Ah, moving house. Up there with the top three most stressful life events a person can experience. When we put our house on the market back in February this year, I spent many an evening Googling ‘top tips for moving house’, ‘moving house I can’t sleep’ and ‘moving house why do I feel sick all the time’. My husband and I were never far from a bottle of Gaviscon during the whole process!
The process was a bit of a whirlwind for us. The estate agent came to take photographs of our house at 9am on a Friday morning. I was on my PPA (teacher planning time) and fretting about it taking up the entire morning, but it was all done by 9.30am. The house was up on Rightmove by 3pm, and we had our first viewing at 7pm. As soon as the estate agent opened the next morning, we had an offer from the only people who had viewed our house – and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we had sold it by 11am! It was on the market for less than 24 hours. We found our house two weeks later, and our second offer was accepted. This all happened in the second week of February, and we moved in the second week of June.
I am obviously no property expert; and I’ve only done this once so I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of the process, so this isn’t a ‘how to move house’ blog… but I am definitely an expert in worrying! It was really important for us to find ways to manage the stress and worry, so I thought I’d share the things we did that definitely made the whole process easier to manage. A lot of these are applicable if you are doing this with somebody else, but could definitely be adapted if you’re going it alone!
1. Plan, discuss, talk and plan some more
We lived in a small two up two down for a few years, and we had most definitely outgrown it long before we put it on the market. For us we wanted to get married and enjoy our wedding first, but it didn’t mean that the initial chats about what we wanted couldn’t start. We had frequent conversations about why we wanted to move, what was important to us, the areas we’d like to live in and non-negotiables. One of the biggest potential stressors is doing it with a partner and your visions not aligning, so we found it was much better to talk as frankly and as early as possible so that we were both on the same page when it came to actually doing it. It did mean compromises on both parts, but that’s an expected part of the process – and it’s much better to get those out of the way early. I think this was one of the foundations of our whole experience going relatively smoothly!
2. Make lists… lots of them!
We had an evening where we both separately made our list of Essentials and Desirables for our next house; a bit like what you see on a job description! We also both wrote our absolute non-negotiables. We were lucky to be largely on the same page as each other here. I’d say I had more design/feature-led essentials on my list than Michael, but he was happy to let me take the lead there as many of our other core wants and needs did actually marry up. Through doing this you start to get an idea for which desirables you might have to bend on in order to achieve the essentials – I think the word ‘compromise’ was our most used word in our household this year! We re-wrote these lists at many points during the process, especially just after we accepted the offer on our house and were out viewing a couple of houses per day. We found that our wants and needs definitely changed and were shaped by each house we viewed; for example, we went to see a big, high-spec house in a less desirable area to see if area would be something we’d bend on for a big, flashy house… but both came away with a unanimous ‘no’ to that. We would never have known that if it wasn’t for exploring our lists! It helped us immensely with ruling out houses, areas and price ranges vs amount of work needed, and helped us to make difficult decisions like when we found perfect dream houses in areas we didn’t love and vice-versa. By the end of the process our lists were so narrowed down and concrete, we knew we wanted the house we eventually ended up buying just from looking at it on Rightmove before we’d even viewed it.
3. Invest in good quality agents and brokers
I have to give my husband credit for this one. He bought the house we previously lived in before I met him, and he always laments the fact that using the cheapest solicitor he could find made for quite a stressful buying experience where he ended up doing a lot of running around. It was all he could afford at the time as a first time buyer, which is often the case, but he vowed to invest in a better solicitor next time. We did just that, and it worked out well – our solicitor was like a fierce little pitbull when we needed her to chase things up – she got things done!
We also used a mortgage broker, and I would recommend this hugely. It’s a minefield trying to figure out equity, deposits, interest rates, variable vs. tracker and which works out the best value in the long run. For only a few hundred pounds (a drop in the ocean with the fees of moving house!) we had somebody who only asked us for all of our paperwork once, and gave us a solid and comprehensive budget. We also ended up getting a fantastic deal and making much lower monthly repayments on a bigger mortgage than we thought we could afford, because brokers have access to preferential rates that high street providers and banks don’t. He was also able to advise us on the different types of mortgage and how best to use our equity. Also it took away the need to have a ‘mortgage in principle’ when offering on a house, as we simply gave his details to the estate agent and solicitor and everything was done for us behind closed doors.
