Back to basics

RESET! And breathe…

Ok, so let’s start all over again (how many time have I written this again?). When I started this blog, I wanted it to be an account of our move: why we wanted to move, the steps we were going to make it happen, tips and inspiration on house hunting, house decor. Instead, it became a dumping ground for all my frustration, with posts so long not even my mother would read if she could read English. So, let’s start again: hi, I am Ana and this is my blog about our house moving adventure.

While I have no intention of re-writing what has already been written – read at your own risk! -, I will focus on writing shorter, more frequent posts about our lives since we have made the move. I will also go back in time occasionally, and talk planning, regrets, things we wish we had known.

Come and join me for this ride – and let me know, is there any thing you would like to know about escaping to the country (#cliché)?

When things go pear-shaped

So. How do I even begin to write this post? Oh well. In house selling and house buying, it seems that things rarely go the way it’s planned – or at least these are the stories the internet tells you. I thought we would be different and everything would go nice and smoothly. After all, there was no chain to speak of – our buyers were renting their old place out, our sellers weren’t looking to buy anything. But, boy, were we wrong!

It all started two weeks or so after we accepted the offer on our house. We came to Wales to look at our first shortlist and apart from one house – which was a bit too small for us -, nothing was right. One house was gorgeous, but had views to a demolition site. Another had loads of space and potential, but also a sewage station in the front garden. The one we did like went under offer on the next Monday, before we could even think about it. So we made a second shortlist. And off to Wales we went.

This time, there were three. One was a bit over what we would have liked to spend, and it really needed doing up. Second one was ugly, so so ugly, but inside it was bright, the garden was massive and it was really cheap. Third one was slightly more than number two, but one of the three bedrooms was really small and we weren’t sure we would fit. In the end, it was a toss up between 2 and 3, and 2 won. It was in a lovely village, just next to the school, a 5 minute drive from husband’s work. It all seemed perfect. Until we started dealing with the seller.

In the immortal words of Janice, OH MY GOD. Everything was a chore. Getting insurance? Nope. Checking the boiler? Nope. Japanese knotweed? No idea. But we really liked it and we really wanted it, so we let it go. At one point, about two weeks after our offer was accepted – another chore, by the way -, I actually told husband that I thought the seller actually didn’t want to sell.

For some reason, they decided they wanted to complete on the 2nd November. I really didn’t want to move on the 2nd November. That is my birthday, for starts. I wanted to spend my birthday having fun, not moving house. But the estate agent insisted that the seller needed 10 weeks from offer to complete. Fine. We really wanted the house, so we went along with that. Then the date started moving. And they needed two weeks between exchange and completion for some. And  then our buyer solicitor, who had been quiet for a very long time, started asking questions and wouldn’t accept the answers for them.

The seller, then, decided on a date, and said that if we didn’t exchange by said date, she would pull out. On the date, everything ready to go, our solicitor ring the buyer solicitor and, ta da, he’s gone home at 2 and wouldn’t be back until Monday. FML. On Monday, everyone ready, seller sticks to her word and says she’s not selling any more. She went and renewed her mortgage over the weekend and didn’t want to pay the early leaving fee. We offered to pay the fee for her. She says no. On exchange day, we are homeless. The market had been really bad in our old area and, to be honest, the house full of boxes to the brim, we couldn’t afford to lose our buyers as there was not a chance I could have made it viewings-ready again without renting an industrial sized unit somewhere. So we went ahead with the sale, the buyers agreed to wait for us to find somewhere to rent.

So, the next weekend, we booked a few viewings, found a house in the same village we were buying, they accepted us and here we are. We ended up moving a week before the completion date, which meant frantic packing, abandoned Brownies pack 🙁 , retrieving child’s school place (we had already told headteacher the sale had fallen through) and transporting desperate cats, child and stuff in a Fiat Panda across the country – originally we would go in two tiny cars, but husband and I both had to sign the rental agreement so we just drove in one car and he went back on the train to deal with the movers and cleaning the old house.

So, here we are. In Wales. Finally. But we haven’t found a house yet – very little on the market at the moment, hopefully it will pick up for Easter. We – finally! – have internet in the house now, so there is no excuse for me not writing now. Child is going back to school on Monday, and we are enjoying the down time, the flipping wind the beach, the community spirit. Let’s see what 2018 brings us!

How to sell a house…

According to me 😀

Ok, so I am not going to pretend to be an expert in selling houses. But I am going to try and tell you what we have done – and what we haven’t – to make our house more sellable. Includes some tips from our estate agent too.

