Bricks and mortar bombs – The London property market

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It’s fun and games on London’s property battlefield this year and to be fair, the Shires are seeing the same. Anything half decent coming to the market is swarmed upon by battalions of buyers. Mass viewings are becoming the norm. A recent ‘viewing’  I had of a £4m Chelsea house saw 40 people through the door in two days. A Berkshire waterside development a few weeks ago saw 250 viewers at it’s launch, (pre-floods!). And if you want a ‘do-up’, bring body armour. It’s a war out there.

Those new to London house hunting, start their search with the confidence that with a million quid sitting in the bank, they can wander the streets of London chased by salivating Agents flinging gorgeous properties at them. Err, no. They’re just joining the herds of others with wads of juicy cash being treated to a taste of cattle class. Make no mistake, the London property market is swimming in lolly.

It’s different this year because the Brits are back. So it’s not just soiled Asian notes being thrown at everything, it’s also the flush Canary Wharfers, the Trustafarians, the middle aged Brits who are now confident enough to dump their cash into property stock. But unfortunately the amount of stock hasn’t really risen much, so the supply and demand mismatch continues.

Asking prices have always amused me and currently pricing varies from ‘they’re having a larf’ to the increasingly popular ‘under-price and create a frenzy’. And that is precisely what we’re getting. A frenzy, a battlefield, bidding wars. Bidding wars every flaming time and to increase the joy threshold, estate agents are quickly falling back to their default setting of ‘sod the buyer, plenty more where they came from’.

In fact every property we have bought in the past six months has been against the backdrop of other rampant bidders and often sealed bids. On each occasion my clients have turned to me and said ‘I don’t want to be involved in any bidding war’. Because to be honest, it does feel terribly un-British all this bidding war stuff. Unfortunately there is a simple and blunt response to that – well you won’t blo*dy buy anything then.

The reality is that lack of stock, loads of good buyers means only one thing, you have competition and in a war that means enemies. Buyers better get used to it. It is a war out there but it’s a psychological war.

Bidding wars, sealed bids and all that jazz can turn warriors into lily livered cowerers. It is easy to become disheartened and throw the towel in at the first hint of competition and it’s particularly scary when the impersonal ‘best bids by 5pm friday’ email hits the inbox.

But you really shouldn’t be put off. Without wanting to sound like I’m bragging (well a little bit, you have to take it where you can) I have sat here and realised that I and my colleagues have won every ‘bidding war’ we have ever gone for – and not overpaid to do it.So, how do you do it?

I am tempted to end this here with a cheeky ‘call me, hire me, pay me’  but heyho, I’m a fool to myself.

Well half the battle is to actually be in it (to win it, as the saying goes). You won’t buy a home hiding in the trenches scared or in a huff. Sounds simple but rest assured many good solid buyers are doing just that, running scared, white flag aloft at the first whiff of competition, so there’s some of your competition gone for starters. Don’t be scared off, if you’re offering, you’re half way to buying a home.

Part two of the secret to success is all about relationships. Actually, let me clarify that – it is ALL about relationships. Men and alpha females tend to glaze over when I say this and throw withering accusations of weakness at me. Because people commonly seem to think ‘tough negotiating’ means aggression. It’s a war so lets go in all guns blazing, show them how tough we are, pop some smoke.

Nope. Doesn’t work. Because people, funnily enough like to do business with people they like. And these ‘look at the size of my wad’ Captain Flashhearts, send them scurrying for the ‘no likey, no lighty’ button.

The Agent knows that if you’re a pain in the butt at this stage, the next few weeks of sales progression is going to be a right old nightmare. Trust me, Agents are people (no really), and if they can influence the Seller to avoid someone who is likely to give them hassle, they will.

The meek, insouciant, no head above the parapet approach doesn’t work either, you’ll just be mown down in a hail of indifference.

The key to success is building a relationship with the Agent and ergo the seller. A relationship which cements the fact that you are a good buyer. You have funds in place, you have a proactive solicitor, you are desperate to buy it and you won’t mess around. This is so often far more important to the seller and agent than a few extra grand from some bolshy Rambo.

Because no matter what price you offer, you are unlikely to get it if the Agent doesn’t know who you are, what you are and if you’re a safe bet. Really helps if they like you too.

Whilst you need to develop a relationship with the Agent that gives them peace of mind, it is a two way street, you also need to develop one so that you understand the Vendors position. It is rarely the one with the most gunfire (money) who wins the war. There are usually many other things that could sway them in your direction. You won’t know that unless you are eyeballing and talking and asking. Then your offer can be tailored to what the Vendor wants. At the risk of repeating, it’s rarely just the money. Some Vendors hate the idea of developers buying their home. It could be timescale. It could be fear of you being a flaky buyer. I’ve even won houses by saying we’d take on the blo*dy cat. You won’t know what the Vendor wants unless you have a relationship because if you don’t know what they want, you can’t offer what they want.

We all know the UK property market is far from ideal, I become all misty eyed dwelling on the good old days of using wit, diplomacy and empathy to chip the asking price, not add to it. The days when properties came on at ‘a bit too much’ and you offered a ‘bit less’ and a deal was done with all parties feeling they’d scored rather than been screwed. There’s nothing I (and believe it or not most estate agents), would like more than a balanced property market where supply and demand were fairly matched and it was all terribly British and respectful. But it ain’t. And if you want to buy a house, flat or shoebox in London, you’re going to come up against it and you need to meet it head on.

Neither lily livers or egos win the war. Don’t be put off by the fearful term ‘bidding war’. Gird your loins, throw your intellect grenade, and fire your charm offensive, they’re deadlier than you think. Also they cost nowt, nobody gets hurt and frankly, if you lose, there will always be another house. Always.

So, to conclude the warfare theme, most nights I download about my latest turf war battles on Skype, to my camouflage draped husband somewhere in the desert.

The irony is not lost on me, in case you’re wondering.

Apaches whirr overhead and he has an SA 80 submachine gun nestled on his Army issue pillow (I had casually written AK47 but I am peevishly informed they are blo*dy RUSSIAN). For the record he’s relieved to have got shot of Gary Barlow but there’s always a spare tent for Katherine Jenkins.

- but I digress.

We debate again that wars are won not through fire power but through empathy, relationships, intellect and above all diplomacy. Funnily enough, rather British traits, I like to think.

But through the staccato link that Skype allows us, he solemnly intones for my umpteenth time of hearing the British Army’s rallying cry to all those troops fearful of entering the battle zone.

“Suck it up sprog and crack on”.

Housing bubble, what housing bubble?.. Oh.

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I’ll be honest, I’m a bit perplexed.
I’ve been on the telly and the radio a few times over the past few weeks. Firstly, about three weeks ago, it was to talk about the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney. Carney had said that the BoE had tools in their armoury to ward off an over-heated property market should it arise. These tools were primarily based on reducing the Loan to value percentages that Lenders could offer. This caused the press to question if there was a housing bubble.
His solutions to a problem we didn’t yet have, I pointed out, were interesting as they were in direct conflict with the governments Help2Buy scheme, which was addressing people’s lack of deposits by ostensibly encouraging and facilitating 95% mortgages. Strange as the BoE was surely hand in hand with the Government on Help2Buy.
However, I said that it was far too early to talk of a ‘housing bubble’ and it was clear he was merely being cautious. I also said, with conviction that I didn’t feel Help2Buy was fuelling a feeding frenzy. That it merely aided those in need and gently added to general confidence that had arisen with a little more economic confidence.

Then RICS came out with their suggestion that property price rises should be capped at 5%, with the inference that a housing bubble had started. I hit quite a few screens and airwaves that day. By the end of the day the sweeping 5% cap had morphed into ‘well maybe not 5%’ then ‘maybe geographically targeted’ and ended with a general sense of ‘this hasn’t really been thought through’.
Again, I pointed out, the market simply has a bit more confidence and is a bit better than the past few horrendous years. A little more traction allowing more people to get on with their lives and buy, sell, move. Yes, there may be a little blip before supply starts to meet demand but this should level as builders build and more sellers sell.
It was far too early to talk of a housing bubble, I said with conviction.

I was confident that Help2Buy would not create a frenzy. That it was being introduced gently and that it would slowly but surely help the right people access home buying. I was confident that the lenders criteria on who they lent to would be strict and that we wouldn’t be making the same mistakes of pre-2007. In fact only last week the Chancellor had tried to address housing bubble fears by supporting Mark Carney’s earlier position. The Chancellor is clearly concerned not to cause a bubble I thought at the time. Hmm.

Then, on the eve of the Tory conference, funny that, George Osborne comes out and says they are bringing forward the Help2Buy guarantee scheme from January to almost immediate effect. As I spoke to a BBC researcher on Saturday night (admittedly through a haze of Sav Blanc), we pondered why. There could be no good timing reason for this from a property perspective. The market is close to slowing for Christmas. January made sense.

Suddenly there are reports of high street banks staying open late. Mortgage Brokers I know are in a state of panic as phones ring off the hook, (and suggest lenders aren’t ready even for January). Buyers are calling me saying they need to buy quickly before prices go up. Vendors are visibly digging heels in on what last week I regarded as inflated asking prices. My clients with homes under offer are questioning if they have undersold.

The only thing not visibly changing is stock. It isn’t coming on. The estate agents phones may be ringing – but not with sellers. All in a few days.

Now I’m not an economist but I do understand simple supply and demand maths.

Rather than the ‘steady as she goes’ approach to the housing market, we’ve been delivered a political peeing contest: ‘I’ll take your energy price freeze Ed and raise you our ‘mortgages for all’ corker, Woohoo!’ (but ssh about the supply bit).
I can no longer with conviction pooh pooh talks of a housing bubble – a little political oneupmanship and I fear the supertanker is no longer on what I believed was a steady course. I am left with a sinking feeling.

A Chinese Horrorscope

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Chinese clients arriving. A new thing for me, I’m usually found hanging around Knightsbridge with an emergency headscarf and carefully ending my sentences with ‘inshalla’.. Culturally this is going to be interesting.

The entourage consists of Billionaire lady client, I shall call her Miss Chang and her older sister who I am instructed to refer to as Aunty. The two middle-aged Chinese clients are surprisingly tall and tower over me. They sport cords, sensible shoes and hair styling that involved using a bowl. Also attending is her private banker who will translate as neither lady speaks English. This banker is Miss Chang’s doer and attends to her every whim with a permanently petrified expression. There will be a lot of whims. There is also Bill the 11 year old son, who I am yet to meet. There seems to be no Mr Chang, I don’t enquire.

There are a few things we would like you to arrange while we are here, the banker tells me. We wish to move in by the end of the week, Aunty doesn’t like hotels. Secondly, Miss Chang is very keen on the Royal family. Would it be possible to meet them, she has asked her friend the Ambassador but he hasn’t fixed it yet. It would be great if we can meet David Beckham too, Oh and can we go to Tesco’s because Miss Chang has read that is where William and Kate shop.

Leave it with me I say, I might just be able to swing the Tesco bit.

The banker reiterates that what Miss Chang wants, she must get. And that goes for Bill too. Cost is not an issue if she wants it. Having recently bought her a Maldives island, her major task had been to ship a couple of sea turtles that had caught Bill’s eye, to the Beijing back garden. Miss Chang had been ‘extremely angry’ when the World Wildlife Fund had got involved and Bill had had to compromise with a couple of terrapins.

Property wise, I have had a brief which consists of finding them an ‘up-scale’ apartment or house close to the son’s new boarding school. Aunty will be living in it as his guardian. Aunty has never been to the UK and will be deposited here when the rest of the entourage leaves in a week. They don’t find this odd.

We look at a house. First question, which way does it face? Banker and I stand there shaking our iPhone compasses for all it’s worth. Miss Chang’s face gave the answer. The wrong way.

Onto next house. I am forewarned, compass at the ready I brightly inform them it faces the RIGHT way, (can’t remember, so don’t ask). Smiles all round and we proceed inside. The Feng Shui analysis and my lesson in spirits (not my favoured kind), begins. The garden slopes the wrong way. The bedroom mirrors will steal her spirit in the night. There are unhealthy looking plants in the garden. Bad. The back door faces the front door, this will allow a strong rush of Chi out of the house, (closely followed by me at this point). It is not square enough. Bad. Bottom line, it’s a bad house and Miss Chang eyes me ferociously for having shown it to her. On the bright side, they liked the cowskin rugs and want some shipped back to China. Can I arrange?

Nevertheless it takes an hour in this wholly bad house and then we head for refreshments. What year were you born? asks Miss Chang through the banker. I tell her. She visibly brightens. Miss Chang is happy. This is good. I am like her, a rabbit. Miss Chang says we will all get on. She likes rabbits. We all smile and nod happily.

It is Tuesday. I finally show them a flat on the Thames close to their hotel, one I have had in mind since talks began and they like it. In fact they want it and they want to move in on Friday but Bill needs to see it. He is 11 years old he is referred to as the Master. He will decide. I’ll worry about the ‘move in Friday’ bit later.

Bill is brought out of school to view the apartment. He is a personable young man with good English. The entourage stand quietly watching with baited breath as Bill walks around the apartment. Touching surfaces and jumping on the bed, Bill gives nothing away. Having exhausted all possible properties, let’s just say I want the kid to like it. Bill goes to the river view window and clocks some swans wafting along the water. His eyes open and he looks at the banker, points and says something in Mandarin. The banker pales visibly. Something is going on. He then speaks with his Mother. They are buying the flat.

They want the furniture, a price of £60,000 is quoted. I think this is high but the banker points out her handbag was £20,000, she’d arranged shipping from Paris herself, so it really isn’t an issue. Hmm, a twenty grand handbag and a £4.50 haircut.

I negotiated as much as I could off and set to work on moving them in 48 hours. I won’t bore you with the mechanics but with an amenable developer and a rather good lawyer charging three times his usual fee, we were on course. Paperwork driven between lawyers, texts from lawyers at 11pm and ‘views’ taken on various parts. It was a blooming joy.

At midday on Friday our lawyer arrived at their hotel opposite the apartment with exchange and completion papers in hand. Duly signed,  I watched as he stood on the highest part of the bridge outside to get a signal and completion took place.

With much hand shaking and smiling, we deposited the entourages belongings with the porter and handed him a twenty. He duly pushed the luggage trolley across the bridge to the apartment along with the gaggle of excited Chinese. I followed behind, with the Tesco carrier bags full of toilet rolls. Yes, we were looked at.

Leaving the clients in the flat, the banker insisted we went for a coffee. I am assuming a congratulatory exchange but I don’t get one.

“Miss Chang is very disappointed in you,” I am told (my mouth may have dropped open at this point). “You have failed to arrange meetings with any of the Royal family or David Beckham and haven’t organised the cowskin rugs. However,” she says, face breaking into a conspiratorial smile, “You can redeem yourself with one very, very important task.

“What Bill liked most about the flat were the swans. They want some shipped to Beijing. I need it sorting, a minimum of two, no excuses.”

Ironic, I think. First I’m berated for not arranging a Royal meet, then they want me to nick some of their swans.

“Leave it me with I say,” and leg it.

At home, trying to make sense of the past few days, I idly Google Chinese horoscopes. Turns out I am not a Rabbit, I am a Tiger. Funnily enough, this is a very bad match.

If you’re looking for a London property finder, visit our website at www.bdihomefinders.co.uk.

20 ways to spot Mr Metrosexual’s home.

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A new era has dawned. One of bromances and grooming. An era of men in charge of their surroundings, their home styling. Men who still wander the backstreets of Soho at weekends but now it’s to seek out the latest objet with which to decorate their homes and their bodies. They think they’re different, they think they’re cutting edge. I have news for them. All hail the metrosexual lemming.

1. Face scrub.. Kiehls. Plus the toner, shaving cream, moisturiser ad infinitum, all displayed dimly, in the black bathroom..

2. Turntable for vinyls.. which he will only use when his mates come round. To play Miles Davies.

3. Black towels. So cool.. if they got washed. :-/

4. Amaretto. For when he has ‘a bird’ round.

5. Floor cushions, known in designer circles as Toss cushions… hmm.

6. Pool table. Grey baize, chrome legs. To match all the other chrome stuff.

7. Mortuary kitchen. Steel – lots of it, apart from in the oven, which will have cardboard.

8. Paul Smith.. The metrosexual posterboy. Those stripes will be on everything.

9. Liberty Print Shirt.. cos boys can wear flowers right. (Best not venture out in Newcastle on a Saturday night).

10. Pantone Mugs.. yawn

11. Danish furniture.. yep, he’s been down Fritz Hansen and got the cow hide egg chair and teak sideboard.

12. Leather rug.. channels the little boy’s inner-cowboy.

13. Helmut Newton print of woman smoking a fag, in stockings – large and not pornographic because it cost £5k. and is therefore Art.

14. Artemide lamps – The posh boys desk lamp – a complicated array of wires and weights – posh boys Meccano.

15. Massive plasma- just massive.

16. Distressed leather armchair, exposed brick. Cos that’s what men like innit.

17. Mens Heath magazine on the coffee table. The only well thumbed literature in the pad.

18. Pop art poster. Be it Andy Warhol or the Beano.

19. Ironing board.. permanent fixture in second bedroom.

20. Gym bag. In hall. Festering.

The Journo and the Oligarch

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I called up a terribly upmarket Estate Agent I know. Average sale £7m, he doesn’t sell flats, he sells ‘residences’. In fact he doesn’t ‘sell’ at all, he merely gives hand-picked potential buyers an opportunity to buy. I needed a favour, a very serious journalist wanted a potted tour of the super-rich lifestyle in London. Could we have a poke around some of his fancier listings? We will be terribly well behaved, I promised.

Hmm, he mused, my clients are terribly discreet people, they wouldn’t want a journalist poking around. However he offers me a couple of South Ken basements that were empty. Oh please! I exclaimed, we need some serious bling, not an Arab students damp homework pad.

Well, I suppose if the journalist didn’t speak, didn’t write specifics and you pretended they were a colleague, I may be able to show you a £30m Oligarchs den… Bingo, I feel clever!.

We met on a Knightsbridge street corner. Agent suited, booted and silk handkerchiefed. Journalist in duffle coat, Clarks shoes and carrying a practical shopping bag.

