Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A long ride indeed

If you think finding a house/ flat that both partners-in-debt will like is the hard part, think again. After looking through what seemed like 3 million flats – literally at least one in every building in our chosen area – our to-be flat was something like an “a-ha“ moment from an Oprah show. Suddenly all doubt vanished, potential shone through the glass walls and we were ready to gift away our lives to the mortgage underwriter.

Once the offer was in we just moved to the backseat of the car and waited for the car to drive off the cliff. It’s not an unlikely situation. Most people have at least one gory story of sales falling through or gazzumping or some such wonderful terminology dooming a house purchase. We had heard so many stories that we kept our levels of enthusiasm to a bare minimum. After much to-ing and fro-ing we have exchanged and in a week we should have the keys to our kingdom.

The ride between the offer and the exchange of contract was not fun. Everyone goes on about how labour dense ‘developing’ countries are and how much bureaucratic red-tape there is when you need to apply for something in India, like a passport or ration card. Where do you think the Indians learnt it from? The British are masters of the red-tape system. They are only a bit more stiff upper lip about it.

So here’s the chain of events that a property under offer in the UK must endure (and I have spun it from our own morbidly long experience, humungous phone bills and sore throats from yelling at people):

Week 1 & 2: Offer to the agent. Agent lets the vendor know. Refusal in the first instance. All conspiring on how to leech us dry. Small bidding war as another couple also wants our kingdom. They lose. We win. Since we offer more money than them, we also lose.

I buy my first design magazine under the guidance of Shoefie – Living etc. Mind-boggling.

Week 3: Contact a few mortgage brokers for quotes. Everyone says we are in a prime position to buy. That is just sales speak as they want a big fat fee from us. No way Jose. We shrewdly take on the mortgage broker who will get paid a commission by the bank instead of us. Go to his office for a talk. Turns into a 4 hour marathon of explanations, form filling with mundane details and endless photocopying of documents. With the press of a button the form is submitted to relevant bank. Papers to follow and hearty handshake mortgage broker assures us we’ll be approved in 2 days.

Week 4: Valuation ‘expert’ from the bank goes to check out said flat. Finds the value to be the exact amount we have offered (as told to him by accompanying estate agent). He charges us obscene amount for doing basically nothing but checking out our flat and producing a 2 page letter re-iterating all the things he’s been told.

Meanwhile hearty handshake mortgage broker has passed us on to his Head Office where incompetent liaison lady now has our file. She writes us letter of reassurance that is not reassuring in the least. Discovers that wrong side of bank statements has been photocopied and asks us to produce copies and original again. In Notting-something. No way Jose. Harass local mortgage man into looking at them and taking proper photocopies this time. You would think since it’s a major part of his job he would know which side is up. Incompetent idiot.

Cleared a drawer and a cupboard
. Big bag of clothes and 15 pairs of shoes for charity. I feel like an angel. Am exhausted with the effort.

Week 4 & 5: On suggestion of friend-who-has-done-this we appoint a solicitors firm to handle the legal higgledy piggledy. Now they are in touch with vendors solicitors through agent. Reading 10 million documents, conducting searches of random things like the environment, sewage and council issues – it’s a busy life for solicitor Santa.

In the excitement of having a flat we decide to trawl through the 10 magazines I have so far bought for ideas on furnishing. We do not agree on anything.

Week 5: Liaison lady comes back asking for more documents. All irrelevant and making us feel a bit criminal like. Try to prove good intentions by showing required documents and not yelling at everyone concerned.

I want minimal, V wants minimal. Neither knows what that means in real time furniture. We both want a modern streamlined look but cannot agree on a colour scheme let alone any single piece of furniture. Oh hell, this is going to be a long ride!

Week 6: Mortgage approval letter arrives with copies to everyone. Solicitor Santa is slowly wading through documents. We go and meet him in his very tiny office and sign our contract. Pay up a whopping 10% of the dosh as deposit.

We go and look the furniture shops of Tottenham court road. Heals. Habitat. Cargo Home Shop. Lombok. Suddenly we’ve moved from modern to heavy traditional wood. Sea change hits us like a Tsunami.

Week 7: Cheque with 10% takes about a week to clear. Bloody inefficient retail banks. Talk to Santa’s secretary everyday, chasing her to check if the money has been received. Soon she recognizes the voices, pretends to be a garden centre and offers us mulch.

