Leaving Oxford in 100 blog posts: 3. House move real time evaluation and learning points
What went well?
1. We sold the house. Ultimately, mission accomplished.
2. We sold the house to People A Bit Like Us. This is advisable, because (after the sale is agreed, at any rate) it means you can talk to them directly rather than do everything via estate agents, thus avoiding things becoming unnecessarily formal and oppositional. I'm not sure how you engineer this, except by leaving your art on the walls and your books on the bookshelves. This will put off quite a lot of people who are Not Much Like You. We felt our buyers were people we could trust, so much so that we gave them keys and let them knock a wall down before the sale was completed. Don't tell my dad, he'll have kittens.
3. We chose estate agents we could talk to. This was an unscientific process, led by me and based on gut instinct and gut prejudice (and not on cost). They're never going to be your mates, but you need not to hate them.
4. We chose a solicitor we could talk to, and our estate agents could talk to. This was based on a personal recommendation from a friend who is also a solicitor. Not the cheapest in town, but this is not an area where you want to focus on saving £100. Trust me. Even my dad liked her, and he's very hard to impress.
5. We gave quite a lot of stuff away to family and friends, and we gave even more stuff to Oxfam. We were reasonably organised about this and I look forward to learning how much our stuff sold for, thanks to the Tag Your Bag scheme.
6. Our timing was fortuitous and our friendships strong: the bungalow previously occupied by ex-housemate S, her Young Man, Tungsten and Particle was in a limbo state, and they cleaned the carpet, got the painters in and agreed to let us live in it in exchange for very modest rent, a bit of babysitting and some random gardening. Up north, fellow co-housers D and P offered us a part-time sublet of Halton Mansions, so we go from one-home city dwellers to two-home villagers at a stroke. Amazing. But maybe also karma - back in OX4, there were many people who lodged with us for a few weeks, a few months, a year because they needed a place for a while. We always felt good about being able to do that, but it's as important to be able to accept kindness as to offer it, and sometimes harder. However you look at it though, we feel pretty lucky.
7. We used a professional removals company. Those guys can shift stuff. I have moved myself, I have moved with man-with-van, and this was in a whole different league. This is the way to move house, people. We did our own packing, but if I could have afforded it I might have got them to do that part as well.
8. When it came to it, we were ready. I don't mean prepared, we weren't prepared (see What didn't go well). But in our waters, we were ready. It was time -- though I didn't realise that until afterwards.
What didn't go well?
1. I went to the Co-op last thing the night before the move to get cash to tip the removal men. The cash machine wasn't working so I bought a bottle of wine so I could get cash back. Then we drank the bottle of wine.
2. Partly as a consequence, the day of the move itself was 12 hours of hell. This was also because we were in no sense prepared: we'd been packing for weeks, but there was still stuff lying around in every single room in the house. The more we frantically threw things in boxes, the more stuff there still seemed to be lying on the floor.
3. Virgin Media cut our land line off a week early. Then they said they hadn't, but you know what, they had. Here's the short (and slightly redacted) version, written to the @virginmedia team when we finally got some joined up attention via Twitter -- surely the best thing EVER to happen to customer service.
The account is actually in the name of my partner M____. We are due to move house next week and had booked for all our Virgin services and our landline number to be transferred to our new address. This was originally booked for Monday 26 Sep then changed it to Friday 30 Sep when our move date changed. Our landline stopped working on Friday 23 Sep. Over several hours I spoke to several people in several teams who all told me something different. I eventually spoke to someone in the move team who said it would be reinstated by 7pm (this was about 4pm), and that she had done this by cancelling the move, but would rebook it. The phone was not working by 7pm and has never worked since. Another person told me it would require a technician visit and this was not possible for a week. By cancelling our move date we lost the ability to transfer our landline number as this requires five working days, we need the broadband working before then as my partner works from home, and we were told that it was not possible to have two visits, one to install the broadband and one to install the phone, even if we paid extra. We were not advised of this at the time our move was cancelled. We have rebooked our move, but we now have to tell everyone we know that we have a new phone number, having previously told them we would be keeping the same one. All the phonecalls I have made about this have been on my mobile, so I have had to pay a premium to call the 08457 number. Your teams have generally called me back when I've asked but I've often been in a queue for many minutes before this is possible. Additionally, there are dozens of essential calls I have had to make as these are the last few days before we move, to insurance companies, solicitors, utility companies etc. These have been a mixture of 0800 and 08457 numbers, which would have been free or local rate on my landline, but I have had to make on my mobile instead, thus incurring significant extra cost. This is why we are so unhappy with the service we have had from Virgin Media over the last week. Thank you for the opportunity to explain it and I look forward to your response.
A genuine real person called Billy sorted out most of this, and it turned out we *could* get our landline number transferred, but unfortunately we didn't have an unpacked handset at the time so we couldn't check that we could, you know, call people. And it turns out we can't. So that one's still going on *sigh*.
