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Why is homebuying such a headache?

homebuying

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?

Comments

I don’t know how anyone manages to buy a house if they are new to an area.

In the early 80s, a new job took me to an unfamiliar part of the country. In order to have time to look around and decide where to live I chose to rent a flat. After Christmas I investigated mortgages and then looked at houses in my chosen area. I moved in on 6 February. After accepting my offer the vendor said that I was an attractive buyer because there was no chain involved. I moved over the following week, so it was stress-free and I had time to meet my new neighbours.

Richard Hunt says:
9 May 2017

I agree with some of the comments, once a person has agreed to buy at a price that should be fixed by law, There should be a cooling off period during which the purchaser may withdraw and thereafter they face a penalty. Solicitors should have strict deadlines, which they must meet to complete all paperwork or face financial penalties for failure. Penalties for vendors who drag there heels over quitting the premises on removal day and/or leave rubbish behind for the purchaser to clear up,(That happened to me.) No removal of fixtures and fitting, including light bulbs etc: unless agreed in writing.

wavecange earlier commented on the difficulty in finding a suitable property in a new unfamiliar area and chose to rent while he looked. Without sounding at all patronising this is sound advice. Not only does this give time to look at prices, locations, problem areas to avoid, but also lets you make offers with cash in hand – no chain – which may not only secure the property you like but may give more leverage on price. The ionly danger might be if you spend too long looking and prices are spiraling. Quickly spending several hundred thousand pounds on an asset that can also turn out to be expensive to maintain or put right should not be taken lightly. Yet we quibble about the cost of using a decent solicitor, surveyor, doing proper searches,may rush into purchasing……..

Beryl says:
9 May 2017

Renting in my area will cost you a minimum of £1000 plus pcm and only adds to the already enormous amount of fees associated with moving and if you find the house you like, unless it has vacant possession you may still be caught up in an upward chain as I recently found myself in.

Many people my age are living in leasehold retirement flats (which again come with ever-increasing exploitative service charges) or nursing homes Malcolm and couldn’t handle two consecutive moves. The stress could just about finish them off before eventually acquiring the home of their dreams!

My present house was vacant when I bought it and had been empty for about 6 months and I moved in in just 2 weeks with few problems. It was in need of updating which I have since carried out in my own time with the addition of a conservatory. Homes with vacant possession are few and far between which narrows your choice somewhat and often need a lot of work to make them habitable.

I suppose it depends on which part of the country you are in, Beryl, but I short-listed several houses with vacant possession and viewed two, including the one I bought. There was no-one to offer a welcome coffee and to answer a barrage of questions, but it was easy to carry out a thorough inspection.

I would not advise older people to rent their home if they can possibly avoid it as it is too insecure and they might be forced to make another move within a short time of taking on the tenancy. You only ever occupy rented property at somebody else’s pleasure. Moving home in later years can be very stressful and fraught with difficulties. People need to weigh up these considerations during their middle age and not leave it until it is almost impossible.

john warner says:
9 May 2017

Greedy, lying estate agents. Inept delaying solicitors, excessive stamp duties, indecisive vendors and buyers. These are just some of the things that I have experienced during most of the half dozen moves that I have done.

I presume stamp duty goes towards funding public services such as the NHS and education. Which services would you like to cut, John?

Ah……..a question that rarely gets an answer wavechange. We all have to pay for the public services we receive, mostly through taxes, local or national. Remove one source of tax and you either cut services, or increase tax somewhere else.

Why only tax (hard pressed – election coming up) home buyers? I suppose we could put a tax rental properties also…………………………….:-)

Have a look at the cost of renting, Malcolm. As a landlord there are many pitfalls but it can be lucrative. I remember that my landlord said he had a Rolls Royce – but did not use it when collecting the rent.

Foolishly I supported the sale of council houses to long-term tenants because I believed that they would be replaced by new council houses. It could still work and provide a more affordable route to home ownership.

