Monday, February 2, 2015

In America, there is no gazumping

In a recent post I mentioned our hope of getting a foot on the housing ladder here. In fact we have just positioned one toe on the bottom rung: we've had an offer accepted on a house.

I have been reluctant to post about it in case I jinxed the whole thing. After all, we Brits all know of someone who found the perfect home only to be gazumped (i.e. the seller accept a higher offer). Or to discover half the garage is built on someone else's land and the next door neighbour has the deeds to prove it. Or that the back garden is included in some high speed rail expansion plan.

In the UK any of these spanners can be thrown in the works, after you've spent a lot of money on lawyers and surveys and so on, and before you have a legally binding contract. Until you've exchanged contracts - often a couple of months after your offer was accepted - you can't really start celebrating. Let alone create home decor mood boards.
Too soon?
In the US, by contrast, once an offer is accepted, the buyer and seller are locked into a contract. The seller can consider back up offers, and there are a bunch of contingencies to work through, but they can't just shaft you by backing out of the sale and taking a higher offer.

And another thing. About those contingencies. Among other things, this is an opportunity for us to point out deficiencies in the property and have the seller rectify them. Granted, this happens in the UK too. But in a rising market you don't want to negotiate too hard, in case the seller walks away. You might ask for them to fix the damp, but if they won't, and you love the house, you probably wouldn't push it. By contrast here we are asking for window screens to be replaced, the house to be professionally cleaned, the TV bracket removed and the wall made good, and other requests which I think would seem faintly outrageous in the London housing market. The buyer can either comply, or give us a credit for the cost of the work, or say no - but they can't walk away from the sale.

When I say 'we are asking for window screens to be replaced' etc, what's really happening here is that our realtor is running around dealing with contractors, getting quotes, visiting City Hall to check the deeds and so on. In the UK once they've shown you a dozen inappropriate properties (and that only because you've called them every week to remind them you exist) and you've finally settled on one, the estate agent just sits back and waits for the sale to close so they can collect their cheque. Here, the realtor's cheque is a lot bigger (6% of the sale price, split between the listing and the buying agent), but they earn definitely their money.

One last feature of the home buying process which still has me bedazzled: the standards. I mean, that there are standards. Standard contracts for pretty much everything. Standards governing how termites are dealt with. Standard time periods within which inspections must occur, offers be considered, finances secured, and so on. Hence no conveyancing lawyer, I guess. It's all very clear and predictable.

It's incredible. It's like the home buying process, but with all the crazy unknowns and risks removed. So in fact, without jinxing anything, I can actually say 'we are buying a house', and know that it is true. Right, I'm off to work on my mood boards.

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