/ 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?


When I bought my last house both ends where a nightmare, my buyer had done all her searches and the solicitors were still holding it up, at the other end I spent 2 months trying to buy a house and those solicitors hadn’t even got the deeds after 8 weeks, I was waiting to pay the deposit on the Friday before our move on Monday. I ended up packing the house contents in storage and staying with my 4 cats at a friends house. It was madness and I cannot believe how incompetent the legal profession involved actually were.
Let us go to the Scottish system of auction and it is done on the day, anything has to be better than the current system.

Maybe we need a separate Conversation to discuss the Scottish system.

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If I did not have connections with Scotland (I was born there and still have family there) I might not have any knowledge about the Scottish system, Duncan. I have no personal experience, but think it is useful to compare different systems used in the UK, and feel that Which? has missed the opportunity to do this. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages of the Scottish system.

When discussing food hygiene ratings we can compare Wales and Scotland with England. Scotland has a pass/fail system, whereas England and Wales offer different ratings, which encourages improvement. Wales has the best system because there is a requirement to display the ratings. Perhaps it would be instructive to look in detail at how house purchase works in Scotland.

L Kelley says:
9 May 2017

Unfortunately there are a multitude of issues. It starts with the chain, in other countries when you buy or sell your property it is done without having to wait for others to buy or sell their homes. 2nd, home inspections? What a joke they are! We bought a house that had so many problems including the electricity was never properly grounded after the last botched renovation and our inspection didn’t begin to pick up any of the major issues, we spent well over a £1K for assurances as we knew it was a much older house. Next time( if I can ever bear to deal with the stress again) we will not even bother with a home inspection and save our money for something of value. Solicitors? Why do they hold up property transactions?? Is there something in it for them? I have 4 friends who all bought property and the major hold up in each instance with different houses/locations were solicitors!
Unfortunately the UK needs a major overhaul when it comes to property buying and don’t even get me started on the additional cost of the useless stamp duty. That alone will keep anyone from moving as I refuse to come up with that much money for nothing other than an additional tax.

We should adopt some of the French rules for property buying where once an offer has been made the buyer has 10 days to pull out or face having to lose their 10% deposit. The vendor cannot pull out so that stops gazumping. Canada has a similar system. Simple.
If they made a structural survey mandatory like in Scotland that would complete the circle. They have several “diagnostic” surveys that are mandatory such as checking for asbestos, electrical and gas installations, natural hazards such as flooding, earthquakes, etc and various others including the energy assessment.

Stamp duty is a disgrace. People do not live all their life in one place like civil servants, I believe that on average people move 8 times now. So not only is the rate of the duty outrageous but it it is applied multiple times. At the same time foreign companies were avoiding paying it all together. Yet another example of the elite bureaucrats totally out of touch with the modern realities of life. The other biggest problem is the lack of an actual deal until completion – the deal should be as in Scotland, when you say you are going to buy that should be final & binding – ending gazumping.

I had an awful experience. Not only did the people I was buying from failed to exchange after I had exchanged, I subsequently found out that they had done this before and their agents were aware of this. I had to keep my side of the bargain and had to put all my belongings in storage for over 3 months. I’m in my 60s and had to rely on friends, brief hotel stay and holiday let. Also my agents closed their office suddenly and relocated and my sales process and their contact with my buyers suffered. I lost out financially as well, because I paid for a survey, search fees, and aborted solicitor’s fees. My estate agents however still got their fees of over £6000. We should adopt the Scottish system.

Garth Pearce says:
9 May 2017

On our last purchase, May 2017, the buyer’s ( solicitor) of our old house dragged out the process so long on very minor issues , that we missed the March 31st. deadline and had to pay an additional £6,000 tax.

Stephen Parker says:
9 May 2017

I’m going through the process right now and cannot believe why solicitors can deliberately hold up the the whole process. My solicitor for buying my next property told me she could not talk to my sellers solicitor but I could forward the email to her that she had sent me WHY? They are completely out of sinc with each other and both are at different levels in the buying and selling process. The stress and worry this is causing is unacceptable and the whole process has got be completely overhauled.