We rock up at a very swanky building. The immaculate porters are Gucci clad and muscles bulge through the perfect cut. These are no ordinary porters, there are no smiles. They wear the look of men who can kill with one Mr Spock hand movement. Our Agent answers security questions and then takes us to the centre of the cavernous marbled foyer and whispers ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’, there is sweat on his upper lip, ‘ there are some things you need to know… when we get into the lift there is video and audio surveillance. When you are in the apartment, ditto. Everywhere you go you will be on camera and on audio. YOU SAY NOTHING!’

‘AND’ he flushes ‘I have just been told the owner will be in’ – he turns to me. ‘You will probably be interrogated’. He then briefed me on what I would say. Apparently I have a very wealthy client, I am to be as vague as possible because this particular Oligarch has far more enemies than friends. If he gets the slightest hint that my ‘client’ is from the wrong group of Oligarchs, THERE WILL BE TROUBLE.  On the bright side, he chirps, they have switched off the retinal scanning entry thingy.

He turns to the journalist and says ‘What is your name? she squeaks ‘can I be Mrs Smith?’. That’ll do, he says.

I try to wipe thoughts of container ships headed to Murmansk out of my mind but Journo and I look at each other, now not feeling at all clever and both wondering if we should leg it.

Nevertheless, we enter the lift. Not a sound is uttered and we all stare at our feet and I wonder how the hell I got myself into this.

Lift opens and we sink our way through carpet two inches deep to double mahogany doors. The retinal scanning apparatus blinks at us but the doors are opened by a wizened old Babushka who ushers us in. The owner is waiting for us. Piercing eyes and a charmless demeanour. The words ‘never smile at a crocodile’ pop into my head.

I am introduced, as is ‘Mrs Smith’. Oligarch wastes no time on pleasantries. ‘Who is your client?’ Oops, wasn’t expecting quite such a closed question, major wriggling is called for. I inform him that my client is a young Muscovite but for discretion’s sake I must withhold their name at this stage. WRONG ANSWER. His eyes narrow and he turns to the Agent. ‘You know I insist on the names of all potential Russian buyers – I am disappointed’. Ooh blimey, you really don’t want to disappoint this chap and the thought of him twigging I am poking around his residence with a national newspaper journalist makes me feel faint. The Agent visibly colours and I wonder if they make Tena’s for men but he suggests they discuss later and could we have a look around. Gruffly he concedes and we start our tour.

Frankly, neither the Journo or I gave a toss about a tour at this stage but we went through the motions. Black silk bedding. Tick. Half naked pics of the latest wife. Tick. Personal spa with massage tables and white robes. Tick. And so on. However, Journo and I just shuffled through each room miserably, concentrating on saying absolutely nothing and avoiding even the most furtive of glances under the Big Brother spotlight.

Having allowed the minimum polite amount of time, I say with faux cheerfulness, ‘We mustn’t inconvenience you anymore than we have already’, but as we all stand uncomfortably in the mortuary like kitchen, the Russian isn’t having any of that. Mr Oligarch wants to chat. Oh God.

He wants my name, my company name, where’s your card? where do you live? Journo’s eyes are wide with a semblance of terror.

Sod it, I think, ‘I have another appointment, must dash’, I say in a rather pleading manner to the Agent. Finally we are ushered out through whence we came.

Remember Michael, says Oligarch with wagging finger, I want names.

We reach the lift rather faster than on arrival, in fact I contemplated taking the fire escape for speed.

We stifled our giggles of relief until past the Stasi porters and out of terror firma.

I turn to the Journo. ‘I like to see my name in print as much as the next media tart but never again, NEVER BLOODY AGAIN’… She nods furiously.

Prime Crummy London.

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A current search of mine is for a ‘do-up’ in prime central London. Lick of paint, add a white shiny kitchen, do a Kelly Hoppen greige on it and flog it on for a few more pennies. You know the score, I want crummy..  Gotta be easy eh?
Err. No.
It seems everything in London has already been ‘greiged’. Prime London is a sea of wide boarded light oak flooring and grey velvet sofas with grey velvet cushions. Everywhere is dressed with ‘stupid silver stuff’ (I don’t call it stuff). Silver lamps, silver objets, glass and silver tables. Silver antelope heads, silver sunburst mirrors. Every kitchen has white Corian worktops a Prosecco cooler and a three foot high tap that sprays your crotch. Hi-tech everything is de rigeur- you need a masterclass with Stephen Hawking to switch on the lights.

With price per square foot the Holy Grail of London property, every square inch has been eeked out. Meedja rooms are hewn from the subsoil. There are ‘sort of’ kitchens squashed into corners of living rooms.  Mezzanines scraping your head to provide a curtained master bedroom (no sex please, I have a mezzanine) and bathrooms so small you can brush your teeth and shower your bum at the same time.

But they do come with a new and rather desirable upside now hitting my in-box- a price reduction. This is because little of the money sloshing around prime central London (and there is plenty) wants them. What this cash really, really wants is a doer-upper, with a chance to make a swift buck and to greige it themselves. And they will pay for the privilege. Really pay.

Each day I call Agents and scour properties for tell tale signs of ‘tiredness’. Any opportunity to dig down, build up or plonk on a side return is pounced on by me… I am closely followed by the jangling coins and the quivering jaws of every Tamsin, Dicky and Henri with a trust fund, bonus or a dodgy accountant.

The zenith of property finds is the ‘old lady dowager just died’ property. No mourning in London. Pink bathrooms, an old electric ring cooker in the kitchen and a smell of wee are guaranteed to send buying hearts across London pounding. At one of these rare occurrences recently I was milling with a throng of unshaven geezers with steel toe caps peeling off ‘monkeys’ to the cabbie. Long tressed Chelsea housewives with iced expressions and City boys arriving courtesy of their Addison Lee corporate account. All eyeing each other up venomously and all with a determination to pay whatever it takes to get it. It’s crummy, so it’s very yummy. The get rich quick crowd and the Chelsea Sarah Beeny’s fight to the best bid death.

And, you know what? They will pay too much. They will add a mezzanine, pay £500pw to rent velvet sofas and they will greige it. They will whack it on the market at an outlandish sum and find that it sits – and sits, because almost everyone is looking for a ‘do-er-upper’ just like them. Then they will reduce the price (because they have borrowed up to the hilt) until they just about claw back what they spent on it.

If you want a home and a deal in Prime Central London- don’t dismiss something fully blinged and horribly over-spent on with the oft heard words ‘I’m not paying for someone else’s profit’, because you probably aren’t.

Instead, why not kick off your Tods on the underfloor heating and enjoy the spoils of someone else’s pricey re-plastering, re-wiring, re-plumbing. Take their Miele appliances, the latest Megaflow system and the expensive flooring. You don’t like the mortuary style kitchen? then replace it. You don’t like the sanatorium white walls, paint them.. buy right and you’ll probably still be in credit. And best of all leave them with their months and months of negotiating with planners, screaming at labourers and sleepless nights as their overdraft facilities slipped away, along with any profit. In the fiercely competitive London market the ‘done ups’ are often a much better deal than the ‘do-ups’.

Crummy is currently far too yummy for my taste. Perhaps the cleverest thing to do in the raging price seas of London is to un-do it up?

Austin Powers goes Arabian in South Kensington

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We have up to ten million pounds to spend and a client who has signed up because my blogs ‘make him larf’. I’m hoping he’s not banking on a running comic routine as I accompany him around London. He’ll soon find out I do grumpy, bitchy and sniffy far better than comedy. But at least with this budget there’s no messing around with £1.5m trying to get a bedroom big enough to extend your legs when you’re putting your tights on.

Still, we have loadsamoney and a client with a sense of humour, this looks like being a fun search.

It doesn’t start well. A Grosvenor Square apartment is dismissed on account of machine guns and Yanks in Aviators below the window. In Connaught Square Tony Blair as a neighbour wasn’t the selling point the Agent had banked on, while TVs coming out of white leather beds and neon-lit cocktail bars in Kensington Palace’s back garden grates on my clients ‘keeping it real’ tastebuds.

The riverside glass sub-penthouse (the Agents laboured description ) facing Cheyne Walk is greeted with guffaws. And before you ask, yes I do go south of the river but rarely more than 30 feet and never without my trusty Kevlar vest.

Clearly nothing refurbished will work, standard London bling turns my clients stomachs. So I take them to an Arab owned flat with 16 feet ceilings overlooking Hyde Park. It is grotty with potential. They love it.

Negotiations start which end up at full asking- £6.3m. ‘Job done’ I muse, which is always dumb, because it is not. Apparently we need to grease ‘the Mrs’ hand with a few more Dinar for her to give up her London shopping pad. We walk away at £7m with a sucking lemons face because it is still ‘not quite enough’ and leave a stinging flea in the Agents ear.

Panic descends because the clients have now fallen in love with overlooking Hyde Park, being next to the Albert Hall and wanting a refurb. My suggestion of One Hyde Park is met with eyes lowered and a sotto voce ‘Do I look stupid?’

As for the Lancasters, I’m afraid the striking distance of hooka pipes and goat kebabs didn’t float my clients boat.

This is not the widest geographic remit I have ever been given (equating to about 200 yards) but lady luck smiles on me.

An ingenue agent punching well above his weight has access to a flat in the same block as the loved and lost Arab pile. I am sceptical but on entry smell a gem, albeit a comic one. My heels sink into deep 70‘s shag-pile and we enter the mens smoking room overlooking the park. One wall is a 1970‘s mirrored bar fit for any 6 star Jumeirah and suedette sofas Jason King would die for. The bar conceals itself remotely leaving demure bookcases, an essential requirement for when a Princess pops her head around the door to see how the Princes’ tea party is going.

The ladies have their own similar room, wall to wall with silk clad seating, silk walls and a silk canopied ceiling. In each there are chandeliers the size of a Chelsea Cloisters one bed flat- blue for the boys, pink for the girls.

As expected the bathrooms were black (apart from the limescale)- 1970’s specials with curtained corner baths, gold swan taps and more chandeliers. Then the piece de resistance in the Master. The circular bed with upholstered shell canopy, built in ashtrays and fridge, oh and of course the ‘overhead mirrors’.

What’s this button? I ask. The Agent and I try it out. Ooh, it revolves. He and I resist the temptation to jump aboard. Flaming tempting mind. Must say I haven’t had such a titter since a particularly obnoxious Rupert stepped his Gucci’s into an Oxfordshire horse pat.

I call the client ‘You wanted comedy with your property search?

How about Austin Powers goes Arabian.. It’s a cracker! but just one thing before you see it. If I get you a good price, can I have the bed?

The Pippa’s bottom of the London property market.

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It’s been a funny old year in the prime central London property market. I signed up new clients in December for a search. Clients with simple but classy tastes. One is a lawyer and one a cosmetic surgeon to the rich and famous – very disconcerting for a lady buying agent of a certain age. Two bedrooms, outside space in South Kensington, 1000 square feet for our £1.5m budget, easy! I left for my Christmas holidays smug in the belief that I’d be kicking my heels up at their house warming in Spring.

In January I hit what I imagined would be a sleepy market. However, I find the prices of new stock surprisingly high and I am definitely not alone walking the South Ken streets clutching a wad of cash to splash.

I console myself with the belief that these prices are simply Agents trying it on and that buyers won’t bite. I’m wrong. They aren’t just biting, they are fighting tooth and claw for anything half decent, whatever the price.

As the weeks pass, I view a lot:

I see common areas that would have crack dealers reaching for the Cillit Bang.

Outside spaces where you’d sip your Cosmopolitans next to the bins.

Bitumen ‘roof gardens’ scented by curry house extractors and second bedrooms where you’d struggle to swing a hamster.

Not to mention the 635 square foot reception rooms, mezzanined and paper partitioned into nothing more than a collection of cupboards.

As for the client’s desired Cornwall Gardens, that was only achievable with a basement flat so damp you could forage your own Girolles.

Everything was unashamedly ripping the Michael out of the words “two bedroom flat”.

It seemed that overnight South Ken had become the Pippa’s bottom of London real estate, royally desirable but royally untouchable. So I throw in some creative thinking, ‘I am going to look in Notting Hill’ I tell my losing patience clients ‘You’ll love it!’.

But in Notting Hill I find Bridget Jones flats. Deconstructed kitchens with curtains for cupboard doors. Walls covered in ethnic hangings, CND posters and ponging of joss sticks. The elusive 1000 square feet remained a forlorn dream. I even ventured into Queensway wondering if I could keep a straight face calling it Connaught Village. I couldn’t.

Something had to give, I decide it will have to be the tube and they’ll just have to get an Add Lee account. So I start looking in an area where old money trims their Wisteria at weekends, where mansion flats jostle with Arts and Craft houses and corner shops stock Gentleman’s relish but no scratch cards.

Bingo, I was right, this little corner of London was yielding far more bang for our tortured buck. I find the first flat in four months that warrants me demanding my client hot foots it from some sagging pop star’s brow.

It’s got the lot, it’s spacious, has a proper little patio garden (client mentions hot tub but I blank him) and you can swing a whole litter of Bagpusses in the kitchen. Above all it has the most elusive quality of all.. Class.

Client is wide eyed, he wants it badly but it’s a bit over budget. He turns exuberantly to the 30-something male Agent and against this Buying Agents strict instructions, makes him an offer. Not one this Agent has had before.

” If the Vendor takes £XXX I’ll give her free Botox for life.. and you too!”

My client looks at me bashfully and says “Sorry Tracy, I wasn’t thinking, I had a bottom lift in mind for you”.

We did eventually get the flat but if you spot a little pop star spinning around London a tad lop-sided, I’m to blame. But perhaps therein lies a lesson?

In today’s London property market, sometimes you have to think outside the Botox.

Written for my column in http://www.primeresi.com – the journal for the prime central London property market.

Tenants – Where’s the respect?

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The percentage of people moving into rental properties is increasing. These include people making a lifestyle choice for flexibility, those forced into it through inability to get a mortgage, those having to sell their homes through economic difficulties. And me.
It seems like a simple choice. Pick a home, put down a deposit and move on when you feel like it. What’s not to like?

The problem is that flexibility has two sides, the other side being insecurity. The private rental sector (PRS) is by design a temporary system. The massive majority of tenancies are for 12 months at most, so whilst the tenant has the flexibility to move on as they wish, their master the Landlord has precisely the same powers. This is all very well for young singles about town but not quite so good for families with schooling who are trying to build a life in a community.

From my day job I know that the supply of decent affordable rental property is dire and that there is huge demand for every decent property. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate that when demand outstrips supply Landlords do not need to rent their properties cheaply, (why would/should they?) they do not need to fix the damp and maintain their properties or frankly give a damn about their tenants well being. Many do but an increasing number (the sheds in Slough being an extreme but increasing example) do not. When there are five people after your rental property it is easy to regard tenants as the most disposable part of the equation. This will only get worse.

I am in the property industry and I have recently decided to rent. Knowing what I do, I did it with a heavy heart but it was a practical solution. My heart was right. Yesterday I had a call from my daughter who was ill in bed and in the house alone. ‘Mum, someone has been trying to get into the house. The chain is on but they have been back three times’. She was scared. Suffice to say, I am furious.

I am assuming it was the Letting Agents. There was no notification of a visit, nothing. I have emailed asking them to explain themselves, and if indeed it was them trying to get in or someone else. Not a minor question but as yet unanswered. However, this highlights for me what is wrong with the current system of renting. As a tenant, rather than a homeowner your home is never your castle. It should be. Technically you are purchasing a rental property under a lease and should enjoy the same level of comfort and security to bring up your family. But you don’t.

What you get is three or six monthly inspections where some oik from the Agency pokes their nose around your house, letting themselves in, even if you are not there. Rubbing your nose in the fact that it is not your home.
With the emergence of buy to let over the past decade tenants are now also increasingly at the mercy of amateur and reluctant Landlords struggling to pay the increasing mortgage with no pennies left to mend the boiler or maintain the property properly. With mortgage rates only rising, repossessions will increase. I remember Lucy Morton from ARLA telling me that tenants should reference their Landlords, good advice but in reality…?

It is time to stop treating tenants like second class citizens. Homeownership is going to fall even more in the future, more people will need to bring up their families, try to put down roots and live their whole lives in rented accommodation.

For the homeowners reading, how would you feel if your mortgage company insisted on inspecting your cleanliness every three months? Having them tell you that you can’t paint your new babies bedroom pink. That you can’t hang pictures and need to live in a magnolia womb for the duration. You may not have a cat without paying £1500 extra and that you are on permanent one months notice to quit. Horrid thought, isn’t it? With so many low income AND so called middle class families having to rent for the long term, why should the massive rents tenants pay be so completely different to a mortgage?

We need to stop regarding renting as stop gap accommodation. We need to be looking at making renting a decent long term option by encouraging long term investors, not fly by night amateurs at the mercy of interest rates and repossession. The Government should be coming up with ways of encouraging institutional investors to provide long term rentals, where people can build lives and the investors get a secure long term return and tenants who will treat their property like their own home. We should be pushing for five year plus tenancies to become mainstream. In fact something rather like ‘council houses’. Remember them?

We also need to frown upon the inherent attitude of many in the Estate Agency industry – that tenants are a magic porridge pot of money but deserve no respect because the Landlord is their king.

As for my letting agent, I am awaiting a response. It will be either an apology or they’ll decide to do battle but what I can guarantee is that they’ll not understand why I am furious. They will not understand why someone walking into my home would make me feel violated, after all they do it with ‘their properties’ all the time.  And there’s the rub, I call it my home, they don’t.  The property is the commodity that earns them money, the Landlord their Master and the tenant within is easily replaced, in fact fees make it lucrative for them to do just that.
I am fortunate in that I have access to the cream of experts advising me on my rights as a tenant. I am primed with ‘section this and section that’ slipping off a sharpened tongue. The majority of people and the most vulnerable are not in my position and are at the mercy of an unregulated, insecure and often cruel system.

Is it any wonder us Brits are desperate to be homeowners?

An Englishmans rented home should also be his castle but let’s start with some respect.

I’ll keep you posted.

Knightsbridge Naffness

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Horns:
You heard it hear first. Horns everywhere you turn. Stuck on walls protruding from some decapitated beast. Pointing up from chairs.  Lone horns polished and silver plated to cover where it was ripped from some (I hope) lop-sided wildebeest and of course the 666 stuff.

Arco Lights
Arco lights, generally positioned for guaranteed head banging. No London bachelor flat is without one of those. Size is a direct correlation to owners testosterone level. Always in the way and flaming useless unless your goal is a little spot of light illuminating the rug.

