A Gentlemans country residence..

It is a warm June evening and down a windy lane, where hazelnuts  and elderflowers can be gathered from the verges, lies the entrance to a gentleman’s country residence.  No house can be spied from the lane but two aged pillars reveal the start of the long curving drive. Beyond the picket fences, paddocks are dotted with donkeys and retired racehorses.

I continue driving, quite slowly, to allow the peacocks safe passage. The house comes into view and I eventually come to a crunching halt on the gravelled parking circle. Perfect Queen Anne symmetry greets me. Stone pillars, portico and steps lead up to the wide black glossy front door. Sash windows with floated glass panes shimmer. Four on the ground floor, five on the upper floor- perfectly aligned. Wisteria climbs around the weathered red brick.

As I lift the heavy brass knocker the door is already opening. An elderly retainer welcomes me into the black and white tiled hallway and I weave my way through Wellingtons, sticks and barbours to the receiving room. A grand affair as expected. A deep Persian rug. I surreptitiously check the soles of my shoes..

‘Sir, is dressing for dinner, he asked if you would like a guided tour of the grounds?’ I am a woman. I am of course curious to gain more insight into my host. I accept.

I am greeted by an undulating vista across Englands greenest of lands. I am shown through the potage with it’s neat patterns of architecturally perfect edibleness. Past the small lake and onto the  walled garden. Rows of cutting flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit trees espaliered across the stone walls.

Across the lawn, my heels sink, oh dear and I am led back to the terrace where the Bombay Sapphire and cut crystal glasses are laid out- my guide pours adds ice and lemon and I await my host.

With the grace that only comes from true breeding my host arrives. His trusted feline companion Bryan is at his heels.

With the clink of glasses and the heat of the gin warming our throats, our conversation courses between metaphysics, Cartier Bresson and Katie Price.

With the sounding of the large brass dining gong we make our way through to the dining room. Bryan of course trotting at his masters feet. It is as it should be, the walls  lined with red silk and hanging with old oils, portraits and landscapes depicting homes and people from our hosts ancestral past. The Mahogany fireplace, large logs spitting away. The gold rococo  mirror above.

The mahogany dining table gleams with reflected silver and crystal. We take our places and my host rings the small brass handbell and the staff arrive to serve the wine. I have no choice. Nor would I want to. From the ancient cellars which are stocked only with the finest Bordeaux the perfect wine for each course has been carefully selected.

And the delicious food. From the goats cheese to the gooseberry fool the dining experience comes from our own hosts land.

Onto, the brandies and I find the courage to quiz my host on something that has been bothering me. ‘This is such a fine home Sir. But, with your town residence being so formal, do you not wish for a more ‘down to earth’ existence here in the Shires. A contrast to the strictures and formality of town life, perhaps?’

He smiled mischievously. ‘Please follow me’ and clutching my rather good brandy I duly follow.

Tucked behind the curved staircase, a door. Mein host leads the way down a narrow staircase into the bowels of the house. Through a dark corridor, passing the kitchen, pantries and laundry, we reach a door which he opens.

Inside is a small apartment, clearly servants quarters. We enter into the living room.

The floor is a patchwork of threadbare rugs- souvenirs from les grand voyages past perchance?.

Two walls are lined floor to ceiling with books. Not neatly though and an eclectic mix of science, art and Jeffrey Archer.

Two plump and faded easy chairs face the log burning stove. One, covered with a cat-haired blanket is clearly a cats favourite abode. In the magazine rack, Private Eye, New Scientist and ‘Hello’.

One wall is covered with photographs, landscapes. Photographs of faded England yet with colours so vivid.

A small oak dining table with two chairs sits in the corner and a battered mahogany desk takes it’s position facing the french doors.It is scattered with slides, Ektachrome, as I suspected.

We venture outside to the very sweetest of cottage gardens. Wending through borders of hollyhocks, lupins and red hot pokers on a cobbled path we reach the oasis. The orchard. Nestled beneath a plum tree, an arts and craft bench, piled with cushions. Bryan lolls peacefully.

‘This Madam, is my country residence’

I realise this is a bit of a strange blog for me. However, I was set the challenge on Twitter to describe the country residence of one of Twitters illuminati. @iamamro. An ethereal creature who I would place somewhere between a naughty Sherlock Holmes and an artistic Dr Jekyll. In a nice way, obviously.

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Property turn-offs… and the award goes to….

 

I would like to announce in my best Dermot voice, my top 20 property turn-offs. In a very particular order. It’s bottoms first …

20.Underwear on radiators. Please, just don’t do it. Especially if you take large.

19.Raised toilet seat. It is simply vile.

18. External ‘art’. I’m talking butterflies or cart wheels stuck on the house. Decorative wheelbarrows or wishing wells. Not big, not clever.