We chose our estate agent because they are a local agent who have won a few awards – we trusted a local agent to be more in tune with the area and its characteristic. We noticed they had signs up literally everywhere, and that their houses were flying off the market. They also came to us with examples of all the houses they had sold lately in our area and price range, which no other agent did. We have since recommended them to everyone else we know who is moving, as they managed to flip ours within 24 hours and we are so glad we made the investment – thanks Abode!
4. Set up a joint email address
This seems like such a tiny detail but I swear it saved us so much time and sped things up! I set us up a joint Gmail which had both of our names in and we both had access to, so if urgent documents which needed our attention landed in our inbox, either one of us could deal with it quickly. With being a teacher I’m not anywhere near my phone or a computer for large portions of the day, but this balanced out with the school holidays where I was far more able to access it than my husband. It meant that everything got dealt with quickly, and when things like the survey for our new house came in we could both read it independently and talk about it over text. I think subconsciously it made the load feel more shared too, as the onus wasn’t just on one person to take on all the admin of the house move and all of the agents involved were comfortable speaking to both of us about all issues.
5. Make time to do non-house stuff
There were periods of time where we felt like all we talked about was moving house, what to have for dinner, moving house and moving house. We gave ourselves self imposed breaks on Saturday afternoons where we decided not to talk about the house, and we took ourselves off either for a little drink in the pub or a wander in the woods with our dog. We found that walking in parks or big, open spaces was super cleansing to our tired minds. A good walk always blows away the cobwebs, but there’s something quite insidious about house moving stress. I found that it wasn’t the kind of stress that was permanently in the forefront of my mind and making me panic… it was more a constant uncertainty always ticking away in the back of my mind. There’s the worrying if you’ll ever sell your house, will you find one, what if you don’t find one that ticks all the boxes… then when you do find it there’s wondering what joyful news the survey will bring, will they pull out, will the chain break further down, how long until we exchange and can actually tell people this is happening! I think part of the reason it’s so stressful is that it’s all up in the air for a very long time, and most of it is down to variables you can’t control. So, it’s super important to give your brain a conscious break from the uncertainty and give it something cleansing and calming to do. Whether that’s walking, baking, exercising, reading or socialising – make sure you make time to do this and give yourself time to recharge. We found that walking our dog around the new area we wanted to move to was a lovely way to tick a few self care boxes.
6. Up your self-care
Self care is something we should all be doing all the time, but when you lead a busy life it can be really easy to forget. We found that we both didn’t sleep particularly well during the whole moving house process, and this erodes your immune system somewhat. We made sure we ate healthy foods with lots of veggies, and we both started taking zinc supplements which we feel has really helped our immunity. We both felt sick a lot and got a lot of heartburn/indigestion, as stress plays havoc with your digestive system – so if this happens, eat kind and bland foods and grab yourself some Gaviscon and Pepto Bismol. We went through a few bottles of these! Sleep can be hard, so do whatever you can to help it along – lavender, no devices in the bedroom, a warm bath. Stress causes an increase of cortisol and adrenaline, which both wear away at your nervous system and immunity. You need to be really kind to your body during times like this, so good food, plenty of water and early nights are in order. A few treats wouldn’t go amiss either!
7. Get inspired!
This is a bit of a tough one, because I was very reticent to daydream too much about our new house until we exchanged contracts and I knew it couldn’t fall through. It can be absolutely heartbreaking to plan your life in your new home and then for it all to come crashing down if it falls through. However, if you do enough of point number 1, you should have a pretty good idea of the type of house you will end up in… so there’s no harm in planning for a generic eventual house. I spent long, happy hours on Pinterest with a glass of wine looking at 1930s semi renovation ideas, as we both knew we wanted a 1930s semi and probably wouldn’t move into anything else. I tried to avoid planning things specifically for our house until we exchanged, but this is easier said than done! I really enjoyed thinking about colour schemes, accessories and styles as a way to get excited – plus this is more generic than planning actual furniture to fit the nooks and crannies of your dream house, so if it does fall through you can apply your ideas to the house that is meant for you. Pinterest, Instagram and home magazines all got me really excited and reminded me why we were putting ourselves through this in the first place!