White leather furniture.
Cold, uncomfortable, clinical and makes quite impolite noises if you readjust your bottom. Add some synthetic shag pile rug (most do) for a DIY Austin Powers pad.

Bogs of bling.
There has been a strange proliferation of fancy bogs too. Ones which provide services that I trust no one has experienced since nappy days. They involve buttons, warm air, warm water, warm bums and warnings of the dangers of misuse. Ablutions shouldn’t require that degree of intellectual input.

Wallpaper.
Interior Designers are always going on about ‘texture’ and it seems they have hit pay dirt and are running with it with the emergence of the sandpaper wallpaper. It is actually cork with spangly bits and it seems to be Knightsbridge’s latest answer to the B & Q feature wall. I almost prefer peonys.

Bijoux Bakerys
The Hummingbird bakery. So what if you can feed an African village and dig a well for what fits into a little bijoux box. I feel like whispering to the ladies who prance out with their offerings.
“it’s just fat, sugar and carbs luv”.

Orla Kiely
Eurgh. We still have Cath Kidston lurking malevolently but it’s Orla who is splashing herself on everything these days. You can’t walk into John Lewis without the depressive sensory overload of drab ugly faux-fifties kitsch pattern on everything. Did I mention it was ugly?

Technology.
Gone are the days when you pulled the curtains, whacked a CD into a ‘player’, flicked a light switch and a dimmer was state of the art. No more tranny’s in the bathroom (don’t titter) you’re nowt without an in-built telly and mood lighting. In fact you’re nowt if your entire home isn’t controlled from an iPad.  You will of course need to pop down to Imperial College and borrow a geek with a PhD every time you want to close the curtains.

Chandeliers.
In the kitchen, I’m not joking. Where you find kitchen chandeliers you will be sure to find an oven with cardboard inside and the freezer will only have vodka. Less style over substance, more style over subsistence.

I have visions of interior designers giggling together in their coven as they plot the latest abomination to inflict on the unsuspecting purse of a millionaire. Almost makes you nostalgic for last years cow skin rug. What? You’ve only just got one? Sorry but it has to be zebra this year.

Primelocation Blog awards 2011- Oops, we did it again!

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Well, well, well.. thrilled that our blog has won Best property blog post of 2011, quite an achievement considering how many people are out there scribbling to a really high standard on the woes and the details of the property market.

Here’s the list of all the winners and runners up click So many people to make sure you read.

Here’s the blog that won it.. not literature and certainly not in depth property analysis with ‘graphs and things’ but a satirical wander around what I call a wag pad and the developers do not ;-) click

Estate Agent Types…

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Estate Agents I have known and loved.

Michaela
Michaela is more careful about showing off her tattoo since being promoted from receptionist, although the fake tan has sadly dulled it anyway. She has also splashed out on a couple of Next suits. Michaela would like to live in every property she shows and she tells you. Sadly this is just a pipe dream since boyfriend Gaz got made redundant from Kwik-Fit. Still, his Grandma is ill and she’s got a lovely retirement bungalow in Hastings so all is not lost. Michaela has Heart.

Catchphrase: It’s alright for some.
Likes: Loose Women
Dislikes: Anyone above ‘emselves.

Foxy
Foxy looks great in his House of Fraser suit and wears his pointy D&G shoes with pride, particularly as he got a right deal at TK Maxx. Foxy is driven to sell, partly because he is on £8k a year basic and a shared flat in Clapham don’t come cheap. Partly because if he doesn’t he knows he’ll have to stand on a table at the morning meeting and recite ‘I am a tosser’ while his colleagues/enemies jeer and spray him with Perrier. If an unknown number comes up between 8am and 12pm it will be Foxy – ‘calling out’. No matter you found 12 months ago, he was just checking you were happy in it because if you need to sell….

Catchphrase: If you throw enough shit..
Likes:  His database.
Dislikes: Loooo-sers.

Christine

She looks Mumsy but she has seen it all and let me tell you, it was all negative then and it’s no bloody better now. The only people she likes are her son, ( adopted because ‘her husband’s even bloody useless at that) and the Manager and district Manager, who she bakes cakes for. Those young bloody negs in the office are a constant irritant and they ain’t picking up the phone first or getting their bleeding fingers on her applicant list if she has anything to do with it. They can do her viewings though.  Christine only likes buyers who are male,  middle class and flirt with her. Do not bring children, that steel eyed stare will cause them nightmares.

Catchphrase: I spoke to that applicant first.
Likes: Strictly Come Dancing
Dislikes: People.

Dave
Dave is to be found in his one man office above Greggs offering 1% deals. ‘It’s all about volume innit. Pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap didn’t do Tesco’s any harm did it?!’
Dave is a bit stressed quite a bit of the time because he isn’t piling them high and frankly he’s not selling ‘em neever.
You can find the Greater Spotty Dave on Rightmove. His properties have the toilet seats up and the washing up takes centre stage. If you look even closer, there he is complete with flash in the bathroom mirror.
Dave drives an Astra but he really, really Aspires to a Vectra.

Catchphrase: I just want to offer punters value for money.
Likes:Greggs sausage rolls and Boots meal deals.
Dislikes: Any Estate Agent with a listing.

Sheila
To be found in the shires, Sheila is upper middle class and upper middle aged with hair sprayed so hard you wouldn’t get through it with a toffee hammer. Particular specialties are equestrian property and being scary. Expect the Spanish Inquisition if you try to book a viewing, for ease of passage change your name to Camilla, honk a lot and have equine worming tablets visible in your handbag.

Catchphrase: If Daddy hadn’t lost on Lloyds I wouldn’t be here.
Likes: Princess Anne
Dislikes: Commoners.

Rupert
You didn’t think I’d miss him out did you?
The older Rupert wasn’t quite bright enough to go to University but young men from frightfully good families do need a profession with a business card and the City was picky back then. The younger ones have Land Management degrees from St Andrews, Durham and of course Cirencester. Dead handy because they never know if Papa might pop his clogs and they’ll have to take the reins at the family large-holding.
Never try jokes or irony with a Rupert – they won’t get it. However, they ‘won’t get it’ with the most impeccable manners.

Catchphrase: Do you play Rugger?
Likes: A bloody good pheasant shoot
Dislikes: Being called an Estate Agent.

So, clearly these character are not based on anyone living or dead and bear no resemblance to any Estate Agent I have met in the course of my daily life. In fact I shall go as far as saying that I have made it all up. In fact all Estate Agents are made of sugar and spice and stop for hedgehogs crossing the road. Apart from Rupert, who shoots them.

UK House Price Predictions 2012

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Prime Central London will remain buoyant due to lack of supply. Overseas buyers who are driving this market will not be any less keen in 2012, the European crisis will have no effect. However this market bears no relation to the rest of the Uk there is no ripple effect that is tangible, it is it’s own micro economy.
I predict a 5% rise in 2012 as supply will remain low.

The UK market as a whole will be a case of increasing North South divide, with the further you travel from London the worse the price falls and difficulty in selling will be.
However I do not see the UK market ‘crashing’ even though logically it should. Low interest rates mean relatively few repossessions and distressed sales (although more than 2011), as existing mortgages remain very affordable. Supply will remain low and with renting becoming outrageously expensive people will still want to buy, if they can get finance. Supply and demand will thus create an artificially stable market. Of course when interest rates rise this will all change but that is not likely to be until 2013. I suspect that prices will drop overall about 5% in the South East. However this this average is made up of desirable properties not dropping at all and compromised properties dropping significantly, as buyers will be extremely cautious and discerning.

The UK as a whole will consist of hotspots and areas severely hit by economic woes. I believe that UK house prices as a whole will fall 6% in 2012 . Average house prices of course should be taken with a pinch of salt, there is no such animal. As a visual roadmap, I see price falls rippling out from London suburbs in concentric circles, getting worse as they spread. There will be hots spots of stable economy towns and these along with very desirable properties will be somewhat protected.

Along with PCL the only other positive area of the market will be the continued rise in rents, the continued difficulty in getting mortgages will mean even more people will be forced renters and not just potential first time buyers. I predict rents will rise another 5% minimum in 2012 simply due to supply and great demand. However a caveat to Landlords: rents are becoming unaffordable and a large swathe of tenants are paying their rents on credit cards and worse. Non payment will become far more common due to pure unaffordability.
A fair, reliable income is far more profitable than the cost of evictions for non payment. As for the moral argument… Another time.

Buying Agent sells her house. Part 3. The marketing

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2nd week of August 2011

Photography done and it looks lovely.  Not sure about the words on the brochure but I figure no one reads them anyway, I don’t. All I need is a postcode, as many photo’s as possible and a floorplan, then I can make my decision to view.

Starting to get a bit frazzled. Dreading having people through my house. I am not Mrs Tidy and keeping the place ‘right’ will be a bore. Also I really find the thought of people viewing my house as quite upsetting. A home is not a commodity, no matter how hard you try to pretend it’s just a ‘transaction’.

Third week of August

With the brochure ready I suggest to the Agents that they call their ‘hot-box’ buyers. No, they say, we would rather give it a proper launch to maximise the excitement. I hope they know what they’re doing. D Day is set for 6th September. Schools are back and hopefully the buyers are hitting Rightmove, checking their emails and planning on getting into somewhere new before Xmas. I know full well that I have a 6 week marketing window before the buyers go into hibernation and the economy probably implodes. Fingers crossed.

First week of September

First phone call comes in- Can I bring someone around on Thursday 8th September? Then another call- I have two first viewings. More phone calls, and more viewings are booked in for the following week. I find myself interrogating the receptionist making the bookings. Are they in a chain? What LTV mortgage do they need? Do you know them? When I started asking if ‘they are nice?’  I decided to shut up. I was developing into one of those ‘hands on’  sellers that I despair of.

Thursday morning.. lot’s of Febreze, cat litter box cleaned and hidden. Bed’s made, which is a first. Cut flowers plucked from garden and I even start thinking about brewing coffee, I allow myself a wry smile and stop right there on principle. If it’s going to sell, then the smell of cookies and a cynical attempt at ‘you too can live my pretend lifestyle’ ain’t going to be the reason. I then get the hell out of there.

When I get back – they are still viewing so I hide down the lane. I watch them leave and pathetically leap on the young Estate Agent James for feedback. ‘The first one said over-priced- although his wife disagreed’ My hackles rise. Over-priced? Over-priced, I hear myself getting shrill and all the advice I give people about ‘listening carefully to feedback’ get’s dumped as I explain to the patient young James why they are WRONG!

What about the second couple? I ask

‘They seemed to like it’ he says. The Agent then has to endure my picking away at his statement. How d’you know? What’s their position? What about price? I am even annoying myself.

The next morning James calls with feedback- I am impressed. He recounts that he met the ‘might be interested’ couple in the pub last night and they were poring over the brochure, which he felt was a good sign. The first couple were ‘still thinking’ and he had yet to talk to the second couple. He tells me that this second couple were despondent about ever finding a long term family home, so they had reduced their price and search to an in-between’ townhouse which they would stay in for a couple of years. James had called them to say ‘Hey! I think I might have that dream house you really want’. Clever James- creative thinking and knowing your applicant list well is how good agents do deals.

Two hours later James calls again. He has an offer. £25k below asking- at the level I actually think it is technically ‘worth’. They are in rented. 60% LTV mortgage agreed.

I ask James ‘how much they liked it’ James tells me ‘she’ walked through the door and said ‘it’s perfect’ and didn’t stop beaming. That is what I want to hear, because that is what my reaction was. I want the buyer to have complete emotional buy in- if they have that then they are far more likely to breach the undoubted hurdles that crop up during the buying process. If they are buying on a practical basis they are far more likely to be swayed by the forthcoming economic maelstrom or by any crappy legal woes.

‘Go back and tell them I am very keen to do a deal but they were the first through the door and I have four more viewings booked already. I would be foolish to take such a hit straightaway. However, I make it clear to James to not lose them. I tell him that I would be prepared to look at less than asking but when pushed for a figure I say £5k more than I would actually take- gotta be careful, because if I told him my actual bottom line- trust me, that’s all I will get.

Phone rings ten minutes later with a higher offer. This is a very good sign. These buyers mean business, no messing around, it shows they really want it. This offer is £10k more than before- another good sign, they aren’t playing silly beggars with £1k increments. I want to close this. The thought of no more people coming around is delicious. I go back with a split the difference offer of a couple of K, 28 days to exchange and 28 days to completion thereafter and the deal is done. This has taken 22 hours. The viewings booked for next week are cancelled and the listing goes straight onto Rightmove with a big ‘under offer’ across it. Even in this market, with decent property, decently priced, ‘you snooze, you lose’.

My head is spinning. I need to find somewhere to live. I am going to move into rented. That will be straightforward, won’t it…?!

part 4 soon- sales progressing and finding a rental.

By the way.. I am rather excited at being nominated for Primelocation Blog of the Year again. A quick vote would be everso appreciated :-) VOTE

Buying Agent chooses her Estate Agent. The Diary Part 2

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So the decision has been made to sell and now I have to decide which Estate Agent to use. I am relishing the prospect about as much as I relish bikini shopping. I have three choices, the middle market brand, the top end Ruperts or the village independent. Three choices and three goals- top price, least hassle and FAST, oh and one more esoteric need – how to put this delicately, hmm.. I don’t want to have to deal with anyone thick.
I have a middle market house which is quite individual (my use of the word is different to an Estate Agents- when they say ‘individual’ they mean odd, it isn’t). It has no major flaws such as road noise or structural or covenant issues so it is not technically a tricky one to sell. I decide to rule out the middle market brands simply because they don’t bring anything particularly special to the table, which leaves me with the independents in the village or Rupert.
The Agent’s in the village are pretty good and have the advantage of picking up specific buyers for the village and cheaper fees but will they attract and give confidence to that most delicious thing on a country agents wish list… The London buyer? Those lovely ingenues with the tendency to pay more than they have to. As a seller I’d obviously quite like one of them and they are just that bit more comfortable with a big posh UK brand, they are given the confidence that the price is right ‘because Rupert said so’.
The Ruperts (there are two to choose from in the town) also have the benefit of really classy photography/brochures and (here comes the contentious bit where I grab my tin hat), their Negs tend to be brighter. Like anyone, I want to squeeze every last penny out of my major asset. Their fees will be higher but I am gambling on getting a higher price which will cancel it out. On balance I think my particular house, in my area, is a good match for a high end brand, so (with a modicum of shame), I am going down the Rupert route. Having spent two years tweeting, blogging and taking the extreme Michael out of Rupert, his quilted Barbour and signet ring, the irony is certainly not lost on me.

I decide to only call one of the Ruperts in- why not both? flimsy reasoning but based on me wanting as painless a process as possible. One of them, when I have walked in on business over the years has been less than friendly – the other Manager, who I am inviting, treats me like a Goddess and makes me roar with laughter, shallow but pleasing and as simple as that. I really can’t be *rsed to deal with a snotty so and so.

So I ring up the Manager who makes me laugh and ask him just one question: Is my house an OK price for their office – or will it stick out like Katie Price at a Cadogan Square tea party. He reassures me that it sits just fine and they have plenty cheaper, sorry ‘less expensive’… I must remember we’re in Rupert territory. Having braced myself for the process (and removed undies from radiators, cleaned out the cat litter), I ask how quickly he can come around. Hmmm, slight hitch, he is off on holiday for two weeks, he will send his second in command and a Neg around. Hmmm again, young Ruperts, this needs preparation I think, as my eyes narrow. I am almost (not quite) ashamed to say that I find myself thinking along the lines of ‘Do they know who I am?’. They’re not going to bring me one of your bloody market reports are they? You know, those ones’s where it’s always a good time to buy AND sell. I decide to take no chances, ‘Right’ I say ‘I am going to send you some of my blogs and you are going to make sure they read them, starting with ‘Prince Charming The Estate Agent‘. Oh, and any hint of smarminess and they’ll be wishing they worked for Spicer-Haarts’.

Truth be told, I am a bit disappointed, I was buying into grey haired, older than me Estate Agent with a twinkle in his eye, and I am getting his mini-me’s. On the morning of ‘the visitation’ I am surprisingly agitated but clearly not as much as the frightened little rabbits who present themselves on my doorstep. Heaven knows what fear of God their boss put into them. I let them have a wander around, Estate Agents wandering around my house, evaluating, appraising,nose poking, eurgh horrid. Hard as you try it’s tough regarding your home as a commodity- few manage that emotional sidestep.

‘So let’s talk price, what do you think?’ I ask them. There are almost perceptible beads of sweat appearing on the upper lip of mini-me number 1 and boy number 2 fidgets. If I was a cruel and cold buying agent, I might be taking pleasure in this. No comment. ‘Well, over the road sold for X’ pipes up one. ‘No it didn’t’ I point out. ‘Yes it did’ he replies bravely. I bite my lip but not quite hard enough. ‘Lets agree to differ’ I say ‘but I do know the Vendor and the buyer and I checked Land Registry’. Cheap shot, quite possibly beneath me, I chide myself… but only a bit. However, I do remind myself that it helps if your Estate Agent likes you.

No 1 suddenly blurts out his view on the value, ‘excellent’ I say, ‘just what I thought’. They hadn’t tried to please or buy me with an inflated price. There is a palpable outlet of breath and relaxing of muscles all round and smiles. So, shall we put a little bit on top (3%) so the buyer can knock me down a bit and feel he’s getting a deal and I have the chance of getting a bit more than its worth if it gets significant interest? We all agree.
‘Onto your fee’ I say.. Apparently head Rupert has told them to give me a discount but it’s still 1.5%, I am OK with that. I want the office to be motivated, after all they are on commission and they might be keener on other higher fee properties if I really screw them down. Besides, if I am right about the quality of the team they should make that fee back for me through intelligent negotiating. Slight hitch when they tell me I have to pay £650 up front for the photography, EPC etc.. humph, I hadn’t banked on that. However, really good photography is key to marketing and to be fair, I expect my clients to pay up front because it shows commitment and weeds out the tyre kickers, so I find it difficult to whinge. I have a go mind, but they are intractable.
Right guys, we have a deal, they seem shocked that I’m not going to delve into the minutiae and make their lives just a little bit miserable. Why would I do that? I want them to really want to do a good job for me and the more they like me, the more that is likely to happen.
They approach the front door to leave, far more relaxed than when they arrived but I have to say ‘just one thing’ and they breathe in and eyes dart ‘I do no viewings, NO viewings ever, I never want to be present when someone is snooping around my house, that’s your job’. ‘Of course’ they reply, clearly relieved I hadn’t dumped something tricky on them.