17. Personal items. That includes all happy snaps and in particular bedroom ‘things’.

16. Unmade beds. Still warm, steaming beds are not cool.

15. Teenagers rooms. Eau de puberty.The stench of pheronomes and general un-washedness really doesn’t work for me.

14.Patterns. Fabrics reminiscent of a nasty stomach bug. Carpets, swirling or sculpted, err, no.

13. Aluminium secondary glazing. Well let’s face it. Even it’s mother couldn’t find a nice word.It’s just plain ugly.

12. Teenagers in street. Hoodies and small plastic bags a desirable neighbourhood does not make.

11. Trees close to the house. A surprising amount of people just see these as giant triffids burrowing through the foundations.

10. Tenants. Let’s face it they really don’t give a sh*t whether you sell or not – it is apparent.

9.Animals. You may love your manky dog/cat. I don’t, buyers don’t.They smell, that is not good.

8.Vendors. Tempted to put this higher. Being stalked at a 2 inch distance. Eagle eyes upon you in case you pinch something. Should be a mitigating circumstance for GBH.

7.Scruffy neighbours houses. Everybody wants to move next door to the Dingles don’t they? I so love shopping trolleys as garden art.

6.Overgrown garden. What have they buried there is all I can think.

5. Damp patches. Titter ye not. Marks on the ceiling from leaks are hugely important to buyers. Like buying a car and kicking it’s tyres they are a DIY structural survey for the ignorant.

4. Cracks. Woohoo, a bit like damp patches. Never mind that they are plaster deep, major alarm bells and lots of sucking through teeth.

3.  Peeling paint. Windows and doors that need painting. Buyers will build in £20k’s worth of work, dumb but true.

2.Flood plain. Everybody loves water. Everybody loves the idea of looking over water. Everybody is scared sh*tless of the two words FLOOD PLAIN.

and the prize for biggest property turn-off goes to….. da da da daaaah…

1. Road noise. Hummummmmmum…. the biggest no-no a house can have. Hummmmmmmmmmm….. Watcha say? …Hummmmmmmmummmmmm

Buying Agent writes property feature for News of the World

SHOCKING WAG EXPOSE

The woes of Candy Black the professional Wag continues with yet another shocking scandal. This time Candy, who became infamous through her sex romps on Big Brother has been romping it up in her wag-pad. Her blinged up palace in Cobham, bought just before the property-crash, was the venue for a gathering of division 2 footballers and top presenters from our favourite TV station Dave. And Keith Chegwin.

Our hardened under-cover reporter was there and was shocked by what he saw.

In the gold-tapped cloakroom, bowls of eco-friendly condoms. Tissues made from recycled materials.

In the marble floored lounge.Ice buckets filled with organic English champagne.

Outside, the heart shaped swimming pool – solar heated.

Has the ‘one of us’ Candy become yet another eco-idiot? Conned by all this global-warming clap-trap? Is  eco-bling the latest must-have in wags-world?

… or is this just another example of political correctness gone mad?

How to choose your Estate Agent

It’s with a heavy heart that most people ask me this question. An air of foreboding tinged with the fear of what they are letting themselves in for. And rightly so. Pick the ‘wrong’ Estate Agent and you could be entering into a life of  Prozac popping. So how do you go about picking your ‘Rupert’ or ‘Darren”?

Lets start with the mysterious world of what an Estate Agent does all day – or what they should be doing.

To analyse properly let’s us take a look at Rupert the perfect Estate Agent. Rupert does everything right.

When Rupert takes on your property he will have done his homework. He will base the asking price on recent comparable sold properties perhaps with a little extra on top.In other words a sensible price. He will have advised you on what if anything needed doing to the property. He will have listened carefully to all your knowledge of your home and he will have picked up a set of keys – as no self-respecting Rupert will expect you to show buyers around.

When it’s ready for marketing, (piccies, HIP’s, board and all that), Rupert will brief everyone in the office on your home and probably give them a guided tour so everyone is up to speed and bought into your home. They will then all rush back to their phones and call out to the database of brilliant buyers- known in the trade as ‘the hotbox’. As this is happening, beautiful photographs of your home will be wending their way through the ether onto every major property portal. And off to the local paper too. If your house is posh or pretty, a bit of Country Life goes down a treat too.

He or the team accompany all viewers around your home, treating them respectfully and getting honest feedback, which is imminently relayed to you. In an equally frank way.The team will all keep calling out to their database, engaging buyers and matching your home to them.  They will weed out the no-hopers. When an offer comes in, Rupert as your main contact will handle the negotiations pushing the buyer to their best price. Rupert will then liaise with all parties throughout the sales process, including your lawyer and the buyers lawyer- ensuring that all bumps are smoothed and information and communication flows freely up and down the chain.

Thats how it should work. But how do you find your perfect Rupert?

  • PICK THREE ESTATE AGENTS TO GIVE YOU A MARKET APPRAISAL.

