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…

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.

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?