Picture this: after numerous visits, lengthy legal issues, heart-stopping delays and nights spent sleeping with the glossy brochure by the bedside, you’ve finally completed on the purchase of your dream house. The day arrives to move in. It’s raining, but it doesn’t matter. You approach down the drive in a state of anticipation and excitement, with the removal lorries hot on your heels. The front door opens with ease and the sight before your eyes is nothing short of pandemonium.
This was a story that I heard a while ago. In this particular case, as soon as the purchase was completed, the vendor set about ripping out everything that wasn’t actually detailed in the contract, and leaving as much mess as possible. ‘An old porcelain sink in the utility room had been removed, leaving all the pipes broken; the Aga had been disabled (it cost more than £1,000 to ‘enable’ it); and the front panel of the boiler was missing. The fridge, which had been left to defrost, was still full of food, which had all gone off,’ said the new owner. ‘We couldn’t believe it. The dirt, mess and smell throughout the house were really disgusting.’
The only reason the new owners could think of as to why the vendor had gone out of his way to leave the house in such state was that they’d negotiated hard over the price. ‘But even after that, you don’t expect to encounter wilful destruction. He’d obviously studied the contract very carefully, and our solicitor said that, legally, there was nothing we could do.’ Fortunately, in all my years as a buying agent, these stories have been few and far between, but they do demonstrate that, when negotiating fixtures and fittings, you shouldn’t leave anything to chance, and that if you’re in any doubt as to the state the property might be left in, you should do an extra ‘pre-completion check’ before the money is actually transferred. You’re well within your rights to do this. But it’s not all bad news. My company recently handled the purchase of an exceptional property in Hampshire, where the departing homeowners threw a drinks party for the new owners to introduce them to local neighbours, and left them a case of vintage Champagne to wish them luck in their new home. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the norm.
There’s no legal stipulation about what to do when leaving a property. Champagne is a kind gesture, but there are other aspects to consider. It can be hugely useful, for instance, if departing owners leave contact numbers for any reputable local tradesmen especially if they’ve done work at the house before, and are familiar with any idiosyncrasies. Many new owners would be delighted to keep on a gardener or handyman who knows the house or garden, and can seamlessly continue week-to-week maintenance, so that the new owners can concentrate on getting settled in. The same is also true of a reliable daily. So leave numbers for all of them, if possible. Similarly, instruction manuals for kitchen appliances, alarms and so on are far better left for the new owners, rather than simply being thrown out, as well as details of when the boiler was last serviced, and any related documentation, if you have it. Numbers for vets, trusted local babysitters, dentists and GPs can make such a difference to the incoming owners, although, of course, vendors are under no legal obligation to be this helpful, nor are they under any obligation to clean the house to a particular standard.
The old adage ‘treat others as you would like to be treated yourself’ is particularly relevant with house moving. Yes, of course, negotiations and conveyancing can sometimes become hair-raisingly fraught, but try not to get bitter and twisted about it. If things get too much and you decide you don’t want to do the deal, then don’t do it. But if it’s the right deal to do, then you might as well smile about it and behave in a decent fashion.
* Buyers and sellers should absolutely agree on the fixtures and fittings list
* Nervous buyers should think about requesting a ‘pre-completion
* check’ Sellers should leave telephone