About thebuyingagent

26 house moves, millions of pounds worth of properties bought for people.. I have the T shirt.

Property market predictions for 2017, I guess?

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I read a little piece by Graham Norwood in Estate Agent Today where he touched upon property pundits such as myself and the far more esteemed spending the last few weeks of the year making property predictions. With a lightness of touch he also suggested that this might be a slightly trickier job than us pundits make out. In fact, I could almost make out a sote voce suggestion that we might all possibly be guessing. Guessing!

Oh Really?

Well I’m hurt. Frankly we are all immersed in the property market and talk to vendors and buyers all day long. We have seen it all, been there, done that. Some of us even have qualifications, (not many). Rest assured, what goes around, comes around, the past, as everyone knows dictates the future and we have some whopping crystal balls that we are brilliant at swinging around.

But maybe he has a microscopic point because in order to predict the future one  probably should have ‘been there before’ (I checked, I haven’t) and also one probably has to be a little bit certain about something. Just something.

And there’s the rub. Brexit, of exactly what can we be certain?

Will it be a soft Brexit? (a definite maybe but what does that mean anyway)

Will it be a hard Brexit? (Ooh, I hope not, really don’t like the sound of that)

Will they cancel Brexit? (don’t get me excited)

Will we just pretend we have Brexited? (that’s a thought, I can keep a straight face)

Will Boris Johnson be inappropriate with Madam President and screw all future US trade agreements? (hey ho, who needs ’em, the US will be so uncool without Obama anyway)

Will Liam Fox slip too many buddies into Cobra meetings and Putin gets the nuclear codes? (Army wives really, really shouldn’t joke about that stuff)

Will all our financial institutions flee to Frankfurt? (a little sob from me as all those potential Chelsea townhouse sales tumble).

Will the pound plummet so far that all our overseas holidays terminate at the Isle of Wight?

Will Mascarpone and Parma ham get slashed from the Waitrose Essentials range?

So many questions, however, the big question, the one that constantly chases me down the street, across the social media strata and in the queue at Waitrose is as always, what are house prices going to do?

Well that depends.

It depends on Brexit, it depends on the pound, it depends on people thinking they will have a job next week, it depends on whether they think houses will be worth more or less next year. It depends on how confident people are of their future. It depends on prices at the pump and on the supermarket shelves. And It depends on whether Brussels are feeling really, really vindictive. Above all it depends on our ruling politicians having the slightest slightest clue – and frankly I am not depending on that.

So grudgingly I have to admit that Graham may have a point, I think perhaps there will be a little bit of guesswork going on. Nay, quite a lot, nay, probs wouldn’t trust any of us. Especially the ones who shouted ” Brexit is having NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER”, on July 1st 2016 (oh yes, I remember you).

However, humour me.. I do have one surefire, rock solid, safe as houses property guess for 2017 (but please don’t get excited if you’re outside of Zone1)

In 2017 more foreigners will buy property in the UK than in 2016…

Stick that in your Cuban cigar and smoke it Nige.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A right royal home in Ascot.

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I am a property finder and people pay me to source them very good homes – so I am picky, more than picky, I am flaming awkward. I view and discount thousands of homes for my clients, they pay me to weed out the chaff and to deliver to their taste. In essence I am long in the tooth and I’m not easily impressed.

I have been asked to take a look at a new Cala home in leafy Ascot. I like Ascot, I like the neatness of the high street with everything you need day to day, amazing schools and some splendid restaurants and bars. Not to mention the pick of some of the worlds greatest golf clubs on your doorstep, (criteria number one for him indoors).

I like the excitement of race days when the streets are over run with ladies in their finery tottering from the station in their high heels then hobbling back in their flip flops and worse for wear fascinators

Nice place Ascot, particularly as it is enveloped in the lovely green folds of Windsor Great park with stunning walks and royalty around every corner.

However I am a bit funny about new homes. I’ve seen more than my fair share and I still harbour memories of cheap paper houses with half finished skirting boards and walls so thin you can hear your neighbours scratch. Not to mention rooms too small to swing a hamster with miniature furniture designed to fool you. So it is with a suspicious eye that I swish through the electric gates and do one of those cool one handed turns to park in front of the porticoed entrance. Very James Bond – I’m on a mission.