Declutter. I know this is the most repeated common sense advice that you will find in every single blog and website and forum on the internet, but we found that it’s true. It makes rooms look bigger. We took the play kitchen, excessive amount of computers my husband owns, his massive desk and a couple of office chairs to storage, everything smaller than that was stored in the loft. Toys, clothes, my guitar and my sewing machine, winter bedding, all in the loft. We used our cupboard under the stairs too, which was filled to the brim thanks to a broken microwave that husband insists he’s getting fixed at some point (and didn’t seem to put anyone off). The only thing that was out of place in the whole thing was my iMac, which is in a box on the corner of my bedroom – we didn’t want to put it in storage because it would make the insurance go up, and it didn’t fit through the hatch. Again, because the bedroom was mostly bare, it doesn’t seem to have put people off. We had agreed that we would put it in storage if the house hadn’t sold in a month though. So my advice is: one box – if you have to -, neatly tucked into a corner of a big enough room is fine, anything more than that, just put it away. Top tip: the car boot is fine for everything that you can’t find a place for. 😀

Décor: neutral colours throughout. The odd feature wall is fine, but don’t go crazy on wallpaper and strong colours. If you already have them, you can give it a go without completely redecorating, but the advice from the estate agent was that neutral colours sell. And not necessarily magnolia. Whites, greys, browns and pastels are all fine. In my house, the kitchen is green (Dulux willow tree), the hallway is brown (Dulux cookie dough), the lounge is grey (Dulux pebble shore and gentle fawn – is this grey or brown?) with a purple feature wall (Dulux mulberry burst), the bedrooms are lilac (Dulux violet white), soft yellow (Dulux orchid white) and a cool  greyish white (Dulux white mist – I used the same colours in the bathrooms too). So all neutral, not too out there colours (and to prove I don’t work for Dulux, I will say that my front door is Farrow and Ball manor house gray 😀 )

Wall art always help. Being creative with furniture does as well: I used a ladder shelf as a side table because I bought it for my bathroom but it didn’t fit – the website had measurements but not which measurement was which, so what I thought was depth was actually width. You live, you learn, you adapt. (Map is from Future mapping co., shelving is from Matalan – I had loads of people asking on Instagram!)

Use loads of natural plants. And some fake ones, if they’re good quality. You can get cheap cut flowers from the supermarket and arrange them yourself – I like buying from M&S because their cheap roses are nice, big ones and last very well, but Asda ones are not bad either. Also, nice light fittings.

Clean, clean, clean. I hired one of those Rug Doctor machines from B&Q – shop around for the shampoo thing that you need to use in it, I bought mine from Argos which was about 30% cheaper than everywhere else – and made a cleaning schedule:

  • daily hoovering (I have indoor cats, so daily was best for us) and downstairs + bathroom mopping – we have tiled kitchen and laminate everywhere else on our ground floor;
  • loo and sink cleaning every time I went in there – viakal or similar on the sink makes all the metal shiny and looking as new;
  • putting the dishes and dish drying rack away when we finished washing up;
  • windows cleaning once a week.

That helped me keep on top of it – even though I still did a major clean and tidy every time we had a viewing booked. Those would normally take a couple of hours.

Now, I am not saying that is the schedule everyone should be following – I know most people wouldn’t have the time and, actually, had we stayed on the market for a bit (or a lot!) longer, I don’t think it was sustainable for me either. I was constantly exhausted. I was a bit panicked and just overdid it. So, my advice really is keep you house as clean as you possibly can. Maybe just do one big clean just before going on the market and try to keep on top of it. Whatever fits your routine, really, but make sure it is clean.

Take pets and children away – if you can. We did view houses with pets in them and it honestly didn’t affect our judgement of the house, but some people might be different. In our case, we specifically chose a estate agent that would do all the viewings for us, so I would just pack the litter trays and put the cats in the car. When we had weekend viewings, husband would take cats, I would take child – or vice-versa. Once the cats and trays were packed in the car, I would spray the house with Febreze pet – when I walked back into the house, the lovely smell would hit me, so I think the viewers would get it too. Which leads me to…

Make the house smell nice! As well as the pet odour eliminator, I have a diffuser in my bedroom – one of those you put water with with essential oils inside and it makes the room smell lovely, and I also sprayed the mattresses, curtains and the sofa with one of those Febreze-type (the cheapo one from Wilko) fabric refresher sprays. I also used method spray and mop for wooden floors and it smells absolute wonderful.

Make your garden look nice. One of the things we noticed about the other houses for sale around us is that not much effort was put into the garden. I designed something fairly simple and easy to execute and husband did most of it himself (I laid the turf, ha). Our soil is mostly clay and rubble left behind by Barratt, so we used pots and planters, a few ornaments, an outdoor rug to hide the patio stones that I tried but didn’t manage to clean very well (don’t recommend Jeyes fluid, if anyone is wondering) and some beanbags.

The turf only cost about £50 from B&Q and made a massive difference in how it looked. July is definitely not the best time of the year to be laying turf but we bought a sprinkler and we were fairly lucky with the rain, we have already mowed it twice and it needs doing again. Just a word of warning for fellow clay soil owners: keep an eye on the sprinkler because you don’t want to get it clogged up.

The famous curb appeal. Our house is only a terrace with a very very small front garden (more a strip of land, really) so we didn’t have much scope for improving how it looks. I painted the door last year and this year I just washed it with sugar soap and cleaned the metal bits with Mr Sheen furniture spray polish (which is great at keeping dust off shiny furniture, I will tell you!), painted the fence and trimmed the bushes. We also have a small hanging basket at the front, I replanted it to make it look nice. The bins were put around the back by our garden gate. I also bought a new mat. And that is it. Luckily our neighbours have nicely kept houses too and, apart from their bins in front, everything looks quite nice.

