Buying Agent visits The Lancasters. Do they bomb?

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The Lancasters and their cute pencil hoardings have been looming over Bayswater Road for what seems like ‘donkey’s years’. A huge project, hewn from a massive, down-market hotel, with only the facade retained. I have been offered them on and off for the past few years.

To be honest, I haven’t taken much notice of them for clients as I had an in-built assumption, (prejudice), that they were just another over-priced, over-hyped development for those with more money than sense. Worse still, they were dumped in the slightly dodgy no-mans-land of Bayswater/Queensway. However, times change and with the much hyped launch of One Hyde Park there seems to be a a sea-change in attitudes to luxury London property. A change fuelled by oversea’s buyers who are less interested in doing deals and more interested in owning the right sort of place with the right sort of people. The ‘right sort of price’ is no longer the over-riding driver, for many it seems it just has to be the right address and that address now more than ever is in London.

This being Spring and my Arab clients about to board their jets to London, the timing was perfect to check them out. With potentially about £15m of clients money in my back pocket, the launch was an opportunity to gen up on availability, price per square foot and as much information as I could glean in order to pass on to my clients. I surprised myself by thinking I might actually be in the market for one but I would be fibbing if I didn’t admit I would be directly comparing it to One Hyde Park, like everyone else.

With inverted snobbery firmly in place I headed down the Bayswater Road. The whiteness of the stucco, gleams in comparison to the tired and in some cases decaying neighbourhood of cheapish hotels and kebab houses.

Meeting up with my colleague ‘the tall blonde’, who I oft introduce with the line ‘if you think I’m tough’ we head to the queue for security. Hmm, I don’t like queues, hackles start to rise but men in top hats lurch forward and usher us through. Good start. Lots of smiles and nods from top hatted concierge’s is a welcome contrast to the hard-faced greeting I had from One Hyde Park’s PR Annabel’s.

The frontage and gardens are very pretty, but I keep in mind that no residents will see it as they waft from underground car park to apartment.

Into the inviting reception area, we are again greeted warmly and with dark colours, slate flooring inlaid with wood the overall feel is sumptuous but not intimidating. Gentlemens clubby feel but with Ladies welcome.

I have been told that the guests will include industry peeps, agents, private bankers and journalists so I am looking forward to a bit of networking but above all I want information. The launch party spans two apartments. We start in the first smaller apartment. A large model of the development and an interactive screen, (can anyone work these out?) are displayed but I can’t see any ‘sales people’. Then on through to the show flat. Clearly the poshest of the lot. This does not have a lounge, nor a reception room, this one without doubt has a ‘state room’. Very, very high ceilings, very, very big windows overlooking Hyde Park, very, very full of suits. Well, not just suits, there are girls in the Lady Rupert uniform du jour. Black opaque tights, leopard print shoes, itsy bitsy Chanel handbags and whichever generation, size six. Age group only differentiated by Botox usage. We decide to investigate and inspect before subjecting ourselves to the sales pitch.

A nice Lalique-esque plaster feature wall in the kitchen/diner pleases the middle-aged inner me.

Boffi dark wood units, matt white surfaces, Gaggenau appliances, glass splash backs and big wine fridge – all as expected including the zinc topped table and the square stubby glass vases of truncated roses beloved of all show house stagers. And my, has this been staged.

The central lobby has an enormous gilded cage suspended from the ceiling thirty feet above, with three T K Maxx-ish golden parrots perched. I muse on whether the stagers were amusing themselves with a not so subtle socio-economic gilded cage statement.

The master bedroom is rather nice, in shades of what I call blue but which the tall blonde insists is ‘eau de nil’. The fur throw at a jaunty angle the only predictable staging cliche. It certainly scored points against One Hyde Park, where the master I saw was quite small and under-whelming.

The en-suite, although a little too open plan for anyone with a whiff of cellulite, was pretty sexy. Again, marble takes centre stage but here, more subtly than the red Tuscan slabs of One Hyde Park.

I am starting to get a slight liking for these stagers as we investigate the other bedrooms. They have created boudoirs with character and blimey, a little humour. Corsets in frames just one quirky addition.