4. The removal men were due to arrive at 7.30 am. At 8.30 am the manager called and said 'we can't get our van anywhere near your house'. There was a long pause. I said 'well, I don't really know what to say'. In the end, they parked the big van where they were, and someone else arrived in a small van. There was a degree of relay shuttling of boxes. It was a bit like getting a chicken and a fox across a river. Let's just say a) I'm glad it wasn't my problem, b) I wonder why they sent the big van, given that they did come and look at the house, and they do do this for a living, and c) East Oxford student parking is not something I will miss. Not even a little bit.
5. Boxes. Back in, like, February, I bought some boxes on eBay. We filled those up. Then my colleague L moved house and brought us round a car full of boxes. We filled those up too. *Then* we started to panic, because we clearly needed loads more boxes. You can get them free from your removal company, once you have booked your removal. But we hadn't, because our solicitor said we shouldn't commit to a moving date until we'd exchanged contracts. This was wise advice as things were indeed delayed. But it meant that we had to pay £150 deposit for the boxes from our preferred removal company, on the understanding that this would be deducted from the final invoice. The very same day they delivered them we did exchange, rang up to book our move and they were fully booked for the whole week. So we had to use a different company, who were already £150 more expensive. So that added £300 to the whole experience. What joy.
6. Cleaning. Oh my god the cleaning. D, our buyer, came round at lunchtime the day we moved to get some keys. He said 'you will be cleaning everything, won't you?'. I said 'well... you *are* about to knock a wall down'. But he is new to the home improvements game, and he seemed to think that wouldn't impinge on the rest of the house, and -- reasonably enough -- he wanted to move into a house with a clean kitchen and clean bathrooms. So I cleaned them. For about four hours I moved through the house at top speed, dealing with dust and limescale and grease with an increasingly toxic range of chemicals. It seemed like the right thing to do, even though a) it nearly killed me and b) there'll be about an inch of brick dust on everything by now, and he will be weeping gently and wondering why he unpacked his crockery. But it wasn't for me to tell him.
7. While I was moving rapidly along the Ecover > Cillit Bang spectrum, M was shuttling backwards and forwards in a Comonwheels car, which he'd originally, and with characteristic optimism, booked until 3pm. Halfway through the afternoon we extended it until 6pm, but it became clear that we needed at least another hour. Unfortunately, by this point the people on the phone had gone home for the day, and we didn't have good enough internet on my phone to renew online. It's ok, said M, we can do it from the on-board computer in the car. So we filled the car with the final load, solemnly said our goodbyes to the house, locked the door for the last time and prepared to set off. At which point we discovered that we couldn't extend the booking. So we had to unload it all, open the house again, and unceremonially pile it all back in. Then M cycled over to the Interim Bungalow. My bike had gone in the van, so I had to get a cab. I sat in the back and had a little cry. But only a little one.
What will I do differently next time?
Why was M baking bread two days before we moved? Why were we still using every single room till the very last minute? We should have decommissioned the kitchen, all but one toilet and all but one bedroom at least three days before we moved. There should have been nothing but boxes in these rooms and they should already have been cleaned. We were in denial. Maybe that's inevitable, but it would have been so much easier if we'd mentally extracted ourselves well before the removal vans arrived.
2. Trust my instincts more.
D was very anxious, as least as anxious as me, to do everything properly. He's clearly a person you can trust. But the system isn't designed to let you trust people, basically because until you have exchanged contracts either side can walk away at any time. And people do. But he wouldn't have. So we could have, for example, and said 'look, if we can't move on X day because your funding isn't in place, will you pay the removals penalty?' He was the one wanting us out quickly, and he was upset that we couldn't move the day after we exchanged, which is the date we'd originally agreed. But if we'd been able to book the removal date knowing we wouldn't be out of pocket if we had to reschedule, we would have done. It just made everyone's life a bit harder than it needed to, given that we were all in fact decent human beings. If you are one, and you meet another one, you can usually tell.
3. Start earlier.
As in months earlier. We knew we were going to move as soon as we put the house on the market. In fact we knew we were going to move the best part of a year before that. We boxed up the easy stuff -- the books, the records, the CDs -- thinking we were being organised, but any fule can do that. The hard stuff is the space under the stairs, the boxes in the loft, the shelves in the shed. We should have sorted this carefully and methodically, and got rid of most of it six months ago. Instead, we threw it into boxes which are now looming at us from corners saying 'This is your life, and you haven't got room for it anymore'.
But we have a little hiatus. A winter in the Interim Bungalow (of which more anon) where we will deal with this issue. We will.
And meantime, the main thing is, we're both SO MUCH HAPPIER now we've sold the house. It was no fun, but now it's done. Hooray for us.