We sold and bought a house during lockdown
There seems to be a common misconception that the government has closed down the housing market and it is stagnant. This is not the case - only that they request that moves are put on hold until the climate becomes more suitable for moving again. During this time, viewings around an occupied home would not be in line with government physical distancing standards and so it becomes almost impossible to conduct the business of buying and selling.
My husband and I put our empty house on the market in the third week of January 2020 with a local estate agent. We believed we had marketed the property a little over asking price with the view that if there were several interested parties, it may work out in our favour. Back in 2016, we'd used eMoov to place an ad online and had accepted one offer (it was retracted 2 weeks before exchange) and then another (it was retracted after the searches) and both of these had been made within a week or so of the property going webwide. We knew it was sellable and was hoping for a similar reaction this time around.
Coronavirus was becoming a buzzword but no-one was taking it too seriously from our little island, the UK. Initially, we had a great deal of visitors to the house. In the following weeks, around 22 appointments came and viewed our cosy property by the sea. We knew its limitations; we knew it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but we were confident it was a good home and was sellable.
Then the first week of Feb arrived and corona-talk was becoming a little louder. I started to get a little twitchy. If this was as bad as 'they' were saying it could be, then what if people are starting to spook? There were the rumours of a possible recession and it felt like we'd only just come around from the last one. The estate agents assured us that there were still plenty of viewings and everything was going well.
We started to get a couple of second viewings - positive, positive! And then, in the second week of February, an offer. We discussed accepting this with the agents, as it was £10k below the asking price and the advice was: 'there have been a huge amount of viewings, but this is the first serious interest - we suggest you accept the offer'. So we did, on the provision that there were to be no further negotiations.
You want how much?
Accepting an offer below asking price is a difficult decision and one where there is no right or wrong. It really comes down to personal circumstances. Options to consider are how fluid the market is, whether the house is priced realistically and if the sale of the property is required to purchase a future property. Although our property had received a flurry of interest, it wasn't looking like we were going to pick up any bidding wars. There was the worry of a potential recession creeping in, and Covid-19 didn't seem like it was going away anytime soon. At the time, we weren't relying on the sale of this house to make a purchase, but the sense of urgency was there nevertheless.
We decided to press ahead with the sale and it seemed both parties were keen to get the process done as quickly as possible. As the weeks turned from February into March, all paperwork was quickly addressed and returned. It started to become clear that Covid-19 was going to bring huge disruption to the UK and particularly our jobs and income and we would end up selling a house during lockdown. I was getting very anxious now. Our mortgage offer was only valid until May and if we were furloughed, it would be tough getting another one.
I'll go into my pros and cons about using an estate agent versus an online agent versus private sale in another post, but for us during this particular time, using an agent was invaluable. They helped put our mind at ease and communicate between both parties confirming that we both wanted to complete in as short as time as possible. I was getting stressed out with what seemed like a stream of petty questions but in hindsight, they were perfectly ordinary and completely acceptable. The atmosphere was tense throughout March as we waited for the government to grow a pair and lock us down. Every day seemed to stretch and become a week long. Every email that needed a response felt like we were adding weeks onto the date of exchange. My anxiety was going through the roof.
What about the buying part?
This is where we had landed on our feet. Kind of. Please note, we were not living in the house we were selling. That had been tenanted but was vacated for the sale.
At the time, our home was a rental and we had been given an exit date of 1st Feb 2020. We had found a property we wanted to buy through a private vendor and negotiated our offer in November 2019 giving us plenty of time to complete the sale by February. Or so we thought. There were many ups and downs to the story and it is a little complicated but the long and the short of the matter is that the 1st of February creeped and then loomed like a black mountain on the horizon and we were nowhere close to completing the purchase in time.
Having only moved into our old house the previous May, the horror of moving our family not once but twice while the purchase was organised was beyond our emotional and physical capacity. Our existing landlord would not extend our tenancy any further. It would mean putting most of our property into storage and finding a short term let for a month or so. Not ideal at all.
Good communication is essential during such stressful times as moving house and without an agent to go between, all the talk landed on me and one of the vendors. The house was going through probate and in the meantime was costing the inherited a monthly fee they would rather not be burdened with. The agreement was that we would rent the property from them on a month by month basis, therefore relieving them of the bills and easing their financial strains. We were very fortunate that we had such generous and adaptable vendors and they trusted us to live in their house before the sale was processed. This is an extraordinary situation and most solicitors would advise against this as it puts the vendors in a very vulnerable position.
The Goldilocks Effect
One of our hiccups meant that we could no longer go ahead with the purchase of our new house, before selling our old house. We had previously secured funds to help with the deposit but due to Covid-induced logistics, were now unable to use these. This meant we had to rely on the sale of our house, to fund the purchase of the house we wanted to buy. This is a perfectly normal and usual situation and is commonly known as a chain.
We were in several fortunate positions:
The house we were selling was already empty
We were already living in the house we were buying
Our chain was tiny with only two links
Our agents were wonderful and worth their weight
This is probably the Goldilocks of buying situations, I realise. Sometimes, just sometimes, everything falls into your lap. I can tell you, it does not make the anxiety any less especially as we were buying a house during lockdown! There was a real struggle for us trying to sell the house just as the referendum took place in 2016 and then we just had to ride out the housing market slump of 2018/19.
The best advice for a bad situation
Without question, the Covid-19 pandemic is the most unusual occurrence of all our lifetimes. There are not many 'What to do when you need to buy a house during lockdown!' columns of advice out there. I do know that there are others going through what we're going through and I'm hoping our story can offer a little hope and encouragement during an already incredibly stressful time.
Keep communication channels open and friendly. People working from home and during all hours now means that we may have to wait a little longer for a response. Include yourself in that. The current situation is stressful for most people, some a great deal more so than others. Many agents and solicitors have been furloughed. As the public, we are nervous, anxious for those that are sick or have lost loved ones.
Be flexible in what is possible and reasonable. Due to the logistics of physical distancing, it may not be accessible to have the garden cleared and prepped or the rooms painted before the sale. Your buyers may expect a certain level of presentation and likewise, you may feel you are being coerced into buying a property which is not up to scratch. Do not feel you need to give in to every demand. Sometimes requests are just that and they can be politely declined with offers of options and opportunity rather than a flat no. Likewise, it may feel unacceptable to have to remove the plant pots and broken greenhouse yourself when you move in, but in the grand scheme of things, these are small fry. As excruciatingly difficult as it is for me to believe my own words: be patient. Everything takes much longer these days. Organising things, booking people, delivering items.
Be grateful for your situation. Thank your buyers, thank your vendors, thank your agent and conveyancer. During this time, more than ever, every bit of business is essential. These people would have worked over and above their usual circumstances to help you achieve your goal. Remember, the sale is just as important to them at the moment.
I'll say it again: be patient. This is a killer. Good luck with that one!
Home, Sweet Home
We finally completed on 1st May. The relief is so good! It felt like a very long time for us as we'd originally made an offer to buy in November 2019 and 6 months later we are in. Well, technically we were already in. But now we know it's ours. This is our new home and hopefully our forever home.
Let the renovations begin!