Unless you’ve a taste for the comforts of cold, damp underpasses and soggy cardboard, or are brave enough to risk the rental markets, the equation of selling your house needs to be balanced with a corresponding purchase. Of course, you’d like to just cash in your chips, move to the south seas to drink rum and catch your dinner, but equally you’re burdened with being a grown-up and one who struggles to open a can of tuna.
Plan B you might remember. We’d officially bloodied the water and agents were circling ever closer. My inbox was pulsating like a bad headache, devices playing the high bpm chime of arriving mail. If it wasn’t all from estate agents I could claim to be popular.
Research to date had instilled a minimal operating level of optimism. There were properties that we liked (this bit is easy) and properties that we could afford (this bit is hard). Fortuitously, a Venn diagram of the two categories revealed a perilously slim overlap. You drew the circles big enough, the overlap looked better. We were compiling a list. As a nod to technology, I was even plotting them on a Google map. It was a real plan. A campaign, no less. We were going at this in a way that a TV property pundit — or an armchair general — would surely approve of. We should build a bunker from which to run the damn thing. Except we were on course to learn that we couldn’t afford a bunker.
Arranging to see a house is more fraught. It’s the synchromeshic dance of four mutual ambivalent calendars: yours, your partner’s, the agent’s, and the owner’s. As the only way to own and buy a house is either to accumulate vast sums of cash from exciting illegal ventures or through endless tawdry hours in salary hell, it’s difficult just to pop to the other side of town for ten minutes. Getting those schedules to mesh is like overriding Pauli’s Exclusion Principle. Those dreams of getting them lined up so you could bowl through them on a Saturday morning. Dream on. You may as well, you won’t be needing to get up early.
That’s because of the ‘open house.’
Fear the open house. It’s an unashamedly brutal technique to pitch buyer against buyer by cramming them all into the same subpar property on a Saturday morning in the hope that the mutual inhalation in the miasma of desperation will result in a premature gush of offers. There’s always someone who will buy any old tat on the singular basis that they’re beating someone else. We decided early on to avoid. Offered the open house, we’d decline and ask for an appointment later in the week. ‘It’ll be gone,” the agent will plaintively declare. So be it. Confucius probably say never enter bidding war with idiots.
The open house also means, of course, that there’s no agents available to help you view houses on the only practicable day for viewing houses. On the plus side, there’s fewer badly driven Minis on the road.
In the meantime, you’re still the tastiest fish in the sea. Every estate agent has the ‘list’. These are not the dream houses, not the ones they put in the window, not the ones they call you about. These are not opportunities. These are the liabilities. These are the houses and flats that haven’t sold and are showing an increasingly stubborn insistence on not ever going anywhere. They’re going to cling to their current owners like a bad smell. The houses that lean like they’re trying to make an exit, the ones that have cracks big enough to make for exciting room-to-room navigational options, the ones with the price tags that seem to have fallen off bigger and better houses. The ones you really don’t want to see never mind live in.
These house and flats are, of course, the qualification level. You have to get through this level to play the actual game.