Having introduced myself to the consultant I was delighted to be left to mooch around on my own, I can’t bear being followed around. Viewing houses is about soaking it all up and you can’t do that being harangued by a pushy sales person – thankfully no fear here.

The first thing that hits you is the cavernous entrance hall, it is rather heavenly in its marbley-ness and soars thirty foot plus, divine for showing off seriously large artwork and the best feature chandelier ever. Not to mention shouting out for the largest Xmas tree in Royal Berkshire.Cala homes hallway

But being an awkward sort I have a bit of a check list to go through. Firstly it’s about quality and secondly it’s about how it works for a family. So many new houses are designed for show as opposed to how todays familys live. And that is key. Will I be won over by the luxury and can I see a family living and growing up here, or is it really just a ‘show home’.

It’s silly things that warm my cockles and in this case it’s an oft overlooked room, the cloak room. Bigger and better than you’d find in the best West London hotels, a wonderful bank of bespoke cupboards, ample space for a posh puffa in every colour and leading to a toilet area large enough to practice your Strictly moves. If they haven’t skimped here it bodes well for the rest, I muse.IMG_2616

There’s a great office off the hall which I like, I am not a fan of studys being stuck three flights up in an overlooked area. We all access our computers all times of the night and day so it is great to be in the thick of it.

The reception room overlooks the grounds, elegant but not overly ostentatious and a dining room with double doors faces you as you walk in, lovely positioning so you get to view a beautiful dining suite with the garden beyond as you walk into the house.And probably enough space to feed thirty.IMG_2629

These are all well and good for entertaining in your glad rags but I want to see where the family will live. Have they screwed up and the kitchen is an after thought as is so common these days?

Blooming heck it is a bit fab, L shaped and huge. I can see the family living here all day long. A sofa area overlooking the garden where you’d curl up with the kids to watch TV. On the other side an area for a huge dining table for informal and lets be honest 350 days of the year friends and family dining a la Jamie Oliver, (not a turkey twizzler or fizzy drink in sight).

And then there’s the kitchen.

I like kitchens, it’s my thing and I am awfully particular. Big doesn’t mean better, it is all in the detail. Yes I want a swathe of work surface to spread out on (that’s more than covered here), it even has little shiny bits in the granite which I sadly always find exciting. However, what about that detail?, those things that give you a feeling that you’re dealing with quality not just ‘what they can get away with’?IMG_2618

Firstly the lighting is a big give away. Many developers try to get away with a bit of lighting under the top cupboards and a central light. Not here. The lighting has been designed, properly designed. Layer upon layer of feature lighting, true painting with light, so that when the main lights are off the dark wood kitchen is a sculpted in light. Then the cupboards and drawers, They have that wonderful feeling of quality, opening and closing with a gentle swish. Classy. Behind the kitchen is the utility, accessed from a side door so muddy dogs and children can be deloused before coming into the glossy haven. An absolute godsend.

It’s not the largest garden, it won’t suit those wanting acreage but Dad can get his goal posts out for a proper Dad V Son match and Mum can overlook from the lovely wide ‘gin and tonic’ terrace with something chilled in hand – or maybe that’s just my ideal.

Time to head upstairs and up the magnificent curved stair case. Unusually for a new build it has a rather beautiful turned mahogany balustrade sweeping curvaceously to the first floor rather than an off the peg metal job that I see so often. IMG_2630This is seriously worthy of some Mary Poppins sliding down the banisters moments, only in my dreams mind, because frankly marble doesn’t make a very bouncy landing.

The galleried landing is a bit breathtaking to be honest, wide and with an area for reading peacefully, just three rooms lead off so it isn’t horridly hotel-like with banks of doors.IMG_2637

And so onto the master suite and the killer question; does it work? Is it the go to sanctuary that a luxury home really must offer Mum and Dad? So often they aren’t. Unusually here you enter into a very grown up sitting room through double doors with views onto your piece of Royal Berkshire landscape and beyond. To the right is the bedroom with views out over green and to the left a dressing room seriously worthy of any of the top echelons of the Kardashian tribe – with a marbled bathroom to luxuriate in for hours.