This is how to do a boudoir, although I will be pleased when the fashion for mirrored furniture finally  shatters.

and another off-piste choice in the study. Old Arabian carpets patch-worked together rustically, giving a cosy worn in feel. Very rare in new developments but rather appealing.

We go in search of a selling agent to drill down into the nitty gritty. Weaving through swathes of middle aged portly white men, packs of 25 year old guffawing Ruperts knocking back fizz and giggles of leopard print shod girls. We circuit the big apartment and the smaller apartment again and again, eventually cornering a canape toting Henrietta to request help. ‘They will be around’ is the vacant response. But they aren’t. We can spot Agents everywhere but are they the selling agents? Quite a contrast to One Hyde Park where Lucien trailed like a helpful puppy.

In this sea of two hundred of the ‘very well-connected’ we eventually find one name badge talking in a corner. Tall blonde interrupts her, seems she is ‘only talking to a colleague’ yet he wears no name badge. Why? Bluntly we explain we want a low down. She points to the model and the interactive screen.

Do you have price lists ‘No’.

Do you have a brochure? ‘You will get one when you leave’

Square footage price? ‘Err, that depends’.

Perfectly polite, but information was something we were clearly not going to get but was the reason we were here.

So how does it compare to One Hyde Park? and for those who think it doesn’t matter, it does.

On a frivolous level, a high five for not having to wear CSI over-shoes or hotel slippers.

The finish, well, truth be told you can tell the difference but mainly down to the quality of decoration which is easily remedied. The kitchens and bathrooms were comparable.

Location, let’s face it is not currently great. It may overlook Hyde Park from one side but you are in the heart of Queensway and will need to avert your eyes from the plethora of kebab shops around the back. Having said that, the front of One Hyde Park is blighted by the honking of bendy buses and midnight hoardes decamping noisily from the local Lebanese.

Ambiance is where it really shone through. From the friendliness of the concierge staff to the careful replication of the original cornicing and the innovative warmth of the styling, it felt like it could be home.

And best of all? Whilst still blowing most of prime London comparables, they come in at about half the price of One Hyde Park.

It’s not often I believe the hype that one development can upgrade a slightly down at heel area, but I did get that feel here.

On departure we receive the goodie bag. Overlooking the bon-bons, pad and pencils (a sweetly branded theme), I inspect the promised brochure for detailed information. It amounts to one paragraph on concierge services and two floor-plans. Great.

On balance, no I don’t think these Lancasters are going to bomb, the developers Northacre are to be congratulated on producing a classy, desirable place to live and not just an icy trophy pad.

To be perfectly honest, I think my clients and I would be quite happy nesting in this gilded cage.

For more information on our bespoke London property search click

Buying Agent’s Top 50 Property people to follow on Twitter. Feb 2011

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This is intended as a crib sheet for people new to Twitter who either work in residential property or are fascinated by it. I follow 1000 people, so clearly there are many more worthwhile ones out there. However, if you follow all of these people you will kick-start yourself straight into the Glitterati of the property Twitterati.

(1) @Rightmove

Boring and predictable of me I know, but their in-house stats are invaluable for raising debate and they actually engage.

(2) @Zoopla

and @lawrencejhall @kyreniaj who tweet on behalf.

Generally more frivolous in their postings than Rightmove but amongst the Sleb stuff is useful information.

(3) @waellis1868

A small Estate Agency showing the ‘big boys’  how Twitter should be done. Constant flow of really excellent property links.

(4) @anneashworth

‘The’ property writer for the Times Bricks and Mortar. Would be No.1 if the links Anne tweets (which are probably some of the best mainstream property articles out there), were available to non-paywall peeps.

(5) @Tepilo

and @sarahbeeny Lots of interesting tweets for consumers and property professionals.

(6) @grantshapps

Not suggesting you will enjoy this follow, main emphasis seems to be on who earns more than David Cameron. However, would be ill-advised not to follow the housing minister despite it being a part-time (why?) role.

(7) @Primelocation and @property_whore @findaproperty @thomasinagr

Usual portal stuff, slightly less active than those above but nuggets of juicy stuff.

(8) @planetproperty

A surprising high rider in the charts, as they are spring chickens in the Twitterverse. But I always click on the links to their daily pieces and I am rarely disappointed by either the content or the often very well-researched and written journalism.