P, McDonald says:
9 May 2017

The price of the property should be agreed with the vendor subject to survey. If the survey shows significant problems the price needs to be re-negotiated.
Once a contract has been agreed and the 10% deposit paid that should be final. If the buyer cancels the 10% should be sacrificed .
At present the vendor can cancel or increase the price without penalty. If there was a legal/ financial obligation written into the contract to prevent this it would stop many of the deals falling through.

Your second sentence sets out the actual position in England & Wales. I believe it is the same in Scotland. Once contracts have been exchanged and the 10% deposit paid the sale goes ahead and the deposit is forfeited in the event of cancellation [for example, if the buyer dies]. The seller cannot change the price or other sale terms after exchange of contracts.

The problems that most people are concerned about arise before exchange of contracts where either side can pull out with minimal consequences. The buyer might have to pay for a survey carried out but not required and if the seller decides not to proceed that can lead to costs for abortive estate agency and legal work but they presumably take that into account before making such a decision.

And subject to valuation by Surveyor of mortgage company.

Why do lenders only allow use of Solicitors that are on THEIR panel??? That takes away OUR choice of Solicitor which is disgusting. What ARE we allowed to make a decision on these days?

They do it that way because the lender is taking most of the risk, Ali. They have to do a due diligence exercise on any firm that does the conveyancing and they offer a selection of firms that they have checked and are satisfied with. Doing that every time a new firm is requested by the borrower would add extra costs to the transaction. The alternative would be for the lender to appoint a separate solicitor to supervise the work, and advise on the performance, of the borrower’s conveyancer which would double the legal costs. You can make your own decision on the choice of lender, but after that you are effectively in their hands.

We sold in England and had an offer which the buyer couldn’t afford, delaying our move to Scotland. The Scottish process is far simpler and far fewer deals fall thorough. Why is it not adopted in the rest of the UK?

Unfortunately, buyers have little choice over which estate agent they will be dealing with as they are selected by the seller and their primary responsibility is to their client, the seller. A good agent will check the financial standing of a prospective purchaser as soon as they show interest in a property and make sure that any offer they make is within their means. The usual expression for fulfilment of the agents’ obligations is that they introduce purchasers who are “ready, willing, and able to proceed”. If they fail to cover those bases then their commission is in jeopardy. The “ready” part has become a bit elastic in recent years and is often contingent on finding a buyer for their own property. A good agent will not put forward an offer unless [if appropriate] the buyer’s property is already on the market. “Willing” should mean intending to proceed on the basis of good faith; this has also been diluted. “Able” obviously means having all the wherewithall in place financially, logistically, and mentally. The best agents will not compromise on these standards, but few sellers choose the best agents to act for them unfortunately.

The agent we use does not advise accepting any offer unless the buyer has, at the very least, accepted an offer on their own property from a purchaser with demonstrable means to proceed. A cash buyer will clearly come first in the pecking order.

That is obviously the best approach, Malcolm, but in some markets [or for some types of property] your Type A and Type B buyers are not available so the best potential buyer is one who has at least put their place on the market.

Which takes us back to the “chain” problem John, and I don’t yet see a way round it.

I could not believe how long the process took when I was buying an empty house, with no chain. I was so frustrated that my solicitor did not ask relevant questions of the other solicitor as to why there was a delay in documents coming back. When I asked my solicitor to give me the earliest completion date I could work towards and she told me she had no idea, I threatened to back out of the purchase and amazingly contracts exchanged and completed the very next day and I moved in!!

Studying different areas and viewing houses took ages but when I made a decision to purchase, everything went smoothly. The house I purchased last year was empty and no mortgage was involved and I did not have to sell my home.

I chose a surveyor on the basis of a thorough survey done for a friend a week or so before. Mine was done by a different person in the company and less detailed, which was a disappointment.

When a perspective purchaser pulls out and breaks selling process, they should be liable for any lost costs, if there’s not a legitimate reason. Maybe go to the Scottish system. We also found out after we purchased a new build 3 years ago that the garage is not water proof, I think this information should be compulsory before purchase, as we would not have bought our current home had we known.

Depending on where the water penetration is coming from, Jackie, I would have expected this problem to have have been dealt with under the NHBC guarantee scheme [unless the garage is not an integral part of the property – even then, the developers should have been liable]. It might be worth checking with Citizens Advice whether you have any claim against the developers. The purpose of a garage is to keep the weather off a car; if it doesn’t do that it is not fit for purpose.

