House-buying fun part three - it's all over and I live to tell the tale

Gary McFarlane
3 April 2008

Well at long last we have moved into our new home and what a delight it is. It was a long and tortuous journey to reach this point largely due to the incompetence of the banks, solicitors and estate agents involved. So what lessons could be learnt from the saga? For a start the country’s largest mortgage lender certainly needs to tighten up its systems and training. Also, solicitors need to learn to communicate with each other, and their clients, more efficiently. As for estate agents, well it's best left unsaid...

I won’t bore you with all the details but suffice to say that twice we almost found ourselves paying for a mortgage on a property we didn’t actually legally own or live in.

This came about because two completion dates were aborted and on both occasions our lawyer claimed they sent the money we were borrowing back to the bank but the bank failed to receive this not inconsiderable sum. Neither party bothered to check the funds had been dispatched and received or to let us know whether the transaction had completed.

The first time it happened we were only alerted to the error when the owners of the house we were buying told us that post had started arriving from our mortgage lender. When we collected said letters we found we were about to start paying the mortgage despite the fact we weren’t going to be moving in for another month, and still had a mortgage to pay on the property we still lived in. That was in early February.

The second time it happened we were on the way to the Swindon Hilton Hotel for a cheap family weekend when I decided to check the state of my current account, using my trusty and precious iPhone – yes, I have a Gollum-like attachment to this inanimate object, but more on that in another blog. Anyway, what a shock I had upon logging in. The princely sum of £1,800 had been withdrawn from my account for a mortgage and arrangement fee on a property we hadn’t exchanged or completed on. Again the mortgage lender had not had their funds returned after our second completion date in early March was blown out of the water.

I got my money back in the end, but only after nearly two weeks of tearing my hair out - actually I haven’t got any but I would have torn out tufts of it if I had - and remonstrating with lawyers and bank staff.

I discovered in the midst of this mayhem that the Halifax is the only mortgage lender in the country that, according to our lawyer, doesn’t accept telegraphic transfer of funds, and that you have to send a cheque – via stage coach (that last bit is a joke)! No wonder their shares collapsed so spectacularly the other day with archaic systems like that, although of course that little local difficulty was in fact down to the sharks in the City that the FSA is now hunting for in the deep blue sea. But given that the FSA command and control systems are equally as inept as my mortgage lender’s, don’t expect them to catch anything other than small fry.

Those other ‘professionals’ involved in the house-buying and selling process, estate agents, were you remember as useless as all the other leading players in the show. The ones selling our house had failed to supply us with a contract for their fee but at least they eventually had the good grace to submit an invoice for 1.25% instead of the 1.5% fee they had initially demanded. To be honest they did precious little to earn that fee and the next time we move – which will be when we retire – I think we’ll be going down the private route.

We’re also still seething with indignant rage at having to give the government £8,000 in stamp duty. At least the estate agent rang us now and again – the government did absolutely nothing. And what are they going to do with our £8,000? Give it to Northern Rock on the never-never I imagine.

Anyway, enough of the whingeing as the trauma is now over and we can spend the next couple of decades enjoying our large south-facing garden and the strange child-like strangulated calling of the foxes that live in the cops out the back – as well as possibly pondering the woes of wallowing in negative equity at some point in the not too distant future (that last bit isn’t a joke).

In the end I suppose I can say, as Caesar did, “Vini Vidi Vici” - I came I saw I conquered - but I really don’t want to see the likes of it again for some time to come.