Moving home: The traumatic story of a year on the property market

Moving home: The traumatic story of a year on the property market

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Selling his house was traumatic for ColinSTEVE REIGATE / GETTY

Selling his house was traumatic for Colin Dunne

That’s what the sign said at the bottom of my garden.

Occasionally it was replaced with a tentative Sale Agreed – but not for long.

Then my favourite four-letter word appeared: Sold.

That was 10 months later. Ten whole months? Now I’m in my new house, smiling happily at the heaps of cardboard boxes. 

This morning I think I caught a brief glimpse of the carpet.

It has been a year of almost nonstop misery and I have just one word of advice for anyone who is thinking of moving: don’t.

They say it’s the third most stressful ordeal after divorce and death.

Believe me, divorce is a chuckle a minute compared with this and at least death offers you a way out and a nice lie-down. 

Colin hardly anticipated the seven circles of hellSTEVE REIGATE

Colin hardly anticipated the seven circles of hell he would have to endure to move home


It has been a year of almost nonstop misery and I have just one word of advice for anyone who is thinking of moving: don’t.

Colin Dunne


The Government says it is going to try to simplify the whole process but the truth is that the housing market in England has reached a stage where it appears to have been a co-operative effort between the Mad Hatter and the Marquis de Sade.

Crazy, expensive and beyond all understanding.

At least it does give you a sense of the meaning of eternity.

Buying and selling houses, which has always been a bit messy, is now a swamp of deceit, half lies and even full-blown fibs.

It’s no place for an honest man. How could it be so difficult? I was selling my cottage in the idyllic Sussex village of Stedham.

For 30 years I lived there. Lovely little house, lovely neighbours, lovely place. But village life these days means you have to jump in the car for everything.

Reluctantly, with heavy hearts, we decided we had to be nearer doctors, shops, trains.

A mile or so down the road in Midhurst, a charming little market town, we found a new-build, about 80 yards from the main street.

Swapping a village idyll for market town livingGETTY

Swapping a village idyll for market town living was the plan

In those early days, before I began looking at the Dignitas website, the process did have its lighter moments.

When I told an old friend in London that I was moving to Midhurst, he wondered why.

“To be nearer the lap-dancing clubs,” I replied. “I have been to Midhurst, Colin, and I hate to be the bearer of disappointing news…”

He was right. Dancing in Midhurst is more Morris than lap and all the better for it. All we had to do was to sell ours. And how could that be a problem?

Traditional, tile-hung, facing the green, the dream cottage. Then I looked around. Within 100 yards there were four or five houses for sale and some of them had been on the market for months.

Many months. A charming coach house (owner hoping to go to Spain), a lovely terrace overlooking the bowling green, a detached cottage with more history than the monarchy, a handsome near-mansion with a garden the size of Kew.

Yet the Sold signs were up one day, down the next. Ask people – any people – about their experiences in the housing market and you’ll need your sleeping-bag. 

You’ll be there for hours. They all have sad tales of heartbreak.

One neighbour, a dazzling strawberry blonde, was once gazumped on Christmas Eve.

Another time, selling a terraced house in the village, the sale went to solicitors three times and three times collapsed.

Then she had what every house-seller prays for: a slot on a television property programme.

Sadly all it produced was “a register of interest” from a buyer, who three days later had lost interest altogether. This is how it goes these days. 

A couple of miles down the road, Les, who has a handicapped wife, was delighted with the couple who wanted to buy his house.

All four became good friends until the day of signing when the buyer had a little last-minute surprise for Les.

He told him he was knocking £35,000 off the price.

Les replied with the two most overworked words in the English language. It took him another seven months to sell it. 

Colin's game estate agent did their bestGETTY / STOCK

Colin’s game estate agent did their best in trying circumstances

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a heartbreak house story to tell. But ours wouldn’t be like that. We were in the agent’s window in December.

Why, we could be in our new house by Christmas. Immediately we had the perfect buyers. A young dentist from Guildford, his delightful vivacious wife and their two charming boys.

They wanted the old-fashioned English village life. In other words, Stedham.

After a visit with the agent they came back again. 

The wife sprang through the front door blazing with joy. “I love it!” she gasped. “I wouldn’t change a thing!”

The boys chose their bedrooms – I wouldn’t be surprised if their pyjamas aren’t still up there. All the expert reports confirmed there were no problems.

Down comes For Sale. Up goes the sweetest word in the dictionary: Sold.

Smiling smug smiles we put down a £2,000 deposit on the town house… we were as good as there. 

If only sold meant sold in the property marketGETTY / STOCK

A series of buyers agreed to buy from Colin. If only sold meant sold…

Then a mysterious go-slow. The exchange date was put back.

On March 8 the dentist announces that he wants a hefty discount.

He doesn’t get one. Goodbye Sold. Hello again For Sale. South View is back on the market.

April 5, hooray! New buyer. Highly successful business gent from London. Price agreed.

Brings his own builder to cost the alterations he wants. “Around fifty grand,” says builder. Gent, it appears, wants to turn my 19th-century cottage into a Manhattan apartment. 

What’s more gent is demanding a whacking price cut to support his Manhattan lifestyle.

Oh dear. I respond with the same overworked two words.

The weeks tick by. Matt, the young estate agent who manages to remain not only sane but cheerful throughout all this, brings potential buyers in droves.

Then in early summer we have another offer. A serious one. 

Colin Dunne was able to move by Christmas, sort ofGETTY / STOCK

Colin Dunne was able to move by Christmas — a year after he hoped

Middle-aged senior management comes round with Matt, likes what he sees, puts in an offer.

A few days later he comes round with his family.

On the lawn overlooking the green he says that he has heard that I’ve been let down in the past.

He says it in the tone of voice of someone who has just run over your dog.

“Don’t worry,” he says, shaking my hand for confirmation. “I won’t let you down.” 

That was the first time I saw him. It was also the last.

All was going smoothly until the day of exchange.

Senior management pulls out. “Personal reasons,” says buyer as he vanishes over the horizon.

Neighbours complain of howls of pain from South View Cottage. Here we go again. 

A woman who had been looking at several houses around the village wanted to see South View.

She is the 15th viewer. She liked it.

Do we fling caps in the air and open the bubbly? Do we hell. We have been here before.

But… she comes back. She wants to buy it. She is next seen at Heathrow buying tickets for Australia. 

That’s not true, although I did dream it several nights running.

She’s from London but wishes to be nearer her horses which are stabled in the village.

A horse-lover wouldn’t let you down… would she? No, never.

Does she ring up at the last minute and demand a price cut of £50,000? Amazingly no. What we have here is that rare creature, an honest house-buyer.

But, as we hoped, we were in by Christmas. Next Christmas.

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