(9) @propertyjourn

Engaging, interesting and some great off piste blogs as well as his broadsheet pieces, from freelance property writer Graham Norwood.

(10) @andrew_oxlade @thisismoney

Constant high quality pieces on the money side of property.

(11) @melaniebien

Doyenne of all things finance and mortgages within the media and Twitter. Sartorially and financially ‘keeping it real’.

(12) @subutcher

Queen of Twitter in the architecture and construction industries.

(13) @rupertbates

Editor of What?House and Showhouse who’s industry tweets are interspersed with rugby chants.

(14) @henrypryor

BBC property pundit and consultant to many ‘posh’ Estate Agents. His statistical analyses and conclusions of the property market make me judder between head nodding and head shaking, creating good debates.

(15) @shelter

Lest we forget what a mess the housing market is in for many, these guys are there to remind us.

(16) @eatoday

Essential follow to keep up with the intricacies of behind the scenes estate agency issues and news.

(17) @ed_mead

The nearest we have to a celebrity Estate Agent, commenting on the Central London market. Thankfully, honestly.

(18) @propertyjourno

Good straight forward property tweets with humour and personality.

(19) @jamesatupad @avoidthevoids

With a focus on the lettings side, must follows for insight into that side of the market.

(20) @propertyowl

Good and interesting property related tweets.

(21) @thereatandmouse

Interesting round up of the key property stories of the day and very well written.

(22) @davidadamsch

Tweets from Chesterton Humberts on the state of the market in real time.

(23) @marshandparsons

Peter Rollings tweets about the London market, some useful stuff (but sometimes stuffy) and overly PRish on occasion. You have been warned.

(24)  @academyblog and @housingdabble

Essential follows for those in the industry and incredibly helpful folk.

(25) @agencytrainer

Julien O’Dell an Estate Agent and a trainer of them.. essential follow for insights into the back office of agency.

(26) @propertyadd

Immersed in the world of Estate Agency and so are his very useful tweets.

(27) @liambaileyresi & writeaproperty

Tweets from the poshest of the posh, Knight Frank. Important data but could benefit from a warmer approach and more frequency.

(28) @insidehousing

The arbiter of all things related to social housing.

(29) @ricssurveyors @ricspress

Tweets from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Rarely amusing and not profligate with their tweeting but a necessary follow.

(30) @jamie_merrill

Property tweeting from the Independent. Sadly doesn’t really talk back but you won’t miss the decent stories the Independent produces by following.

(31)   @tessashepperson

A lawyer specialising in Landlord law. Excellent articles about the legal side of being a Landlord.

(32) @integraps

Estate Agent, surveyor and estate agency trainer, tweeting useful news, information and banter.

(33) @huntwriter

For ‘proper’ writing about eco and sustainable building and more…

(34) @robertaward

Knowledgable blunt tweeting about investing, developing and making money from property.

(35) @neilkurz

Feisty property tweeting from an Aylesbury Estate Agent and EPC aficionado.

(36) @theneg

Does what it says on the tin.. news and views from The Negotiator magazine.

(37) @whatsamsawtoday

Tweeting and blogging from a woman in thick of buying, renovating for investment.

(38) @estateagentdad

An anonymous Estate Agent in the West country talking about how it really is… difficult to be mean about EA’s when you follow this lovely chap. The poster boy for ‘Estate Agents are people too’.

(39) @astleysharpe

An independent Estate Agent in Milton Keynes, talking market and personal stuff brilliantly. The corporates should watch and learn.

(40) @dezeen

An essential follow for the most glorious architectural and design links from their website. Delicious.

(41) @giornalista1

Freelance property journalist who is human and engages… a rarity.

(42) @ewardhunt

A property PR looking after clients across Estate Agency and buying agents. Really good interesting tweets and she chats back.

(43) @pimlico_flats

A landlord with properties in guess where! He shouldn’t be interesting but he is.

(44) @bannerhomesplc

The only developers worth following that I have found. Bags of personality, they even make me click on their new homes links, which quite an achievement.

(45) @dwellresi

A London lettings agent who know their stuff and are happy to share insights and help out.

(46) @peterboltonking

Heads up NAEA, does not Tweet much but access to government means worth a follow for the odd tidbit of important stuff.

