Hugh Reilly: Learn home truths about stress

Having a roof over your head is a privilege that these days some people seem to take for granted, writes Hugh Reilly

Keep things in perspective when you are sent packing. Picture: Getty
Keep things in perspective when you are sent packing. Picture: Getty
Keep things in perspective when you are sent packing. Picture: Getty

American comedian Jerry Seinfeld pointed out that numerous surveys had reported that, for many people, their greatest fear was not death but public speaking; if this were true, he said, a mourner delivering a graveside eulogy would rather swap places with the deceased.

According to research commissioned by a group of estate agents, moving house is deemed to be more stressful than divorce. This insightful nugget of investigation explains why I was in a tad agitated state when my ex-wife frogmarched me out of the marital home, forcing the prodigal son to seek temporary lodgings with his ageing mother. This supposedly short-term living arrangement lasted three years until my friends “encouraged” me to re-flee the nest by constantly referring to me as Norman Bates.

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At this time, circa 2006, bankers were falling over their bonus wedges to give mortgages to even the undeserving poor, such as yours truly – becoming a bonded labourer for a helpful mortgage lender had never been easier. Little did I know then that the greatest financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash was but months away – in terms of timing, buying my house at this point was akin to popping below deck to have a peek at the engine room of the Titanic shortly before it slammed into the iceberg. Tipping my toe in the effervescing housing market, I inspected a prospective North Glasgow brick shack masquerading as an ex-local authority home. Despite the outrageous herbage that suggested an as-yet undiscovered plant species may lie within it, I informed the vendor that her residence greatly pleased me and that I would mandate my solicitor to put in an agreeable offer. Next day, I phoned my solicitor to proffer my bid. He called me back to say that the house had been sold, the seller accepting a verbal offer on the night from a fellow viewer.

Having learned my lesson, I made an offer on the night for another abode. The alacrity with which the woman assented to my tender excited some suspicion in my mind that, in my acute desperation to seek asylum from mater’s moaning, I may have somewhat overvalued the property; indeed, I still bear the scars of the seller’s bite marks on my hands. I paid £81k for a structure that now struggles to command a price of £50,000. Hopefully, some of the vapour emanating from the overheating London housing market will creep its way in the direction of G21 but I’m not holding my breath.

Moving home is stressful for many reasons. For one thing, it’s normally a costly exercise. A lucky few, as ever, receive a relocation allowance that pays for their worldly goods to be transported to the new address. With an employer bankrolling this enterprise, a reputable firm such as Pickfords can be relied upon to get the job done without any post-removal need to visit crockery stores to replace broken china. However, those unfortunates less flush with cash are compelled to harness the furniture shifting skills of removal companies occupying the bargain end of the market. Rather than squander an advertising budget on new-fangled things like the internet, these companies often publicise their business via hand-written bits of paper pasted to lampposts at strategic corners or on traffic lights.

For the cost-effective conscious, hiring a van is the ideal choice. However, in my experience, it isn’t worth the hassle. Packing a van in a manner that goods will remain immobile during transit is an art form. One mate tossed my stuff into the rear of the van as if the Israeli Air Force were about to rocket my home; to give him his due, a box marked “fragile” was thrown underarm.

Fallouts with solicitors featured prominently in the reasons why moving house is a tense affair, the study illustrating that lawyers were the most stressful folk to work with. Having moved house four times in my life, there were occasions when I almost lost the will to live when phoning solicitors and waiting for return calls that rarely materialised. When they did, it was usually to inform me that there had been a “hitch”. One such “hitch” resulted in me, my wife and four kids sitting for several hours with our vanload of chattels outside what we thought was our new residence, looking like a Scottish version of the Beverly Hillbillies. Apparently, due to a faulty fax machine, the vendor’s solicitor wasn’t in receipt of the correct paperwork. Finally being handed the keys to my castle should have been a stress-buster but, sad to say, the trauma only increased when days later an irate man from a landscaping firm turned up to seize items that the previous owner hadn’t paid for.

Of course, selling one’s house is a strain. For weeks, the house is turned into a carbon copy of the kind of domicile that appears in glossy magazines. Scatter cushions are calculatedly placed in the most eye-catching positions: the sweet scent of honeysuckle or Italian Linden Blossom replaces that of the malodorous dog and the stench of cooking vegetables. During visitations from potential buyers, children are despatched to grandparents or hidden in garden sheds. Perceived timewasters wandering through your house ramp up the anxiety levels. Worse are those viewers who insist on asking, ad infinitum, which items are going. “Are the light bulbs staying?” say the dimwits. Buying and selling is a game and with any luck, a serious player emerges from the pack, kicking off with unanswerable questions such as: “What’s the minimum amount you’ll accept?” If you answer honestly, you can count on being stilettoed by a depressing bid well below the asking price. Best to retort by saying: “What’s the most you’ll offer?” It’s like a bad Spaghetti Western stand-off as the two parties haggle unblinkingly for a few dollars more.

Deciding to up sticks has always been a catalyst for mental health issues. In prehistoric times, cavemen had to grapple with bears to become part of a property-owning, primitive communism society. As a kid, I witnessed many moonlight flittings as fraught families lobbed possessions on to flat-bed lorry and headed off into the darkness to escape the humiliation of an eviction in daylight.

Moving house may well be the most hectic event in one’s life but being homeless must be more stressful. Perhaps we should chill out and remember that there is no place like home.