Ask friends and neighbours for their input.

Look at the boards around your immediate area.

Go onto property portals and see who has most locally to you and in your price parameter.

Which Agents sell houses ‘like yours’. No point selling a one bed flat through a country house type Agent.

  • THE MARKET APPRAISAL- what to look out for.

Do you like and trust them? You are entrusting your biggest asset to this person, if you don’t like them, don’t instruct them. If you don’t like your Rupert, chances are the buyers won’t either.

Have they brought comparable properties with them. Houses they have sold and similar properties?

Are they giving you a price on the spot? If they have to go away and think about it they may be inexperienced, unless yours is a very unusual property.

If your house is special in some way is he going to look at producing some creative brochures or special advertising.

Will the person you are meeting be your main contact or will you have to talk to every Tom, Dick or Henrietta in the office?

  • THE MARKET APPRAISAL- the questions to ask

How many properties similar to mine have you sold in the last six months? There is no set figure but the answer should give you confidence.

How have you come to that price valuation? Has he got examples to back it up? Things that have actually sold.Is he convincing?

Who will be negotiating the sale and managing the sales process? it is much better if it is just one person.

How are you going to market my property? Get specifics on the portals and print mediums.

Do I need to do anything to my home to make it easier to sell and maximise the price? Tell them they are allowed to be honest.

Will you be accompanying all viewings? They really must, it’s their opportunity to relate and help sell to the buyer. (Odd occasions are OK)

Do you do evening and weekend viewings? Not an essential, but you don’t want to spend every saturday showing people around.

How long am I tied into you? If they turn out to be useless after 6 weeks – how quickly can you change Agent without penalty? Check the small print.

  • THE ASKING PRICE

This is a recommendation. listen to the reasoning carefully.

Does it make sense? Where and what is his recommendation based on?

Is the price skewed towards what you want and him getting your business rather than reality?

Remember, this is your decision.

  • FEES

You can usually negotiate the fee somewhat , but not always. After all, you are paying them for their negotiating skills. But give it a good go!

  • SOLE AGENCY, JOINT AGENCY OR MULTI AGENCY?

In most cases sole agency is best.The fees will be lower and the whole team will be more motivated to sell you house and get a full fee.

In some cases joint agency can be valuable. If two agents have a differing marketing reach e.g. for equestrian properties, you could use a specialist company and a mainstream country house agent. However – you will pay a higher fee as both Agents will usually split the fee.

I don’t like multi-agency at all. High fees and you just look desperate to the buying public who will spot you everywhere.Also, the Estate Agents tend to be de-motivated.

So, there you have it. Follow the guidelines and follow your gut instincts. Pick the right Rupert and he will help minimise the stress of moving and squeeze every last penny out of your biggest asset. Pick the wrong one and you’ll be spending a lot of time in that repeat prescription queue.

Written for and appeared at http://www.buyassociation.co.uk Feb.2010.  Not for re-publication.

D.I.Y. house valuation.

If you have had three Estate Agents give you a value. If you have thrown your property fully into the market. If you have had a reasonable number of buyers pass though. If the best offer is £100k…. I would say your house is worth £100k. Just call me a rocket scientist.

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.

What we need is another property portal…

Are you finding that there aren’t enough property portals to feed your need? Me too, I think there is definitely some room for more. Portals which take a slightly different look at the market. Portals which allow you to sift out the dross and leave you with just what YOU want. Some money-spinning ideas based on what my clients ask for…

http://www.pinkhouses.com (opportunity here to expand into different colours)

http://www.prettyhouse@50%belowmarketvalue.com (because it really isn’t an oxymoron)

http://www.flatswithreallyhotblokenextdoor.com (dead handy this one…I’d have an RSS link)

http://www.onlywantareallygooddeal.com (don’t we all)

http://www.propertiesthatdon’t suck.com (possibly limited by lack of suitable properties)

http://www.londonflatsyoucanswingacatin.com (of course I’m not actually suggesting …)

http://www.flatswhere_youcannothear_thembonking_upstairs.com  (not all people would actually want this)

http://www.silentplaceswithnearbywaitrose.com (or Starbucks)

http://www.onlyoffmarketproperties.com (courtesy of @londonagent – all commissions paid in cash)

http://www.houseswithnicebigkitchens.com (for the  ‘knit your own yoghurt’ set out there).

http://www.housesthatfeel.airyandhavelotsof.light.com  (SO important)

http://www.checkwhatyourhouseisworth.com (of course would need caveat of half a million either side)

http://www.wina2millionpoundhouse.com (well, don’t YOU want to?)

http://www.flatsnextdoortoKylie.com (true case, so I know there’s a market for this one)

http://www.housesthatdon’tsmell.com (a personal favourite)

I think I may just have struck gold here….this time next year etc …..but do please bear in mind copyrights and meeting with Digital Property Group are of course pending.