(47) @romansauctions

Tweeting personably about property auctions, with the odd ‘frightful’ property thrown in to delight us.

(48)  @aboutproperty

Some good property tweeting and links going on here.

(49) @aceestateagent

Kathy Griffin runs Sawdye & Harris independent EA’s in Devon. Consistently good links and blogs.

(50) @mortgage_mind

Blunt tweeting about mortgage products, tells it how it is along with a very enjoyable dollop of cheeky-chappieness.

The day I went to buy an island

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Hey Trace’, starts the call. ‘Know anything about islands?’ It’s the Manager of a pro-golfer I work with and he’s found a possible golf course site in Scotland.

It is no coincidence that the manager was a Scot. Even less of a coincidence that the island was next to where he grew up. I had a sneaky suspicion that the Managers sentimentality was driving this, but what the heck.

‘Leave it with me’ I tell him and start leafing through the Filofax for anyone with a Scottish sounding name.

I’d like to say it was difficult to find a chartered surveyor who specialises in Islands but it was strangely straightforward. Serious smugdom. I booked him to meet us on the island.

With trip booked, the Golfer,  takes a look in the meantime.  In a plane. More fly-by’s than drive-by’s when Slebs are involved.

It’s a few years back and without the benefit of Google Earth and with Street View not even embryonic, I have very little idea what I will find. I am told there is a mansion for Golfer to ‘chill’ in, a lighthouse and a caretakers cottage. My role in all this is to verify value and to check out the ‘big house’ and see how it could work as a country retreat for Golfer. A watery pied de terre away from the pressures of Slebdom.

There are three of us at Glasgow airport. Mark the Manager, Ben the golf course designer and me. Now I’m not quite so stupid as to have worn normal garb, I am wearing jeans and a pair of biker boots. My only nod to vanity being a pricey blow dry and a full face of slap. More than can be said for the other two who are suited and booted. Ben is a portly chap with ruddy cheeks. They are going to get ruddier.

Hire car picked up and quick stop at a petrol station where ‘the boys’ buy up a trolley load of sweets. Off to the coast, it’s spitting and I’m wondering how much frizz-ease the hairdresser used.

We arrive at a sailing club and we can spy the island across the water. Quick professional assessment. Yep, it’s an island.

Brawny men approach us dressed up in black and red survival gear and bobble hats. ‘Ye lot gooin ovah too the wee island then?’ head brawny man asks.

I hadn’t quite thought through how we were actually getting over to this island, think I imagined a bridge or something but the ‘rib’ , rigid inflatable boat, had not crossed my mind, I’m quite sure of that. What came next hadn’t either.

‘Ye all need to wayer these’ (he’s Scottish).

Flaming Nora. Survival suits, one size fits all. If you’re a Yeti. They have also provided me with a bobble hat for extra stupidness.

Clambering onto the boat, Captain brawny directs me to behind him. ‘Yee’ll get leess wet’, he says. Less??!.. Less??!. And off we go. No warning, full throttle, nose in air. Thorpe Park white water ride without the safety belt and the photo at the bottom. Nails embedded in the bench, wind whistling up my bobble hat and a sea water facial.

Ben the portly golf course designer winks at me, bully for him, he’s not got eyes awash with  ‘waterproof’ mascara.

The islands caretakers are waiting for us. A couple in their thirties who are keen to please,  in their minds, we could be their new boss. We peel off our survival suits and our bobble hats. Bad hair day doesn’t do it justice. Dundee cake and mugs of builders most welcome in their rather cosy little hut turned bungalow.

The surveyor turns up on a boat from his base in Mull. Introductions made we head off to view the ‘big house’.

Damn, those photographers were good. Hadn’t sussed it was a 1950‘s build. Did wonder about no interior shots though.

Hallway big and bright. Antlers on wall.. check.

Reception room, electric fire and tartan carpet.. check.

Kitchens… industrial deep fat fryers… check.

And onto the bedrooms down woodchip papered, gloss painted corridors.. Lots of bedrooms. Lots of bunk beds. Lots of bathrooms with mouldy shower curtains and vacant/engaged on the doors.

It’s a bloody youth hostel.

Mark looks sheepish. ‘How much would it cost to get it up to spec?’ he asks me. Get it up to spec? Is he having a laugh. Entirely depends on what DemolitionsRus charge these days.