Rentals probably cost more per month than a mortgage. I was pointing out that one sector in the housing market is taxed but not the other.
I want to see more people able to buy, if they can afford the mortgage.
Council house sales at a discount to the market value was wrong, in my view. We – the taxpayer – had provided them usually at discounted rents to those in need, and they should have been retained for that purpose with no entitlement to lifetime or passed-on tenancies. Once someone had the means to purchase or pay market rent they should relinquish the property for another family in genuine need.

In another Conversation, a single parent despaired of ever being able to afford a mortgage despite having moved back to her parents’ home.

There is no doubt that renting cost more than a mortgage, assuming that major repairs are not needed. That makes it more difficult to get on the property ladder without help from family, friends or your employer.

A single parent will be claiming maintenance from her ex-partner and under the Children,s Act the female gets the house when divorced . As usual there is a ton of info on US websites for single parents getting on the home owning ladder .

It’s actually the Children Act and it has nothing to do with who gets the home in divorce. However, if it has to go to court, then the judge will be mindful of the simple fact that the female is likely to be the primary carer of the children and therefore will need a place to live.

If the cost of buying a property is too high because of someone’s ability to pay then they cannot get on the property ladder without help. However, owning your own home is not essential; many other countries have far fewer owners then us. That is what the rental market is there for and, for those with little means, what a social housing market should deal with. The aim is to house people, one way or another.

Most other countries seem to have forms of rent control, however.

For home owners, equity release can fund their long-term care when they are no longer fit to live independently, whereas those who have not been able to buy their own home will not have that option.

Equity release can look attractive but in practice be very unfavourable to the “owner” or their family. It needs very careful evaluation. If I was in that position I’d look first at downsizing and possibly renting so I release the real capital in the house.

Those who have worked hard – education, working life – to be able to buy their property deserve to then reap any rewards. I, like many. chose to buy a house but in doing so made sacrifices – the ability to spend hard-earned money on clothes, furniture, meals out, holidays, new car….etc. I’ll then no doubt have to fund my own care instead of the state doing it for me.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would not advise older people to rent their home if they can possibly avoid it as it is too insecure and they might be forced to make another move within a short time of taking on the tenancy. You only ever occupy rented property at somebody else’s pleasure. Moving home in later years can be very stressful and fraught with difficulties. People need to weigh up these considerations during their middle age and not leave it until it is almost impossible.

Malcolm – I agree that equity release can be risky, certainly according to what appears in the press, but it’s likely to become increasingly important as people live longer. I don’t know anyone who has used an equity release scheme but I understand that there are safeguards to prevent the elderly being cheated, though further regulation may be needed.

My parents generation who lived through the war had to be frugal and from the amount of saving and investment in this country, I don’t believe that all younger people are wasteful, whatever we are told. Buying a house can be a worthwhile investment, especially where there is strong demand for housing.

NIgel Burnip says:
9 May 2017

We should consider adopting the process used in South Africa.
The offer Letter is usually a sales contract produced by the Estate Agent upon which is stated the Price, any buyer conditions of sale e.g Mortgage approval, surveyors report etc , sales completion ( moving date) and the monthly rental charge should you fail to move out on time. Once signed for acceptance by the seller this is the contract. This produces a lot less stress ijn the process and reduces the costs considerably.
As says the Meercat on TV ” Simples”.

We have been married nearly 50 years and in that time we have purchased 7 homes, in 3 different countries. The biggest problem has been the ability for others to gazump in England and Wales.
After one experience I complained to our local Con MP, who agreed and forwarded my complaint to the then Lord Chancellor, in 1979, Lord Hailsham. His reply concluded that I obviously did not understand the legal complexity of buying a house, but with no suggestion that the existing situation in Scotland should apply in England and Wales.
It left me wondering how many times Lord Hailsham had faced buying a house in the same way we plebs did then, and still do?