There is no let up in well thought out design with the other four bedrooms either. All with their own en suite bathrooms and bags of storage – in fact ‘bags of storage’ sums up this house. No tripping over suitcases and ski stuff here, there’s more than enough space for even the most hideous hoarder to squirrel away their stuff neatly.

Finally there is an exciting little addition, (I don’t mean little!) that my clients are always absolutely desperate for – above the garage with it’s own entrance is a self contained studio flat. Designed perfectly for the au pair or for keeping the in-laws at a decent distance.

As I said, I am terribly suspicious of new homes – the small rooms, the shoddy workmanship and the lack of understanding of how familys now live.

But Hurlingham delights. It has one of the best master suites I can remember seeing. And the detailing that many developers just don’t bother with, such as the hand made balustrade, the incredible lighting in the kitchen and the practicality of the second entrance and the boot/utility room. Plus the bonus of the separate ‘guest’ accommodation. It all adds up to a big bundle of well thought out quality. In two words- it works.

Plot 3, Brockenhurst Road, Ascot, Cala Homes Thames

Plot 3, Brockenhurst Road, Ascot, Cala Homes Thames

So if a client comes to me who wants to live in a home fit for a King, near to the sport of Kings and frankly near plenty of Kings – but they want (as most do) a true home to bring up their family, then I will be marching them in, as this is a right royal home indeed.

As Jamie might say, through a mouthful of quinoa and freshly squeezed kale juice. ‘It’s pukka!’.

Footnote: More details can be found about this home (Hurlingham, Brockenhurst Road) and other Cala homes here – but before I managed to get the ink dry on writing this it was reserved – it wasn’t just me who liked it…

Estate Agent Types..

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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 Shoreditch doesn’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 loser’ 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 *!@&..
Likes:  His database.
Dislikes: Loooo-sers.

Caroline is single, she wasn’t always. She has left a number of husbands in her wake. The latest woke to find his suits sleeveless and a Facebook photo of him, a goat and an unverifiable accusation. Caroline is not to be messed with. She rules her Agency with iron talons and only hires young men or women older and fatter than her. She wears power suits in jewel colours, very very high heels and has long swishy hair, which she swishes, a lot. She rarely wears tights on her long fake tanned legs and when in the company of men could give Sharon Stone a run for her leg-crossing money. Caroline prides herself on a new brand of feminine Estate Agency, thus the office has pink accessories, Designer Guild cushions and black and white photographs with motivational quotes.

Catchphrase: Fab after Fifty.

Likes: Carole Middleton.

Dislikes: Younger women.

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 every buyer. Sadly this is just a pipe dream since boyfriend Gaz was made redundant from Kwik-Fit. Still, his Grandma is ill and she’s got a lovely retirement bungalow in Bognor, so there is hope. Michaela has Heart.

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

Christine looks Mumsy but she has seen it all and let me tell you, it was all negative then and it’s no flaming better now. The only people she likes are her son, who is perfect and the Manager and district Manager, who she bakes cakes for. Those young ruddy 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 to viewings, that steel eyed stare will cause them nightmares.

Catchphrase: I spoke to that applicant first.
Likes: Strictly Come Dancing
Dislikes: People.
Dave is to be found south of the river offering ‘sell your house for £500’ deals from his one man office above Greggs. ‘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 them 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 is 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, so 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
Can’t miss him out!
The older generation 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 generation 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 blo*dy good pheasant shoot
Dislikes: Being called an Estate Agent.

So, due to concerns of biting the hand that feeds me, let me make it clear that 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 I have made it all up and that all Estate Agents are made of sugar and spice and stop for hedgehogs crossing the road. Apart from Rupert of course, who shoots them.

Quiz – How to work with your Estate Agent

If you are going to pay someone in the region of 1.5% of your major asset, your life savings even, it would make sense to know how to get the best out of them. Buying and selling houses is all about people and relationships. How you handle those relationships is the key to a stress-free moving experience. Well, lets be honest, it will never be stress-free but you can minimise the accumulation of grey hairs.

