Sunday, 2 December 2007

Property in the UK 6b: Lessons Learnt

I am currently holding my breath regarding the purchase of a house, only my second in my life, but a process that has dragged on now for five months. The key thing that I have learnt and I imagine that I share this realisation with many people is that I have absolutely no power and influence. The bulk of the UK population is prey to the whims of both the professionals such as solicitors (for non-UK readers these a low-level lawyers who deal with house sales, wills, etc.), doctors, teachers, to salespeople like estate agents, insurance companies, etc. and to skilled manual workers notably builders, gas/electricity/water/car repairmen and so on. You can spend thousands of pounds and yet you are treated as naive (which you often are about particular issues) and so worthy of being both patronised and ripped off. I have experienced all of these things despite spending over £5000 (€7150; US$10,350) on estate agent and solicitors fees.

I was ripped off £10-15,000 on the sale of my flat and a further £5000-10,000 on the house I am buying. Constantly I have been pressured by telephone and email as if all the problems along the housing chain were my fault alone. Everyone has more power than me, the buyer of my flat constantly demanded extra payments and reductions that the estate agent encouraged me to pay rather than resisting him. The people further up the chain keep saying we are dragging our feet, but when we are ready, suddenly they want to delay 10 days and we are told there is nothing we can do about it. The only thing I have left is anger. When I hire someone I expect them to act in my interest not someone else's but none of the four people I hired this time (despite them being recommended, I do wonder how much worse those people do not recommend are) have done this.

I think paying thousands of pounds earns me the right to be addressed as an adult not a teenager, but clearly not. I accept that I am no expert on the housing market so I want clear, truthful information and then not to be told I am stupid. The mortgage lender seem to be the most well intentioned of the people I have been using, but even they despite direct questions like 'how much actual money will I get in terms of a mortgage?' they have been really opaque and the figure being lent to me fell from £128,000 to £113,000 then to £96,000 without any fees falling. If I had known at the start that in fact I could only borrow £96,000 then I would not have put an offer in on the house I did. This is the worst time to be buying a house. I know you will say I should have been better informed and so on, but given that I have attended university and do a job which pays 50% higher than the national average, if I have found it so hard it must be even tougher for the population without my education and earnings. Obviously I was in a weak position because of my landlord causing so much difficulty for me and with more time and less pressure, maybe, just maybe I could have escaped some of this bad treatment. The housing market is rotten to the core. These people may not be committing crimes but they are bullying and misleading ordinary people.

All I have left (given that all my savings have been wiped out to pay the shortfall in the money lent to me) is anger. Housing is at the core of British society to an extent unrivalled across the world so it is something we cannot escape, but why do we have to be over-charged and go through so much to be humiliated in order to participate in this process? I do really hope I am dead before I have to move house again. My fear now is that with all the expense and my persistent bad luck the new house will collapse or be repossessed.

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