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The International Writers Magazine:
On buying a home or not...
Doing battle with Estate Agents
• Sam North
For some time now I have been trying to buy a home.  OK, I have some specifics as I have someone in a wheelchair in tow, but you’d think with all the houses on sale in the whole country that an estate agent would bite your hand off to make a sale. *Photo Rowhedge

Rowhedge

The complete and utter unprofessionalism and indifference that most agents display is awesome.  They really don’t care at all about you, their jobs or their clients.  (As a client I know this is true, but after one year of being on the market my agent finally produced a buyer and although the price I got was 'realistic' at least I knew when to shake hands and accept).

A case in point:  I drove all the way from Putney (London) to Colchester (Essex) recently to see three houses and possibly look at some show homes as well. All told it's about seventy miles.
It took three hours.
Strike One for Colchester.

The first townhouse was nice but for the price the front windows all look out onto a blank wall of another home some twenty feet away. (Detail omitted from the description).  The configuration of the ground floor was wasteful and most of the house was made up of the hallway and landings.  (UK architects truly know nothing about living in a house).  The garden was the best feature with a lovely walled garden, but just because there is a nice garden it's no reason to buy the house. Easy mistake to make apparently.

Then my sister noticed a wedding shop in the town with three giant orange gypsy style wedding dresses in the window and at least four pawn shops in the town. She began to mutter and I sensed we weren't going to be buying in Colchester.

Jane and Sam
Nope the estate agents not up there either
© John Lewell
The second house the agent failed to turn up to show the house.
Rowhedge looks pretty by the river but I wonder if you’d get flood insurance? Seems, despite sending a confirmation of an appointment, the agents have no knowledge of it. Pity the person trying to sell this house in the pic. If desperate they should change agents pronto.
Strike Two for Colchester

The third house was a second viewing and to be honest I loved this 16th Century house and all was well in this ‘quiet’ neighbourhood until my sister counted SEVEN buses using it as a shortcut in the space of a few minutes.  The half-way house for junkies on the corner wasn't a plus and well that was enough in the end I guess.  Will the neighbourhood come up?  Depends on how long one has to live I suppose. I think Colchester has strong redeveopment potential in the Hythe area and clearly with all the apartment building going on can only enhance the value of the existing homes. But then again it will place a further burden on traffic and facilities and that may eventually detract. In only one case did the estate agent bother to call to see if I liked the house. By chance the Times on the 24th Feb 2012 cited Colchester as a declining market - that oversupply will depress prices there for a few years possibly.
In fact there are many new home developments in progress in Colchester consisting of hundreds of unsold homes, all pretty much identical and soulless in treeless streets and we did wonder if Colchester was ‘overbuilt’ and undersold and prices could be held down by the oversupply at the time. Could be wrong of course. May well be the most desirable place on earth and I'm a fool for not getting in on the ground floor. (Although my friend John reminds me that Claudius got there first). John thinks I'm foolish for not buying there, but then again he doesn't have a sister like mine who threatened dire consequences for my mental health if I bought the 400 year old house. She does tend to get a tad 'excited'.
It took another three hours to get back to London. The A12 is a nightmare.
Strike Three for Colchester

This has been a weekly saga.  Using the on-line search for a house only gets you so far.  Sure you can go to Mouseprice to find previous prices, crime stats etc and Rightmove to find houses to see and Streetview to try and find them in the street, but you have to walk the area, listen to it, ask questions.  One owner did admit that in the summer there’s a pub nearby that has loud rock music in the garden till all hours.  In February you won’t pick that sort of thing up.

Ideally I’d like all British estate agents to raise their game. (Canadian Estate Agents (Realtors) have to pass a stiff exam, so should the agents in the UK, who at best show mere indifference and often offer no service at all. Put it this way, if some have passed an exam of some kind it doesn't show.
Rule One:   They should not try to sell a house they have never been to.  They should know all about the local amenities, taxes due, when the essential equipment was last serviced in the house.  I don’t care if the government withdrew HIPS, a floorplan is essential to see the configuration of rooms, especially for people in wheelchairs. They should know if there are any steps into the house…
Rule Two: There should be a law outlawing wide-angle photography and use of the word ‘deceptively’ in the description.

If have finally had an offer accepted on a house and look forward to living in it.   But buying and selling a house is an ordeal I’ll not want to repeat for a very long time.

Sam North February 2012
author of Mean Tide - an original spooky child's mystery set in Greenwich, London

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