Remember why you are bothering to instruct an Estate Agent. It should be for these reasons:

  • Marketing A great marketing reach, so your home gets to as many potential buyers as possible. Maximising your market means maximizing your price.
  • Negotiation skills You rarely buy or sell a house. An Estate Agent will have sold hundreds. A good one will have the experience to negotiate a much better price for you than you can.
  • Management of the sales process. Having a broker do due diligence on the buyer’s position at the outset and liaising between solicitors, mortgage companies, chains and buyer should make the process far more watertight. The more watertight the deal the less worries you will have along the way.

So onto our quiz and today we are focusing on Kevin, a rather good Estate Agent. You like him, you trust him you have instructed him. If you don’t like and trust him, stop reading now and go and get a different one.

Kevin and you discuss the asking price. Do you..?

A. Look carefully at his comparable evidence showing homes just like yours and what they sold for. Reach an asking price that you are both comfortable with.

B. Point out forcefully that you spent twelve grand on the stone-cladding, so yours is worth more

C. Kick him out with a flea in his ear for insulting you.

Kevin suggests a quick once over with a lick of paint. Do you?

A. Spend a couple of weeks sprucing it up so it’s clean and tidy?

B.Tell him people will just have to look through the junk and dirt to find the hidden gem.

C. Ask what the heck he’s on about- keeping chickens in the kitchen makes your house stand out from the crowd.

Kevin wants to put a sale board up. Do you?

A.Listen to the statistics of how many more people may be aware of your property as a result.

B. Tell him no, because the neighbours are so flaming nosey.

C.Tell him no, because your house is far too posh for one of them.

Kevin wants keys. Do you?

A.Have assurance they will be kept safely and get them to him sharpish.

B. Refuse to let him as you will ALWAYS be in.

C.Peer at him suspiciously, say ‘I know your game mate. You’ll be having parties here’. and refuse point-blank.

Kevin calls and wants to do a 9am saturday viewing. Do you?

A.Have an early night and clear off out.

B.Leave the kids in bed and the take-away all over the kitchen.

C.Say no, because you’ve got a really ‘Heavy’ friday night.

Kevin is coming around at 12. Do you

A.Pop out with the dog and wait until he’s finished

B.Leave the dog loose.. he’s great with strangers.

C.Stay in and closely follow Kev and the viewers around the house.

Hurrah! Kevin has an offer. Do you?

A.Consider the buyers position, the price offered and discuss whether he thinks he can get you more?

B.Loftily dismiss it out of hand, saying ‘there will always be another one’.

C.Berate him and the buyers for daring to insult you with such a derisory offer.

Kevin has sealed the deal. Great buyers and good price.The buyers want to bring the in-laws around.Do you?

A. Use it as an opportunity to develop a friendly relationship with your buyers.

B. Refuse, until they exchange. ‘You can’t trust anyone these days, I want to see the colour of their money’.

C.Use it as an opportunity to tell your buyers about the hideous racket the neighbours make.

Kevin rings to tell you that the survey has come back with ‘a few things’. Do you?

A. Consider the points carefully, if necessary have your own specialists look at the issues, then reach a grown-up compromise with the buyers..

B.Metaphorically throw your toys out of the pram and tell the buyers to put up or shut up.

C. Tell Kevin, to tell the Buyers that all Surveyors are rubbish.

Kevin rings to say that as you are near to exchange the buyer wants to set a completion date. Do you?

A. Ask when the buyer wants and try your best to make it work

B. Tell them the date you insist on is non-negotiable  due to nephews up-coming  Bar Mitzvah.

C. Tell Kevin to tell buyers you couldn’t care less if they are getting married the week you chose. ‘It’s my way, or the Highway’

It’s human nature to take any criticism of your home personally. Do try to put the Ego away and look at the end goal. A move to a nicer place and as stress-free a move as possible. Sensible compromise, without of course being taken for a mug, is the way to achieve that.

