Moving house: the good, the bad and the ugly

May 14th, 2012

The next nail-biting instalment of our ongoing attempt to buy a house in Oxford… are you sitting comfortably?

Since my last blog entry on March 8th, the whole process has moved on quite a lot, but every so slowly… we still don’t have a house, and only got the final mortgage offer three days ago.

So, let’s start with the Good, and the award here goes to the Cambridge estate agents Pocock & Shaw, who were (to us) always friendly and helpful. Kevin Burt-Gray showed up on New Year’s Eve morning (a Saturday) to look at the house, made a sensible valuation bearing in mind that we wanted to move quickly and said that he’d expect us to be sold subject-to-contract within two weeks of going on the market. And that is indeed what happened – a flurry of offers resulted in us selling the house to a BTL investor for £500 more than we’d advertised for. Much, much later on – after the sale completed (a bit of a mad scramble in itself) – Kevin continued to take an interest and helped us get meter readings from the new owner, as we’d neglected to take them ourselves before leaving! So yes, good estate agents *do* exist…

I’ll put in good mentions here for Chris Wingfield, of Woodfines – our solicitor – and for Fulcher’s Removals – both of whom have been consistently friendly and helpful. I’ll write full recommendations when we’ve finished our business with them.

The Bad: I’m afraid I have to say that I am underwhelmed by London & Country, the mortgage brokers. They are a no-fee, telephone service, and their sales operation is extremely efficient and helpful. However, the follow-up left quite a lot to be desired: there’s a “case manager” who liaises with the bank, and now that banks are a lot more picky, the case manager’s workloads have shot up. Our case manager was very helpful when I spoke to him, but getting through to him was nearly impossible. I fear that L&C’s business model is gradually becoming unsustainable as hassling the banks is going to take up more and more of their time. I’m not inclined to use them again.

The Ugly: Clydesdale Bank – don’t touch them with the proverbial bargepole! Clydesdale are the lenders that L&C recommended – for two reasons: firstly, they had one of the best rates on the market at the time; and secondly because they do their underwriting “by hand” and therefore it’s possible to explain unusual circumstances to the underwriters, where other lenders would just have said “computer says no”. Our recent changes of job, my recent period as a grad student and the fact that Mike isn’t a British citizen have all put other lenders off us – in fact I got a flat “computer says no” rejection from Yorkshire Build Society’s online system – and so we went along with Clydesdale. However, they are slow. Slower than you can possibly imagine. From us putting in an offer to a survey being conducted on the house took two months – admittedly, two weeks of that were a postal delay which was my fault – but then post-survey they faffed about and eventually we were told that a specialist damp survey was required, which took time to arrange and for the surveyor to make his report. By the time the survey was completed, Clydesdale’s computer system had closed our case due to lack of progress! It took a week for them to reinstate the case and get it going again. I complained vigorously to both Clydesdale and L&C, each have blamed the other. The vendors got fed up and put the house back on the market. Now, 3-and-a-half months after we first applied for the mortgage, do we have a mortgage offer. Never again!

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