Sharon Wright says:
9 May 2017

Many people seem to agree that pulling out of a sale after an agreement has been reached should attract a penalty after a short cooling off period. Its would seem a simple thing to make a law on this. Also solicitors obviously are a major cause of concern to most people and indeed my own experience is that they do not chase up on anything they just wait for each other to post information at lesure, they should have to give a maximum time period and have to deduct from their charges if they cannot give a very good reason for a delay. Thirdly about ten years ago when house prices shot up the stamp duty became unafordable for many people, in its new form, yes it helped first time buyers if you are fortunate enough to live in an area with low house prices but mosy hoses are above this level and this is the main reason I dont envisage moving again. What are we paying for anyway ? why is there a tax on moving house ? Governments are presuming peole are making money from moving, this needs carefull looking at and the right people taxed not ordinary people just needing to move to another area or a slightly bigger house.

Steve Hill says:
9 May 2017

We could learn something from e.g. the French and Spanish systems, both of which I’ve used. Once prices are agreed a straightforward contract is signed, a deposit paid, and seller or buyer can only back out for reasons stipulated in the initial contract such as inability to raise funds, problem with the title to the property etc. Otherwise the deposit is forfeited if the buyer withdraws, and if the seller withdraws they have to pay double the deposit. In spain there is online access to the land registry, where anyone can get a simple copy of the land registry details for 9 euros (and an Englisg translation if required for another 30 euros). In the UK a land registry entry is available for £3.
Taxes and charges are higher in France and Spain, especially VAT equivalent in Spain at 6% for resale and 7% for a new house, but house prices are much lower. Legal fees for buyers are around 650 euros + VAT, plus stamp duty and land registration fees. The complete process can take as little as 2 or 3 weeks to completion, and no gazumping or broken chains due to the penalties.

Thanks Steve. It’s interesting to know what happens in other countries.

I cannot see any practical or moral justification for the Stamp Duty Land Tax. It is just an opportunistic tax on the transfer of property. It does not have any purpose other than to raise revenue. It is not consistent [because property prices differ so much across the country and go up and down according to market forces], and it is not equitable, so in my view it is an unfair tax. It also distorts the market at the impact points. The problem is that it has been going for a long time, it has the potential to make a lot of money for the government, it captures a wodge of money that is sloshing about looking for a home, and it is largely paid for through borrowing by home-buyers over a long period so it seems benign whereas it is actually self-inflating. No one has to sit down and write out a cheque since it all gets remitted by the conveyancer and is ultimately just a line on the completion statement. Replacing the revenue from any other source would now be extremely difficult and no government has shown any interest in reforming it or abolishing it other than tinkering with the steps and graduating the rates at each level. I think it will be with us for ever as part of the UK’s property-owning syndrome so we just have to get used to it.

The question is what you would replace SDLT with to raise the same amount of money in a fairer way. I prefer that to raising taxes from the rental sector where many are renting because they cannot afford to get on the property ladder, which Malcolm suggested earlier.

Since April? last year we have had additional SDLT on second homes: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/stamp-duty-land-tax-buying-an-additional-residential-property That will have had significant impact on the buy-to-let market.

I hit the wrong button on your comment, Wavechange , and had to neutralise it, so I am writing to say that I agree with it.

I cannot see any justification for taxes on tenancies; the VAT charged by estate agents for their services to landlords are already factored into rents and new tenants also have to pay VAT on any services or commission charged by agents for getting them a let.

The additional three percentage points on SDLT for second home purchases has certainly affected the buying market but I cannot see yet whether it has made it better or worse for people wishing to rent. In our area there has been a glut of rental properties for some time and to some extent this measure is restoring equilibrium. It probably means that cheaper houses on new developments are more available to first or second time buyers because there are not so many speculators buying off-plan. The higher purchase price combined with the depressed rentals means that the economics of landlording are no longer attractive.

