The What House Awards 2010.. The gnomes have it.

I was incredibly chuffed when Rupert Bates, the golden boy above and the Editorial Director of What House? invited me to the 2010 awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel.  Mayfair Darling. The biggest and glitziest awards of the year for the housebuilding industry.  An opportunity to mix with the great, the good and the superlative from the industry and to hear from grass roots what was going on out there.

Driving down Park lane, I watch a sea of pin striped suits and jocular ties, glammed up ladies with heels higher and skirts shorter than would be prudent on a building site.  These were people with stomachs concrete-lined in readiness for some very serious ‘networking’.

Always tricky walking into these things solo but I firmly recommend the ‘nose in air, grab the boy with the champagne’ move.  One I have perfected.

A little schmoozing before the event itself, so who to force myself upon?  The groups of men looking uncomfortable out of steel-toed welly’s?  The groups looking like they only visited sites when the show house was heated?  Or the satin frocked packs of PR’s?… whatever they are.

No contest, the ‘welly boys’ are getting my attention.  ‘How’s things?’ seemed a sensible open question.  Responses are mixed.  Overall ‘OK’ was as good as it got.  As for subject matter, planning, sustainable, planning, affordable, planning, eco, bloody planning were the hot debates.

On to the ballroom where ‘luncheon was being served’.  Offering huge entertaining space, unsurpassable in it’s twinkling classic styling, this room would delight even the most discerning client. (Ah, that’s what PR’s do).

This was a big invite and mine came with top table positioning.  Slap bang in front of the stage, I am nose to feet with the stars.  This isn’t a shoe blog, but it could be.  Heard of ‘polish’ anyone?

I could have done with fewer younger, blonder and prettier women than me at the table but Rupert does his own table plans.

Our lovely lunch consisted of, salmon and beans, chicken and veg and cream with a banana in it. (I don’t do food blogs).

And we’re off.  Rupert bounds onto the stage.  Due to poor Rupert’s recent eye op, I now have enough retina, iris and aye, aye, jokes to keep the wards of Moorfields in stitches for years. However, they were not ‘a patch’ on the politically charged industry-centric ones to follow.

Apparently, Grant Shapps was unable to attend as he is unveiling the first home to be built by the Government this year.  He sends apologies for next year too, as he will be at the opening of the second.

Eric Pickles also sent apologies, he’d been led to believe it was 1000 lunches for one person, not the other way around.

More seriously, planning rears it’s head again.  Don’t tell us to build more houses Mr Government, we want to, we’re trying to.  You’re scuppering us with the horror that is planning. And while you’re at it Mr ‘whoever is Housing Minister this week’, d’ya mind defining for us what you mean by ‘zero carbon, sustainable’ etc.. We’d really like to know. As for ‘localism’, pfft, can we properly discuss ‘Nimbyism’ first?

Then onto the full time comedian, Jimmy Carr.  Sitting at the feet of the most caustic comedian in town in a low cut frock is not a relaxing experience.  I made even less eye contact than Rupert. The new slim-line (needed feeding if you ask me), Jimmy Carr got straight down do it.

‘What House?’ he says, ‘Isn’t that what MP’s say when they’re asked about their second homes?’.

I’m not repeating the ‘lunt’ joke.

On comes the ‘presenting assistant’.  We are all agog, especially Jimmy,  as the gnome appears.  I’m not sure that shorts are standard gnome garb but I am sure that ‘shorts’ is far too long a word for these particular ones.  Naughty house builders.

As he starts to present the awards, he assures the assembled masses that they are all winners.  Well, that’s not quite what he said but I thought it best to draw a blue tarpaulin over that bit.

Jimmy is a consummate professional, lots of awards, lots of happy people efficiently ushered on and off, until…one rather unfortunate and tardy lady made her way to the stage.  Jimmy had already called for the next recipient, a Robert, as she reached the stage for her award.  Jimmy eyes her curiously, points out the gender discrepancy and well, the rest is transgender, off the cuff, comic genius history.  And possibly one less entrant next year.

As for the award categories, I am struck by how the housebuilding world must have evolved over the past years.  Awards for sustainability, housing associations, shared ownership, mixed use. A genuine focus on quality and a focus on rewarding it.  These guys just want to build good stuff.

So, awards awarded, Jimmy makes his way backstage, followed furiously by an exuberant lady fan. Leaping over my ankles she manages to get to him, then that damn gnome blocked my view so I really can’t tell you whether his dignity is intact or not.

I bow out of the ensuing bar proceedings for ‘cos I’m a lightweight’ reasons.  Also, only one bloke invited me and he had a wonky eye.

So, as I hobble down Park Lane fishing through my goodie bag, what did I take away from my day with UK housebuilders, other than a foam gnome and a table arrangement?

This is the very clear message I received…

‘Come on Mr Shapps, if, of course you’re still the part time housing minister. There is a scandalous housing shortage. Home building is at the lowest level for decades and it’s not our fault. Pull your finger out, stop messing around with Daily Mail gimmicks and give us the practical tools we need to go out and build what the economy and people desperately need. Sort out bloody planning’.

The gnome was pretty memorable too.

Most Estate Agents are Twits…. Discuss.


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


  • 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.


  • 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.