Is Jersey’s system for buying and selling houses practical?
By Lucy Stephenson
SITTING in the Royal Court on Friday afternoon, the eyes of Bailiffs of the past bearing down and the anticipation of selling and buying a house making my insides feel a bit like a washing machine, it was perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking times of my life. And I’ve been through childbirth.
But at that moment you really do feel like your life is in the balance, all those hopes, dreams and plans rely on the next few minutes all going exactly as they should.
And most of the time they do. But we have all heard the horror stories – the buyers who pulled out on the morning of the scheduled sale, the seller demanding more money at the 11th hour and that time the property court proceedings were already under way and the buyers sat waiting patiently to raise their right hands and promise to look after the hedgehog in the garden, or whatever it is us Jersey buyers agree to in court, when their lawyer tapped them on the shoulder and the sale was aborted.
It was five minutes before the court sitting was due to begin on Friday when our lawyer rushed out of the room following a hurried conversation with another lawyer.
Cue heart palpitations our end and a wave of nausea as we feared impending doom.
It was nothing to do with us, thank goodness, or if it was it didn’t stop our sale and purchase sailing through a few minutes later.
And, from what we could see, there was no unlucky person getting that tap on the shoulder this week.
But the whole thing really is dramatic – too dramatic.
I’m all for a bit of tradition and enjoy the pomp and ceremony of it all. And there is something lovely about everyone heading over to the Cock & Bottle for a drink after buying a house in the Royal Court.
But is it really practical to have all sales going through on the one day, and then expecting everyone to move that same day or the following one?
The UK system is very different and family members from England who hear how we do it in Jersey cannot understand how it is practical at all.
Having gone through the process this past week, it does work – just.
And it works because those in the system such as the estate agents, lawyers, removals firms and cleaners make it work.
But that isn’t before you’ve all played the game a little bit, had a few panicked phone calls and a bit of pressure to get you motivated.
It all works out in the end – it always does. But surely there is a better way?
Similarly, it is high time Jersey considered introducing a deposit system when buying property similar to that in place in the UK.
Requiring buyers to pay a deposit ensures that they really are committed to the deal, and that there are less likely to be problems further down the line.
Of course, there needs to be ways for buyers to legitimately get out of a deal if they need to, and enough flexibility in the system to account for the uncertainty that comes with the biggest purchase of one’s life.
Finally, just a word on estate agents. Many are fine, and those that we dealt with in the end were great.
But, not all are as professional – including the one who a few months ago sold a house we were seriously interested in to his son without telling us but continued to string us along in order, presumably, to get the house we were selling on their books. Thankfully, we saw through it and have made a point of letting anyone and everyone know about it so they too stay well away.
Earlier this month a local estate agency put out a warning on Facebook urging people to do their research before instructing agents.
They said that there is currently a shortage of property to sell in Jersey and as a result some estate agents will ‘do all they can’ to get the instruction to sell your home, including giving unexpectedly high valuations.
Their advice was to get recommendations from family, friends and colleagues and ask for the reasoning behind their valuation and comparables for marketing your home.
It is what we did in the end, having had our fingers burned that first time.
There is a saying often used when you are buying and selling that if something doesn’t work out it was ‘not meant to be’, and it can be both frustrating to hear but also comforting.
But it seems to me that with a few tweaks the Jersey system for buying and selling property – and indeed the process of moving too – could be improved and would make those ‘meant to be’ situations happen a whole lot easier.