8. Hire a removal firm
My husband was very much in the camp of ‘hire a van and move ourselves’ for a long time because we were in such a tiny house and didn’t have much furniture… but this was something I did have to try and convince him on. I remember moving in and out of my first flat in my early 20s and being completely amazed by the crazy angles the removal men just knew to turn the couch at to get it around all the narrow corners in the flat. There’s no way we could have figured that out ourselves – it’s the kind of thing that comes with years of experience of moving tricky objects around tiny corners! Moving day when you’re in a chain can be quite stressful due to having to wait until all the funds transfer and keys are released, so I wanted to make sure it was as calm as possible for us. We are so glad we spent the few hundred pounds on removals now… they provided all the packing materials and the boxes were super strong and good quality, and on the day we were freed up to spend the day glued to our phones as we fielded calls from estate agents and solicitors updating us on money and keys. After an exhausting emotional rollercoaster of not thinking we were going to be able to move that day due to money all moving very last minute, it was the best thing to be able to pop the kettle on and simply point to the rooms we wanted things in rather than having to start lifting and manoeuvring every single thing we own. Top tip: removal staff LOVE tea and biscuits, so pack these in your ‘to bring in the car’ bag along with your kettle and lots of mugs – you’ll need them! We used Britannia Movers and would definitely recommend them – our van turned up late, so they sent another one with two extra drivers, meaning we had four men to unload at our new house which actually worked out brilliantly!
9. Get your house ready… but not too ready
One thing we struggled to decide on was how much to do to our house before selling it. It needed a bit of refreshing as it had bare wood throughout, so we gave all of downstairs a fresh lick of white paint and painted the doors, skirting boards and door frames. Upstairs was in need of a bit of a refresh, but upon our estate agent’s advice we left this. As a rule of thumb, most people will want to put their own stamp on a house, so there’s no point in spending £500 on something that won’t even add that value to the sold price, that someone new might want to tear down and replace anyway. A fresh coat of white paint, a big declutter and staging it for photographs and viewings is enough. And definitely choose white over magnolia – magnolia is a bit dated now and I think the warmth it’s supposed to bring ends up looking more yellowy. Decluttering is free and probably the main thing that helped to sell our house. We spent about four weeks in January taking things to the tip, painting things white and doing what we could to make the house look more spacious. It doesn’t need to be freshly decorated and up to show home standard, so don’t stress yourselves out getting plastering and major renovation done to sell. As long as it’s not looking like a crime scene from The Wire (which our hall did for a bit whilst we waited for it to get plastered!) it’s fine!
10. Remember why you’re moving
This is a really important one. I found the upheaval of knowing my entire life was about to be uprooted to be quite daunting, even though we only moved 10 minutes away to an area I know very well, the prospect of my route to work changing along with my local shops and daily routine was a bit scary. One thing I worried about a lot was the feeling of ‘home’ – when would this house start feeling like mine, or would it feel like I’m living in an Airbnb forever? When all your belongings are in boxes and you’re tripping over piles of junk for the tip whilst waiting for the results of your survey and crossing your fingers the roof doesn’t leak again, it can be difficult to remember why you’re doing all of this in the first place. Breathe, take a step back and remind yourselves – talk about this to someone if it helps it to sink in. We had outgrown our last house massively. Everything was cluttered and a struggle to open or move around in, the area had declined a lot and I didn’t feel too safe at night… plus a lot of our furniture was shabby or broken because we know were going to move a long time before we did, so didn’t see the point in replacing anything. We wanted to move to a bigger house, more space, more light and in a nicer area. My husband was less bothered by these things than me, but he was the first to say he noticed a huge improvement in his happiness once we moved. He said that suddenly he loved lots about our new house and area that made him realise how unhappy he had been previously, and we both feel so lucky and overjoyed to be where we want to be. Remember this, talk about it and remind yourself why you’re doing it – it’ll all be over within a few months, and it’s a tiny period of time compared to the many happy years you’ll have in your new home!