So, I’ve gone and done it now, I’ve hired myself a Rupert and whilst I think I have made the best choice for my specific property, I must confess that at the thought of what is ahead, my stomach does do a little back flip.

Part 3 soon… let the marketing commence.

Buying Agent sells her House. The Diary Part 1

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February 2011

I am going to have to move, which means selling my house in the next couple of years. Watching the market it is darn obvious that I had better do it this year. In fact I wrote a blog back in February (Vendors!, take the bloody offer)  advising people of that fact because the whole market was full of over-priced properties with unrealistic Vendors who I knew would never sell and I felt rather sorry for them. When it appeared in The Guardian in October it went quite viral and I received quite a bit of schtick about my self interest in writing it ‘Kellett just wants to buy cheap houses’ and ‘Shame on The Guardian for printing this advertorial’. They were right in one sense, it was self-interest because I was about to follow that advice to the tee. I decide I am going to market at the beginning of September and I don’t mind saying that I wasn’t looking forward to it one little bit. The thought of Estate Agents in MY house, of grubby buyers poking through my drawers, of having to keep it tidy.. aagh. I’ll need this six months just to steel myself for the process.

July 2011

I start major preparations for selling, well I say ‘major’ more like quick titivation because frankly ‘I have a life’.

Preparation in total..

I chuck out all the crap I have accumulated.
I buy some filler and daub away at all those settlement cracks that the surveyor will say is subsidence, (Christmas cake icing experience dead handy here).
I paint over all those damp patches on the ceiling where the kids have left the shower door open- so the surveyor doesn’t call it rising damp.
I Civit Bang walls the ex-dog has sprayed with mud.
I purchase Febreze for ‘cat litter issues’

Friends in the business helpfully offer ‘property staging’. Good God no, life’s too short, besides, I couldn’t keep a straight face living with TK Maxx accessories at jaunty angles.

Now to pick an Estate Agent, (hackles bristle even at the thought). Do I go for ‘the only Estate Agent in the village’, some of their Negotiators have started shaving (around the spots mind), or do I venture into Rupert territory and have the big brand bang but with the danger of a high ‘Tim nice but dim’ quotient. It’s a between the devil and the deep blue sea decision. One thing is for sure – whichever choice I make, they shall be managed.

Your 2 week warning… Vendors! Take the blo*dy offer.

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I wrote the post below back in February 2011 when frankly I could see the writing on the wall. I could see the emergence of over-inflated asking prices and Vendors who’s price expectations were way and beyond what they should have been. This was partly the fault of Estate Agents, with available listings at the lowest levels for decades the easiest and quickest way to be successful in a pitch to prospective Vendors was to price high. But Vendors are not blameless, inherent greed allowed them to ignore common sense and allow their properties to sit on the market getting no offers, dismiss low offers and ignore suggestions of price reductions. This year both Vendor’s and Estate Agent’s have come un-stuck as a result. Transaction levels are through the floor. Estate Agent’s have not been able to sell their over-priced stock (and each one of these costs them money) and Vendors have often ended up taking a much lower offer 6 months down the line as their property sat around becoming stale and thus unattractive to the market. Vendor’s and Estate Agents, today is the 23rd October 2011- here is your 2 week warning;
If you don’t do something very fast, a price reduction or taking that offer you think is too low, you will be whistling until February at the earliest and I guarantee now that you will be getting a lower price than any offer on the table today….

Dear Vendors,

Working on the premise that you are a Vendor who really needs to sell, as opposed to a ‘let’s see what can I get’ tyre-kicker, here is my blunt advice:

You have put your property on the market and one of two things has happened.

Nothing.
or
An offer straightaway.

Why is nothing happening?

As there is a lack of good quality stock at the moment, chances are your property is over-priced or there is something wrong with it. Either way, it is over-priced.

An offer straightaway? Great, but I bet if it’s not the asking price you don’t take it. And if it is, I bet you’re screaming that the Estate Agent under-valued it.

Firstly for the lucky Vendors with a quick offer. You may think this is the beginning of a huge influx of ever increasing offers and therefore think you will sit back and await more pennies from heaven. Well don’t. From long experience the very first offers you get will almost always be the highest and the best. Buyers, when they are first to view on a good property will very often make excellent offers to stave off other bidders. Fresh to the market properties are sexy. If that property has been hanging around they don’t feel the need to and worry why no one else has bought it. The longer it is on the market, the worse buyers concerns about it being a turkey, will get and so will the offers. Don’t mess around with that offer, squeeze as much as you can quickly but remember it will probably be the best you get.

So your house has been sitting around for 6 weeks now, dribs and drabs of buyers no offers until one day up pops what you call a ‘derisory’ offer. Ask yourself how derisory it really is. Is it only derisory in relation to the over-inflated asking price? If it really is bad then rent the place out for three years. If you can’t do that then you are going to have to consider it, because the fact is, unless your house is in prime London or worthy of RIBA house of the year, your chances of getting more will only get worse as the weeks go by.

I am being so blunt on the basis that the market is surprisingly buoyant at the moment for Vendors but only due to lack of supply and low interest rates. It won’t last. This lack of supply is very likely to change as the year progresses due to un-employment, rising interest rates and general economic woes. When more properties come onto the market and the demand doesn’t rise, the chances of you getting the price you are offered today will decrease faster than a spider down a plughole.

If my house was going on the market tomorrow and I needed to sell this year, I would be pricing it very realistically, perhaps even under-pricing to create interest. (buyers love what they perceive as an under-priced property). If I had no offers after 3 weeks full marketing with a good Agent I would be dropping the price and I would be looking lovingly at any offer from a buyer with cash or a low LTV mortgage.

To heck with price indices and ‘what it’s worth’. A property’s ‘value’ is only ever what someone is willing to pay for it. And shortly, there will be fewer people who want to pay anything and more for them to choose from. So don’t puff out your chest and allow your ego to run negotiations.

Grasp the nettle and take that decent or even half decent offer… indecently fast.

Fly on the wall in a Knightsbridge Estate Agent’s.

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W.A. Ellis, the Knightsbridge Estate Agent founded in 1868 and dealing with some of the most prestigious addresses and clients in the world think my blogs are funny, which is nice. They want me to write one about them. ‘Only if it’s warts and all’ I warn. I don’t want people thinking I have moved over to the dark side. ‘Warts and all is fine’ they say. I really hope they mean that and I really hope I am not going to have to spend an entire day with roaring ‘Ruperts’.

I arrive at their Brompton Road office. A cavernous labyrinth covering many floors, housing nearly 50 property pro’s and belied by the subtle shop front. If Estate Agents did Tardis’s…

Leila on reception greets me. She’s a born and bred Londoner, a nice change to your standard London EA receptionist, who are generally chosen for inside leg measurement, blondeness and the ability to speak English is an after thought.

Simon, my ‘charming as they get’ host for the day arrives. ‘Lift or stairs?’ he asks. ‘Stairs’ I say and emerge panting on the sales floor eyrie in the Knightsbridge treetops.  I can see down to a square which has been a temporary home to Bill Gates and Woody Allen among many, I may know this but I suspect W.A. Ellis couldn’t possibly comment.

The sales team greet me warily, they know I am writing a blog, some even know what one is. I feel like Katie Price infiltrating the Royal box.

Simon has calls to make, so I tuck myself into a corner with a steaming mug of Earl Grey. Hate the stuff. I attempt invisibility but with flapping ears.

Graeme, an 18 year old recruit to WAE ‘quite a few’ years ago is on the phone. ‘We’re not going to start this if you’re not going to finish it’ he booms at what I picture as an increasingly squirming buying agent. “I won’t have my client messed around’. I warm to Graham.

Receivers are covered as questions get thrown to the floor.. ‘What’s current best square foot price for a 1st floor Cadogan?’ ‘Anyone seen anything good on Egerton..?’ ‘Whats the chance of demising that roof terrace on Walton Street?’ A neat summary of the complexities of buying in London.

‘Our Vendor’s just lost out on an Eaton Place, can we find one, £5-£9m?’ says Jamie, who started as a saturday boy and was then supported through a Real Estate Degree by the company… I bite my lip, dying to say ‘tell them to call me!’

It’s time to hit the road with Simon. We are street walking Knightsbridge style. Well he is. I am sporting Clarks comfort heels and blisters, he is in Gucci. First stop a pied a terre in South Kensington. It’s tenanted, (cue untidy) and has the added novelty of a snarling home alone Chihuahua.’It’s on webcam’ Simon informs me, ‘they watch it from work’. No kicking the dog then, I tell him.

First viewer is a glossy buying agent. ‘It needs gutting’ she proclaims. ‘Is your client happy to do that?’ asks Simon. ‘NO’ is the curt response. Oops, I look away and concentrate on my role of shooing dog from ankles. Another viewing and another buying agent lollops up the common parts. Simon talks through innovative ways to redesign layout. The buying agent has other ideas, dumb ones. I bite my lip. Onto the roof terrace, Simon starts a techy discussion on it not being demised and ways in which to mitigate that. It’s high up and we are surrounded by London chimney pots. If I had an umbrella I could be Mary Poppins but Simon is no Dick Van Dyke.. He’s more Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, I think wistfully. I try to focus back on roof terrace demisings and not dwell on the unlikelihood of me being mistaken for Nicole Kidman.

Another flat, and £1m nicer. Tim is already there with a gaggle of even glossier buying agents and their uber-glossy clients. I look around trying to find fault then remind myself that today I am not a buying agent, I am an EA.. I need to project the positives. ‘It’s very light’ I say lamely. Tim and Simon classily avert their eyes from the wired glass views onto the dingy light well and say ‘Absolutely!’ I’ll stick to being a buying agent, I am so much better at being negative.

Discussions are on lease length, service charges and sink funds, as the common area’s are, shall we say, ‘very’. It gets very technical buying flats and the best agents spell out the good AND the bad at the front end. It save’s lawyer/buyer histrionics the day before exchange.

We trot back to the office and I grab a cuppa with Lucy Morton, the doyenne, the matriach, if not supreme commander of not only WA Ellis but most committee’s, boards and advisory panel’s worth listening to in the property world. In this world, at this level she’s as rare as hens teeth, she is a woman and a phenomenally knowledgable one. Her awards shelf competes with Ant and Dec’s. I comment on the longevity of their staff, many over 15 years and Jamie starting as a saturday boy. ‘Oh yes’ she says ‘He was so young when he started that I wouldn’t let him cross the Brompton Road’. I get a maternal twinge, then remind myself he is an Estate Agent.

I am told to talk to Charlie about the lettings side, they cover a large swathe of London from this office, unlike the multitude of offices I have to call when using ‘the brands’. Ah, the delicious Charlie. I force a lame News of The World style interrogation on him. ‘Tell me your funniest tenant story’. I am regaled with inebriated Polish girls, the quaintly phrased ‘birthday suits’ and Dan stuck in a lift “I was talking to his feet for an hour”.

A quick catch up with Katya, IT manager and Bill Gates’ most dedicated of Bulgarian disciples. She rules all things wifi and web with an iron curtain fist… and Louboutins, then it’s off with Jamie to see something in the teens of millions with the added bonus of a real-life buyer, not a buying agent. It’s an astounding chandelier hung Edwardian apartment overlooking the poshest of the posh London squares. Decor is a feast of 1980’s trompe l’oeil and rag roll paint effects but what the heck, it has a 30ft balustraded terrace with glorious black and white original tiling.’ Can we take those up?’ asks the prospective buyer. I have visions of decking, blue LED’s and Cargo tea lights, my intake of breath is audible. She needs a different type of decking. Lip is bitten yet again.

Back at the office I am flagging. We have walked literally miles, as no one was getting me on the back of their ubiquitous red scooters.

I finish off with the sales guys. Dominic tells me he has been in Lettings, Sales and the surveying department.. he is a chartered surveyor and his desk, littered with very funky spectacles points to a personality too. Another ‘hens teeth in the industry’ moment.

As I am leaving, the whole office ask ‘Have you seen Trevor Place, it’s a corker’. Genuine enthusiasm for a listing is a rare thing to hear from Estate Agents. ‘Yes, I have seen it’, I say, (it is £17m of delicious double fronted real estate), but there’s one thing I haven’t seen today’, I tell them…. ‘A Rupert’.

We do have one of them they say, a little crestfallen… but we keep him in Accounts.

Very pleasing.

 

..and if you would like to discuss me working on your home search .. there’s more information at BDI Home Finders or call me for a chat on 0845 603 6110

Buying Agent, the Royal Wedding and a London flat…

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‘We’ve got a new flat coming on, only allowing Buying Agents in for the first week, do you want to come to special viewing?’ said the uber smooth Chelsea Estate Agent.  Seems another London Vendor wants to try and avoid hoards of the un-washed rampaging through their pad. No doubt they also think they can create a fierce bidding war amongst the gaggle of Buying Agents, ironic and wrong when you consider that our clients measure us on getting the best price. However, there remains there an impression amongst sellers that Buying Agent’s clients have more money than sense. Still, can’t hurt I think, will pop along and see just how over-primped and over-priced it is.

It’s a hot day and my standard black suit uniform was not a good choice. Parking down a Belgravia back Street I took a leisurely stroll to the red brick flat tucked behind the Alice band mecca of Peter Jones. The Sloane Square shops and street cafes are palpably excited by the imminent nuptials of Prince William, regarded by many of the hair-tossing blondes quaffing espresso’s as ‘the one that got away’.

Outside the flat, the literally less cooler side-kick of Mr Uber-Smooth is waiting on the pavement, suited, booted and sweaty, rather like me. He is there to usher ‘us’ in.

I can spot an Estate Agent in a sea of suits, likewise, your standard London buying agent sticks out like a ham sandwich at a Barmitzvah. There he is, helping his client out of the Addison Lee mini-van. Eww. Tall, slim, foppish blonde hair and an air of superiority not picked up at a free school. As my Mother might have said, this chap really fancies himself. He catches my gaze and promptly dismisses me. Middle aged women aren’t on his radar of who to suck up to, unless they are Hermes toting clients. The suited client is a banker, tanned and glued to his mobile. ‘Should have come to me love’, I think, I don’t do mini-vans.

I get a special welcome at the door, a reward reserved for someone who is currently buying something from them. Talk turns to that purchase.’We need to exchange soon on that’ he says. I point out the obvious, ‘Your client shouldn’t have such a crap solicitor then’. He agrees and shuts up.

Entering the hallway, like most of these red brick mansion blocks it is dark. Really dark. The common area’s have been nicely done and the velvety carpet with brass stair rods feels inches deep. ‘Take the lift’ he says. Nope, I always take the stairs to check it doesn’t turn to glossy woodchip paper on the first landing. At the flat’s front door I am greeted with piles of Church’s brogues and the alternative choice of blue plastic bag covers for my shoes. Don’t really like the mortuary technician look so I opt for bare feet but amuse myself with the thought that as my new shoes have leeched dye onto my feet, the shoes are probably cleaner.

Peering into the hallway, I have to smile and find myself uttering to the buying agent un-doing his laces ‘Elephant Breath’. He blanks me.(Never trust a buying agent who doesn’t know his Farrow and Ball’s).

With trusty camera phone at the ready, I launch forth to take discreet piccies for this blog. Bugger, the bloody Vendor is seated at a desk. Blonde and scary looking, we nod acknowledgement and she get’s back to her lap top, surfing net-a-porter as I suspected. She is seated under the one thing I wanted a snap of, a great big Banksy style painting with the inspirational words “SHIT HAPPENS’. Graffiti is now clearly middle class.

The flat is carpeted in grey corded wool, the sort of grey that we used to only use for undercoat on drainpipes or battleships. Walls are predictably from the Farrow & Ball palette. The grey palette. Walls not painted are clothed in modern dark wood panels, with the odd Plasma TV inset. To use a technical term, this flat is done up like a kipper. It feels like an army of stylists, designers and purveyors of ‘objets chers’ to gullible buyers have spent a month titivating with their Chelsea price tagged magic wands. Nursery in Designers Guild? Tick. Orchids in pots? Tick. Alessi in the kitchen? Tick. Blanket in accent colour draped across bottom of bed? Tick. All very expensive, all very ‘yawn’.

The art work was vibrant and copied by the two accent colours scattered around the place. A shocking pink and purple theme was carried through the flat with cushions, vases, throws creating a zingy design equivalent of ice lollies against a thundery grey canvas. I am seeing purple used a lot recently, especially with hot pink. Reminded me of my favourite two felt tips when growing up in the seventies.. and my leg warmers.

Frankly, it is all far too obviously styled for my liking, the family and baby photo’s look incongruous in the very un-homely setting. For a family home it’s a  bit sad looking really. The sofa’s never been sat on and the beds have never been romped in.

Wandering down to the pavement, as usual I throw an ‘it’s a bit over-priced’ at my friendly Estate Agent as we eye incredulously the latest in customised Mini’s. Zebra skins are on so many London floors these days, now they are being parked outside. Daktari meets Chelsea.

‘No love’, he says, ‘one next door went for £250 sq ft more than this last month… And it’s not as good’. Bloody Hell, I think, thats 500 quid a square foot more than this time last year.  ‘Oversea’s dosh’, he says.

This sort of over-primping tends to put off us ordinary Brits (even one’s with £3m to spend). My Brit client’s would look at it and think, how much of this am I paying through the nose for? And frankly I come from the same ‘hackles up’ school of thought. However, the oversea’s client who thinks London is the safest place to buy, thinks prices will continue to rise and can also buy the furniture, (designed especially for the flat), thinks differently. He gets an off the shelf, no hassle, fancy pants ‘lock up and leave’. Sod the premium.

The Vendor may have got the Zeitgeist spot on by surfing Net-a-porter. For an oversea’s buyer, this flat is exactly what they want – Pret-a-Porter.

Buying Agent visits The Lancasters. Do they bomb?

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The Lancasters and their cute pencil hoardings have been looming over Bayswater Road for what seems like ‘donkey’s years’. A huge project, hewn from a massive, down-market hotel, with only the facade retained. I have been offered them on and off for the past few years.

To be honest, I haven’t taken much notice of them for clients as I had an in-built assumption, (prejudice), that they were just another over-priced, over-hyped development for those with more money than sense. Worse still, they were dumped in the slightly dodgy no-mans-land of Bayswater/Queensway. However, times change and with the much hyped launch of One Hyde Park there seems to be a a sea-change in attitudes to luxury London property. A change fuelled by oversea’s buyers who are less interested in doing deals and more interested in owning the right sort of place with the right sort of people. The ‘right sort of price’ is no longer the over-riding driver, for many it seems it just has to be the right address and that address now more than ever is in London.