Week 8: The vendor does not back out – in fact after many hair-turning-grey nights he signs his side of the contract and the exchange is done. Now we are both legally bound to each other – him to sell, us to buy. 2 months on something is happening

Also in week 8: I go and meet vendor in ‘our’ house. Take measurements to see if world’s largest pieces of furniture will fit. They will; but we will then have to walk on skirting boards and jump from chair to chair. Like monkeys. Am pointed toward appliance manuals, am offered names of electrician/ plumber and cleaner and am offered advice on installing an air-conditioning unit for the 2 hot weeks in an otherwise grey year.

Week 9: Went to shop and signed away what’s left of our arms and legs to get 13 bits of heavy solid looking wood; from a sustainable forest; made by workers paid above the average wage; ethical (for all you sunflower seed chewing organic earth and fair-trade lovers!!).

Today: We are off to sign deeds and stuff. So in a week we should complete and own a piece of London for the next 992 years.

I’m off to live in a cardboard box with a roll of duck tape, scissors and 25 pairs of shoes.


  1. Dropped in to say 'Hi' and return a favour. lol

    Yet to read your blog. Will do it soon.

  2. That was one neat post. Me loling :p

    25 pairs of shoes.. OMG.

  3. You're almost there! I'd love to say 'Hey there's a light of the tunnel' but then the vendor took all the fittings with him. (Though from your description of them, light emmitting UFOs aren't really a good look this season!) Cheer up - and let me know if you need help beating V in to submission over any other deisgn choices. I have lots of Living etcs that will come in handy!

    And to 'Me' - you should be thinking OMG what a noble soul - gave 25 pairs of shoes 'away'. not OMG she had 25 pairs of shoes. Typical male reaction.

  4. Your post had me in splits!!! Always a pleasure to read a 'real-life' post thats hilarious at the same time, although I get the distinct impression that you didn't find this particular experience amusing, let alone hilarious in the least! ;) Hope you enjoy your new home! Cheers!

  5. And oh yes, bloody well written by the way! :)

  6. Dont tell me that the Brits outdo us (in Inida)in red-tape!

    Wow! Our own experience buying a flat in India, in retrospect, seems a cakewalk, now. Right from seeing the property, executing the sale agreement and getting the loan sanction from HDFC. All done within 4 weeks!

    PS: Hilarious piece of writing.

  7. Anonymous2:36 AM

    It's the same procedure here in the US of A, but usually ends in 30 days. and by the way the tape has nothing to do with the bird -it's "duct" and not "duck"...40in2006

  8. A casa of your own. Congratulations!

  9. Hello! Nice blog! I love your name-I turned 30 in 2005 too :)

  10. Visitor: Where do you think the Indians got their love of red-tape from? India is a cakewalk as you can always find someone who knows someone!!!

    Me: See Shoefiends comment on shoes......I gave away so many I'm nearly barefoot now....

    Shoefie: All design wars have been fought and won by moi! But thanks for the offer of help...

    Wishful thinker: Glad you enjoyed it. Aim to make people laugh is not often successful - glad this one worked!!

    40in2006: Duck tape is accurate actually. Look at this: http://www.octanecreative.com/ducttape/duckvsduct.html

    Jane: I know! I can hardly believe it in the fog of tape and boxes and piles of junk!

    Inq. Akka: The 30s are just so much fun. I have written a tonne of stuff on turning 30, the whole crisis before and whats on now - all in the archives. Hope you are enjoying being 30!

  11. That sounded exhausting. We bought a house too and have been to the end of the world (well Mumbai) and back in the search of the perfect furniture. Let me tell you something - it doesn't exist.

  12. Anonymous11:36 PM

    That was an interesting bit of trivia on duck/t tape :)

  13. Oh dear! What an ordeal!
    But congrats again to getting through with it :)

  14. must be awesome to have a lovely new house.

    and 25 pairs of shoes??!! if i counted mine, i'm sure i'd have as many, but it just doesn't seem like it!

  15. Hey! My sympathies...I know what you mean. We are building a house and recently our builder called us and said " We need to talk". And we don't like the sound of it...

  16. Rohini: we got the perfect furniture I think but not before trawling through 5 million catalogues and shops! All the best with that...

    Anon: Aim to please with the trivia!

    Sunrayz: Ordeal of buying is so different from setting it all up and moving. That could be my next post!!

    Rosa: Not awesome yet as we move in a week. See just above (comment to Sunrayz. And a woman can never have enough shoes - just because I discarded these does not mean I shall never replace them!

    Keya: Glad to see you are back! Your builders words do sound ominous.....