??$*!!**?? — Yep, I am buying a house…

Analyst invents novel scoring system for rating the people he’s paying to buy a house. And squeezes Theory of Constraints in sideways.

6 years ago when I sold my first London flat and bought a bigger one, I’d say the impact of technology (at least on my involvement in the process) was practically zero. Updates were delivered by letter or phone, and until the exchange of contracts I was really none the wiser as to what was happening at any point in time. Given the successful outcome, ignorance was bliss.
This time though, as we balance a remortgage, a new mortgage, a purchase and a let, there are lots more variables and lots more people involved. Even without the tools of communication we now take for granted, I’d still want more information, more often, than last time.

So am I getting it? Sort of. I’m happy to report that the basic tools are in play. Sort of.

Estate agent: not bad a keeping in touch and responding to email. Sadly lacking in basic info so of limited use (6/10).
Solicitor: Email not being the easiest form of communication for them due to their propensity for slightly long winded prose, hats off for making the effort. And for sending pdf reports (7/10).
Mortgage broker: My mortgage progress chaser has been a diamond – based in Cyprus (not sure if they are in an outsourced centre or if she is a one lady band / home worker) but, I ask, I get (9/10).
Mortgage company: hahaha – only joking. Talk to a customer? Purrlease. Even with a credit crunch on and nobody buying houses one of our banks is claiming it’s far too busy. The other can’t repeat a simple x.xx% rate correctly and keeps having to be asked to go back and do it again. I digress. (0/10).
Surveyor: eeeuuugh..this is where it all came unstuck. Basically if we are due to complete soon, it would be good to get the surveyors report before we do. 3 weeks later and counting… He turned out to be a pretty decent guy who cared about his work and gave the impression that had he known how to make life easier for me he probably would have. Possibly.

The system most UK surveyors use is called Quest, and it sounded suspiciously like my guy was on version 0.1, (DOS-based) while the supplier is currently offering version x with web-enabled reporting / publishing capabilities and other bells and whistles aimed at sending reports out to whomever needs them without stress and killing trees. I suspected the excuses about ‘the system’ were being a little overplayed, so I called the Quest software helpdesk to discover that the problem I was being described could have been fixed for a £25 upgrade. Really.

Well probably, I’ll never really know. I have my report now, and as people only have to suffer this sort of nonsense once in a blue moon they are unlikely to act other than to moan about it on blogs. (He still gets 0/10 though).

Of the 5 parties in the chain, 3 have got their act together on the communications and service front. 2 have not. Yet sadly, my overall level of contentment is actually far lower than it was when nobody would talk to me 6 years ago.

Why? Well we’re really talking about process optimisation. Optimise a few steps and things look rosy, until the ones left un-optimised drive you mad / lose you money / your job etc.

This got me thinking of Eli Goldratt’s theory of constraints (TOC), illuminated nicely in ‘The Goal’, where a production manager working to improve the output of his factor finds this out first hand. Without going all Sophie’s World on you (I assume this guy never really existed..don’t laugh..) he got there eventually, by taking a ‘holistic, end to end view ‘(simplified version).

The notion desperately needs applying to one of the biggest causes of stress, heartache and wasted money in the UK today (no, not the lotto) – buying a house. HIPs are a waste of time. Is your solicitor going to charge you less because a few searches have been already done? Is he heck. Will it make your mortgage faster to process? Nope. Will it make your homebuyer’s report arrive faster? Ha.

So would the government support a common sense idea involving a web portal, simple encryption, basic workflow and some collaboration? Of course not, we already got HIPs this decade.

Anyone know the number of a venture capitalist up for a punt?

Appendix I: Sending / receiving signed forms (March 2008, UK House buying process)

Surveyor prints letter and faxes it to mortgage broker(mb)
mb scans fax and emails it to client
Client receives then prints email. Signs it.
Signs wife’s signature too, as figures by the time it’s been scanned, printed, faxed and printed nobody will be able it read it anyway.
Client scans email, sends to mb
mb prints email and faxes to surveyor.
Four (4) copies of same form arrive by post.

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