This being Spring and my Arab clients about to board their jets to London, the timing was perfect to check them out. With potentially about £15m of clients money in my back pocket, the launch was an opportunity to gen up on availability, price per square foot and as much information as I could glean in order to pass on to my clients. I surprised myself by thinking I might actually be in the market for one but I would be fibbing if I didn’t admit I would be directly comparing it to One Hyde Park, like everyone else.

With inverted snobbery firmly in place I headed down the Bayswater Road. The whiteness of the stucco, gleams in comparison to the tired and in some cases decaying neighbourhood of cheapish hotels and kebab houses.

Meeting up with my colleague ‘the tall blonde’, who I oft introduce with the line ‘if you think I’m tough’ we head to the queue for security. Hmm, I don’t like queues, hackles start to rise but men in top hats lurch forward and usher us through. Good start. Lots of smiles and nods from top hatted concierge’s is a welcome contrast to the hard-faced greeting I had from One Hyde Park’s PR Annabel’s.

The frontage and gardens are very pretty, but I keep in mind that no residents will see it as they waft from underground car park to apartment.

Into the inviting reception area, we are again greeted warmly and with dark colours, slate flooring inlaid with wood the overall feel is sumptuous but not intimidating. Gentlemens clubby feel but with Ladies welcome.

I have been told that the guests will include industry peeps, agents, private bankers and journalists so I am looking forward to a bit of networking but above all I want information. The launch party spans two apartments. We start in the first smaller apartment. A large model of the development and an interactive screen, (can anyone work these out?) are displayed but I can’t see any ‘sales people’. Then on through to the show flat. Clearly the poshest of the lot. This does not have a lounge, nor a reception room, this one without doubt has a ‘state room’. Very, very high ceilings, very, very big windows overlooking Hyde Park, very, very full of suits. Well, not just suits, there are girls in the Lady Rupert uniform du jour. Black opaque tights, leopard print shoes, itsy bitsy Chanel handbags and whichever generation, size six. Age group only differentiated by Botox usage. We decide to investigate and inspect before subjecting ourselves to the sales pitch.

A nice Lalique-esque plaster feature wall in the kitchen/diner pleases the middle-aged inner me.

Boffi dark wood units, matt white surfaces, Gaggenau appliances, glass splash backs and big wine fridge – all as expected including the zinc topped table and the square stubby glass vases of truncated roses beloved of all show house stagers. And my, has this been staged.

The central lobby has an enormous gilded cage suspended from the ceiling thirty feet above, with three T K Maxx-ish golden parrots perched. I muse on whether the stagers were amusing themselves with a not so subtle socio-economic gilded cage statement.

The master bedroom is rather nice, in shades of what I call blue but which the tall blonde insists is ‘eau de nil’. The fur throw at a jaunty angle the only predictable staging cliche. It certainly scored points against One Hyde Park, where the master I saw was quite small and under-whelming.

The en-suite, although a little too open plan for anyone with a whiff of cellulite, was pretty sexy. Again, marble takes centre stage but here, more subtly than the red Tuscan slabs of One Hyde Park.

I am starting to get a slight liking for these stagers as we investigate the other bedrooms. They have created boudoirs with character and blimey, a little humour. Corsets in frames just one quirky addition.

This is how to do a boudoir, although I will be pleased when the fashion for mirrored furniture finally  shatters.

and another off-piste choice in the study. Old Arabian carpets patch-worked together rustically, giving a cosy worn in feel. Very rare in new developments but rather appealing.

We go in search of a selling agent to drill down into the nitty gritty. Weaving through swathes of middle aged portly white men, packs of 25 year old guffawing Ruperts knocking back fizz and giggles of leopard print shod girls. We circuit the big apartment and the smaller apartment again and again, eventually cornering a canape toting Henrietta to request help. ‘They will be around’ is the vacant response. But they aren’t. We can spot Agents everywhere but are they the selling agents? Quite a contrast to One Hyde Park where Lucien trailed like a helpful puppy.

In this sea of two hundred of the ‘very well-connected’ we eventually find one name badge talking in a corner. Tall blonde interrupts her, seems she is ‘only talking to a colleague’ yet he wears no name badge. Why? Bluntly we explain we want a low down. She points to the model and the interactive screen.

Do you have price lists ‘No’.

Do you have a brochure? ‘You will get one when you leave’

Square footage price? ‘Err, that depends’.

Perfectly polite, but information was something we were clearly not going to get but was the reason we were here.

So how does it compare to One Hyde Park? and for those who think it doesn’t matter, it does.

On a frivolous level, a high five for not having to wear CSI over-shoes or hotel slippers.

The finish, well, truth be told you can tell the difference but mainly down to the quality of decoration which is easily remedied. The kitchens and bathrooms were comparable.

Location, let’s face it is not currently great. It may overlook Hyde Park from one side but you are in the heart of Queensway and will need to avert your eyes from the plethora of kebab shops around the back. Having said that, the front of One Hyde Park is blighted by the honking of bendy buses and midnight hoardes decamping noisily from the local Lebanese.

Ambiance is where it really shone through. From the friendliness of the concierge staff to the careful replication of the original cornicing and the innovative warmth of the styling, it felt like it could be home.

And best of all? Whilst still blowing most of prime London comparables, they come in at about half the price of One Hyde Park.

It’s not often I believe the hype that one development can upgrade a slightly down at heel area, but I did get that feel here.

On departure we receive the goodie bag. Overlooking the bon-bons, pad and pencils (a sweetly branded theme), I inspect the promised brochure for detailed information. It amounts to one paragraph on concierge services and two floor-plans. Great.

On balance, no I don’t think these Lancasters are going to bomb, the developers Northacre are to be congratulated on producing a classy, desirable place to live and not just an icy trophy pad.

To be perfectly honest, I think my clients and I would be quite happy nesting in this gilded cage.

For more information on our bespoke London property search click

Buying Agent’s guide to decorating with colour.

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Colour is so important to our ability to express ourselves and where better to make our mark than with our homes. Kelly Hoppen may say greige, taupe or elephant breath. The middle classes may fawn, (pun intended), over Farrow and Ball’s downpipe. The Notting Hill set may worry that Nigella’s duck egg blue clashes with Jamies new pink range. But it doesn’t rattle these people…

Just think how delighted the neighbours must be with these splashes of colour in the neighbourhood.

it is of course the blending of complimentary colours that is so important.

To be really up to date one needs to blend neons and ice cream colours seamlessly

But back in the 1970’s that was less important – easy access from the kitchen to your horse was the pressing matter.

Oh, and we’re back again to that ‘ice-cream palette’.. or possibly the ‘macaroon palette’. I’m getting pistachio with palm of violets and a frisson of lime. Note lovely storage units for fast access to Alka Seltzer.

Patterns must not be underestimated when unleashing the power of colour, especially when mixing and matching with textured floor coverings.

and textures are so important. There is nothing quite like satin for bringing deep jewel colours to life. Particularly liking the contrasting orange table cloth.

Also, don’t be afraid of using window dressing. I grant you that stick on stained glass is ‘a little out there’ but nothing ventured…

and when decorating childrens rooms, it’s OK to stick to primary colours but do make sure that the wall mounted guns and ammunition work together.

…and finally, bang up to date, this London home encompasses the grasping of the eclectic design nettle. Tricia Guild must be kicking herself she didn’t come up with this Designers look… Oh.

…. loving the attention to detail of different curtain panels and the subtle introduction of gilt. Wow, just WOW

So, there you have it, my guide to enhancing your life and in these examples, mine, with colour.
For help with finding your dream property (for properties like above, we can recommend interior designers with paint brushes) find out more here

Buying Agent’s walk on the vile side…

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Everyone who knows me can assure you of my deep interest in all things Interior design. My home is a haven for all the latest trends. I can hardly move for cupcake appliqued cushions and distressed Farrow and Ball dressers. My walls are now plastered with great big chrome letters spelling L.O.V.E and Orla Kiely knick-knacks. Sadly, not everyone has my inherent good taste, so the time has come to name and shame.

What about the chap who has been watching Austin Powers a tad too much. The arrow in this shag-pile-pad creating a delicious focal point- my designer friends say all rooms should have one.

One thing I have learned very recently is that metallic wallpapers are very ‘in’. Might I suggest that they are ‘out’ again very soon.

resonant of blue skies and sunshine?

Of course tiling is still terribly popular. Not sure who gave this chap a tile cutter for Xmas but practice hasn’t made perfect. The reclaimed cast-iron drainpipe is very now though and delightfully co-ordinated with accent colours in the shower cubicle.. clever.

And of course I have told you before that Antlers are ‘so in’. However, I fear this chap has lingered a little too long in the hallowed halls of Liberty’s. A little appliqued deer head on an accent cushion really would have been enough to set the theme.

This example combines the twin trends of Antlers and stone feature walls.. double trendy.

Another trend taking hold is the practice of Burlesque dancing, well stripping to be fair. Think this example might turn Dita Von Teese a little green.

Lighting of course is sooo important. It should of course be on three levels but at least this chap made a feature of it.

Accent rugs are very in vogue…

…for that current Asian feel beloved of TK Maxx discount shelves department.

…and finally, for the vilest trend of all we have to end with John Lewis

Buying Agent’s Top 50 Property people to follow on Twitter. Feb 2011

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This is intended as a crib sheet for people new to Twitter who either work in residential property or are fascinated by it. I follow 1000 people, so clearly there are many more worthwhile ones out there. However, if you follow all of these people you will kick-start yourself straight into the Glitterati of the property Twitterati.

(1) @Rightmove

Boring and predictable of me I know, but their in-house stats are invaluable for raising debate and they actually engage.

(2) @Zoopla

and @lawrencejhall @kyreniaj who tweet on behalf.

Generally more frivolous in their postings than Rightmove but amongst the Sleb stuff is useful information.

(3) @waellis1868

A small Estate Agency showing the ‘big boys’  how Twitter should be done. Constant flow of really excellent property links.

(4) @anneashworth

‘The’ property writer for the Times Bricks and Mortar. Would be No.1 if the links Anne tweets (which are probably some of the best mainstream property articles out there), were available to non-paywall peeps.

(5) @Tepilo

and @sarahbeeny Lots of interesting tweets for consumers and property professionals.

(6) @grantshapps

Not suggesting you will enjoy this follow, main emphasis seems to be on who earns more than David Cameron. However, would be ill-advised not to follow the housing minister despite it being a part-time (why?) role.

(7) @Primelocation and @property_whore @findaproperty @thomasinagr

Usual portal stuff, slightly less active than those above but nuggets of juicy stuff.

(8) @planetproperty

A surprising high rider in the charts, as they are spring chickens in the Twitterverse. But I always click on the links to their daily pieces and I am rarely disappointed by either the content or the often very well-researched and written journalism.

(9) @propertyjourn

Engaging, interesting and some great off piste blogs as well as his broadsheet pieces, from freelance property writer Graham Norwood.

(10) @andrew_oxlade @thisismoney

Constant high quality pieces on the money side of property.

(11) @melaniebien

Doyenne of all things finance and mortgages within the media and Twitter. Sartorially and financially ‘keeping it real’.

(12) @subutcher

Queen of Twitter in the architecture and construction industries.

(13) @rupertbates

Editor of What?House and Showhouse who’s industry tweets are interspersed with rugby chants.

(14) @henrypryor

BBC property pundit and consultant to many ‘posh’ Estate Agents. His statistical analyses and conclusions of the property market make me judder between head nodding and head shaking, creating good debates.

(15) @shelter

Lest we forget what a mess the housing market is in for many, these guys are there to remind us.

(16) @eatoday

Essential follow to keep up with the intricacies of behind the scenes estate agency issues and news.

(17) @ed_mead

The nearest we have to a celebrity Estate Agent, commenting on the Central London market. Thankfully, honestly.

(18) @propertyjourno

Good straight forward property tweets with humour and personality.

(19) @jamesatupad @avoidthevoids

With a focus on the lettings side, must follows for insight into that side of the market.

(20) @propertyowl

Good and interesting property related tweets.

(21) @thereatandmouse

Interesting round up of the key property stories of the day and very well written.

(22) @davidadamsch

Tweets from Chesterton Humberts on the state of the market in real time.

(23) @marshandparsons

Peter Rollings tweets about the London market, some useful stuff (but sometimes stuffy) and overly PRish on occasion. You have been warned.

(24)  @academyblog and @housingdabble

Essential follows for those in the industry and incredibly helpful folk.

(25) @agencytrainer

Julien O’Dell an Estate Agent and a trainer of them.. essential follow for insights into the back office of agency.

(26) @propertyadd

Immersed in the world of Estate Agency and so are his very useful tweets.

(27) @liambaileyresi & writeaproperty

Tweets from the poshest of the posh, Knight Frank. Important data but could benefit from a warmer approach and more frequency.

(28) @insidehousing

The arbiter of all things related to social housing.

(29) @ricssurveyors @ricspress

Tweets from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Rarely amusing and not profligate with their tweeting but a necessary follow.

(30) @jamie_merrill

Property tweeting from the Independent. Sadly doesn’t really talk back but you won’t miss the decent stories the Independent produces by following.

(31)   @tessashepperson

A lawyer specialising in Landlord law. Excellent articles about the legal side of being a Landlord.

(32) @integraps

Estate Agent, surveyor and estate agency trainer, tweeting useful news, information and banter.

(33) @huntwriter

For ‘proper’ writing about eco and sustainable building and more…

(34) @robertaward

Knowledgable blunt tweeting about investing, developing and making money from property.

(35) @neilkurz

Feisty property tweeting from an Aylesbury Estate Agent and EPC aficionado.

(36) @theneg

Does what it says on the tin.. news and views from The Negotiator magazine.

(37) @whatsamsawtoday

Tweeting and blogging from a woman in thick of buying, renovating for investment.

(38) @estateagentdad

An anonymous Estate Agent in the West country talking about how it really is… difficult to be mean about EA’s when you follow this lovely chap. The poster boy for ‘Estate Agents are people too’.

(39) @astleysharpe

An independent Estate Agent in Milton Keynes, talking market and personal stuff brilliantly. The corporates should watch and learn.

(40) @dezeen

An essential follow for the most glorious architectural and design links from their website. Delicious.

(41) @giornalista1

Freelance property journalist who is human and engages… a rarity.

(42) @ewardhunt

A property PR looking after clients across Estate Agency and buying agents. Really good interesting tweets and she chats back.

(43) @pimlico_flats

A landlord with properties in guess where! He shouldn’t be interesting but he is.

(44) @bannerhomesplc

The only developers worth following that I have found. Bags of personality, they even make me click on their new homes links, which quite an achievement.

(45) @dwellresi

A London lettings agent who know their stuff and are happy to share insights and help out.

(46) @peterboltonking

Heads up NAEA, does not Tweet much but access to government means worth a follow for the odd tidbit of important stuff.

(47) @romansauctions

Tweeting personably about property auctions, with the odd ‘frightful’ property thrown in to delight us.

(48)  @aboutproperty

Some good property tweeting and links going on here.

(49) @aceestateagent

Kathy Griffin runs Sawdye & Harris independent EA’s in Devon. Consistently good links and blogs.

(50) @mortgage_mind

Blunt tweeting about mortgage products, tells it how it is along with a very enjoyable dollop of cheeky-chappieness.

Vendors! Take the blo*dy offer.

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Dear Vendors,

Working on the premise that you are a Vendor who really needs to sell, as opposed to a ‘let’s see what can I get’ tyre-kicker, here is my blunt advice:

You have put your property on the market and one of two things has happened.

Nothing.
or
An offer straightaway.

Why is nothing happening?

As there is a lack of good quality stock at the moment, chances are your property is over-priced or there is something wrong with it. Either way, it is over-priced.

An offer straightaway? Great, but I bet if it’s not the asking price you don’t take it. And if it is, I bet you’re screaming that the Estate Agent under-valued it.

Firstly for the lucky Vendors with a quick offer. You may think this is the beginning of a huge influx of ever increasing offers and therefore think you will sit back and await more pennies from heaven. Well don’t. From long experience the very first offers you get will almost always be the highest and the best. Buyers, when they are first to view on a good property will very often make excellent offers to stave off other bidders. Fresh to the market properties are sexy. If that property has been hanging around they don’t feel the need to and worry why no one else has bought it. The longer it is on the market, the worse buyers concerns about it being a turkey, will get and so will the offers. Don’t mess around with that offer, squeeze as much as you can quickly but remember it will probably be the best you get.

So your house has been sitting around for 6 weeks now, dribs and drabs of buyers no offers until one day up pops what you call a ‘derisory’ offer. Ask yourself how derisory it really is. Is it only derisory in relation to the over-inflated asking price? If it really is bad then rent the place out for three years. If you can’t do that then you are going to have to consider it, because the fact is, unless your house is in prime London or worthy of RIBA house of the year, your chances of getting more will only get worse as the weeks go by.

I am being so blunt on the basis that the market is surprisingly buoyant at the moment for Vendors but only due to lack of supply and low interest rates. It won’t last. This lack of supply is very likely to change as the year progresses due to un-employment, rising interest rates and general economic woes. When more properties come onto the market and the demand doesn’t rise, the chances of you getting the price you are offered today will decrease faster than a spider down a plughole.

If my house was going on the market tomorrow and I needed to sell this year, I would be pricing it very realistically, perhaps even under-pricing to create interest. (buyers love what they perceive as an under-priced property). If I had no offers after 3 weeks full marketing with a good Agent I would be dropping the price and I would be looking lovingly at any offer from a buyer with cash or a low LTV mortgage.

To heck with price indices and ‘what it’s worth’. A property’s ‘value’ is only ever what someone is willing to pay for it. And shortly, there will be fewer people who want to pay anything and more for them to choose from. So don’t puff out your chest and allow your ego to run negotiations.

Grasp the nettle and take that decent or even half decent offer… indecently fast.

The day I went to buy an island

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Hey Trace’, starts the call. ‘Know anything about islands?’ It’s the Manager of a pro-golfer I work with and he’s found a possible golf course site in Scotland.

It is no coincidence that the manager was a Scot. Even less of a coincidence that the island was next to where he grew up. I had a sneaky suspicion that the Managers sentimentality was driving this, but what the heck.

