A flat-buying diary

A couple of weeks ago I finally completed the purchase of a one-bedroom flat in London. Back in October, when I began the process, I didn’t have a clue what would happen, what path an average property purchase takes. Speaking to the building society (The Woolwich), the estate agent (Winkworth) and my solicitor (an excellent recommendation from a friend) was daunting as they dealt with the bewildering process every day of the week. But for me it was like driving into thick fog, relying on the three of them for directions.

During the following four and a half months I kept notes of what was happening and these are below. While no two purchases are alike (hopefully yours will be quicker) someone else about to set out on the same foggy journey may find this a useful rough guide. The moral of the story, if you’re expecting a quick trip, is not to go to The Woolwich, not to buy in Hackney, and to know the smallest legal confusion could hold you up for weeks.

2 OctView the property, spending maybe ten minutes looking round the four rooms with the seller’s mother. I can’t imagine why I’d like any other affordable flat better, so I pop into Winkworth round the corner and put an offer in. The offer’s accepted and back at the office I call The Woolwich about a mortgage.
3 OctCall The Woolwich again, this time with all the information needed to set up my mortgage application.
4 OctReceive all my mortgage application forms from The Woolwich.
5 Oct
6 Oct
7 Oct
8 OctSend the completed application forms to The Woolwich in Clacton.
9 Oct
10 OctCall The Woolwich to make sure everything’s going OK. Winkworth have told me the property will stay on the market until the survey is arranged, so I’m eager to get things moving. The application forms have not yet reached the Oxford processing centre, to where they’ve been sent from Clacton.
11 Oct
12 Oct
13 Oct
14 Oct
15 OctCall The Woolwich to find Oxford still haven’t received the application forms. A helpful gentleman who obviously knows nothing about the process assures me that the survey should be arranged by Friday the 19th. He turns out to be wrong by two weeks.
16 OctCall The Woolwich. The application forms have finally arrived at Oxford and I am assured the application will be set in motion in the next couple of days. The manager of the sales person at Clacton who took my original call emails Oxford in an attempt to speed up the process.
17 Oct
18 Oct
19 Oct
20 Oct
21 Oct
22 Oct
23 OctCall The Woolwich to be told a letter was sent to me yesterday requesting copies of bank statements and identification papers.
24 Oct
25 Oct
26 OctCall The Woolwich as I have yet to receive the letter they apparently sent me. They say they’ll send another.
27 OctReceive the second letter from The Woolwich.
28 Oct
29 OctCall The Woolwich in an attempt to clear up some ambiguous instructions in the letter.
30 OctTo get things done as quickly as possible I take my bank statements and identification into my local Woolwich branch to have them verified and faxed to Oxford. The local branch’s photocopier is broken so they can’t oblige. I return at lunchtime having photocopied the documents myself and I hold up an increasingly irate queue while a man disappears into a back room for a long time to fax them. Later in the day I call Oxford to check the faxes arrived. They don’t know yet.
31 OctCall The Woolwich to check the faxes arrived. The woman who’s dealing with my application is off ill but I’m told the faxes did arrive and are awaiting her return.
1 Nov
2 NovCall The Woolwich to find the woman dealing with my application is still off ill but an “urgent” note has now been put on the application. Someone will call today or tomorrow when it has been dealt with.
3 Nov
4 Nov
5 NovNo one called from The Woolwich, but Winkworth call to tell me The Woolwich have arranged the survey for the following morning. I fax my solicitor’s details to Winkworth.
6 Nov
7 NovThe Woolwich call to tell me my mortgage application has been approved.
8 Nov
9 NovReceive the survey report from The Woolwich. Of the three levels of survey, I requested the middle one. The Woolwich have done the lowest, most superficial, level. I call Oxford who insist they were told to do the lower level by Clacton. I tell them I don’t care who told them that, but I told The Woolwich I wanted the middle survey done and I’d like them to do it. The gentleman tells me they can do another survey but I’ll have to pay for it all over again. I reply I’ll pay the difference (the middle level being more expensive than the lower), but not the full price. He suggests I call Clacton. I suggest he calls Clacton and lets me know when it’s been sorted out. At the end of the day the manager of the woman who took my original call in Clacton phones. Yes, I had asked for the middle level of survey, they’re very sorry and a new survey will be instructed immediately. I call my solicitor to let him know about the new survey, and he tells me he’s just received details of the seller’s solicitor from Winkworth.
