25 tips for a less stressful house move
A couple of months ago, my wife and I moved house. Now that the dust has settled, here are the lessons I draw from the experience. If you’re thinking about putting your house on the market, I hope they might help you.
Before you begin
1. Be clear about why you’re moving. Everybody has their reason; ours was simply a need for more space, coupled with the fact that we thought we would be unable to recover the cost of an extension, were we to sell at a later date. Moving house is such an upheaval that it is never to be undertaken lightly!
3. Rank your requirements as musts, shoulds, coulds or would be nice to have – whether it’s a particular school catchment area, a big garden or a minimum number of bedrooms. Known in the project management sphere as the MoSCoW method, this helps you discard unsuitable properties as you scour property websites.
2. Don’t move in a hurry unless you can’t avoid it. That was easy for us to say: we didn’t have a deadline like the start of a new school term bearing down upon us – so we were conscious of how much more stressful it must be if you do.
4. Don’t put your life completely on hold. Whilst our house was on the market, we wondered whether we should refrain from booking a short holiday that we had planned. In the event, we had not received an offer by the time we returned and did not regret getting away from it all for a short while.
Selling your current property
5. Prepare your property for sale well in advance. Tackle long-postponed minor maintenance jobs indoors and weed the garden long before calling an estate agent.
6. Tidy up before having your photos taken and before every viewing. How your property is presented is one of the few variables that is fully under your control, so tidy up and put everything away that doesn’t need to be on display!
7. Interview several agents. Securing the services of an agent who will work hard on your behalf is no less important than being charged a low rate of commission.
8. Agents know better than you how much your house is worth. Whereas we know how much we would like our houses to fetch, they value properties for a living and can offer you a dispassionate view of the market.
9. Conduct first viewings on interesting properties while you wait for your house to sell. This should yield a shortlist to view for a second time once you have received your offer.
10. Target an unmodernised house on a nice street for best future returns. It will trade at a discount to similar, better-maintained properties and provide scope for redecoration and improvement according to your own tastes.
11. Be flexible on your selling price if you are serious about moving. Although your property might go on sale at your target price, the chances are that you will need to reduce it to secure a sale. Buyers will often start with a ‘cheeky’ offer more than 10% less than your asking price. Depending on your circumstances, you might not be able to dismiss a figure at this level completely our of hand; your agent will be able to give you a good idea on right level at which to settle.
Buying your new property
Offer in hand, it’s time to look in earnest for your next step on the property ladder.
12. Work out your budget and stick to it. That way, you won’t over-burden yourself with a mortgage you can’t afford. You will also need to bear in mind professional fees and removal costs.
13. Organise your finance as soon as you start looking at properties. With a mortgage agreed in principle, you’ll be in a stronger position to make a competitive offer when you’ve found the right property.
14. Take your mortgage out in-branch – it’ll be quicker in the long run. I applied for mine over the phone and spent far too much of my time speaking to a succession of call centre agents.
15. Brace yourself for the stamp duty cliff face at £250,000 into which you are are almost bound nowadays to collide if you are looking to trade up from your first property (there are more at £5oo,000 and above). Below this threshold, you pay up to £2,500 stamp duty; beyond it, you’ll be paying £7,500, or 3%. Income tax thresholds don’t work like this and, rather than underwriting mortgages on high loan to value ratios, abolishing this tier could be a more effective way for the Chancellor to stimulate the housing market. Ultimately, that’s a matter for him; for us, although it’s unpleasant, it’s a one-off charge unless you’re a serial mover.
16. Don’t set our heart on a particular property before you have sold your own; we thought we had found our ideal property just after putting ours on the market but because we hadn’t sold ours, we couldn’t make an offer.
17. Make an ambitious yet credible offer once you’ve found the property that ticks as many of your boxes as possible, having conducted your second viewings. Your aim is to set a floor from which you can raise your offer by small increments until the seller calculates that the risk of losing the sale outweighs the benefit of holding out for another thousand or two.
18. Stress any non-financial arguments in favour of your offer. In our case, we were moving locally, had finance in place and, with first-time buyers purchasing our house, could offer a short – and therefore robust – buying chain.
Making the move
With offers accepted and Sold boards up, its time to complete the legal and financial formalities.
19. Use a local, old-school solicitor. Neither the website nor the offices of the firm we used were flashy but our solicitor did a good, thorough job and explained everything well.
20. Request a home-buyers report from your Building Society. A full structural survey is probably not necessary unless your property is older and/or built on land prone to flooding or subsidence.
21. Ask a good builder to view the property and give you an idea how much any issues highlighted by the Homebuyers Report might cost to resolve. Checkatrade.com is a good place to find reliable tradesmen.
22. Get quotes from removal firms in good time. Once you’ve exchanged contracts, the pressure is suddenly on to set a date for the move itself. If you want to use a smaller, local company, as we did, you may find that they are fullly booked on your first choice of possible dates.
23. Choose the full-pack removal option under which removal men will come in, box up all of your possessions on day one and then move you on day two. They are very practised in the business of removal and did it for us far more quickly than we could ever have done ourselves. They even dismantled and reassembled a very large wardrobe without the instructions very efficiently.
24. Empty as many packing boxes as possible before going back to work. There is no disguising that unpacking is a slog, bearing in mind that you have to unpack everything yourself at the other end. Taking leave after your move will help you reduce the number of subsequent weekends in which you are living in chaos.
25. Pack an overnight bag with a few day’s worth of clothes, since things will go missing. For example, I mislaid my shirts for about four days and had to wear the same one for rather longer than intended!
At the end of this long process, though, you will be settled into a new property capable of offering a higher standard of living than your previous one, making all the upheaval worth it.
A final thought
Based on our experience, now is a good time in the year to entertain that first thought about moving. We put our house on the market in the early summer last year, verbally agreed to sell and buy during the autumn and moved after Christmas, meaning that we were able to move and unpack when it wasn’t hot and giving us the Spring to start sorting out the garden. After a prolonged slump for the last five years, it looks like the general property market might itself also be starting to show the first green shoots of recovery.