Monday 27th May 2024

The worst part of buying a house? The estate agents

buying a house

Mouthy Money co-editor Edmund Greaves looks back at the process of buying a house in 2022 and why it was the estate agents that proved to be the weakest link in the process.

My (now) wife and I were fortunate enough to be in a position to buy a house in 2022.

To get there required a lot of hard saving and an employer that was happy for me to move far enough away from central London to a place where property is more affordable.

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We were also helped along in the process by the 95% LTV guarantee scheme, and the generous bonuses afforded through saving into two Lifetime ISAs (LISAs). As first-time buyers we also benefited from first-time buyer relief on stamp duty, lowering the overall cost of the purchase.

Buying a house has been difficult – even impossible – for many for a long time, but it has become all the more difficult following the rapid increase in mortgage rates over the past year. We did however get ahead of these issues thankfully. I do not envy those who want to buy now.

The process of buying a house was a chaotic experience, one that I think we were unprepared for at the outset. It requires a series of moving parts that only really function together if you as the buyer are as proactive as possible.

The market itself is eye-wateringly fractured, from mortgage brokers to lenders, conveyancers, surveyors and estate agents all operating in their own bubbles and at different speeds. Sometimes it feels like they are all whistling to a different tune, too.

But we made it onto the ladder and are very happy in our own home for the first time, despite the best efforts of galactically incompetent estate agents.

Brokers and lenders

Our broker was overall a positive experience – we got a good deal aside from anything else, locking in a five-year rate which in hindsight feels like a decent decision.

If I had one criticism of this part of the process it would be that the broker then pursued – nay hounded – my wife and I to try and sell us life insurance and protection policies. While I understand the importance of such products I felt absolutely that we were being pushed toward excessively high coverage policies that we simply weren’t ready to contemplate.

This was made into a much more negative experience than it needed to be, chiefly because we were called constantly to try and move us along the process. After a successful mortgage experience it did leave a bitter taste.

As for the lender, we had little real contact with them other than confirmatory letters, but everything proceeded in order, to little issue.

Surveyors and conveyancers

Perhaps the best part of the entire process for us was the surveyor we hired to check out the condition of the property we were buying. We used the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICs) tool to find a local surveyor, and spoke to three of those listed.

In the end we picked a local guy who spoke well of the properties in the area and seemed knowledgeable. Living in North Devon you can quite often end up finding these sorts of services coming from all over. I remember speaking to a cheaper surveyor from Exeter who seemed to have no idea about the area which struck me as unhelpful.

Anyway, we picked the local guy and he was great, compiling a comprehensive report, answering our questions and generally being available to help, for which I shall commend and namecheck him – many thanks Alex from AHN Chartered Surveyors, who did a stand up job for us.

We also had a positive experience with our conveyancers, My Home Move. Throughout the process they were helpful and constructive, without eye-watering fees and a helpful online system that helped us visualise where we were in the process at all times.

The firm also put all documents digital-first which we found helpful, especially as it sped up the process and meant we weren’t wholly reliant on physical postage and documents. It felt efficient and effective.

This brings me, unfortunately, to the absolute worst aspect of buying a house, in our experience.

Professional dissemblers Estate agents

At no point in any interaction with an estate agent in the process of buying a house did I feel they were being honest, helpful or constructive in the way they dealt with us, the buyers.

I understand that they draw their fees from sellers – but who do you think is ultimately funding that? We had, in the event, some fairly major hiccups in the process that made this exponentially worse.

Long story short – while we were in the early stages of buying the house, the flat we were renting experienced a horrendous flood (a story for another blog…). We had several thousand pounds worth of possessions destroyed and were forced to live in a local hotel by a petrol station, a singularly awful experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

Now, at this juncture our motivation to complete the process, which beforehand was proceeding at a leisurely pace, dialled up several notches. I did everything in my power to dot the i’s and cross the t’s to bring the process to a completion and at every step in that nightmare the estate agents stood in our way.

They dissembled, delayed, dropped and deserted us when we needed someone who could coalesce the process and get us over the line.

With the house at the bottom end of a three-property chain, it culminated in an issue with the property at the top of the chain which needed an indemnity policy of some description creating by the participant conveyancers.

The details are a little unclear but essentially the entire chain hinged on this one issue and we sat, waiting, for six weeks for it to be fixed – despite everyone in the chain being ready to exchange and all parties being aware of our hotel-living plight.

Top tips for dealing with an estate agent as a first-time buyer

1. Don’t expect the agent to look after you, as you’re not paying them – the seller is. Their best interests aren’t necessarily yours. They just want to make sure you buy the property.

2. The estate agent is often the fulcrum of the process which involves a mind-boggling number of participants, because they are the ones talking to everybody. If you get a lazy one, make sure YOU are the proactive one who breathes down their neck to get things resolved.

3. Don’t let estate agents rush you into decisions. We were pressured many times, particularly when it came to being told a property was “about to go under offer” etc. Take your time.

4. Use ultimatums if it comes to it. It’s the only way we got our deal across the line in the end. It is a nuclear option unfortunately, but sometimes that’s the only way to make a message clear. 

The estate agents, who I will not name for the pleasure of not giving them a right to reply to this column, did nothing to expedite the issue and sat with their thumbs in their own fundaments for nearly two months.

It culminated in me, threatening first via phone call, and then when that didn’t drive the point home, via signed letter, that if the snag wasn’t fixed to a deadline of 48 hours then we would be withdrawing from the house purchase and collapsing the chain.

And would you believe, the estate agent miraculously coalesced all the constituent parties and fixed the problem…within 24 hours of this ultimatum. Almost…almost as if it was never really a major problem to begin with!

I have never been so exasperated by such sheer incompetence, a lack of empathy and flagrant disdain.

And to put the cherry on the icing of this cake, when we finally completed and I went to pick up the keys to our new home, the person who handed them to me wrung their hands and, gurning, told me how lucky I was because the seller had left behind an expensive light fixture that wasn’t on the list and a woodshed full of wood.

In fairness, the wood has been a nice little freebie considering energy bills this winter but that’s not the point.

No, I have never felt so unappreciated as when the buyer of a house subject to the sneering attitude of every estate agent I came across.

Perhaps we got a bad apple business, but where we live it is rather a large one in the area. I can only guess if this experience is replicated around the rest of the UK.

If you’ve had a bad experience with estate agents, let me know in the comments or email editors@mouthymoney.co.uk. The best reader correspondence gets a prize!

Photo by Landon Martin on Unsplash

Edmund Greaves


Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.

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