I remain of mixed mind about second homes. I don’t really understand why there is some kind of moral objection to people having two properties when others have one enormous property that could make three or more homes if subdivided. The answer to getting more people into a home of their own [under a mortgage loan unfortunately] is to build a lot more homes. Equally, except in certain places, I cannot see why every new development has to have a substantial proportion of “affordable” homes [whatever that means]. The developers should concentrate on building the homes that people want with the density they prefer. As people aspire to live in larger and better accommodation with more space and additional facilities there will always be a market for superior properties. As the market moves upwards this will leave a tail of smaller, cheaper, or less favourably situated, properties at more affordable prices available for the next tranche of homeowners. Building more homes at the upper end of the market will pull more capital into the market and keep it moving. For some time now the rate of homebuilding has fallen behind natural demand because of an increase in household separation. longer healthy lifespans, and the trend to having second homes, but none of these factors are necessarily bad. The places that moan about second homers taking up all the houses on the market are often those – as in North Norfolk – where their planning policies are the most restrictive and where the permanent residents and weekenders alike are the least supportive of additional development.

Our local town, like many others, has acres of open space devoted to parking cars. Perhaps we could build flats above those spaces? Flats should not be expensive and make acceptable starter homes for many – at least to get them on the housing ladder.

I see no one has proposed a cap on house prices incidentally – it would put the £100 a year potential saving on energy into the small change pot.

John, wavechange, I just throw this in as a comment, like I did the tax and rent – not to propose it but just as another cog in the great Convo machine. 🙂 🙂

John – I’m not opposed to people owning second homes and I still have my old bungalow. In some areas there is a shortage of property and it would be unfair to have a little used second home or unoccupied property in areas with high demand. London is the obvious example.

I don’t follow the property market but thought that the greatest demand is for starter homes. One reason why renting is expensive is that many don’t treat property and furnishings as well as they might if they owned them.

Malcolm – As we have discussed, I’m no enthusiast for vehicles in towns and cities. Thankfully large supermarkets and shopping centres are often well out of town. Towns are much nicer with pedestrian areas, where you just have to avoid cyclists and for pedestrians preoccupied with their phones.

The greatest demand is indeed for starter homes, but there are millions of these already in existence. It just needs people already on the property ladder to be able to move up a step or two in order to release those on the bottom rung. New ‘affordable’ homes are too expensive because they have to comply with all the modern technical requirements, space standards, built-in fixtures & fittings, and aesthetic considerations when they are incorporated in a new development.

Many of the new homes in our area are 3,4 and 5 bedrooms, often on 3 stories (making use of the roof space is sensible). There are very few one (a bit pointless) or 2 bedrooms. A determining factor I suggest is making the most profitable use of available land.

Maybe the owners of cheaper houses are reasonably happy with their homes and don’t want to go through the expense and possible trauma of moving. I’m not familiar with the requirements for new homes but my understanding is that there is still no minimum size for bedrooms.

Each local authority has its own policy on the percentage of ‘affordable’ homes to be provided on every development. In Norfolk this is generally in the range of 30 to 45 per cent. Developers frequently challenge that and claim that such high demands make the developments economically unviable; occasionally derogations are approved especially on the small schemes of ten or fewer houses.

The house builders’ marketing people don’t like ‘affordable’ homes as they have negative neighbourhood connotations so they colour them white on their site maps and label them as ‘community housing’. The authorities usually also require the entire provision of ‘affordable’ homes to be built before the remainder of the development [to ensure supply in case the developer defaults]. This means they all get clustered in one corner of the site instead of being integrated throughout the development. Perhaps they should describe the rest of their sites as ‘profitable homes’. One local developer is including one-bedroom bungalows in their schemes but they are hardly ‘affordable’ and are clearly aimed at the affluent retired.

I believe that is so, Wavechange. When we were looking for a new place five years ago we were astonished at the mean sizes of all the bedrooms where it seemed to be more important to squeeze a fourth one in than providing extra space in three. It was invariably the case that where there was an en suite shower room it compromised the bedroom. If wardrobes were fitted they were usually inadequate and made it impossible without major alterations to have additional clothes storage. The big feature now in new properties seems to be fully-glazed bi-fold doors across the living room leading to the garden. That’s one more wall you can’t stand furniture against. I suppose it’s designed to alleviate the claustrophobic effect of such small accommodation, especially now that the kitchen has invaded the living space and the the noise of the extractor hood and the dishwasher permeates the entire area. I need to stay in more.

