Death of the traditional Estate Agent?

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Have online estate agencies, the fees up front coloured Lego types really taken the lions share of the market? Are they the way to go? Have they wiped the smiles off traditional Estate Agents faces and changed the face of Estate Agency forever?

Hmm.

To me the issue is the chasm between what is marketing a property and the actual selling of it. Particularly in a market where, to put it mildly, it’s tough.

I am by no means in the thrall of Estate Agents nor a Luddite disliking of change and when I talk of High Street or traditional Estate Agents, I of course mean good ones, which is a whole different blog. The fact is that buying and selling in the UK (excluding Scotland) is a flaming nightmare.

Truth is, that when I buy and when I sell I want to use a good traditional, knows their stuff Estate Agent. I and every buyer I have worked with does not want to be escorted around a home by the Vendor extolling the virtues of his hot tub. As a seller I don’t want to see people traipsing through my house inspecting my cupboards.

I don’t want to have to negotiate with the Vendor on his main asset, it gets emotional. And as a Vendor I know it’s a darn sight easier for the Estate Agent to say ‘I have loads of interest’ and get the best price, than me trying it on with a sheepish expression.

But that’s the easy bit.

The tricky stuff comes after an offer has been agreed, when the mortgage companies, surveyors and solicitors get involved. These days their role can most often be described as ‘problem finders’. Someone in this sticky mix has to be the ‘problem solver’ and that is the Estate Agent (and the buyers representatives when used).

What happens when the mortgage company insists on a piece of paper from 1977 which doesn’t exist and they won’t accept an indemnity policy?

When the survey says there is a 20k damp problem and buyer and seller refuse to budge.

When the chain starts to break at the bottom, who is trying to put it back together?

Vendors threatening to pull out if we don’t exchange tomorrow and mortgage funds aren’t ready.

Just some real examples of deals of mine in the past 12 months where without the Estate Agent sweating bricks and managing the issues delicately, the deal would have died.

Before everyone starts throwing their toys out of the pram, I know there are exceptions and I know a bad Estate Agent is worse than dry rot. I also don’t think they have to be on the High Street, there are some excellent ones based in local trading estates. But the key is that they need to be on the ground, know the property business and manage the sale like a hawk. They need to be on top of all parts of the chain, the mortgage offers and the legals. When they do, the process of buying and selling generally works.

It costs money to manage a 3 months sales progression professionally. I don’t see how a fixed £1000 or £2000 fee can cover a business to do this properly. But of course, if you have been paid up front, you really don’t have to.

Until we have a conveyancing process whereby all issues have been ironed out before the offer and it really is a simple transaction, it is a people and relationship driven process. And when you have people you also have the words emotional, irrational, selfish, greedy and many others. These things have to be managed by people who know what they’re doing and quite simply, you get what you pay for.

Weirdly, traditional Estate Agents are really bad at selling the importance of sales progression, the key part where the safe pairs of hands make the difference between selling smoothly or a decade on Prozac. They bandy about their online presence and which portals they are on but they rarely allude to the part after the offer comes in. The part where it can and often does go horribly wrong.

Traditional ‘charge a reasonable fee’ Estate Agents need to get cleverer at broadcasting this USP.  Because in this tough market, a good, ‘proper’ Estate Agent has more value than ever.

 

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A few things I muse on when viewing properties.

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How safe would I feel walking home from the tube?
Can the iPhone be visible or would I only venture out in full Kevlar?

How resaleable?
Would even Purple Bricks baulk at listing it?

Structural soundness?
Indoor mushrooms and I am onto it.. more than that, GET A SURVEY.

Sound pollution.
Am I vibrating?

Storage space.
The hoover and ironing board ARE OUT warning klaxon.

Same road as a school?
Six weeks in and you’ll spend night and day plotting Yummy Mummy annihilation.

Garden office.
Sad. Cold. Damp. Sad.

Area – the ‘people like us’ test.
How many sourdough outlets?

Convenient location.
The Ocado, Deliveroo and Uber test.

Attic conversions.
There’s a reason they were attics.

Common areas.
How common?

Mezzanines.
Stupid.

Lower ground flats.
Smell of damp and a view of ankles.

‘Needs updating’.
How bad is the smell of wee?

Neighbours.

LEAVE MEANS LEAVE poster in the window?
The modern day Asda trolley in the front garden.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”.

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?

The Pippa’s bottom of the London property market.

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It’s been a funny old year in the prime central London property market. I signed up new clients in December for a search. Clients with simple but classy tastes. One is a lawyer and one a cosmetic surgeon to the rich and famous – very disconcerting for a lady buying agent of a certain age. Two bedrooms, outside space in South Kensington, 1000 square feet for our £1.5m budget, easy! I left for my Christmas holidays smug in the belief that I’d be kicking my heels up at their house warming in Spring.

In January I hit what I imagined would be a sleepy market. However, I find the prices of new stock surprisingly high and I am definitely not alone walking the South Ken streets clutching a wad of cash to splash.

I console myself with the belief that these prices are simply Agents trying it on and that buyers won’t bite. I’m wrong. They aren’t just biting, they are fighting tooth and claw for anything half decent, whatever the price.

As the weeks pass, I view a lot:

I see common areas that would have crack dealers reaching for the Cillit Bang.

Outside spaces where you’d sip your Cosmopolitans next to the bins.

Bitumen ‘roof gardens’ scented by curry house extractors and second bedrooms where you’d struggle to swing a hamster.

Not to mention the 635 square foot reception rooms, mezzanined and paper partitioned into nothing more than a collection of cupboards.

As for the client’s desired Cornwall Gardens, that was only achievable with a basement flat so damp you could forage your own Girolles.

Everything was unashamedly ripping the Michael out of the words “two bedroom flat”.

It seemed that overnight South Ken had become the Pippa’s bottom of London real estate, royally desirable but royally untouchable. So I throw in some creative thinking, ‘I am going to look in Notting Hill’ I tell my losing patience clients ‘You’ll love it!’.

But in Notting Hill I find Bridget Jones flats. Deconstructed kitchens with curtains for cupboard doors. Walls covered in ethnic hangings, CND posters and ponging of joss sticks. The elusive 1000 square feet remained a forlorn dream. I even ventured into Queensway wondering if I could keep a straight face calling it Connaught Village. I couldn’t.

Something had to give, I decide it will have to be the tube and they’ll just have to get an Add Lee account. So I start looking in an area where old money trims their Wisteria at weekends, where mansion flats jostle with Arts and Craft houses and corner shops stock Gentleman’s relish but no scratch cards.

Bingo, I was right, this little corner of London was yielding far more bang for our tortured buck. I find the first flat in four months that warrants me demanding my client hot foots it from some sagging pop star’s brow.

It’s got the lot, it’s spacious, has a proper little patio garden (client mentions hot tub but I blank him) and you can swing a whole litter of Bagpusses in the kitchen. Above all it has the most elusive quality of all.. Class.

Client is wide eyed, he wants it badly but it’s a bit over budget. He turns exuberantly to the 30-something male Agent and against this Buying Agents strict instructions, makes him an offer. Not one this Agent has had before.

” If the Vendor takes £XXX I’ll give her free Botox for life.. and you too!”

My client looks at me bashfully and says “Sorry Tracy, I wasn’t thinking, I had a bottom lift in mind for you”.

We did eventually get the flat but if you spot a little pop star spinning around London a tad lop-sided, I’m to blame. But perhaps therein lies a lesson?

In today’s London property market, sometimes you have to think outside the Botox.

Written for my column in http://www.primeresi.com – the journal for the prime central London property market.