‘Leave it with me’ I tell him and start leafing through the Filofax for anyone with a Scottish sounding name.

I’d like to say it was difficult to find a chartered surveyor who specialises in Islands but it was strangely straightforward. Serious smugdom. I booked him to meet us on the island.

With trip booked, the Golfer,  takes a look in the meantime.  In a plane. More fly-by’s than drive-by’s when Slebs are involved.

It’s a few years back and without the benefit of Google Earth and with Street View not even embryonic, I have very little idea what I will find. I am told there is a mansion for Golfer to ‘chill’ in, a lighthouse and a caretakers cottage. My role in all this is to verify value and to check out the ‘big house’ and see how it could work as a country retreat for Golfer. A watery pied de terre away from the pressures of Slebdom.

There are three of us at Glasgow airport. Mark the Manager, Ben the golf course designer and me. Now I’m not quite so stupid as to have worn normal garb, I am wearing jeans and a pair of biker boots. My only nod to vanity being a pricey blow dry and a full face of slap. More than can be said for the other two who are suited and booted. Ben is a portly chap with ruddy cheeks. They are going to get ruddier.

Hire car picked up and quick stop at a petrol station where ‘the boys’ buy up a trolley load of sweets. Off to the coast, it’s spitting and I’m wondering how much frizz-ease the hairdresser used.

We arrive at a sailing club and we can spy the island across the water. Quick professional assessment. Yep, it’s an island.

Brawny men approach us dressed up in black and red survival gear and bobble hats. ‘Ye lot gooin ovah too the wee island then?’ head brawny man asks.

I hadn’t quite thought through how we were actually getting over to this island, think I imagined a bridge or something but the ‘rib’ , rigid inflatable boat, had not crossed my mind, I’m quite sure of that. What came next hadn’t either.

‘Ye all need to wayer these’ (he’s Scottish).

Flaming Nora. Survival suits, one size fits all. If you’re a Yeti. They have also provided me with a bobble hat for extra stupidness.

Clambering onto the boat, Captain brawny directs me to behind him. ‘Yee’ll get leess wet’, he says. Less??!.. Less??!. And off we go. No warning, full throttle, nose in air. Thorpe Park white water ride without the safety belt and the photo at the bottom. Nails embedded in the bench, wind whistling up my bobble hat and a sea water facial.

Ben the portly golf course designer winks at me, bully for him, he’s not got eyes awash with  ‘waterproof’ mascara.

The islands caretakers are waiting for us. A couple in their thirties who are keen to please,  in their minds, we could be their new boss. We peel off our survival suits and our bobble hats. Bad hair day doesn’t do it justice. Dundee cake and mugs of builders most welcome in their rather cosy little hut turned bungalow.

The surveyor turns up on a boat from his base in Mull. Introductions made we head off to view the ‘big house’.

Damn, those photographers were good. Hadn’t sussed it was a 1950‘s build. Did wonder about no interior shots though.

Hallway big and bright. Antlers on wall.. check.

Reception room, electric fire and tartan carpet.. check.

Kitchens… industrial deep fat fryers… check.

And onto the bedrooms down woodchip papered, gloss painted corridors.. Lots of bedrooms. Lots of bunk beds. Lots of bathrooms with mouldy shower curtains and vacant/engaged on the doors.

It’s a bloody youth hostel.

Mark looks sheepish. ‘How much would it cost to get it up to spec?’ he asks me. Get it up to spec? Is he having a laugh. Entirely depends on what DemolitionsRus charge these days.

Drawing a polyester veil over the house, the next step is to ‘walk’ the island. Over the top we go, heading for the lighthouse the other side.  I’m given ownership of the sweets as I have a fetching Peter Storm with deep pockets. Men in suits don’t. Not sure what the eating protocol is here but I tuck in anyway.

I notice seagulls as we trundle up the hill. I notice more seagulls the further we get. They are really quite noisy and getting noisier. They don’t seem amused to see us. In fact they are bloody livid. Swathes of them start swooping at us. Dive-bombing.  It’s tricky waving your arms in a scary way whilst trying to protect your head. And seagulls are bloody big. It’s a cheap analogy but we are living the Alfred Hitchcock sequel.

Ben is getting pinker. Mark is striding purposely with the expression of a man who’s idea all this was. Determined only to see the positive.

‘What’s the score on culling them’ I yell at both them. Ben doesn’t answer, he’s concentrating on swinging his arms and breathing. Mark shouts ‘protected’. Well, this is going to make a golf course with a flaming difference.

We make it to the lighthouse. Mark is quite excited and starts ascending, but poor Ben, poor ruddy, nay, crimson Ben just plonks himself on the grass.

Mark wistfully explores the lighthouse and picks the surveyors brains for a costing on refurb. Even I know the surveyors blagging it. He may live on Mull but he’s from Esher.

We take the circuitous route around the island back to where the boat is. None of us want to experience the seagull blitzkrieg again.

Back at the caretakers cottage, I take in the view. I notice something, don’t know how the hell I missed it.  It’s gargantuan.  Grey and glistening across the water. Not so much glistening as radiating. It’s Scotlands answer to Sellafield.

Even Mark had to throw the towel in on this one now. Much merriment was had discussing warm waters for paddling and fish with two heads.

Back into the survival suits, back into the boat. ‘D’ya fancy having a bit of foon?’ asks Captain Brawny. (He’s Scottish). This fun involved throwing the rib over wakes and seeing what angle he could tip the rib to before it dumped us. Think banana boat in radioactive waters.

Oh how we laughed.

Winner!!!!! Primelocation Favourite User Blog 2010/11

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I am delighted to announce that Buying Agent Blogs the sister site to this with the same blogs as here has just won Primelocation’s favourite blog. This is the only category of award that was voted for by the users. Absolutely over the moon. All those nights and weekends fitting around the day job, struggling for the ‘mot juste’ has been worth it.

Thank you to everyone who voted for me. Now all I need is an Agent or publisher for ‘the book’. That may be trickier but feel that lot’s of loo’s in Britain might benefit from my musings. However, Primelocation did describe me as unapologetically opinionated, so I guess I would say that ;-)

Oh and as I keep forgetting to mention, I do find people houses for a living, so do shout if you want to chat about that. here

Yours, delightedly

Tracy

The Death of The High Street Estate Agent…

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The last few years have been a roller coaster for the Estate Agency industry. It’s not house prices per se that effect an Estate Agent’s bottom line, it’s transaction levels and those have gone through the floor. Coupled with that has been the rise in technology as a marketing tool and an explosion in geeky competition and low cost rivals to the traditional Estate Agents model. The death of the High Street Estate Agent has gleefully been on everyone’s lips.

Let’s take a look at all of the things which have ‘signalled the death knell’ in the past few years.

Google maps enters property search.

‘It’s the death of anyone who doesn’t sign up’

They gave it eight months and threw in the towel. Rumour has it that the data being submitted was simply too erroneous, nay, inaccurate for Google’s reputation to risk hosting. Some may even say the adage often attributed to free databases is prescient.. ‘sh*t in sh*t out’. The fact they couldn’t work out how to make money out of it was the key factor I suspect.

Self sale sites such as Tepilo.

‘revolutionises selling your property, with an easy to use consumer site’.

With the greatest respect to Sarah Beeny and others, this has been a damp squib.  Although certainly not helped by a very nervous housing market erring towards a more certain selling solution.

Tesco’s and Spicer Haart’s fixed price agency.

It has spawned many a witticism including ‘buy one get one free’ but that seems about all and it seems to have bogof’d itself now. Along with many similar.

So why are all these new competitors not really denting Rupert and Darren on the High Street, when it makes perfect sense to sell your house for free on Sarah Beenys site or pay £1000 to one of the new guys?

The dire state of the market is one reason. Vendors coming to market are generally doing so because they need to. They don’t want to mess around with creative models they want the property sold. Note the rise in popularity of auctions as another example of this.

The main reason however is that Vendors seem to recognise, particularly in difficult times,  that there is more to selling a house than whacking pictures and floorplans on the worldwideweb. Getting a viewer through the door is relatively easy, getting that house to exchange is not.

There really is a chasm between what is marketing a property and the actual selling of it.

I am by no means in the thrall of Estate Agents nor am I a Luddite and when I talk of High Street Estate Agents, I of course mean good ones, which is a whole different blog. The fact is that buying and selling in the UK (excluding Scotland) is a flaming nightmare.

Truth is, that when I buy and when I sell I want to use a good traditional, knows his stuff Estate Agent. I and every buyer I know does not want to be escorted around a home by the Vendor extolling the virtues of his hot tub. And as a seller I don’t want to see people traipsing through my house inspecting my cupboards.

I don’t want to have to negotiate with the Vendor on his main asset, it gets emotional. And as a Vendor I know it’s a darn sight easier for the Estate Agent to say ‘I have loads of interest’ and get the best price, than me trying it on with a sheepish expression.

But that’s the easy bit.

The tricky stuff comes when the mortgage companies, surveyors and solicitors get involved. These days their role can most often be described as ‘problem finders’. Someone in this sticky mix has to be the ‘problem solver’ and that is the Estate Agent ( and buyers representatives when used).

What happens when the mortgage company insists on a piece of paper from 1977 which doesn’t exist and they won’t accept an indemnity policy?

When the survey says there is a 20k damp problem and buyer and seller are diametrically opposed.

When the chain starts to break at the bottom, who is trying to put it back together?

Vendors threatening to pull out if we don’t exchange tomorrow and mortgage funds aren’t ready.

Just some real examples of deals of mine in the past 12 months where without the Estate Agent sweating bricks, and managing the issues delicately, the deal would have died.

Before everyone starts throwing their toys out of the pram, I know there are exceptions and I know a bad Estate Agent is worse than dry rot. I also don’t think they have to be on the High Street, there are some excellent ones based in local trading estates. But the key is that they need to be on the ground, know the property business and manage the sale like a hawk. When they do, the process of buying and selling generally works.

It costs money to manage a 3 months sales progression professionally. I don’t see how a fixed £1000 or £2000 fee can cover a business to do this properly.

Until we have a conveyancing process whereby all issues have been ironed out before the offer and it really is a simple transaction, it is a people and relationship driven process. And when you have people you also have the words emotional, irrational, selfish, greedy and many others. These things have to be managed by people who know what they’re doing and quite simply, you get what you pay for.

The failure of more creative models to break the mould seems to say clearly that Vendors think the same way.

The death of the High Street Estate Agent has been rather exaggerated…

 

Primelocation property blog of the year award 2010

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From hundreds of entries I have just heard that I am a nominee with five others for the Primelocation property blog of the year award. ‘Bit chuffed’ is an understatement.

Writing is not my day job but I started all of this because I was a bit hacked off with all the obsequious postings from those in the property world writing with agenda’s. Estate Agents bigging up the market. Other Buying Agents flogging their wares and pundits doing excel spreadsheets with wholly meaningless statistics. Nowhere was anyone looking at the the stresses, strains and bullsh*t of property and addressing it with any humour. Heaven knows there is a bundle of laughs ripe for the picking in the property world.

I fibbed a bit back there. I do have an agenda. I wanted man in the street to understand that not all Buying Agent’s talk whilst chewing plums and have black labradors. I also think that by pointing out the ironies of the property market, it might knock some of the pretentiousness out of it and help the ordinary buyer see through some of the clap trap.

So, may I unashamedly ask for your vote if I have raised even a little titter? Voting closes February 6th 2011 and truth be told, having spent many years as an Estate Agent to glean this knowledge, don’t I deserve just a little sympathy vote? ;-)

 

Ten good reasons why NOT to use me as your Buying Agent

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Bullet If you’re younger, slimmer and prettier than me, you may find I spend our days out with a pinched expression.

Bullet If you like laminate flooring I may have to stay in the car.

Bullet If you think you can buy something good at 40% below market value I may laugh quite loud and quite long.

Bullet If you want me to tell the Agent that you’ll pull out of the deal if you don’t get the dishwasher, I may go into spanking mode.

Bullet If you want a house 30 minutes from London with no noise I will present you with earplugs.

Bullet If there is even the suggestion of Feng Shui I will turn into Ninja Buying Agent.

Bullet If you look like you knit your own yoghurt I may suggest you call Kirstie Allsop instead.

Bullet If the amateur surveyor friend you bring on viewings says ANYTHING, I will stiletto him into the lino.

Bullet If you and your husband have a 50% disparity in budget, be aware that my relationship skills are wholly restricted to being smarmy to Estate Agents.

Bullet I don’t have a double-barrelled name, a signet ring on my pinkie and I have been known to wear Clarks sandals.

My property predictions for 2011

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Everyone’s at it but now it’s my turn to stick my finger in the property air and put my head or something on the block. Just like all the other pundits, even those with pretty graphs, economic data going back generations and very posh accents, I shall mainly be using ‘guesswork’…. however, I had the novel, nay, rarely before tried idea of adding a dollop of common sense.

For the record, my predictions are about the South-East and of course like anyone worth their salt in the land of predictions, I have a disclaimer:

If interest rates climb more than 1% all bets are off and it will be complete carnage out there. Fingers crossed.

January to April

A time of confusion with Agents, Vendors and buyers unsure of how to price, whether to buy or whether to sell.

Transaction levels will remain very low. Financing remains very difficult to get.

Some properties will be highly-priced, some will be lowly-priced. Economic worries and low confidence will keep buyers and sellers away from from the market. With stock low, good properties will achieve mid-2010 prices. Properties ‘with issues’ will fare very poorly.

For buyers

This is probably the best time to buy this year. There will be bargains but you will have to really dig around for them. Ignore asking prices, they are meaningless, you’ll only find out the true price as you start negotiating. Many prices will be very hopeful and with lack of confidence among Vendors you may be able to knock them down a lot… but you’ll need to show you are a great buyer. Buy the best quality property in the best quality location you can afford. Getting a rank paper flat a bit cheap does not count as a bargain. This is the time to take advantage of being able to buy a good property, for yourself or as a rental investment.

For Vendors

If you have a really good property the chances are that you will get a better price than you fear. If your property is ‘problematic’ I would hold off selling – take advantage of the buoyant rental market and growing rent values if you can and wait until later in the year to sell.

The lettings market

‘I want to be a Landlord’ sums it up. Severe lack of stock, no financing for traditional first time buyers and lack of BTL mortgages stopping new Landlords entering the market. Not enough rental properties to supply the demand drives rents further up.

In summary

Prices deflated but no crash.The clever money should be buying small buy to lets and HMO’s in Central London and quality areas… and quality family homes for the medium to long term.

April to August

Confusion still around but confidence will grow as the market has shown no sign of a crash and will have proven itself relatively stable. More properties will come to the market. Buyers will be buying. However, transaction levels although higher will still be historically low. This is mainly due to the continued lack of financing. Sensible pricing should encourage people to buy and sell. Sales prices should remain around mid-2010 levels, i.e. not significantly down year on year.

For Vendors

Price realistically and there should be enough buyers to ensure a decent price.

For Buyers

There won’t be as many Vendors prepared to do really good deals but you can buy at a sensible price for the medium term.

The lettings market

Still more people wanting to rent than properties available. Financing still difficult causing tenants to stay in the rental market and keeping new Landlords out of the market. Rents still rising.

In summary

A fair time to buy and sell, with prices ‘realistic’. Still, the clever money should be investing in small buy to lets and quality homes for the medium to long term.

August to December

Prices have picked up but little change year on year. Confidence will be at it’s highest as the September season starts. Asking prices will be higher than they should be. Transactions and stock levels low, caused both by increased confidence and more distressed Vendors. (due to interest rate rises and fixed mortgage deals coming to an end). Prices achieved remain at same level.

For Vendors

With a good property you could buck the price trend upwards with September being your best bet.

For Buyers

You’ve already bought your BTL’s haven’t you?? .. so stay out of investing until the end of the year for deals, when the more desperate dregs are about. For the family home buyers there will be more competition from other buyers so you may have a fight on for the good stuff.

The Lettings Market

My, my, what a good year it’s been… if you’re a Landlord. Pity the poor reluctant tenants at the mercy of still increasing rents, with little choice in the market and no chance of buying anytime soon. Pity the Lettings Agents with a massive undersupply of new rental properties to make money on.

So to sum up, we will start the year slowly, confidence will pick up throughout the year, prices will move very little overall. Don’t buy thinking you will get any significant capital growth over the next 3 years but being a buy-to-let Landlord is a great idea if you get it right.

In other words…. STAGNATION.

Top tips for buying a home

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(1) It’s highly unlikely you are going to secure a dream home just by signing up to Rightmove.

(2) Make an effort to get to know your local estate agents and ensure they see you as a serious buyer by keeping in regular contact. Make the time to get in touch at least every couple of days to see if there is anything new on the market.

(3) Be realistic about what you can buy on your budget. Many home hunters waste months searching for the sort of property that will simply never come up in their price bracket.

(4) The more flexible you can be, the more chance you have of securing a great property. Think outside the box. Are you restricting the area too much? Does it really have to be Georgian? Could you consider converting a former commercial property?

(5) Don’t overlook a property purely because of its outside appearance. If a property is on a good road and has everything else going for it, it could still be a good buy. Consider employing the services of an exterior design company or architect to give an ugly property a beautifying facelift.

(6) Don’t waste money on an expensive survey if the house is not that old. Tradespeople will often come and check electrics, plumbing, roof etc for free and at the same time, provide a quote for any repairs or maintenance, which can be a great lever for asking price negotiations.

(7) Get a great solicitor in place, preferably one not in the dark ages who can use email and one who is a pragmatic problem-solver.

(8) Get your broker sorted early so you know exactly what your budget is and make sure they can move fast when it comes to the time to get a mortgage in place.

(9) Be really nice to the vendors and estate agents – people sell to people they like.

(10) If you know you are going to be stretched for time and/or you are not confident about making the right decision, consider appointing a professional home finder.

The 10 best things about Estate Agents.

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10.Every office means one less mobile phone shop.

9.Who else can TopMan sell their suits to?

8.You can shout and blame them for your over-priced house not selling.

7.Without Estate Agents fat ties would be history.

6.They shore up the entire 1.2 litre car market.

5.They keep Brantana in business with tan shoe purchases.

4.They drive liveried cars so we can spot them coming.

3. Without Estate Agent viewings, how would we know it was ‘the kitchen’..?

2.Without Estate Agents, hair gel and ‘Lynx for Men’ sales would plummet.