I agree with John’s suggestions for action and hope that the NHBC guarantee will take care of the problem.

Modern garages have a pitched roof, which is a much better solution for keeping water out than the old flat roof. Integral garages are even better but can take up a lot of ground floor space. I guess that more garages are used as dry storage space rather than to keep cars.

I found that a small amount of water could get under a garage door in strong winds and attached a wooden strip for the bottom of the door to rest against, taking care not to penetrate the plastic membrane below. That proved successful. I could drive over the wooden strip if I wanted to put a car in the garage but it’s used as a workshop and for storage.

Waterproof and keeping rain off a car being two separate issues : ) Legally speaking that is. However depending on how the water gets in there could well be a case for the NHBC or which ever of the other warranty providers was used.

My caveat was because a householder may have defeated the original design by building a patio or raising a bed that drains to the garage or bridges a damp course or there is a blocked downpipe ….

Jackie, it would be useful to know what “not waterproof” means? Is their rising damp on the floor, a leak through the roof, water running under the doors?

In a three year-old garage there should be no water penetration due to any construction defects, and I presume Jackie’s problem hasn’t only just come to light. I assumed it had been there from the beginning.

Although many garages are used for a variety of purposes other than housing a car, that is the only function for which they are designed. On a new development a garage’s fitness for purpose can only be judged against that particular purpose and not against habitable room standards, or use for dry storage, a laundry room, or as a gymnasium or playroom. So in terms of seeking redress for a water penetration problem it is important to know where it is coming from as some sources might not compromise the garage’s fundamental purpose.

For new developments the provision of garages is normally a planning requirement because a garage counts as one of the authorised parking spaces on the development which in turn is used to reduce the amount of public highway and thence to enable the developer to raise the plot ratio.

I am not sure whether the alleged inability of most modern cars to fit property within a garage is a housing design or a motor car design problem. Standard garage doors are eight feet wide, and there are usually set-backs inside of at least one foot each side, but car doors have become much fatter and longer so will not open sufficiently inside a standard garage.

Putting a car in a garage is a good way of turning a dry storage area into a damp one, John. The role of a garage has changed, in the same way that a phone line is more important for broadband than phone calls for an increasing number of users. You are right about the problem of bigger cars and standard garage doors. That was what encouraged me to use the garage at my previous house for storage and as a workshop. It is very annoying when people with drives and garages either park on the road or allow visitors to.

Hopefully Jackie will come back and explain why her fairly new garage is not waterproof, as Malcolm has commented on.

As most cars are waterproof it seems a waste of useful space to then put it in their own house. A workshop is a far more worthwhile use (in my view) along with storage to keep your house tidier, and to accommodate a spare (fridge) freezer. I built a brick and tile double garage with a membrane in the floor linked to a dpc in the walls, floored the loft and made a staircase. It has never seen a car but has produced a lot of furniture and other projects.

My car insurance stipulates it has go be garaged when not in use at home. Failure to do so could affect my premium payments.

It must depend on where you live and what car you are insuring, Beryl. My insurance companies have asked where the car would be kept but never charged more for keeping it on the drive. Maybe there is a surcharge for keeping cars on the road.

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I must show this article to my insurer and ask for a discount for parking on the drive rather than in the garage 🙂 https://www.uswitch.com/car-insurance/where-to-park-for-cheaper-car-insurance/

Which? discovered that many insurers charge less to keep the car on the drive than in the garage.

It is probably because my car is a convertible which are easier to break into. Also my garage is away from the house as is the private residents parking area. I have just read that insurance companies are using Google satellite maps to check where you live and where you park your car. Big Brother tactics already operating in a place near you!

I agree garages are better used as workshops or for storage purposes but I still feel that a locked car parked out of sight in a locked garage is less likely to be stolen than one that is parked on a drive in full view of a potential thief. The downside is that the paintwork on your car is more likely to be damaged moving it in and out of the garage,

That would explain the reason, Beryl.

