• Author:Ben Jones
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Buying a house; the process from hell

Close your eyes and remember your worst ever customer service experience. Now add to it a time when you have done someone’s job for them, even though you were paying them. Add a dash of incompetence; a huge dollop of waffle and a spoonful of jargon. Now include a helping of mountainous paperwork and a chunk of transactions from another century. Finally, garnish with endless delays that have no logic and a bill for thousands and thousands of pounds.

Have you got all that? You are now imagining what I have just done; moved house.

To be specific, you’ve just imagined how it feels to use an estate agent and a solicitor to buy or sell a house. Two people who simply stand in the path of money to bring you heavy hearts and lighter wallets.

Now before I go on, I will add one disclaimer. Not all estate agents and solicitors are like this and I’ve had the pleasure to buy from two agents who have done a great job – sadly in neither case was I their client and so the good experience was totally overshadowed by having to deal with my own drag on the ticket.

This most common of events – which is simply a buying and selling transaction – is without doubt one of the most frustrating in modern life. It is the epitome of market failure. The customer is demanding a simple, quick, clearly-communicated service. The market supplies an over-complicated, unnecessarily delay-ridden and jargon-filled process – I refuse to call it a service – which makes you swear “we’re not doing this again any time soon”.

Why is it so painful? The customer doesn’t have perfect information – you do not instinctively know what you need to do to meet the legal requirements of selling or buying a house. You therefore rely on an expert. But you always feel like when you’ve gone to the local garage with your car which has a puncture and come out having bought a new car and a trailer! The competition is not ideal – you cannot easily differentiate on price, service, quality or approach. They all talk the same language. All sound the same; all look to continue the status quo.

Yes, there has been disruption – websites who allow a more DIY approach – but it has not reached the tipping point that makes it a mass market product which transforms the experience for the customer.

Added to this joy is the 19th century language and the reliance on letter and fax – yes fax! Letters that begin with “Sir, herein…..” make me die a little inside and yet its all the rage in this pompous world. As is sending a letter – not an email – a letter – and then waiting for days for a reply and then waiting a few more days and then some more days. The only time the phone is used is when you say; “have you thought about giving the other side (another awful piece of jargon, along with ‘the vendor”!) a call?” Aggggghhhhh. All the time this standoff goes on between the two solicitors who are making fortunes in interest on your deposits you are rearranging your removals company booking and asking Sky, BT and co to not cut you off at your current house just yet!

So what’s the solution? Two options; you do it yourself or you negotiate a proper contract with them. A contract which meets your needs not theirs. A contract that makes their fee contingent on two things; meeting some milestones and target dates for completing key activities – get some incentives for speed into the process – and one that requires them to update you once a week with real progress in words of one syllable. Every time they use Dickensian language you deduct £100 from their fee. On current form, you will make a healthy profit form the process.

If this service already exists please send me the details. Of course, I will never use them as I’m never doing this again, ever. But I might pass them on to a friend.

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