is that a surveyor says almost nothing that any normal person wouldn’t notice and, where their expertise might be useful, such as in the roof void or loft, they don’t go in.

So I suspect the government does need to make changes. One change might be to make the surveyor report far more useful and informative, and not simply a selection of phrases cobbled together. Another change might be to add legal force to an offer. At the moment an offer can be withdrawn, or ignored, or made to more than one buyer. I think sellers have to be made to think twice about selling and buyers. It’s a fraught process, and even after exchange there’s a huge amount to do – partly because under the current system no one can start planning a move until that’s been done.

A buyer should choose their surveyor to do as full a survey as they believe the house needs, and this could include drains, electrics, gas, hidden items and whatever else they specify. It will of course cost them money but given their investment, the potential cost of repairs and the possible price discount if acceptable problems are discovered make this a worthwhile precaution. It may be the seller commissions these, but how in-depth they will be may not be adequate for the cautious (sensible) purchaser. I would certainly not rely on a seller’s choice of surveyor or any other assessor as it is open to misuse.

Having an extensive survey done requires confidence that your offer has been accepted. If you have the means to pay for the house then there could be a penalty if the seller withdraws before contracts are formally exchanged. But for the potential buyer without the means to purchase (in the chain) this must be at their risk – no purchase can be guaranteed until they have the cash.

I believe the chain is the main cause of problems, as we also see from the intro. Buy a new house and it goes through very swiftly, as can a cash purchase on a vacant property. It may be the seller has to move into rented accommodation to clear their part of the chain.

M J Mulligan says:
8 May 2017

A system where an offer and acceptance constitute a contract is better, as people seem to lack the necessary principles.

Even when selling a house with no chain, no mortgage, no survey it took ages, from October to February. Think that all searches, surveys and legal status should be part of a house documents, so you buy with the equivalent of a MOT. If possible, house should sell to a realtor rather than an estate agent, who buys it from the seller then sells it to the buyer. They would be responsible for the condition of the house and liable if that was misrepresented. There would be no ridiculous chains. They would sell the house at a profit not charge a commission. As this would involve large sums of money, the firms involved would have to be solid and reliable. They would push house purchase prices down and competition would ensure the selling market prices were controlled. I think this is how the US system operates and for once, it sounds sensible.

K says:
8 May 2017

Almost every property has stipulations that the buyer must determine / confirm the boundary themselves. Nothing in the estate agent particulars takes ownership and neither does the seller. Land registry usually shows no measurements. How can that be right, you don’t really know for sure what you are getting.

One of the complications of house buying is that the legal process is almost always done by a solicitor, which simply adds to the complications. You used to be able to do your own legal work and I have done it in the past (alright this was 30 years ago!). The Land Registration system was originally introduced so that people could do their own buying and selling without the need for solicitors. One hint: completion of the sale should be done at the property itself – so that you can check that the sellers have actually moved out!

Estate agents should be regulated. They should be be involved in the mortgage(s) involved. Surveyors should not be able act as estate agents in particular where they could be on a lenders panel for surveys in the same area.

I decided to sell my flat a few years ago, it took me over 7months to sell, first of all. no interest then 2 people looked at the property no buyer. Few months went then an offer was made excepted offer took over 8 weeks for sale to go through, and I sold it at a loss.

Sophia Hartland says:
8 May 2017

Both parties, buyer and seller, need to be committed much earlier in the process, so that defaulting is very costly (especially to the seller). The uncertainty is the problem. Scotland and France seem to do it very much better.

That works when you have a viable buyer – they have the cash – and a seller who can move immediately – not part of a chain. Otherwise any transactions are conditional.

Janet says:
8 May 2017

yes in France people dont go around making offers on several houses to see what happens, and when they do make an offer and it is accepted there are penalties on both side if either party backs out after a short period of reflection. The Advocat is Government employed and can act without bias for both sides.

Adoption of a system deployed in France where a purchaser has to deposit a non-refundable deposit (of 10%) would lend stability to the whole process.

S Walton says:
8 May 2017

I think something along the lines of the system used in Scotland would be a good idea. It seems to work well without the problems some buyers have in England.

It seems a long drawn out procedure ,involving considerable expense .It should be as easy as buying a car ,after all it’s only a house standing on a piece of land.It’s not rocket science !

Most developers require exchange of contracts within 28 days or they are not interested.

I was already to go ahead and put down a deposit on a new build which hadn’t been completed at the time, having found genuine buyers for my own property who were in a position to proceed as their buyers were in rented accommodation, therefore end of chain. I was a cash buyer and therefore there was no delay in acquiring a mortgage, when I was informed, as far as they were concerned their own solicitor was the only one who could exchange contracts within 28 days. I actually contacted their solicitor and challenged him to confirm this, only to be told “we can if you can”. I had already appointed my own solicitor who was astounded by this declaration at such a late stage in the procedure. It was a case of me putting my life’s savings into the hands of a complete stranger who had been appointed and was being paid by a developer to act in their interests only, which I was not prepared to do, coupled with the fact they had altered the original specification of the property without informing me.

My buyers, a young couple, were not prepared to go into rented accommodation and wait for me to complete on another purchase so they pulled out due to pressure from their buyers in rented accommodation I had no alternative but to stay put. The thought of moving twice at my age in a short space of time was too much for me to cope with.

The second hand property owners who had accepted my offer of the asking price then demanded confirmation that I had sufficient funds to meet the difference between the price of my property and the purchase of theirs, which I did by producing the necessary written bank details. I was told they had already found a property in another area and were all set to go. Nothing happened for a week or two so I phoned their agent who informed me their purchase had fallen through but they had now found and were going ahead with another property. Again nothing for another few weeks so I asked my estate agent to investigate. It transpired it was all fabricated and they were “still searching.” Meantime my buyers were putting pressure on me to move out. Soon after I made the decision to pull out of the sale of the second property I discovered they had added another £10k onto the price!

If developers of new builds could first build a row of 3 bed terraced houses on site and rent them out to buyers in waiting at a reasonable and ambient price, or include the rental in the price of the property, until the development was complete when they are at liberty to sell them off, it would solve the problem of buyers having to look elsewhere, signing contracts with private landlords, ending up paying thousands of pounds onto the price of their new purchase.

It has never been easy to buy a house, butI think that the problems were increased when Council Houses were sold off.
In my opinion, Council Houses should have been let for a period – maybe a ten year lease. In that time, I young couple would have had time to see their children in school, with both parents working, saving enough money for a deposit.
If their local authority were then to provide mortgage facilities for them, the council would not only regain the property for another young family, but would also be making money from the mortgage that could be used to build more houses.