10 Nov
11 Nov
12 Nov
13 NovWinkworth call to tell me The Woolwich have arranged the new survey for the 15th.
14 Nov
15 Nov
16 Nov
17 Nov
18 Nov
19 Nov
20 NovReceive the second, and correct, survey report from The Woolwich.
21 NovThe Woolwich call to tell me my mortgage application has been approved again.
22 Nov
23 NovReceive the mortgage documents from The Woolwich.
24 Nov
25 Nov
26 NovSend the signed mortgage form to The Woolwich.
27 NovCall my solicitor. He’s received the mortgage offer from The Woolwich and needs to get various documents from the seller’s solicitor. He says there was an abortive attempt to buy the property a couple of months ago and some of the documents we need may not have been returned to the seller’s solicitor then. He (rightly, as it turns out) doesn’t think this will be a problem.
28 Nov
29 Nov
30 Nov
1 Dec
2 Dec
3 Dec
4 Dec
5 DecCall my solicitor. He’s drafted a report to send to me. Hackney Council are currently taking 15-20 working days to complete a local authority search. He’s going to see if we can buy the report from the previous, abortive, purchase attempt, but we won’t be able to if it’s more than three months old.
6 Dec
7 Dec
8 DecReceive a package from my solicitor containing: seller’s title; Land Registry plan; current lease; seller’s property information form; fixtures, fittings and contents form; and the Solicitor’s Enquiry Pack. Half the flat is affected by a restriction that it will not be used for the manufacture, sale or supply of wine, beer or other intoxicating liquors.
9 Dec
10 Dec
11 DecI call my solicitor to discuss a few points arising from the package. Such as the fact my first name is Phil, and not Cyril.
12 DecReceive a copy of the Land Registry title of the property from my solicitor.
13 Dec
14 Dec
15 DecReceive a letter from my solicitor saying he’s received the results of the water search, confirming the property is connected to all essential amenities. He asks if I want an environmental search (hell, why not?).
16 Dec
17 Dec
18 Dec
19 Dec
20 DecReceive the Environmental Search Report from my solicitor - nothing to worry about.
21 Dec
22 Dec
23 Dec
24 Dec
25 DecChristmas Day
26 DecBoxing Day
27 Dec
28 Dec
29 Dec
30 Dec
31 Dec
1 JanNew Year’s Day
2 Jan
3 Jan
4 Jan
5 JanReceive a summary of Hackney Council’s long-delayed local authority search from my solicitor. Nothing too much to worry about.
6 Jan
7 Jan
8 Jan
9 JanReceive a letter from my solicitor attempting to clarify my position regarding the communal lower-ground floor car park: while I could park there (if I had a car), there is no specific right to do so.
10 Jan
11 Jan
12 Jan
13 Jan
14 Jan
15 JanWinkworth call to say they’ve spoken to my solicitor who has just received some information from the managing agents of the property and is now just waiting for a final document from Hackney Council. Maybe we’ll be able to start finishing the whole process next week. The seller has long since found a property to move to and is eager to complete on that.
16 Jan
17 Jan
18 Jan
19 Jan
20 Jan
21 JanWinkworth call to say my solicitor now has all the necessary documents so maybe we can exchange contracts at the end of this week, and complete a week or two later. I write to my solicitor enquiring about this tentative schedule.
22 Jan
23 Jan
24 JanReceive a letter from my solicitor with the results of a series of enquiries to the seller’s solicitor. Many outstanding points are clarified, correctly coloured lease plans included, and information regarding proposed (expensive) renovation of the lower-ground floor car park included.
25 Jan
26 Jan
27 Jan
28 Jan
29 JanMeet with my solicitor for the first time. He goes over all the previous correspondence to make sure it’s all clear. He gives me a recently received copy of planning permission for the building from 1995 and a copy of a letter from the seller’s solicitor clarifying more points, including potential costs of future renovation work. He clarifies what still needs to be cleared up: confirmation from London Underground that the proposed Hackney to Chelsea tube line won’t be emerging through my flat, and exactly who is responsible for maintenance of the lower-ground floor car park (the lease is ambiguous on the matter and he has so far been unable to obtain a satisfactory explanation from any of the parties concerned).
