Yesterday was a year to the day we moved house, selling our semi-detached of 26 years in Glenrothes, Fife and moving to a flat in Blackford, on Edinburgh’s South Side. Here’s a much delayed set of thoughts on selling your house in Scotland.
Note to new readers: if you’re hoping for some insightful, structured treatise on how to move house, you’re on the wrong page. It’ll be unstructured – the bits in parentheses are often the best bits – and if there’s a low-hanging gag, I’ll go for it. All that said:
My wife is a great project manager
Project management is the CPD course I wish now I’d taken during my professional career. That said, its basic principles are not exactly brain surgery and they do help the house move process. And Alison is a natural.
I mean, I’m not talking Gantt charts here, but preparation, advance planning, multiple lists, researching the next phase of the process and preparing for worst case scenarios are all things I’d recommend. For example:
If you need a trade for any aspect of the move,and you don’t already have a guy, leave time for proper procurement
OK, so that may sound a bit over the top, but let me give you two examples that show you what I mean.
The decor in the flat we were moving into was – well, tired. Well loved. We wanted it papered throughout and the woodwork painted before we moved in. We had had a good decorator, but he had disappeared. So I used that well known procurement framework, The Meadows Recommends, on Facebook.
Out of the dozen recommendations, I got in touch with seven. Five responded. Four said they would come out (the one everyone had recommended was busy, naturally). Three actually turned up, and all of them gave me sensible, thought through advice and followed up with a quote.
Note the unnatural wastage there? It was the same when our usual Man with a Van turned out not to be as reliable as we’d hoped and we had, at short notice, to get someone else to help us move. Contacted four: in the event, one both got back in touch and came out to give us a quote. He was good, and came recommended. Just as well, really.
So. Leave time for people not to get back to you. Contact more than you think is reasonable because half of them will be too busy or won’t even respond. Aim to have a choice of three.
Selling a house yourself isn’t for everyone
First off, I was lucky, because I was selling in a seller’s market, unusually for Glenrothes. A range of pandemic-related factors had meant supply wasn’t nearly meeting demand.
Second, I did actually have reference to an estate agent. And a former Head of Estates at a Council, as we’ll see. And a lawyer who was – is still, I think – a mate, and would offer advice.
I’d stress that this wasn’t being done out of arrogance or hubris. Obviously, as a former conveyancing lawyer, and a long-time-ago trainee who put up signs in houses the firm was doing the estate agency of, I had some idea of what I was doing, but really, very little of that experience counted beyond knowing the basic process of how missives, surveying and mortgage lending worked in practice. That didn’t mean I thought I could be as good at estate agency as the best in that much maligned profession.
My strategy was to try to self market for a short while, and if that didn’t work, to go to an estate agent.
Using this site, I put together some basic sales particulars, with photos we took ourselves. Even the latter was a lesson – estate agents are quite skilful in making rooms look bigger than they are, let me tell you! Then we blitzed local groups and my own FB page, as well as Twitter with a link. That produced, within a day or so, three seriously interested people and a range of other people who were either curious neighbours or tyre kickers. We got three viewings within the week.
Here’s the first lucky part. One of those viewers was a lady whom we knew was interested in houses in our estate specifically, and we came to a deal with her.
Our ‘marketing campaign’ had flushed out a reasonable amount of interest, in a seller’s market. By the weekend, however, that interest had dropped off the cliff. The nature of social media is that it keeps on keeping on. That weekend, the first weekend, we expected people to see the for sale sign – the house is well located on a dog-walker route – and turn up asking for a viewing. Nobody did. By then, we had had all the viewings we were going to get for the foreseeable future.
So, if none of the three viewers had been serious, we would have had to go quite quickly to phase two, which was getting an estate agent on board. Here was the second lucky part – we were able to get one out (again, one that came well recommended) and assess if it was worth engaging him for the sake of the slightly higher value he reckoned he could get for us than the offer in hand. We decided it wasn’t, after getting a lot of sage advice from our former Head of Estates pal.
You can’t have too long a run at decluttering
The received wisdom when selling a house is that you should have it fully furnished, but
decorated in as bland a manner as possible and without personal items on display, so that the potential purchaser can project their own version of how the house will look with their stuff in it. That made sense to us.
Starting the preparation for marketing during the January 2021 lockdown probably helped to save our sanity too, to be honest. Scotland was a bloody cold dark place for the first few months of last year, without most of the distractions available to us in other years, whether they be exercise or alcohol-based. You couldn’t even combine both and walk to the pub.
So a huge tureen of Magnolia, that great blandifying agent, was bought and we proceeded to depersonalise the walls. At the same time, we did what we could to declutter, bearing in mind that we were moving to a three-bedroom flat that would lack a conservatory, utility room, garage, above stairs glory hole, or loft space. We’re not by nature hoarders, but staying in the same place for 26 years means that stuff just … washes up on the shore, and never really goes away, just drifting from cupboard to loft and back again.
We thought we’d done so well, with huge amounts consigned to storage at Alison’s mother’s house, the charity shop, or the cowp (that’s community recycling centre in proper cooncil-speak). Then we started boxing stuff up and taking it over by the carful to the flat, and realised you can’t have too long a run at decluttering.
Speaking of boxing up…
People are very kind when offering boxes. Grab their hand off.
You can’t have enough good boxes to carry stuff. We had a neighbour who, via the local Facebook group, offered good quality packing boxes; a friend who runs a bookshop offered more, and we took them, because there’s nothing better, size-wise, for packing books in than ones designed for that purpose. Unless you’re Charles Flaming Atlas, which clearly I’m not.
Moving house is stressful, but preparation takes the stress out. It’s uncertainty that causes stress.
If you know that you’ve done everything you feasibly can, and the night before the move you’ve boxed everything excluding your significant other and the cat, then there’s half a chance that you’ll get some sleep.
Of course there are things that can still go tits up on the day. Of course there are. But, to paraphrase that old Serenity Prayer, you have to ask for the serenity to accept that other people can still act in ways outwith your control to make it all go tits up, and the organisation and foresight to plan for everything else within your control.
Oh, and the wisdom to know the difference. Although that should normally be obvious, being honest.