On the other hand, there does not seem to be much point in having one large bedroom since most adults will not spend much time there except when they are in bed. Teenagers need room to store their clothes and clutter, and to study.

It’s interesting to look at the floor plans of modern houses and try to work out where to store the vacuum cleaner and ironing board. I very much agree with your point about lack of ‘wall space’ for furniture.

A “garden”? What a luxury. With the high cost of land it’s the first thing to be reduced to a small grass patch. 4 and 5 bedroom houses will mainly have young children so need an outdoor space to play in, and yet the gardens are miniscule. The attraction of our originally small bungalow was the large garden for this “children’s playground”.

I think a kitchen-diner makes a lot of sense – it creates a living space without unnecessary walls. Opening a living room on to the garden does increase the apparent size of the room and is attractive when the weather is pleasant.

However, storage is a major deficiency of many houses, whether it is cupboard space or room for wardrobes and drawers if they are not built in. When looking at a “show home” take a tape measure. Check the sizes of furniture – are the beds a proper size, are there waedrobes in the rooms and can they takes coathangers? Where can you put a chest of drawers? And can you get normal furniture up the stairs when it is delivered?

I have taken up the need for ‘housekeeping’ storage on both floors of houses for several years with developers’ site representatives but there is no acknowledgment of a problem. I have done various floorplans to show an ‘ideal’ design but, of course, they all require a greater area than house-builders want to allocate to each property. With no organisation or institute pressing for better accommodation and facilities standards in new homes it is easy to see the appeal of Victorian properties.

Beryl says:
9 May 2017

As long as the old adage “An Englishmans home is his castle” persists and ones home continues to increase in value over a number of years, any SDLT paid upon purchase will be returned several times over through its appreciation. Govt is fully aware of this and waste no time in cashing in while the iron is still hot.

I thought the last re-jig of SDLT was intended to be fiscally neutral, at least in the lower registers, because the cliff faces on the previous rates have been replaced with progressive steps.

Rob says:
9 May 2017

Having lost our buyer within a day of exchange of contracts without any answer as to why is so ignorant and deceitful. The initial cost survey and searches for the house we lost above us was nearly £1200. Not a large sum I accept but the worry of going through another sale at the whim of any buyer pulling out before exchange and with no financial recompense is deeply stressful. The system of house sale in Britain is archaic and the Scottish system seems much better. I think on an offer being accepted a small deposit needs to be left with the sellers solicitor e.g. 1% of the purchase price that will be lost before exchange if the sale falls through for anything other than a survey / search fault. It will focus buyers minds particularly cash buyers whom want to dart around looking for the next best deal.

That is the right idea, Rob, but I think the deterrence needs to be stronger than 1% – I think 5% would concentrate people’s minds more. I think estate agents have something to answer for in a case like yours because they obviously didn’t test their prospective buyers’ intentions adequately. People who have commissioned a full survey are possibly less likely to quit a purchase; they might wish to open negotiations on the price in the light of the survey findings but at least they remain on board. All dirty tricks need to be outlawed. To some degree they derive from the haggling culture that has been aided and abetted by Which?

The chain problem then arises. What if the potential buyer’s purchaser finds they cannot proceed for example if their own sale falls through, so the buyer has no assured funds to proceed with the purchase? How long should the seller have to wait for the problem to be resolved. 5% on a typical house could be anything from £10 000 upwards (more than the penalty if the sale falls through after exchange of contracts). This would likely put people off making offers until they were in a very certain financial position. Deciding on whether a survey problem, planning difficulty or other technical issue was sufficient to justify either renegotiating or pulling out is prone to problems – more work for the lawyers. However it is the chain that seems to be the stumbling block. I think we need to find ways to avoid this but, with a continuing property shortage, cannot offer a good solution. Moving into rented accommodation temporarily would give some improvement and maybe less stress.