By the way, if you haven’t worked out that you should have ticked all the A boxes then I shall bow out gracefully….whilst hitting my head against the stone-clad wall.

Another Estate Agent type…

Caroline is single, she wasn’t always. She has left a number of husbands in her wake. The latest woke to find his suits sleeveless and a Facebook photo of him, a goat and an unverifiable accusation. Caroline is not to be messed with.

She rules her Agency with iron talons and only hires women older and fatter than her. She wears power suits in jewel colours, very very high heels and has long swishy hair, which she swishes, a lot. She rarely wears tights on her long fake tanned legs and when in the company of men could give Sharon Stone a run for her leg-crossing money.

Caroline prides herself on a new brand of feminine Estate Agency, thus the office has pink accessories, Designer Guild cushions and black and white photographs with motivational quotes.

Catchphrase: Fab after Fifty.

Likes: Carole Middleton.

Dislikes: Younger women.

The aspirational A-Z of a middle class home… Allegedly.

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A   Annexe. For ‘the help’.

B   Boot room. Only Dubarrys allowed.

C   Corian worktops. White. Ribena banned.

D   Dualit toaster. Purely for show because carbs are BAD.

E   Emma Bridgewater mugs. Fifteen quid a pop. Mugs?

F   Fruit and veg juicer. Only used once due to cleaning ‘issues’.

G   Glass box extension plonked on the back of your Wandsworth semi.

H   Hens. Ex-battery, housed in a plastic Joseph & Joseph looky-likey Eglu.

I    Induction hob. For creating a real buzzzzz in the kitchen.

J  Joseph & Joseph everything.

K  KitchenAid mixer. Cos life’s too short to hold an electric whisk.

L  Lutron lighting. Because sometimes you’re in a pink mood but other times mauve.

M  Music. Sonos etc. Or as we used to call it, piped.

N  Nandos. The middle classes KFC.

O  Ocado. No moving to the country unless they deliver.

P  Pantry. To store all your Quinoa.

Q  Quooka- boiling water tap, because your life’s too busy to boil a kettle

R  Riedel wine glasses. One for every type of wine. Like that’s gonna happen.

S  Shutters. AKA plantation blinds – because who needs light?

T  Tub. Stand alone in middle of the room. Shiny metal or egg shaped plastic. Silly.

U  Umami. Allegedly adds taste to Quinoa.

V  Vitra Eames stuff. Copies of design classic furniture. Copies.

W  Waste disposal. Quinoa disposal.

X   Xander. One child at least should be called this.

Y  You – think of something.

Z  Zebra hide rug. Cos there’s nothing nicer than walking on dead wildlife.

…and before you ask, I ONLY have eight.

The Polo Minted Chinese

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The Chinese are back in town. I promised myself I’d have nothing to do with them after the last debacle but heyho, I’m an ex-Estate Agent and pound signs make me come over all giddy.

This time they want a large property in large grounds, a place they can bring important Chinese people to. Government officials are mentioned by name, I do a good impression of having a clue. It needs to be quintessentially English I am told – but in a Chinese way, obviously. That apparently means it has to have a polo pitch. This is key. Mrs Chang is very keen on polo. ‘Does, she play?’ I ask. Apparently she will once she’s learned to ride.

I get the usual ’gotta be the best of the best, money no object’ jargon and additionally they must have at least ten bedroom suites, games room and swimming pool etc… A Playboy mansion in the Shires it seems. Images of portly Chinese dignitaries wandering around in satin dressing gowns frightening the polo ponies fill my head.

I pick them up at the apartment I bought for them and am left waiting for an hour as Mrs Chang had been for a jog (impossible in Beijing because of the smog so I am expected to be understanding) and she was now eating noodles. I have a meticulously timed itinerary of exceptional off-market properties that I’ve begged and borrowed to get access to and which is fast getting screwed. My fixed smile is really struggling.

Out of the blue I am informed that they will follow me in their brand new car. The biggest flashiest 5 litre SUV I have ever seen. Mrs Chang and Aunty haven’t driven in the UK before. The banker will drive there, Aunty will drive back, it will be her first driving lesson. Marvellous.

