Sunday supplement: the TMB guide to homebuying

by articulatedsheep

Our fundamentally empty and meaningless lifestyles, fuelled by pointless consumerism, demand that we acquire more and more baubles and trinkets to somehow distract us from the gnawing self-doubt and crippling loneliness that saps at the heart of our very being, and to use up what fleeting time we have left until we all, inevitably, die and are quickly forgotten by an amoral world.

At some point in your dull and futile existence, you will find that you have too much stuff to fit comfortably in your existing living space, and you will probably decide, with the crushing inevitability that comes with recognising that all your childhood dreams will soon be extinguished, if they haven’t been already, that you will need to buy a house.

What is the best way to go about this tawdry process? Read our simple cut out ‘n’ keep guide to getting you the house you always dreamed of – assuming that you have always dreamed of owning a small two-bed semi somewhere on the outskirts of Letchworth with relatively easy access to the A1(M)!

Preparation

House-hunting requires dedication. There aren’t many houses out there, and unless you are a chinless gimp with unlimited funds and a hotline to Kevin McCloud, you are probably going to have to buy one that somebody is already living in, rather than build a new one.

Often the first step will be to visit the bank to find out how much you can afford. If you think that this will involve being subjected to a terrifying interview by a forbidding bank manager – think again! Your “mortgage consultation” will be conducted by a 21-year old called Darren, who will spend two hours with you laboriously entering various highly personal pieces of information onto a database before trying to sell you a wide variety of unnecessary insurance products.

Wherever you live in the country, and wherever you are planning to buy your new house, you will have to have your mortgage consultation in a bank in Hammersmith.

Getting to know the area

Be prepared to trudge desperately around dark, forbidding and endless housing estates in the evening, while hungry and tired, trying to “get a feel for the area”. Also, be prepared to sign up to property websites, who will send you e-mails one or twice per minute advising you of exciting properties that have come up for sale 200 miles from your target area, at a price roughly £3.5 million more than you can afford.

These days, many areas have their own online discussion forum. Why not sign up and ask what people like most about the area? Before long you’ll get a good idea of what the locals really think of the neighbourhood, and you’ll also be embroiled in a vicious argument with a sociopath about bus routes.

It is also vital, when house hunting, to spend at least three hours of every day looking blankly at aerial shots of the locale you are planning to move to on Google Earth.

Before too long, all this research will pay off, and you’ll see somewhere you like.

Estate agents’ particulars

Looking at the details prepared by estate agents – either online or in hard copy – can be a complicated experience. Most have the following features:

  • A photograph of the outside of the house on the front page. This will usually be a JPEG file so poorly compressed that the entire house will basically be a single off-orange pixel. If the outside of the house is not especially attractive, the agent will usually use a photograph of the most attractive and spacious room as the main picture. If none of the rooms in the house is up to standard, the agent may use a photo of the garden. If the garden is unimpressive, the agent will probably use a photo of themselves doing a cheesy “thumbs up” gesture to reassure any worried prospective purchasers;
  • A short five line “blurb”. You should watch out for tell-tale phrases often used by estate agents to tip you off that the property is not all that it could be. If the blurb uses language like, “compact”, “haunted”, “plagued by angry bears”, “stinks of death” or “fucking horrible” – stay away!
  • Some grossly inaccurate measurements that makes the property appear as if it’s roughly on the same scale as the Palace of Versailles;
  • A floorplan that has apparently been drawn by a five year old child;
  • The asking price. For an especially expensive house, it may be “price on application”. This is presumably to provide a veneer of exclusivity, and to demonstrate that top-class estate agents are venal, grasping shits.

Looking round

You’ll inevitably get your first look at the house on a dark January evening, when you will find yourself there at the same time as two sets of couples who will look at you with barely-disguised contempt. The estate agent, who will usually be called Josh or Naomi or, if he is from Foxton’s, Dominic, will show you around by walking silently into each room in front of you and then standing there like an uninterested pole-cat while you shamble about opening cupboards and making idiotic comments about the cornicing.

When you have finished, the agent will probably ask you what you thought of the house. It is absolutely vital to keep your cards close to your chest. Only make noncommittal grunts. This element of the house-buying process will end when the agent makes a feeble excuse as to why he can’t give you a lift back to the High Street in his leased Audi TT.

Closing the deal

Congratulations! You’ve found a house. Now, it’s time to make an offer.

Top tips:

  • Make your opening offer at 1p, and then move up in increments of one penny. This way you’ll be sure to get the cheapest possible price;
  • If the asking price is too high, commit some random, senseless murders in the streets around the house you’re offering on, to bring it down a bit;
  • To get around stamp duty thresholds, think about different ways you can make your offer to sweeten the deal. For example, you may wish to offer £50,000 of the purchase price to the vendor in uncut Columbian cocaine.

Being in a chain

Congratulations! Your offer has been accepted!

When you buy your house, you’re likely to be in a chain.

The obvious solution to being in a chain is to burn down the house in which you currently live, and pocket the insurance money, before buying a new property. If for some reason this isn’t an option, you’ll have to deal with the consequences of being reliant on other people to make sure your purchase goes through.

Don’t worry – others involved in the process will completely understand the limiting factors involved in being a chain. Any, and all, of the following criticisms or questions can be answered by the phrase, “Sorry, I’m in a chain”:

  • “Will you be able to move by the time of the next full moon?”
  • “Would it not be easier for us just to swap houses?”
  • “Can you lend me your stapler?”
  • “I’m sorry sir, but if you refuse to pay your bill I’ll be forced to call the police.”
  • “Why are you following me around?”
  •  “My God! What… what… my face! You bastard!”