The deposit payable on exchange of contracts is 10% and that is forfeited if the buyer fails to complete. On a typical £250,000 house, the pre-exchange offer stake that I propose would be £12,500. The post-exchange deposit loss would not arise if the purchase had already collapsed. If the sale reached exchange of contracts the buyer would only need to add another 5% of the sale price to the amount already lodged as a stake [adjusted in the event of any price renegotiations]. One flaw with this reasoning is that in many cases deposits are already only 5% because of the difficulty people have in saving such sums. There is also the minor complication that conveyancers roll the incoming deposit from the sale into the outgoing deposit for the parallel purchase but that is easily worked around.

Malcolm is right: cracking the chain problem is the key to making the transfer of property fluid.

David Woody Wood says:
9 May 2017

We bought the house we re in due to a large size family and as that family has grown and flown we thought about downsizing. 1st we were advised to remorgage. That took £1500.00 out of my savings and the stress it caused was unfounded. The only benefit was the banks advisor got a promotion while I didn’t remortgage or get my money back. Next came selling and repurchasing something more suitable for our present needs. The sellers chain broke down followed by our own buyers chain. Once agin our savings began to dwindle with more output than input so we chose to stay were we were.Instead we have used our measure savings to date that the bank hasn’t got hold of to update our garden to a more maintenance free zone. I will be dead before I pay this mortgage off but at least I will die happy not to go through any more of that stress trying to sell up and buy something smaller.

John Holliday says:
9 May 2017

I’m past the age when this is a problem but I can identify the time when it became one for most people. When I bought my first house I was allowed to borrow 3 times my annual salary. My wife’s earnings were not allowed to be considered. We had a crippling mortgage which needed her earnings as well as mine to make it barely affordable. Some time later the building societies changed the system. Both partners’ earnings could be taken in to account when determining how much could be borrowed. The result was that house prices rose rapidly to match this, making houses even harder to buy for most people. Going back to the old system would bring prices down.
Fancy ways of ‘helping’ first time buyers produce the same old price problem.
I agree too that the legal ‘profession’ needs to start behaving in a professional manner, including reducing its inflated charges and putting its customers’ interests first. I have encountered downright incompetence in solicitors’ handling of my house purchases – the kind of errors the office boy would be chastised for making.
If my suggestion was adopted people like me would lose out as I am of an age when downsizing is an option, releasing some of my equity to fund my dotage. I would consider that the lesser of the available evils.

While the legal profession’s competence might be questionable at times, I am not sure their fees can be so easily slated. Compared with what the estate agent receives the conveyancer gets a paltry reward, much of it made up of actual outlays which are itemised on their account. The agent charges 1.5%, say, [£4,500 on a £300K sale], doesn’t take much responsibility, and sometimes gives poor service. The agent also slyly sends their account to the conveyancer so it will be deducted directly from the sale proceeds rather than being presented to the client for settlement.

Dez says:
9 May 2017

Because of acute shortage of Housing Assoc and Authority rental stock especially 4/5 beds for large families rather than see family broken up and spread all over locality in hotels was committed to purchasing a new build to house immediate family. This Government and Local Government has no intention in increasing its housing stock therefore family being called upon to house their offspring. I had no intention in investing in a new build and paying income tax on rental income but only way to house many grand children. The Government sprang the ulitmate surprise in increasing the tax on more than one house purchase which cost an additional £7k unbudgetted to house my grand children and their parents. We were not profiteering landlords and got caught up in the kick landlords profits campaign and yet Company landlords were exempt from paying.

Peter furnival says:
10 May 2017

It might not be a bad idea if selling agents get moving on a system whereby they could devise a package which did the whole operation of buying / selling transporting furniture and thus the customer would not be in the possible situation of being homeless and a furniture van with nowhere to put their contents.