… and best of all:

1. You can make them tell your buyer you want more money.. on the day of exchange.

2010 .. A Year in Property.

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January – Snow stops play and the market is non-existent. Agents and vendors are however quietly confident.

February – Properties come onto the market at 10% – 15% above 2009 prices as confused Agents hedge their bets on pricing. New stock levels low.

March – Lack of stock continues thus bidding wars on good property. Good properties getting close to 2007 prices. Difficulty getting mortgages. Cash is king. Rentals in demand as people cannot finance purchases. Market fairly confident although transactions low.

April – Bidding wars continue, still lack of stock, both sales and rental, rental prices start edging up. Difficulty getting mortgages.

May – Election jitters start, buyers sit on hands.Vendors don’t come to the market. Still lack of mortgages. Lack of rental properties mainly due to buy to let landlords unable to finance new stock, rents continue climbing.

June – Election causes even more stasis in the market, rentals highly in demand. Hip’s disappear along with market confidence. Central prime London awash with overseas and cash buyers.

July – Transaction levels still very low, mortgages still unattainable for many. Rental market woefully undersupplied for demand. Rents continue to rise. Fear rips through all with a stake in social housing.

August – Summer holiday stagnation. Rental market still busy. Mortgage availability just a distant memory. Overseas cash making central prime London boom.

September – Expected surge in new property doesn’t materialise. Good properties still reaching good prices. Rental market plagued with lack of stock- sealed bids starting. Mortgages easily available but only for those who don’t need them.

October – Sales stock low, confidence for buyers and sellers getting lower.

November – Confidence through the floor. Vendors not selling, buyers not buying. Rental demand still very high with sealed bids still being reported.

December – Snow stops the country and the property market in it’s tracks.

We started 2010 crunching confidently through the leftover snow but we end it tiptoeing gingerly, fully expecting black ice around the next corner.


London Estate Agents.. Buying Agent translates.

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A quick little guide to help you unravel London Estate Agent speak:
  • Secure gated development …. It needs to be, it’s in Vauxhall.
  • Bright lower ground apartment … when you take the bars off the windows.
  • Charming … pokey.
  • Character features … A fireplace and a plastic ceiling rose.
  • Well maintained … not up-dated since the ’80’s.
  • Conveniently located … above a kebab shop.
  • Luxury kitchen … a bit of granite.
  • Central Ealing location … Hangar Lane.
  • Un-modernised … minging.
  • Recently refurbished … laminate flooring.
  • Ealing Common … Acton.
  • Stunning communal areas and gardens … stunning service charge.
  • Spacious eat-in kitchen … they’ve knocked kitchen into 3 foot side return.
  • Generous entertaining space … lounge knocked into diner.
  • No external shots … ex-local authority.
  • Prestigious development … The ugly one from Girls Aloud bought there 5 years ago.
  • Exceptional value for money … short lease.
  • Lively area … crack dealers.
  • Highly individual … highly ugly.
  • No onward chain … Granny’s died there.
  • Stylish decor … the duvet matches the curtains.

 

 

The Sunday Times Estate Agency of the Year Awards 2010

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As a judge on these awards I have mixed feelings about the event itself, on a number of levels. I am looking forward to a glitzy affair, meeting people I only know virtually and the happy faces of the winners. However, the concern remains of a possible losers lynch mob, although I think I’ve covered that by telling everyone I interviewed that I was the spit of Claudia Schiffer.

Britain is in the grip of the coldest weather for years, there is the wrong type of snow on the rails, runways and roads. I am expecting a low turn out of Estate Agents but the gung-ho British bulldog spirit seemed to be in action, or maybe it was the lure of a ‘Champagne reception’ and upmarket guinea fowl in a basket.

I arrive mid morning at the Lancaster hotel where the Future of Estate Agency seminar is in full flow. I lurk in the foyer and after the coffee break wander into a room the size of an aircraft hangar. Circular tables with groups abound but where to sit, I can’t find anyone I know. I wander around asking if I can join tables, apparently not. They are protecting their spare seats as firmly as their instructions. I end up on a table on my own, I only look mildly pathetic.

Dan Hare from Estate Agents Events is playing the Dale Winton part and introduces Rightmoves Miles Shipside. As a fellow judge, I’ve only seen him in designer casual gear, he’s come from Prague through a circuitous route and has had to buy a suit out there, first joke of the day, the fabric is a ‘light Czech’. How we tittered.

Some quite interesting stuff came from Miles and his colleague the number cruncher Tim Muir. For instance, the peak interest in a property is in the first week. There is genuine pent up demand from buyers but financing remains the killer. Amusingly for me, there was an audible gasp when they announced they had mystery shopped all the attendants and the results were available in sealed envelopes. Judging by some of the statistics there was going to be some serious butt kicking, sorry, ‘re-addressing of customer service’ back at the office.

Bill Lublin an American Social media guru and most significantly a real estate pro. gave a pragmatic talk on how social media will generate business. ‘You snooze you lose’ was the message. Almost the whole industry here is sleeping beauty where social media is concerned.Will they listen? Hmm.

Eventually we all file out for the champagne reception where it is packed with a sea of men in dark suits and a varying quality of footwear. There are silk ties, fat ties, the odd cravat and once in a while I even spot a woman not carrying a tray. I am starving. I push through the crowds with one eye on the guy with the canape tray and the other trying to find people to talk to. Tricky when you have to avoid the winners and losers and pick the rest from their Avatars. I find a friendly face and he insists I try the competition to win an iPad. You have to value 5 properties and the nearest total wins. The Middlesborough property does rather tax me. I’m not used to five figure valuations.

Then I get cornered by the film crew to do a piece to camera on why I picked the winners. Hmm. If you see it, I’m the one with bits of samosa in her teeth.

And onto the awards, bathed in pink lights the room is terribly glamorous for a male dominated gathering. I find my table at the front, most on the table are journalists. I know their sort, so I grab the wine while I have the chance.

Nice lunch, (I’ve said before, I can’t do food blogging), then Peter Knight bounds onto the stage to open proceedings and we are shown a very professional video of us judges at work. Vignettes and close ups with name tags of the judges. There’s Chris Hamer the property ombudsman looking very regal, Peter Bolton King looking statesmanlike, then me gurning with bad hair, great. But at least the posh industry bloke who just dissed me now knows ‘who I am’, a minor victory.

Peter introduces James Cracknell our host. Obviously I have little interest in a six foot five tweed clad athletic God with Hugh Grant floppy hair and a terribly charming manner. He shows a film of himself and other nations rowers receiving their medals from Princess Anne. The lines of clinging lycra’d up athletes, all of whom would have Linford Christie covering his parts in shame, was of course also of no interest to me but certainly put this room of portly men in their place.

So onto the awards themselves ably hosted by a very pretty blonde weighing less than my new kitten. The organisers know their audience. I watch a succession of men and a very few women, come up and receive their awards, to increasingly loud cheering as the vin de pays took hold. I’m on shoes and socks watch, as yet again I am at eyes to shoe level position. My desperate seeking of white socks is thwarted by some sartorial intelligence but has been replaced by the tan shoes with dark suits sin. Hmm, I have found a property trend. I did however spot a striped black sports sock, which I traced back to a sarf London agency.

My table seating has the benefit of me being seated next to the live event tweeter, Dan Hare. I did my best to sabotage by twittering faster and wittering to him incessantly.

An acceptance speech by Sean Newman as winner of the ‘outstanding contribution to Estate Agency’ was a highlight. An unexpected lesson in humility and strength of character as he talked about priorities, perspective and overcoming a near fatal accident during a charity cycle challenge. Not a dry eye in the house and almost put me off generalising Estate Agents forever.

The awards completed, it’s time for the for the winner of the valuation competition. Bearing in mind that every person here bar the waiting staff is in property and everyone wants to win an iPad, a hush descended as Peter reveals the best property valuer in the room. No one was more bemused than the winner himself. James Cracknell.

So what did I take from these awards?

I learned that the industry, unlike the room, is not pink coloured it’s very male coloured.

That it wasn’t the ‘big boys’ who win the awards all the time, it really is on merit.

That there were people in the industry who really really do try to do a good job.

That it’s going to be damned tough out there for a while and it’s almost all to do with financing.

And of course, the most treasured thing I took? A Rightmove mug of course.

And the Gold winners are:

Best UK Single Office Agency:

W A Ellis

Best Single Office Regional

South East: Ashington Page

South West: Thompson Estates

London: W A Ellis

Midlands: Campbells

Northern: Cooke & Co.

Wales: Thomas & Rose

Northern Ireland: Pinkerton Murray.

Best UK Small Agency:

Northfields

Regional:

South East: Philip Green

South West: Maitlands

London: Northfields

Midlands: Hartleys

Northern: Karl Tatler

Wales: FBM

Outstanding Contribution to Estate Agency:

Sean Newman.

Best UK Medium Agency:

Marsh & Parsons

Regional:

South East: Beresfords

South West: Wood’s Estate Agents (Newton Abbott).

London: Marsh & Parsons.

Midlands. Newmans Property Services

Northern: Thornley Groves.

Best UK Large Agency:

Connells Group.

Best Prestige Property:

Fine & Country

Best New Homes:

Pygott & Crone

Best Customer Service:

Newman Property Services

Best Financial Services:

Connells Group.

Best Franchise

Xperience.

Best Innovation:

Hamptons International.

Best Marketing:

Fine & Country.

Best Technology & Online:

Xperience.

Best Training & Development:

Arun Estates.




Most Estate Agents are Twits…. Discuss.

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The cry has gone up. You can hear Rupert’s and Darren’s across the Land of Property . ‘It’s all about Social Meedja, innit? That’s the future, innit? We better ‘ave a bit of that’ And the Twitter account is set up.

These Twitter accounts then wallow or thrive in one of three states.

A. One tweet .. Helloo!, we’re here on Twitter, please follow us… Never to be heard from again.

B. Tweets once a week with a stream of all their listings.

C. Talks to people, posts interesting links and shows a personality.

So, let’s take A: The dead Twitter account

I can visualise what has happened. They have a little poke around and there are opinions out there. Opinions scare the heebeejeebee’s out of them.

‘We daren’t have an opinion or we’ll offend all those potential and existing clients’.

‘It’s too risky, we might screw up our corporate branding’.

‘Best put all our Tweets through PR dept. first’.

Perfect examples are Hamptons, John D Wood, Savills and to a slightly lesser extent Knight Frank. Major players in the World of Estate Agency with a plethora of dormant or damp squib accounts with no influence at all on Twitter. Whilst spending millions on PR & marketing they are missing out on one of the most cost effective and influential tools of our time.

Now let’s take B: The, ‘Ooh, I’m on Twitter, what do I do now’ account.

Hmm. In this case, (and I have first hand knowledge), the Twitter account is passed to either the IT Dept. or the Office Administrator. Not in itself the death knell of tweeting but damn close. What are they going to say? Are they going to discuss the market? Are they going to give an insiders view on real time valuations. Are they going to discuss new innovations that could be useful to others? Are they going to engage in banter with their industry colleagues? NO. Generally, they’re going to set up a timed Tweet generator and pump out their listings, because that’s what they’re comfortable with and feel safe doing.

C. The ‘They’ve got it right’ account.

The ones I bother to follow. Someone is tweeting who is in the thick of the business, can engage with others and is imparting a warm/intelligent / knowledgable representation of the business and the industry. These are the businesses who are going to raise awareness of their existence and generate business as a result.

Question: Why go on Twitter?

Let’s cut the fluffy stuff, we’re in business, it’s mainly to make money. Secondly, to learn about what the hell’s going on out in the industry. If you do it right, you will achieve both.

Do’s and Don’t’s

Don’t

  • Only send out tweets and never reply or retweet.
  • Constantly tweet your listings.. trust me NOBODY is interested.
  • Tweet that the market is fab when we all know it’s rubbish.. Honesty =Trust and we all hate Pollyanna’s.
  • Think that these ‘we’ll get you millions of followers’ sites work. They’re pointless.
  • Time your tweets to go out at certain times. People will think you’re a Bot.. and they’d be right.
  • Give the ‘Tweeting  job’ to the office junior.

Do

  • Retweet or reply to people if they have said something interesting.
  • Have conversations.
  • Have the courage of your convictions and tell it how you think it is.
  • Do research and throw interesting articles into the Twitterverse.
  • Talk about what is happening right now in your market.. we’re interested
  • Ignore the ‘SM Guru’s’ who say don’t tweet personal stuff or that you’re watching X Factor. It’s fine in small doses, people like it.
  • Show your personality. People do business with people they like.

The coalition guide to a middle-class lifestyle.

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I’m not political, in my game you have to deal with all sorts, I even work with lawyers. However, now that the Right Honourable Dave Cameron has declared himself middle-class and what with him having £70m in the bank and a Baronets daughter for a wife, it seemed to me that those of us who thought we were middle class had better up our game.

I have been deep undercover (Sloane Square), to bring you the guide on how to move undetectably through the ranks of the coalition babes. It’s never been more important to have a middle class home and lifestyle. Here’s my guide to what’s in and what’s out. All hail Sam Cam.

What’s in?

Boris bikes. For when you don’t want to get the brand new Range Rover Sport out, nothing shouts ‘I’m coalition middle-class’ better than one of Boris’ bikes.

Audi R8 . drive it round Notting Hill streets dead fast, especially when you’ve got nowhere to go.

Staff. Yes, you can call them that again. even though last year you called her an au-pair. Make sure they’re multi-lingual but preferably Mandarin speaking, East European is so last year. In addition, a Filipino maid sleeping off the kitchen is the pinnacle you should aspire to.

Ballerina flats. Blue for Waitrose, Red for the school run, (so the  Mums think you’re racy), and Animal skin for Kir Royales with the girls.

Byrons Burgers. Posh burgers and Boris’ favourite family watering hole. There are no plastic gifts for the kids which is obviously a  good thing.

Brio. Wooden toys for the kids are de rigeur. They won’t play with them but that’s not the point. They cost a bomb and they’ll look fab on the shelf

Laduree macaroons. Five quid a bite.

Chandeliers in the kitchen. Yep, I know, how d’ya get the chip fat off all those dangly bits?  Please! That’s the Filipino’s problem.

Lacanche. French range cooker. Get the blingiest one you can, the more gold the better. Stretch yourself and go for the £37k one.

Dyson air multiplier, only for show, who needs a fan in the UK anyway but they are expensive and everyone knows that, so perfect.

Daylesford organic, favoured watering hole for Yummy Mummies. Eight quid for coffee and a cake shows everyone you have money to burn, which is the point, innit.

Festivals,  Pricier, colder and far more miserable than a week in Barbados but you’ve gotta be seen there. No tents, it’s got to be a Yurt or a Winnebago. It’s all about ‘Glamping’ these days.

Flat White. Cappuccino’s and lattes are so last year. The flat white is the only one to order, it’s erm, not frothy man.

X Factor. Simon Cowell is rich, he’s blingy and he’s unrepentant. Your perfect role model, watch it.

Apropos glass box extensions. Bolt them onto your Edwardian semi for that contemporary feel of space and light. Ignore the soaring temperature and the green slimy roof you can’t reach to clean.

Harrods. Trust me, Qatari’s are much cooler than Egyptians… Watch out Selfridges.

Kiehls moisturisers and shaving stuff for men. Just make sure your purchase comes in a Harvey Nicks bag for perfect metrosexuality. Less than 16 squids on shaving foam? Shame on you.

Baby names. If it’s a boy, name it after a pet. Felix, Oscar, Buddy. For girls name it after a place. Florence, Sienna, India. I shall gloss over the fruity ones thanks Gwyneth Paltrow.

Monmouth coffee. Never heard of it? Tsk.. it’s the only coffee to have in your skinny flat white.

Garden office. Insulated, heated, and painted in one of the latest ice cream coloured pastels. Gingham curtains and you’re all set for that ‘Calamity Jane does the coalition’ look.

Skandium. Scandinavian furniture. Sorry, Scandinavian furniture that’s even too expensive for the Scandinavians, so they sell it in Knightsbridge.

Divertimenti. When you’ve been in Skandium pop down the Brompton Road and buy all your kitchen stuff here. No, £35 for a melon baller is not too expensive.

Superhuman. If you don’t have this bin, the two compartment recycling one,  your truly middle-class guests will truly gasp in horror.

Google Street view on your car Sat Nav… OK, it only comes on the new Bentley Continental, but whats wrong with that? Just make sure it’s Azure blue.

iPhone 4, iPad, anything Apple. Obviously.

Photo volcaic anything. Inefficient, expensive and ugly. Attach to the roof to make sure your neighbours can see them, they shout ‘I’m rich, so can afford to look green’.

Sub-Zero. The only fridge freezer to have. Ten grand, don’t argue.

M&S frocks, befriend the chairman to have a bespoke one made. Ideally it should have a pussy bow for that real Tory wife style.

Wellies. Jimmy Choo or the latest Hunters are the only ones to have. Multi-coloured Cath Kidston-esque ones are only for Chav’s. There.. I’ve said it.

What’s out?

Aga. Not blingy or expensive enough. As for the Emma Bridgewater spotty one, it was never in.

Cath Kidston, at blo*dy last. Seeing her oven gloves on the reduced shelf at T.K. Maxx made my 2010.

G-Wiz. Apart from looking ridiculous, owners are discovering the £3k cost of a new battery. Coming to a tip near you soon.

Henna Tattoo’s. Embraced your ethnicity?… No of course you didn’t look patronising and silly.

Prosecco. It’s the real stuff or nuffink.

Cupcakes. So last year sorry… it’s all about Macaroons for you now.

Fairtrade. ‘Fraid that’s a bit last year what with all them air miles. Supporting the Cotswold smallholder who hand washes his fake parma hams is much more Dave.

Green and Blacks chocolate… they sell it in Somerfield for God’s sake.

Prius. Laughing stock, don’t do it.

Au Pairs. See ‘staff’ above. ‘Au pairs’ doesn’t work anymore. Kerry Katona has one.

Nespresso. The beloved ‘pop it in’ plastic coffee maker beloved of Journo’s and Foxtons receptionists is out. Simples.

Feature walls. How long could anybody look at cerise and silver peonys the size of your head anyway.. good riddance.

Just when we’d learned to drink Prosecco instead of Champagne and almost felt good about driving a Prius, we now need to up the ante on overt consumption. Just think 1980’s. If your Mother says it’s a waste of money, you’re right on the money, because the ‘innest’ thing of all is CASH. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Who lives in a house, (with a car), like this?

