Do you know when's not a good time of year to try and buy a house?
It's actually, quite possibly, the worst time of year to decided to buy the single most expensive thing in your entire life.
And not being in a chain makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. Not at Christmas time. All the usual rules of buying a house go out of the frost-encased window.
Or they did for us when we bought our home ten years ago.
We had actually been to view another house three doors down (the woman still lives there, I've taught her daughter. I've also driven into the back of her car as well. Not such a good thing to do with a neighbour it transpires) and spotted this house was for sale at the time too. Standing empty and forlorn, it was desperately in need of a family to love it, and funnily enough when we stood in the hallway we looked at each other and could both hear the future echo of little feet thumping down from one quarter landing to the other on the stairs.
It was the staircase that sold the house to us, to be honest. It blinded us to the structural issues and seven layers of wallpaper in the hallway, dripping in nicotine. The thought of a little voice calling down the stairs, or playing at a climbing expedition was more than enough to carry us through.
We made an offer that day, engaged a solicitor the next day when it was accepted and by the end of the week the ball was rolling with applying for mortgages, instructing solicitors on surveys and keeping my fingers crossed for the job that I'd just applied for. In theory it should have all happened really quickly, because there was no chain.
Unfortunately we didn't factor in that solicitors and surveyors and estate agents basically shut for the entire week between Christmas and New Year.
It delayed us somewhat. Which wasn't at all stressful.
However, two months after viewing the house down the road, we finally received the keys to this house, our current house, and everyone sighed deeply.
Housebuying need not be as stressful as it is, but there are some rather large areas to be aware of:
- time of year: Christmas in particular!
- survey reports: I've never understood why someone wouldn't have a comprehensive survey done of a property in order to ascertain what issues there may be. It's the single most expensive thing anyone will pay for and knowing everything about the property is essential in my mind. There is nothing worse than decorating the whole house and then discovering it has damp.
- mortgage applications: we were lucky to get a mortgage when we did because I'm not sure we would now. Mortgage applications are more complicated and repayment capability and financial assessment is so much more strict. Don't overspend on a house, stretching the budget to unrealistic proportions.
- solicitors: a law unto themselves. The same company handled the previous owner's sale as our purchase of the property, so why did it take so long to walk from one room to the other to get paperwork signed?
- organising utilities and change of address: there are an awful lot of additional services which need contacting when moving home. Make a list of every single one and contact them systematically, making notes of the dates called and the person you spoke to.
- make lists of everything to keep track of all the different elements of house moving; mortgage, insurances, conveyancers, solicitors, removal company, utilities, council tax, etc.
- shop around for mortgages and find the best one for you. We had a great mortgage to start with as we went to our bank. When we remortgaged we went to a financial advisor who sold us a fixed-rate for two years mortgage. Two weeks before the credit crunch hit. We were paying £900 a month mortgage on an interest only repayment, for two years. I wished we'd shopped more sensibly because it nearly crippled us.
There is a reason why moving house is the most stressful thing to go through in life, but with sensible planning and investigation it doesn't need to be the end of the world.
Just don't do it at Christmas time.
This is a collaborative post with TSB.