What to expect when moving home
Moving home – a major life event
Although moving house will be one of the most exciting things you will do in your life, it will probably also be one of the most stressful, with only life changing events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and the loss of a job featuring higher on the list of stressful life events.
Yet it is something which appears to be happening more and more frequently. Research carried out by Bosch in 2012 showed that the average person born in the UK is currently moving house a total of eight times during their life. A different study carried out by the Ideal Home Show in 2007 suggested that people this century will end up moving house an average of 16 times over their lifetime, up from just five moves on average from their parents generation.
As people prepare to put themselves through this ordeal more frequently, whether it be to move to university, move in with a partner, or simply because they have itchy feet and fancy a change, we consider what it is about moving home that makes it so stressful, and what can be done to reduce that stress.
Why is buying a house so stressful?
Over the years many people and organisations have tried to take some of the stress out of the house moving process. Unfortunately, they have always failed. New protocols are frequently introduced which aim to reduce stress, and nowadays apps are being developed in the hope that the stress can be taken out of the process by using Smartphones. Unfortunately, none of these approaches have ever worked or will ever work. This is because people who believe that the stress can be taken out of the process of moving house do not understand the process and why it is so stressful.
Buying a house is for most people the biggest investment they ever make in their life. As of June 2014, depending on what figures you use, average house prices in the UK are somewhere between £185,000 and £250,000, which is far higher than almost anything else that you are likely to buy, and probably around 7-10 times the average salary. In terms of the amount of money being spent, other large purchases such as a new car, a new kitchen, new furniture or even a wedding look quite small in comparison.
It isn't just the amount of money being spent though that is the cause of this being such a stressful process. Let's compare it to the process of one of the other big purchases in life – buying a new car. When you go to buy a new car, you go into the garage, have a chat with the car salesman, tell them which car you want, give them the money for the car, and the car belongs to you. Chances are you will be able to drive it away the same day if you want to. The most complicated it can get is if you have to sell your own car first or do a part exchange at the garage. But even in these cases, there is no real delay. Moving house is a far more complicated process.
Let's consider now the process of buying a house. Firstly, you need money to be able to buy a house, and most people have to get the money from a lender. The deeds have to be checked, which does not take very long, and the searches have to be sent off. Sending off the searches does not take very long, reading them on their return does not take very long, although it sometimes takes days or weeks to get them back from whichever government department fills in the answers on the searches.
The chain – the main cause of stress
So far, this sounds relatively simple, and it would be if buying a house just involved you, but it generally doesn't. The reason that buying a house is more complicated and stressful than this is that you will almost certainly get involved in a chain. The chain is the most frightening part of the house moving process and the causes of almost all the stress. So what is a chain?
Well, in order to buy a new home, you probably need to sell your current home. The person wanting to buy your current home may need to sell their home first. Meanwhile, the home you want to buy might not become available until the house the current owners want to move into is available. The chain could involve two people, it can involve 20 people. There are of course some situations which don't involve a chain, such as maybe where somebody is selling a house because they are moving in with a new partner who already has a home, or because the previous owner has passed away, and the person buying the house is a first time buyer, fresh from living with their parents or from living in rented accommodation. These are the lucky exceptions.
The longer the chain, the longer the process and usually the more stressful it becomes. This is because everybody in the chain must be ready to move at the same time. This means that everybody has to have their finances in place, have all the searches completed and is ready to go. So you can be all prepared and ready to move, but if somebody lower down the chain is not ready then you cannot and do not move.
Why do chains fall apart?
On average, one in three property chains fall apart. What causes this? Well, sometimes people in the chain are ready to go and then all of a sudden they are not ready.
They could be ready to move house, have the mortgage in place, and then the rumour spreads at their place of employment that there are going to be redundancies. People then start worrying about their jobs and wondering whether now is the right time to move. They ask themselves if they will be able to afford the mortgage if they are out of work for a while, and so want to slow down the process over the period of uncertainty until they know what the outcome is at work. Of course, if the redundancies turn out to be true, then they might pull out altogether, thus collapsing the chain.
Alternatively, people who want to buy a house as a couple might suddenly find out that they are not as happy with each other as they thought they were, and want to delay the process so they can work out their personal problems. If they don't work out their personal problems and end up going their separate ways, then this will also lead to the chain breaking.
Other times you see people who really want to buy a certain house, are ready to move, but are waiting for everybody else in the chain to be ready. The waiting process unfortunately gives them time to see another house that they like even better, thus leading to them pulling out of the chain and collapsing it.
Often people are desperate to move, especially if they have had their house for sale for months or years, and so when a buyer comes along who says that they want to buy the house they will say almost anything to get the house sold. Very often people say they are looking for another house, if they do not find one they will move into temporary accommodation or move in with their parents or similar. But then when push comes to shove they change their mind and they just want to wait until their move is ready on their own house.
Another frequent problem that causes delays in the chain is that solicitors have to get lots of pieces of paper in place - they have to get the searches, check the deeds etc. which should be a relatively quick and straightforward process if everything is ok. However, sometimes the search will reveal something that may be a problem, and needs to be sorted. It may involve taking out an insurance policy to cover the problem, more information being obtained or in the case of the worst possible scenario, the potential buyers deciding not to buy the house. Of course, people involved in the transaction just want to move. They need to get their children into school, organise the house, and they have set their minds up to move - the last thing they want to hear is that there is a problem which is going to cause a delay. However, the problems have to be sorted out before you buy the house because once you have bought it what was a minor problem which could have been dealt with before you bought it becomes a major problem which might significantly affect your enjoyment of the house.
The best approach to dealing with the stress of moving home
So, even though everything might be fine with your part of the house buying process, if something happens or doesn't happen further along the chain that is out of your control, it can disrupt or even end your chances of buying the house you want. Obviously this causes frustration and stress, and is why people get very worked up about moving house. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do about it and there is very little your lawyer can do about it. All you can do is be patient and wait and hope.
We wish it was different. We could tell you that we have all these fancy systems in place to take the stress out of it but if we did so we would be lying. We know that this process involves stress and uncertainty.
However, in the vast majority of cases when you have been all through this process, suddenly there comes the day when everybody says we are all ready and everybody rushes forward and within a couple of days they will have all moved. What seems like weeks inaction takes place and then suddenly within a few days you have got to move, arrange the removal vans and you are moving. Sometimes it feels like a miracle.
For some fortunate people things go incredibly smoothly and they have suffered none of these problems but most people will suffer these problems to a smaller or larger extent.
We believe the best way of dealing with the stress is to be honest with the client at the start and tell them these are the problems which you are likely to encounter, be prepared and then hopefully that enables you to deal with it when they arise.