B Rhodes says:
10 May 2017

My mother, aged 84 and a widow, has been trying to sell her house for about 4 years. No fewer than five buyers have pulled out some time after making an offer – the length of time ranging from a week to about 5 weeks. In three cases my mother had put an offer in on a property she wanted to buy, and started the legal process, so this has cost her hundreds of pounds. In most of the five cases, the buyers pulled out for no good reason; only two went as far as to get a survey done. They simply got cold feet and decided it was reasonable behaviour to treat an elderly lady with complete disdain. Buyers seem to be putting in offers just to secure a property for themselves while they have a good think about it. This is not acceptable. Buyers need to be held accountable in some way, either through a non-refundable deposit, or by becoming liable for the vendor’s legal costs if they make an offer then pull out (unless it’s because the survey has revealed something unexpected). The system as it stands – based on an outdated ‘gentleman’s handshake’ model – needs revamping. The process causes enormous stress to people; lesser women than my mother could have been made ill with this stress!

” No fewer than five buyers have pulled out some time after making an offer – the length of time ranging from a week to about 5 weeks.”

I assume the house was not withdrawn from the market when the offers were made? Certainly if people had to put up a £1000 as a guarantee of good intent it would make life more bearable. Non-refundable of course. However the concomitant arrangement must surely be that owners have available all the necessary surveys regarding electric gas and drains etc available, and proofs of work done and these are produced prior to the £1000 being paid over.

That seems a sensible proposal, Patrick. Many sales are relatively uncomplicated but a former neighbour had four people pull out of buying his home when he needed to move nearer his son because of failing health. It turned out that he had terminal cancer and he did not live to see the house sold.

Peter, do Which? have any proposals to smooth the normal home buying process? Many comments, some suggestions, some complaints have been made here but I don’t see a practical and realistic proposal emerging.

Thanks Peter. The old chap just had a run of bad luck. I spoke to the son at the funeral and he was not optimistic but the house sold quickly and for a decent price. It was easy to clear the house because many of his father’s possessions had already been packed for the removal.

Jane W says:
10 May 2017

Having gone through the process here and in Australia, it is far less of a headache in Australia. A bit more like Scotland. You make an offer (if you want to survey you do it before) and sign a contract there and then which is legally binding (it usually has a ‘cooling off’ period of a few days, and can be subject to getting a mortgage within a limited time), then you have a settlement date of 30, 60, 90 days or even 6 months (negotiable) but there are big penalties if you just change your mind. This stops gazzumping as well as last minute changes of offer.

What happens to people who have to sell their own house in order to fund their proposed purchase? They cannot make a confirmed commitment until they have the money to proceed. Do such chain problems not exist in Australia?

What happens in Scotland? It’s the same sort of system. The point is that other countries seem to get by on alternative yet perfectly workable solutions.

I’ve never had an issue with a chain – ever. Plenty of other problems: arrived after a 70 mile trip with two very young children many years ago to be given the keys and told that we nearly didn’t get it, because the BS had failed to transfer the money. Another time the solicitor popped off just before we were due to move in. But never, ever a problem with a chain.

Rod Powell says:
10 May 2017

This is a debate that has raged for years. And no-one has yet come up with a replacement solution. Work out what can work and then ask people to vote for it.

Tim Cantor says:
10 May 2017

I think the Scottish system of sealed bids by a deadline would cut out a lot of time wasters. Gazumping should be made illegal too.

Becky Stannard says:
10 May 2017

I am from the USA and have bought and sold two houses there and one house here in Devon. In the States, if you intend to buy a house you must pay so-called earnest money which you don’t get back if you back out at the last minute. Also it is possible to sell a house “where is and as is” saving the seller endless problems with fixing things to satisfy mortgage lenders. Of course this means that the seller must drop the price, sometimes considerably, but if the land is worth more than the house, as was the case with a house we sold in Dallas, it was the best route. Also, I am completely mystified by “stamp tax”, that hefty chunk of cash you pay here in the UK for the privilege of buying a house. I think that should be done away with and perhaps property taxes should be revised instead.

As has been frequently commented here, getting rid of one tax means another one has to be introduced or others raised [unless a big chunk of public service expenditure is eliminated]. A spread of different taxes is generally a good idea because it means that more people contribute overall. There is no doubt that SDLT has contained house prices at the threshold points.