30 JanWinkworth tell me the seller must complete this sale on 8th Feb as that is when she completes her purchase. I call The Woolwich insurance people, as my quote for contents insurance is due to expire, it being almost three months since it was arranged.
31 Jan
1 FebReceive a letter from my solicitor, including: a copy of a fax from the seller’s solicitor attempting (but failing) to clear up the responsibility for maintenance of the lower-ground floor car park; a copy of a letter from London Underground stating that the property “falls outside the safeguarded limits of land subject to consultation” as regards the Hackney Chelsea tube line. I call my solicitor to see where we are now. He’s been exchanging faxes with the seller’s solicitor to clarify who is responsible for the lower-ground floor car park and we’re very close to being ready to exchange contracts. A date of Feb 15th has been pencilled in for completion. I transfer deposit money into my solicitor’s bank account.
2 Feb
3 Feb
4 Feb
5 FebMy solicitor calls. He’s still trying to chase up one last piece of information, clarifying who owns the freehold on the ground floor and the car park.
6 Feb
7 Feb
8 FebWinkworth call, upset that we haven’t yet exchanged contracts, so it doesn’t seem like completion will happen on the 15th. He wasn’t relishing telling the seller about another delay. My solicitor calls having finally sorted out the final problem, which was the result of a small detail being overlooked and not chased up when the residents bought the property’s freehold. It seems like all will be sorted out in time and it’s no longer a concern. He will speak to the seller’s solicitor and try to exchange contracts as soon as possible.
9 Feb
10 Feb
11 FebMy solicitor calls to confirm that exchange has taken place - they tried to do it on Friday but ran out of time. Completion will be on Friday 15th. I call The Woolwich to see if I can set up my contents insurance over the phone so it’s in place for Friday. They tell me I can’t, but it would be quickest if I go into my nearest branch.
12 FebI go into my local Woolwich branch, the staff of which don’t understand why head office told me to come in, as they’ll only have to send the form up there themselves, so I might as well do it. So I do. I call The Woolwich’s insurance and mortgage people and give each of them the other’s reference number in an attempt to ensure everything happens when it should. I call Winkworth to check the seller is switching utilities over to the new occupier, me, rather than just having everything cut off. Receive a letter from Winkworth expressing “delight” at the exchange of contracts.
13 FebReceive a standing order form from The Woolwich which I should have previously sent to my bank to set up payment into my Woolwich account. I call my bank and arrange it.
14 FebMy solicitor calls to say he has received the money from The Woolwich, so all is set for completion tomorrow.
15 FebIn the afternoon I call Winkworth who tell me they’ve got the OK from the seller’s solicitor and I can pick up the keys. I go there, collect the keys, sign a piece of paper and nearly twenty weeks after seeing the flat for ten minutes, I move in.
16 FebReceive a bill from my solicitor.
17 Feb
18 Feb
19 FebSend my solicitor a large cheque.

Comments

  • Horay! Glad you got there in the end. I am just starting to buy a house, so here’s hoping it goes smoother. Thankfully I am not with the Woolwich, so you never know I may get my dream of a 4 week completion.. ;)

  • Oh - that brought back memories. Took me 9 months to arrange a mortgage through The Woolwich. They managed to lose my survey a total of 8 times, requiring me to re-send it by fax and post. I was not happy.

  • It’s comforting to know I’m not alone - 11 weeks in, no chains (or so I thought; the estate agents had been lying), and still nowhere remotely near to exchanging yet.
    During this time my Mum had a heart attack, I started a new job, relocated from Germany, and have had to move rented accommodation (short-term holiday lets) a further 6 times! From one week to the next I never know where I will be living. All my stuff (except one suitcase) has been in storage for 14 weeks.
    My problem is the vendors & their solicitor:
    Worse than useless. Beware leasehold properties - plenty of paperwork for solicitors to lose/cock-up/fail to provide….
    BTW, I had my mortgage offer 8 weeks ago. I used London & Country brokers, and they were fantastic. I would definitely recommend them.