So, that was it! I think it worked quite well and I am not sure what I would have done differently. I would love to hear more tips if anyone has them – not that I am planning on buying another house ever any time soon! 😀

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Our selling process (so far)

I have said previously that I had misjudged the market massively and was super scared that we wouldn’t sell. There were two other very similar houses for sale on our estate when ours hit the market in July. Both had been on for ages – one since March, one since May, I think. Both of them had just changed estate agents – neither of which were the same as ours. But we crossed our fingers and hoped that the few differences between our houses would make the difference in our favour: our layout is slightly different and we have a bigger kitchen but slightly smaller lounge than the others, making ours a proper kitchen diner, plus we have two parking spaces right in front of the house. We went for £5k more than both of those, and £5k under the estate agent valuation.

As I said on the estate agent post, the house went live on the 07/07 and straight away we had a viewing booked for the next day – Saturday – and then it all went quiet for a couple of days. We then had a viewing on the Tuesday. Then on the Wednesday we had our first feedback: the first viewer thought our second double bedroom was too small for his son, the second viewers liked it but also viewed one with the small kitchen/big lounge and were going to decide which one they liked best.

The following Saturday we had another viewing, then one on the Friday after that, and another booked for Saturday. I was very very deflated with the lack of viewings to be honest – the estate agent said we would probably get 20-ish (as opposed to the 50+ they were getting the year before!) and I was envisaging this drip drip of one-viewing-a-week for months. Then the estate agent called: Friday viewer wanted a second viewing the next day. We arranged it not to clash with the previously booked Saturday viewer and by the end of that Saturday we had an offer – we said no to the first one but the second one was in the range we had agreed to say yes to.

Now, I was tempted to say no, because this was only 2 weeks + 1 day in, but we had only had 5 viewings in those 2 weeks and I was afraid that, if we said no, they would have walked away and we wouldn’t have another offer, so we accepted it.

It hit us with a mix of relief and panic: we didn’t have solicitors lined up, we hadn’t seen a single house on the other end. (And I have to say I felt a bit sorry for the neighbours too, as they were still on the market at that point – one still is now 🙁 ) The mortgage survey happened shortly after and we got a solicitor that same week as well. All seems to be moving ok at the moment on the sales side – we’ve had the draft contract this week, estate agent has told me that the buyers’ mortgage has been approved and it’s all good to go. They don’t have anything to sell, which makes everything much easier on that side of the chain.

Christmas in the new house is looking likely now!

Searching for an estate agent

On the last post before the break, we were two weeks away from getting the estate agents in to value the house. This is how we chose ours.

We are in an area full of estate agents. Big, small, corporate. The competition is fierce and I think that makes picking one harder. I think the advice I had read was to get three in to value and then choose one. But there were so so many and I ended up asking 5. One of them only rang once and I couldn’t get through when I rang back so that one got the chop early. Four of them visited over a period of a week – the week of the 12/06, a week later than I would have liked. I chose to go with the less chain-type and more local, family business agents in my area. The first one was lovely, local and appeared to be knowledgeable about the market. The second one valued the house at a ridiculously high price – we would never ever sell at that price. The third one gave a valuation similar to the first one but was a walking-talking estate agent stereotype. And the fourth one was again lovely, local and knowledgeable, but valued the house a bit below what we were expecting.

As you can imagine, it was a toss up between the first and the last. I had the first one over again the following week to meet my husband, to see if he agreed with my judgement. He did, so we signed up with them the following week and booked the photographer for the week after – cue mad painting/cleaning/decluttering. The house went on Rightmove on the 07/07. So, as you can see, it was a long process – this was because of estate agent’s and photographer’s availability.

 My top 3 tips for choosing a estate agent are:

Find a estate agent you like. There is nothing worse than dealing with people you dislike or don’t trust. Would you buy from the person you are dealing with? Are they knowledgeable about the type of property and the area you are selling?

Research! And don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are websites where you can find how many weeks a estate agent takes to sell and what percentage of the asking price they achieve. If you can’t find those, you can ask. Ask about their database. Ask on which property websites they list on – Rightmove is the most popular one, so I would say that’s the minimum requirement, but Zoopla is a good to have. Ask what is included in their fee: is EPC extra? Is the photographer extra?

Photos and floorplans matter. Look at other listings by the estate agent on Rightmove: does it have a floorplan? Are the photos nice? Ask the estate agent who takes their photos – professional photographer with a DSLR will nearly always be better than estate agent with an iPhone. Some people won’t even bother viewing a property that doesn’t have a floorplan – plus it helps people decide early if it’s the property for them or not, therefore reducing the amount of time-wasters. You only want potential buyers to view!

If anyone stumbles across this blog and want to leave your top tip for choosing a estate agent, feel free to leave a comment!