Surveys and searches

You’ll almost definitely want to have a building survey done on your new property, to check that there isn’t anything seriously amiss before you exchange contracts.

Your solicitor may be able to recommend a surveyor, but if your solicitor refuses to meet you in person, communicates with you entirely by e-mail in broken English and, inexplicably, has a postal address in Kyrygystan, this may not be possible.

When you find a surveyor, they’ll need to understand your needs. This will ensure that they can consistently fall short of those needs. You may want your surveyor to provide advice on a planned extension, make professional comments on recent work carried out by the vendor or investigate a large crack in a party wall. He or she will not be able to do any of these things.

You will usually not be encouraged to go round your property with the surveyor. This could be for a number of reasons:

  • The surveyor does not wish you to see the special, bendy surveyor ladders that are a closely-guarded secret of his profession;
  • The surveyor plans to defecate in the oven while at the property;
  • The surveyor is experiencing time backwards, has already conducted the survey, and is trying to avoid a temporal paradox.

Your report, when it arrives, will be couched in cautious language, so don’t be alarmed if it raises some concerns which come across as quite major. Unless the entire report consists of the words, “GET BACK! SHE’S GONNA BLOW!” in 72-point bold, it is probably safe to continue with the purchase.

Your solicitor, meanwhile, will be conducting local authority land charge and other legal searches. This will involve detailed investigations as to whether there is a restrictive covenant on your house preventing you from actually entering it, whether the house is directly in the path of a major wildebeest migration route or, most outlandishly of all, whether any remediation measures relating to radon gas have been put in place.

The vendor will also be required to fill in an information form, detailing which things he or she will be taking with them on departure. Read this report carefully to avoid any unpleasant surprises when you move in – for example, you don’t want to be in the position of not realising that the vendor plans to take with him the cooker, the toilet, one of the bedrooms or, in fact, every brick with which the house is constructed.

Exchange of contracts

At exchange, you will be required to pay a deposit to the vendor to secure the purchase. This will usually happen two to three weeks before completion, and will involve you taking a day off work in order to frantically organise the transfer of a terrifying quantity of money into your solicitor’s client account, a process that will make it seem as if you are conducting business in 1958.

Following exchange, your move is definitely going ahead, and you should start packing your various meaningless trinkets and arranging removal. You should be brutal about getting rid of things you don’t need any more, for example:

  • Your Battlestar Galactica boxsets, that you have only used in order to gloomily masturbate over a paused image of Edward James Olmos;
  • The framed photograph of you and your student housemates circa 1997, where you all look fresh-faced and full of promise – a photograph that provides a vicious reminder of the tragic spiral of self-loathing and torment that your life has become since that bitch left you;
  • Your self-respect.

Removal costs can vary enormously. If you make a casual arrangement down the pub with a man called Piotr, who back in the old country was a successful civil engineer but whose worth is now entirely defined by the fact that he owns an N-reg Ford Transit, it could cost you less than £100. If you plan to use a professional removal firm it could cost more than ten times that. However, you will get the peace of mind that their van, unlike Piotr’s, won’t be pulled over by the police for being in breach of the terms of the London Low Emission Zone and impounded for fourteen days in Sidcup with all your stuff in it.

Completion – the big day

Everything’s packed! But there’s still a lot to do on the day of the move.

The first job is to clean your house from top to bottom – this includes removing the three-inch deep layer of dead mice in your loft.

When the removal men arrive, remember the following:

  • Make sure that you put on an unconvincing Cockney accent;
  • Try to engage them in an awkward conversation about football;
  • Offer to make them a cup of tea, in the full knowledge that your kettle and all your mugs are secreted deep inside one of the eight dozen large boxes littering your flat;
  • Do *not* attempt to build all the boxes into a makeshift “den” and then scream with infantile frustration when the removal men try to dismantle it.

When you arrive at your new home:

  • Clean it from top to bottom, because the vendors are feckless, unhygienic layabouts;
  • Have a close look for any unexpected issues that you may previously have missed, but that you may need to sort out in your first few weeks. For example, a door in your house that leads to a space that gets progressively larger and larger as each day passes, organically “growing” uniformly grey and featureless additional rooms which are maze-like in their complexity, and with which you become slowly obsessed, as your life disintegrates around you;
  • Tip the removal men. 5p each should do it. Don’t spend it all at once!

So that’s it! You’ve successfully moved house, and you’re ready to start your new life. On your first night, why not introduce yourself to your neighbours by playing throbbing drum and bass and hammering nails randomly into the wall until 3am?

Don’t forget to send your solicitor a little thank you note after completion – or a formal complaint, copied in to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, whichever is more appropriate.  And, of course, do remember that you’ll be on the phone every day for the next two weeks to the estate agent, trying to get them to take away the massive “for sale” board outside your front door.

TMB’s easy, pull-out guides to everyday modern transactions are available in hard copy from participating newsagents at £3.99 each, or come bundled with your already massive Sunday newspaper. Forthcoming titles include, “The TMB guide to getting a pushchair onto a train during rush hour”, “The TMB guide to conducting petty, vindictive feuds with your neighbours over the communal recycling bin” and “The TMB guide to writing facile “how to” guides”.

 

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