One of my homebuying headaches was to find a bungalow with a big garage but without a large garden. I’ve spent most of my life living in bungalows and have a weak leg thanks to a careless motorist. At least their insurance made a generous contribution to the cost of my first home. Going up and down stairs has proved beneficial, so maybe I should have moved to a house years ago.

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I’m glad for you that you didn’t allow your injury to decide the course of your house choice Wavechange. Stairs are a good means of cardiovascular exercise as well as for strengthening knees and legs.

You don’t see very many bungalows being built on new developments these days probably because of the high price of land. A single storey still essential for wheelchair users of course.

I agree, Beryl. I had planned to have a downstairs study but carried on using the upstairs one that the vendors had furnished. I’m up and down many times a day and it is certainly good exercise. If the stairs become a challenge I can swap it over.

Many people don’t use their new homes as they had planned.

Duncan I have always used Safari on my iPad. It always works very well on other websites so have no real wish to change it.

I receive the usual info telling me to sign in using either my user name or my email address plus my password. My old password is not accepted after losing connection and so I request a new one to be sent via email but this is never accepted either.

I will repeat the procedure again but it does become a little tiresome when, as you probably are already aware, all the passwords sent are not quite straightforward involving both higher and lower case letters, various numbers and other sign and symbols and yet again repeatedly are not accepted.

Indeed, my late grandfather suffered with heart problems towards the end of his life and used to mount the stairs backwards! I could never understand the logic behind it so would hesitate to recommend anyone trying it! Nevertheless he lived to the grand age of 87. I think I have veered off topic again!

That’s hopeless for me but I find that it is easier to go down backwards, which I never knew before today. Thanks Beryl.

Anyone who might need a stairlift in future would be well advised to avoid twisty or narrow staircases. That’s not something that I’ve seen in guides to home buying but I did look at this when viewing houses.

If you use Safari, Beryl, the passwords should be in Keychain or are on a Mac, anyway. If you’ve enabled iCloud keychain you can retrieve your passwords from that. Happy to help in the Lobby.

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Was not that long ago planning were all over garage sizes being adequate to not only store cars but also usual storage issues. They were tired of garages being used just for storage with cars parked on road. Now to accommodate the builders the size only suitable for noddy cars.Persimmons were getting resident complaints of not even being able to open their car doors once in the garage in a modest size car. Most new builds are just expensive shoe boxes with absolutely no storage.

That’s right, Dez. House builders think people should buy the size of house they need including their storage requirements, for example with an extra bedroom. I blame the planning authorities for accepting inadequate garages and designing narrow carriageways and reduced footway widths in the fallacious assumption that residents will park their cars in their garages. Since many seem to have a trade van as well the whole situation in some areas is getting very unattractive with vehicles overhanging an already restricted footway.

HelenA says:
9 May 2017

My daughter is in the process og selling her house through Purple Brick, they massively over-valued it which put buyers off &, because it has a few faults, i.e. tiles off walls, fittings needing to be replaced etc. they now send speculative builders round who offer far less than it is worth; it sounds like a collusion between the builders & the Agents to pressurise her, as a single woman.

There have been plenty of warnings about on-line estate agents, Helen. Sometimes things go well but on many sales the lack of direct contact is detrimental. Even where it is desired to use an on-line agent, it is worth getting two or three other local agents round to value the property in the market they know and understand.

Defects in houses put people off. If they are fairly easy to remedy then they should be before marketing.

I agree, Malcolm. If that’s not possible, then at least tell the prospective buyer of faults.

It’s also worth leaving instruction booklets for heating systems, burglar alarms, built-in appliances, and anything that will be sold with the house. In addition it is worth having guarantees for double-glazing, cavity wall insulation, building extensions available for viewing. A receipt showing when the boiler was last serviced would be useful too.

The possibility that the Purple Brick agent knows some developers does not immediately prove a collusive rip-off. I believe Purple Bricks may be franchised. However a quick investigation reveals this:

I have/am used/using Purple Bricks and their opinion and two other estate agents on price were all the same figure. Has your daughter investigated other similar properties in the immediate area and obtained second and third opinions as to price?

The importance of preparing a house for sale should not be ignored. A few loose tiles her and there may also indicate a house that has deeper problems, or at the very least the owner is not house-proud.

