Friday, 12 March 2010
Just when you need a change in the law, nothing happens fast.
We are selling our house and moving on. We have no idea where to....really, no idea. I guess that in itself is a bit of an adventure and we should consider ourselves lucky that we have such a choice, so no complaints on that front. But, along with tens of thousands of other home owning folks, we are once again faced with the daunting prospect of putting ourselves and our sanity at the mercy of what is arguably one of ther most unhelpful and obstructive house buying and selling systems you can find. We are considering moving to Canada, although that is by no means a forgone conclusion, despite my prized possession of a Canadian passport. Nevertheless, having been dealing with a Canadian house buying system for some time, we find ours in England all the more exasperating. For the benefit of any British folks reading this, I'll explain a little of how they do it over there. When you set about finding a house to buy, you can either walk into a real estate agent and ask them to do it, or you can surf the numerous agents websites or to cover both you can scan MLS yourself on the internet. It is a national database whereby, theoretically, an agent in Ontario can find you a house in British Columbia, thousands of miles away. Unlike its English equivalent, the Canadian estate agent will set about trying to find you a home to buy, whereas a British estate agent will only sell you a property on with their agency. This means you either have to trawl your way around numerous agents or surf on one of the estate agency search engines like `Right Move`, knowing that it doesn't cover everything and, like the estate agents shops, you have to traipse through lots of them to cover all bases. But my main point is that a British estate agent will only sell you one of their properties, the onus being very much on the buyer to go and find it themselves. If you choose to approach a Canadian estate agent they will show you any home that takes your fancy, regardless of which agency is handling the seller. This `one stop shop` system saves an awful lot of shoe leather and mind numbing visits to mind numbing estate agencies. So your agent will draw up a list of properties that allegedly match your criteria and, regardless of who they are listed with, your chosen agent will arrange the viewing, accompany you to the property and show you round. They even have a system whereby the seller can opt to have a `lockbox`, a sort of hefty padlock, secured to the house and containing a digital safe` wherein you place a house key to allow the agent to get in when the owner is out. All the agent has to do is leave a calling card to inform the seller that a visit has taken place. I don't think that would go down too well in the UK, unless you had Securicor guarding your lockbox 24/7. So you find your dream home. Your agent will immdeiately draw up the contract with any `subject to` clauses eg subject to a) a survey b) permission to build a garage/extension/pool or any other clause you wish to insert in the contract. This is then run past a lawyer and put to the sellers. When both agree to the terms, both parties sign and contracts are `exchanged` right at the beginning of the process. Unless a `subject to` clause flags up, both parties are committed to the deal or will forfeit a big deposit if either reneges on the contract. No guzump, no gazunder, no pulling out at the last minute to pressurize a seller to drop the price or a buyer to up the offer - Oh joy! And to cap it all, if your agent finds you a home that doesn't happen to be one of theirs, they simply split the fee with the other agent. For anyone unfamiliar with the ENGLISH system (Scotland do it about right - Sorry, Conan!), contracts of purchase/sale are drawn up by both parties solicitors. Buyers will typically have to have a variety of surveys ranging from pure valuation (compulsory for the mortgage lender) to full structural, with prices to match. The whole shebang can cost from £9,000 and thats before the selling agents fee. And THEN either party can walk away from the deal right up to the point where contracts are finally `exchanged` which is the point of no return. So that dream home you've set your hearts on and paid out several thousand for already, can still amount to nothing at the whim of either party - even something as simple as `I've changed my mind` or in our case 3 years ago, the seller suddenly withdrawing from the deal 2 weeks before we were due to move in, because her ex suddenly decided he wanted a bigger cut of the equity - and she'd never mentioned him to our solicitor throughout the entire process. This resulted in us having to either let the sale of our home fall through and start looking all over again or, as we did, go ahead with our sale and then find somewhere to rent in the area we were moving to. Not easy when you live 300 miles from your new place of work and only have 2 weekends in which to do it. You become homicidal! What got me onto this was something I read on a police blog about the miriad of legislation this labour government has generated and thrust onto us, contributing little towards making the lives of ratepaying, home owning citizens the least bit easier. Everything they loaded onto the statute books seemed, to me, to involve some sort of additional tax (usually stealthy), ten reams of administration and no visible change for the better. When something is crying out for change, no one is there to champion the cause.