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.

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