First property is in Surrey, I am met in a field by two country house estate agents and my colleague who have been waiting an hour and a half and are looking chilled – not in a good way. Mr Smooth and Mr Country. Mr Smooth is buttoned up in City chic. Navy cashmere coat, polished Loakes and a silk tie. The ruddy Mr Country has covered his Fair Isle jumper in a battered old Barbour and wears country brogues that haven’t seen polish since a young farmers dance in 1987. He sports brown cords of a similar era.

As what they are looking for almost certainly doesn’t exist with all the necessary Feng Shui criteria, we are looking at a plot with planning for a suitably tasteless faux Georgian 30,000 square foot pile and Mr Country suggests that most of the party jump into his 4×4 to have an off-road tour of the many acred estate. The look on his face makes me feel that he is more excited at showing off his off roading skills than closing a deal. I manage to look magnanimous as I usher the party and my colleague into his car, whilst Mr Smooth and I will follow in my 4×4. Wheels spinning mud, he heads off across the fields and onto woodland tracks. I follow in his wake, see the mud, remember how much the valeting cost and think sod it. I swerve back to the nice piece of tarmac with a shed and a bloke called Clive who makes tea. Mr Smooth seems pretty relieved that his Loakes won’t have to touch anything brown or green.

It takes a good twenty minutes before the mud caked party are back. Apparently Mrs Chang had been leaping out of the car taking pictures of trees and planning which ones can be cut down to make way for the polo pitch. There was also a lot of iPhone compass shaking so she could build this nouveau palace facing the right way for Feng Shui.

Having delayed the start of the tour by hours Mrs Chang now says she would like to cut short the day and go to Claridges for afternoon tea. My face was stoic. but I did something I rarely do, insisted they see the next one. Won’t take long I lied, we will whizz up the motorway to Berkshire in no time. Whizzing was the last thing that happened. I hadn’t quite realised how inept Aunty was behind the wheel. We started out of the field in a convoy. The bankers husband decided to jump into my car with wide eyes. I lead, followed by Aunty, followed by Mr Smooth in his BMW and Mr Country in his mud splattered 4×4. It is a narrow lane. As I accelerate to about 15 mph I can see Aunty in my rear view mirror receding into the distance. I slow to allow her to catch up. We watch as she clips the verge, once, twice, three times and decimates a good percentage of England’s hedgerows in her wake. My passenger’s phone rings, it’s his wife the banker. ‘Tell Tracy to slow down, Aunty’s panicking’. I slow to 12 mph. She adds that Miss Chang didn’t like the site.. ‘too much mud’.

We hit a problem, there are now cars coming the other way. Aunty stops. There are now at least eight cars behind her, all honking at her. My phone rings, it’s Mr Smooth three cars back, through hysterical laughter he tries to ask what they thought but never manages.

Slowly, very slowly we make it through Guildford to the M25. Who knew Guildford had so many flaming roundabouts. Roundabouts and Aunty don’t mix and with a cacophony of horns still ringing we slowly get onto the motorway. And slowly it remained. 5 litres of super charged German engineering half on the inside lane, half on the hard shoulder at 28mph. At one point we are overtaken by a tractor on a low loader. I tell my passenger to call them and see if they can speed up. He rings his wife but all I can hear are shrill Mandarin voices shrieking at each other as I watch their Teutonic behemoth gently swerve from lane to lane in the rear mirror.

I’ve had enough and to give Aunty fair warning I start indicating a mile before the next services. Safely parked up, the ashen faced entourage disembark, inspect the scraped car and remove bits of hedge from the front grill and wheel arches. An argument breaks out between the sisters.

I turn to Miss Chang and the banker translates. ‘You know what, go to Claridges, this next one is a Feng Shui disaster. It faces the wrong way, has loads of cracked mirrors and the nearest water is the sewage filtration plant next door. And..’ in my very best Taggart voice I add…. ‘There’s been a murder’.

As my foot hits the pedal and I speed unceremoniously fast out of Heston services, I am resolute that from now on the only Chinese in my life comes battered, fried and MSG’d. It’s better for my health.

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.