And just for information we added £25k to the price suggested by the agents and accepted an offer 10K higher three days later. It has yet to be exchanged on.

I agree, Malcolm, and a good agent on receipt of instructions would recommend the seller to take care of minor repairs and cosmetic finishes. It has been suggested that it is worth spending up to 1% of the asking price on improving the appearance of a property, putting right any minor defects, touching up paintwork blemishes, weed control and hedge-cutting, and making sure things don’t squeak or scrape. This is considered to be much more worthwhile than investing in [and possibly over-spending on] kitchen and bathroom refits which new owners probably have their own ideas on. Little things tend to linger in the viewers’ minds more than the possible projects. Fitting brighter light bulbs is also another good move [unless there is something to hide!].

If sellers are honest and truthful, and deal with the property information questionnaire conscientiously, they will disclose any serious defects or deficiencies and provide evidence of the servicing and maintenance of mechanical and electrical apparatus, including security alarms. This should include any central heating controls which are not routinely tested under the maintenance contract. Sellers should also be prepared for any prospective purchasers to flush all the toilets, open all the taps, and run waste down all the plugholes.

We have spent 1% putting the house in order for any new buyer. Now part of this was my long-term skimping on items as our long-term plan was to sell in 2017 and therefore painting woodwork and new carpets were delayed until we had over half-emptied the house prior to going to the market.

The workmen have less clutter to get around reducing cost and the all shiny new house does not suffer from removal damage.

Carpetright, a Which? Trusted Trader were abysmal taking four visits and multiple telephone calls to complete a job scheduled for one day. This included forgotten parts of the order, wrongly cut carpet, and the Carpetright mode of employing free-lance carpet-fitters , or should I say gig economy, means there interest is personal and they care not a fig for Carpetright’s image or customer expectations. Having said that one of the crews was conscientious and pleasant. Fortunately for me as I am away my wife dealt with all this matters.

We must investigate the policy on failed fittings; judging by on-line comments a big area of complaints and little of satisafaction.

jenny thomson says:
9 May 2017

We have just sold a bungalow in Scotland , as absent landlords. We had the home buyers survey done . Signed a few documents , ID etc. 2 mths done and dusted.
We have just sold our daughters house as joint tenants and the process was fraught and took 7months. Why cant we use the Scottish system , you have the survey done and all prospective buyers know where they stand when they make the offer , they must have the monies in place to complete . simples!

jenny thomson says:
9 May 2017

We have just sold a bungalow in Scotland , as absent landlords. We had the home buyers survey done . Signed a few documents , ID etc. 2 mths done and dusted.
We have just sold our daughters house as joint tenants and the process was fraught and took 7months. Why cant we use the Scottish system , you have the survey done and all prospective buyers know where they stand when they make the offer , they must have the monies in place to complete . simples!

Home Buying needs massive change. it should be like any other purchase.
that is : see what you want and if you have the funds in place buy it. The home for sale should have everything in place for the purchaser to buy immediately on agreement of price( there may of course be some negotiation). all this backed up legally to ensure there a stiff penalties should someone try to renege on the deal(kill Gazumping or Gazundering)

Purchasers who pull out of the buying process should be liable for any costs. The Scottish system should be adopted. Furthermore, estate agents and solicitors should make their parts in the system more efficient and helpful to all parities to save money and frustration.

Home buying and selling has been stressful for many years. To my mind we need to end the current practice where Estate Agents make an amount based on a percentage of the selling price of the house. This system obviously encourages the Agent to raise the price of the house as much as possible.

The percentage model is bad but is not for the reason of inflating prices. Some owners will sign for the agent who promises the highest price regardless of common sense. The agent will only get a percentage of the actual selling price regardless of the original suggested selling price.

However estate agents costs for selling a £500K house and a £300K house are the same so there is unnecessary expense built into a percentage fee. I told one agents we would be looking to pay £4000 maximum so roughly a third of what they might receive as a percentage. As it happens we went for a fixed fee £1499.

Nothing is certain until contracts are signed and in the period before the lives of house purchasers/vendors are full of difficulties, delays, and to a large extent avoidable anxieties.

switch to the Scottish system to save people time and money

For people unfamiliar with the Scottish system log onto

http://www.which.co.uk – Buying a house in Scotland