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A little tip when you are house hunting. The car parked outside should give you a darn good idea of what you will find upon entering. I shall run through the ‘buyer bewares’ below.

Rover.
The car will have a National Trust sticker.The house will have swirly and sculpted carpets and an Ercol coffee table. A standard lamp with original 1950’s tasselled shades. Kitchen will be an homage to formica, usually yellow and will have a serving hatch to the G-plan furnished lounge-diner. This will have an artexed ceiling and wood chip paper on the walls. All walls and ceilings will be freshly painted with silk-finish paint. This will not be intentionally ‘retro’.

Pros.

It’s all about Retro-mania these days.

Cons.

Have you ever tried getting wood-chip paper off?

Mini One.
The car will have a name and the Vendor will be a single female. There will be cuddly toys and heart shaped lace cushions piled up on the bed.  Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe black and white photo’s will be on most walls. The DVD collection will include Bridget Jones, Four Weddings and anything with George Clooney in it. The kitchen will provide just enough space for 3 months supply of Slimfast and Whiskas. There will be a lot of pink.

Pros.

There will be lots of shoe storage.

Cons.

Getting rid of the smell of cat.

Porsche Boxster
The Vendor hasn’t quite made it or he would have a 911 or at least the ‘S’. Therefore the bathroom fittings will be Philippe Starck-esque, the kitchen John Lewis not Bulthaup and the furnishings Habitat not Conran. Bedding and towels will be of a dark colour to reduce the need to launder and the bed will be one of those low wood base things that you gash your shins on. Don’t look under the bed.

Pros.

The kitchen will be pristine, other than the microwave with exploded bolognese interior.

Cons.

There will almost certainly be a hot tub to dispose of.

Land Rover Defender.
There will be gun cabinets and an Aga. It will smell of Labrador and un-rinsed waders. Linoleum will be the floor covering of choice, even on the stairs.
Furniture will have been handed down from Granny in the ‘big house’ and there will be a scullery. You won’t be able to see the farmhouse kitchen table for the back copies of The Field and horse sized worming syringes.
Don’t expect Central heating or double glazing, that’s only for the Prols.

Pros.

Your Notting Hill friends will be dribbling with envy at it’s ‘shabby chic authenticity’

Cons.

Actually it’s just upper-middle-class shabby, bloody freezing and in technical parlance… ‘a money-pit’.

Mercedes SLK

This is a girls car. The house will be a girls house. It will smell of Jo Malone and flowers she has bought herself. The bathroom will be a sanctum of candles and potions. The bedroom will have a metal framed bed and White company linen. A silky La Senza bath-robe will be hung behind the door. Carpets will be cream and you will have to take your shoes off. There will be lots of photos of her looking sultry and of nieces christenings. You will be able to self-help yourself to your hearts content from the bookshelves. Nigellas ‘how to be a domestic goddess’ will have remained unused. Like the kitchen.

Pros.

You wont need to buy your own festoon blinds and every door you open will have a full length mirror.

Cons.

If you are a bloke, you will have to rip out the cream carpets and replace with practical cheap laminate.

BMW X5

In London this will be the Mrs’ car for taking kids to the prep school. She will have forgone the Aga for a Falcon and will absolutely have a Sub-Zero fridge freezer and a Miele steam oven. Everything in the kitchen will be from Divertimenti, the rest of the house will be interior designers own sources, which means Skandium and Conran. There will be ‘mood lighting’ and a Bang and Olufsen sound system. One bedroom will have been made into a walk-in wardrobe for her. This will smell of Diptyque and there will be a tie rack for him.
Only other concession to Mr will be a half landing study for his Macbook and his collection of comics he saved from the skip.

Pros:

Lots of state of the art gadgets.

Cons.

You will never work out how to use any of the appliances, the Lutron lighting or the sound system.

And my favourite…..

The Toyota Prius

This is a Fulham Victorian mid-terrace, or Clapham, Chiswick… you get the picture. The front door will be Farrow and Balled and an Abel and Cole organic veg. box will be on the doorstep. A yoga mat and the family Crocs will litter the hallway. Windows will have plantation shutters from sustainable wood. The eat-in kitchen will have a scrubbed pine table with old church pews and Boden catalogues. All the floors will be stripped pine with Kilim rugs everywhere.The bookcases will be full of Vegan eating and  Rough Guides to places hot, dirty and third world. You will need to rifle through the top shelves to find the Tantric sex ones.

Pros.

They will take the Kilims with them.

Cons.

After all those years of Waitrose bio-cleaning products, you’ll need industrial strength Civit Bang to clean that bathroom.

Oh,  just one more thing…… his Aston Martin will be parked in the next road.

A middle-class home.. The sequel.

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As I am well known as an aficionado of all things interior design and good taste, my mate Kevin, called me asking for help. Kevin is a bit of an Essex barrow boy and a city trader. The boy done good. ‘Would you do me a favour Trace? My sister Michaela wants you to cast your eye over her pad. See if you can give her some tips on making her home a bit more, well, a bit more… Middle-class’

So up we rock to a block of flats, I think I’ve seen it on the Bill.

Kevin throws a quid to the boys leering at the Porsche. ”Another five when I get back, watch the motor” Can’t help thinking they should put it towards jeans that cover their arses.

We head off into the block and up the stairs. Best not to take the lift, Kevin says, holding his nose. The stairwell hasn’t seen Febreze for a while either.

Along the open walkways to Michaela’s front door. First part of educational mission accomplished, it’s not a Farrow & Ball red, (I know their Incardine when I see it). In fact all the apartment front doors are red. No doubt a conservation area and it all has to be in keeping, despite the F&B faux pas, I like that.

We ring the door bell, one of those stick on jobs with a rubber button, eww. Lots of barking, lots of yelling at the barking thing and we’ve woken the baby.

Michaela seems like a nice girl. Hair scraped up in a top-knot and some very large hoop earrings. She’s obviously into keep-fit. The pink velour hooded track-suit, sparkly boob tube and the Adidas trainers are the giveaway. Although the packet of B&H in the bum pocket ruins the lines.

I’m in the hall. Stairs to the left. Ooh, fabulous, it’s a duplex.

Laminate flooring in the hall, what a shame, a few thousand quid more and she could have had solid rainforest-free mahogany. A dado rail runs down the corridor. Striped rhubarb and custard wallpaper below. Rag-rolled effect paper with gold stars above. The hall window has the matching festoon blinds. I am trying to remember which Colefax and Fowler range, but it has me stumped.

The knotty pine kitchen units are a make I’ve never heard of, Hygena, very retro. The latest Danish design perhaps, I must keep up with Wallpaper magazine.

Worktops are Formica with wood trim edges. Hmm, it’s got be granite or zinc and those tiles will have to be replaced with green glass splashbacks.

A Smeg fridge, it’s Katie Price pink. Should be black and shouldn’t be Smeg. Also, where are the magnetic letters making motivational quips? and the Nespresso machine?

We are kindly offered refreshment. Michaela is out of milk and has nothing herbal, so Diet Coke from the can it is. Although we could have had Stella.

I am given a guided tour.

Lounge … no it’s not a reception room. Crittall windows. A good start- they’re coming back. The bottom half is meshed glass, just like school. I can’t fault the retro vibe.

The ceiling is artexed – I avert my eyes. There is just a ceiling pendant. Lighting should always be on three levels. A trip to Kartell or Christopher Wray is in order.

The focal point (every middle-class home should have one), is the 50” Plasma screen with Hollyoaks muted. It needs to be built into the wall – with walnut surround or possibly birds-eye yew for a lighter touch.

A large distressed rococo mirror leaning against the wall would help to add depth and light. And it needs loads more accessories, an Ikea vase with a plastic Gerbera doesn’t cut the mustard.

Oh dear a cream DFS leather sofa, reclinable – just because that blonde from Changing rooms advertises them.. never mind, down to Graham and Greene for a velvet chesterfield pronto.

The boyfriend is here. Vest top, shell suit bottoms, gold chains. Adidas shod feet up on one of those Moroccan leather pouffes, I’ve seen them in Harvey Nicks, excellent, bang on trend, this Moroccan theme should defo be encouraged.

The fish tank, just like the TV really ought to be built into the wall, this will add ‘atmosphere’, very important.

Jason is friendly, as is the Staffie he is petting. Not convinced the crystals are genuine in the collar though. I’m starting to question if Michaela has ever even been to Selfridges Wonder room.

Onto the first floor, the stair carpet does not have brass runners and is neither sisal nor 100% wool. Hmm.

The family bathroom is the only bathroom, I find that confusing. All white, very good but the tiles are square and matt. They need to be brick shaped and glossy. A bit of limescale and mould remover wouldn’t go amiss either. They need to lose the shower curtain and gain a creative toilet seat. I’ll send my wet-room team in.

The master bedroom is shocking. This should be an oasis of calm, with a soupcon of sensuality. A harmonising of colours and textures. Not this blast of primary colours. Shiny sheets are in, but not in red, please. A steel Brabantia laundry basket rather than the floor would help lots.

And so to the report. ‘Michaela’, I say, trying to hold her gaze. ‘To achieve a middle-class home you need to focus on certain things. Texture, lighting, atmosphere, focal points, iconic pieces. Think clean lines, think modern materials, think accessories. She looks puzzled. I try to make it simpler for her.

‘Darling, bedlinen should be from The White Company. Accessories from Lombok. Everything else, Graham and Greene or John Lewis.

I’m getting into the flow now.

‘For Gods sake you’ve got nothing artisan, let alone crocheted. No sniff of a feature wall and Sweetie, really, I shouldn’t have to tell you about Cath Kidston. It really is all about statement florals these days.

Plus, (I pause for effect), ….your soap is Imperial Leather.

She is looking at me vacantly, clearly, she’s just not getting a handle on all this, which perplexes me. What the hell did they teach her at that free school?

…. all fur coat and no knickers. A Penthouse fit for who?

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I often have to try and wheedle out off-market properties for my clients looking for something a bit special.These properties are not be in found in the usual places. Tesco’s/Haarts, in these cases, don’t deliver. The people in the know for these properties rarely have any property background, they tend to fall into the ‘I know a bloke’ category. As such, the leads can sometimes lean towards spurious.

A current client is looking for a classy central London pad, he has quite a bit of cash to splash, well, to be honest, a heck of a lot. I want the right address and I want it downright classy.

I received a well timed call from a contact whose profession is best described as ‘let me know if you want something.. anything’.

” ‘Ere Trace” is the opener .. ”got anyone who wants a stunning penthouse in that posh new place, Building X?” .. ”bloke needs to sell, so it’s a steal at £22m”

If there are two things assured to get my attention, they are ‘bloke needs to sell’  and anything in Building X. They just do not come up and certainly not at ‘deal’ pricing. The use of ‘stunning’ for the thousandth time this week, I ignore.

The viewing takes a bit of organising. Apparently there will be a few ‘representatives’ looking on behalf of VIP bosses and I can tag along.  I am told I have to pretend I am a secretary-my contact feels this brings me respectability.

I meet my client in building X.  ‘Swish’, doesn’t do it justice. The concierges are Armani clad,  the water feature atrium won a prize at Chelsea and a Man United footballer wandered past and smiled.  The building is all I expected and if the price is what they say, I am convinced my client will jump at it. The day is going well.

We sit and wait for the contact .. and wait. Calls are made, seems we are awaiting third contact flying in with the keys. Eventually two blacked-out Mercs.  glide to a stop outside. Four burly men in shades pour themselves out. One at least has a suspicious bulge under his armpit. Their rubber-soled shoes more for quick getaways than fashion I suspect.

Introductions made, only first names of course, then ‘Follow me’, says the lead ‘heavy’ and we leave Building X and cross the road. We head towards a manky Mansion block. A steel gate covers the entrance courtyard and after a bit of railing rattling and bell ringing, we gain access to the central courtyard. We brush past the skips, and up the steps into the chip papered ‘common areas’. In relation to expectations, never has that description been more apt.

The three man lift was not designed for me and two hairy mammoths but we ascend directly into the penthouse.

Much kerfuffle as we are made to remove shoes and place blue plastic bags on our feet. Those rubber soles not much use now I think as the heavies grunt & winge. At least one has odd socks.

I am struck by how tall the windows are and how high the ceilings are. Hang on, something’s not right. The ceiling is glossy black lacquered panels – the windows are reflected to double size. The ceilings are low- creative interior design, hmm.

Colour scheme discussions will be short, the floor is black. The curtains are black. The dining table is black. The soft furnishings, umm, black. Accents of ‘colour’ are restricted to silver curtains and Swarovski knobs.

This is a big, big place. The dining table will seat 30. The bar area with Swarovski inset into the granite has a dozen ostrich skin bar stools. The cinema room is, how can I put it, a cinema.

We all know about dressing homes for sale but this one takes it to the next level. Aside from the Tom Ford coffee table book (black), the Christies Impressionist Auction catalogue and the biggest piece of Lalique I have ever seen, pride of place is given over to a Grand Piano. Slightly worn around the edges it sits a little incongruously in this shiny, sparkling, perfect environment.Then I spot the provenance discreetly engraved on a brass plate ..’owned by Elton John’

God, I’m looking forward to the Master bedroom. It delivers. An oasis of white and the carpet as tested by toes through my plastic bags, is silk. The bedspread is white.. mink.  Now, I am used to seeing tea trays on beds with cup, saucer and plastic flower, this had something a little different. Laid out across the bed, La Perla bra, G string and white stockings. Size zero by rough estimate. I have to confess, a titter did come out and it was audible. I was shot a glance my lead Heavy, which put me firmly back into my secretarial box.

I rattle through the rest of the place including the six bedrooms. SIX bedrooms? ‘Who wants six bedrooms and one reception room?’. I whisper to my contact. A man of the world, he looks at me knowingly and just shakes his head.

We all gather back at the bar and the inevitable ‘Whatcha think?’ question is asked by the key holder. A shiny-suited chap for whom ‘Man at C & A’ would be a sartorial compliment.

‘Bloody fantastic’ says one of the Heavies.

‘Lovely’ I say.

It’s not.  It’s vile. Completely vile.  I cannot imagine who would want it. Well, maybe I can.

The chap with the odd socks is in the corner on his mobile, it sparkles. Clearly a Selfridges Wonder Room purchase.

‘Hey, John’,  he says. ‘How long will it take you to get ‘ere from Cobham?’

Authors disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any real person, any real property, or any real taste is wholly coincidental.

The A-Z of a middle-class home.

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I am so often being asked, soto voce and bashfully, ”what can I do to make my home look middle-class”. To save the blushes of all you aspirational middle-classers, I have put together a helpful little guide. A hard copy is available and can be delivered by courier in discreet packaging.

Let’s go on an alphabetical stroll through a middle class home and see what you need to do. Continue reading

What should I do to my house to sell it?

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Frankly, I’m a bit fed up with this question. Truth is , I am much more in tune with the negatives of life. When asked this question I only seem to come up with ‘what not to do’. I have put together a few examples based on 1000’s of  wanders through peoples homes.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually care if you’re a slob or want to paint your bathroom to resemble a womb. To be honest I rather applaud it. I find myself increasingly irritated by the cloning of our homes with whitewash and House of Fraser accessories. It’s telling, that some of the nicest and most desirable houses I go into are  the ones frayed and dog-eared.

As someone living in a house tinted with the spray of wet dogs and buried in lifes detritus, I am making no pretensions of superiority.

However, it seems people really do take this subject rather seriously. In fact there appears to be an entire industry growing fast to accommodate the deemed necessity of de-cluttering, accessorising and magnolia-r-ing before sale.  Therefore, I shall simply and with as little sarcasm as I can manage, give you some examples I have actually experienced. Draw your own conclusions from them on what ….does not help to sell your house.

As mentioned, the womb bathroom, found in a warehouse conversion in Shad Thames. Reds & purples daubed onto what looked like hastily applied artex. Not just the walls. The ceiling was not forgotten. The definition of a feature ceiling- painted in the same red/purple theme  but with the addition of a mirror, suspended directly above the bath. The red bath, semi- sunken, obviously, the steps leading up to it covered in the same blood red shag-pile as the rest of the bathroom. The Vendor popped in near the end of our viewing. Middle aged, suited, booted and balding. A banker.

The 1950’s very plain detached house on the Chilterns escarpment. Well, it was very plain until the  current owner got hold of it. This house clearly the culmination of a five year paint effects course. There was rag- rolling, bark effect, spatter effect, hand stencilling, marbling and effects which were possibly the designers own creation. There were picture rails, stick-on borders, cornicing and plastic ceiling roses.As a final salute to all things faux- plastic romanesque pillars. Not just the one pillar,  in the modest faux-marbled hall alone there were three.  Not a surface was left un-touched, not one colour was repeated, nor may I say were any matched.The one break from the sensory onslaught was her consulting room. An oasis of magnolia and whale music in which to wax her clients. We lingered longer than was polite before venturing upstairs to the predictable boudoir.

Then there are the houses with many interesting  personal items on display. My clients and I are so busy looking at those, we forget to look at the property.

The  luxury duplex apartment overlooking the Thames.  Did we concentrate on the glass stair case, the river views, the Persian rugs? No. Our eyes were on the myriad of wedding photo’s and holiday pics. Mine and my clients appointment was spent trying to work out whether the wedding photographs,  showing a good 40 year age gap, were of father and daughter or man and absurdly young wife.

The Georgian home of a much loved celebrity. The panelled doors lovingly painted by the family with self-portraits-seemingly the result of a very intoxicated weekend.The concrete cow with red lips. The Turkish bath style en-suite – in turquoise and gold.

The house owned by a chap with a string of lap-dancing clubs. I am a professional but some things just have to take precedence over tapping the walls. A hallway lined with artistically shot photographs of what I assume are his favourite girls. A bedroom with the theme of black suede and leopard skin. The swing was not in the garden.

The standard answer to the titles question is rather simple – clean and neutral, nothing more complicated than that.

However, between you and me, I lean towards the ‘do what the heck you like’ camp.

Originally posted on The Buying Agent:

I am so often being asked, soto voce and bashfully, ”what can I do to make my home look middle-class”. To save the blushes of all you aspirational middle-classers, I have put together a helpful little guide. A hard copy is available and can be delivered by courier in discreet packaging.

Let’s go on an alphabetical stroll through a middle class home and see what you need to do.

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