Drawing a polyester veil over the house, the next step is to ‘walk’ the island. Over the top we go, heading for the lighthouse the other side.  I’m given ownership of the sweets as I have a fetching Peter Storm with deep pockets. Men in suits don’t. Not sure what the eating protocol is here but I tuck in anyway.

I notice seagulls as we trundle up the hill. I notice more seagulls the further we get. They are really quite noisy and getting noisier. They don’t seem amused to see us. In fact they are bloody livid. Swathes of them start swooping at us. Dive-bombing.  It’s tricky waving your arms in a scary way whilst trying to protect your head. And seagulls are bloody big. It’s a cheap analogy but we are living the Alfred Hitchcock sequel.

Ben is getting pinker. Mark is striding purposely with the expression of a man who’s idea all this was. Determined only to see the positive.

‘What’s the score on culling them’ I yell at both them. Ben doesn’t answer, he’s concentrating on swinging his arms and breathing. Mark shouts ‘protected’. Well, this is going to make a golf course with a flaming difference.

We make it to the lighthouse. Mark is quite excited and starts ascending, but poor Ben, poor ruddy, nay, crimson Ben just plonks himself on the grass.

Mark wistfully explores the lighthouse and picks the surveyors brains for a costing on refurb. Even I know the surveyors blagging it. He may live on Mull but he’s from Esher.

We take the circuitous route around the island back to where the boat is. None of us want to experience the seagull blitzkrieg again.

Back at the caretakers cottage, I take in the view. I notice something, don’t know how the hell I missed it.  It’s gargantuan.  Grey and glistening across the water. Not so much glistening as radiating. It’s Scotlands answer to Sellafield.

Even Mark had to throw the towel in on this one now. Much merriment was had discussing warm waters for paddling and fish with two heads.

Back into the survival suits, back into the boat. ‘D’ya fancy having a bit of foon?’ asks Captain Brawny. (He’s Scottish). This fun involved throwing the rib over wakes and seeing what angle he could tip the rib to before it dumped us. Think banana boat in radioactive waters.

Oh how we laughed.

Winner!!!!! Primelocation Favourite User Blog 2010/11

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I am delighted to announce that Buying Agent Blogs the sister site to this with the same blogs as here has just won Primelocation’s favourite blog. This is the only category of award that was voted for by the users. Absolutely over the moon. All those nights and weekends fitting around the day job, struggling for the ‘mot juste’ has been worth it.

Thank you to everyone who voted for me. Now all I need is an Agent or publisher for ‘the book’. That may be trickier but feel that lot’s of loo’s in Britain might benefit from my musings. However, Primelocation did describe me as unapologetically opinionated, so I guess I would say that 😉

Oh and as I keep forgetting to mention, I do find people houses for a living, so do shout if you want to chat about that. here

Yours, delightedly

Tracy

The Death of The High Street Estate Agent…

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The last few years have been a roller coaster for the Estate Agency industry. It’s not house prices per se that effect an Estate Agent’s bottom line, it’s transaction levels and those have gone through the floor. Coupled with that has been the rise in technology as a marketing tool and an explosion in geeky competition and low cost rivals to the traditional Estate Agents model. The death of the High Street Estate Agent has gleefully been on everyone’s lips.

Let’s take a look at all of the things which have ‘signalled the death knell’ in the past few years.

Google maps enters property search.

‘It’s the death of anyone who doesn’t sign up’

They gave it eight months and threw in the towel. Rumour has it that the data being submitted was simply too erroneous, nay, inaccurate for Google’s reputation to risk hosting. Some may even say the adage often attributed to free databases is prescient.. ‘sh*t in sh*t out’. The fact they couldn’t work out how to make money out of it was the key factor I suspect.

Self sale sites such as Tepilo.

‘revolutionises selling your property, with an easy to use consumer site’.

With the greatest respect to Sarah Beeny and others, this has been a damp squib.  Although certainly not helped by a very nervous housing market erring towards a more certain selling solution.

Tesco’s and Spicer Haart’s fixed price agency.

It has spawned many a witticism including ‘buy one get one free’ but that seems about all and it seems to have bogof’d itself now. Along with many similar.

So why are all these new competitors not really denting Rupert and Darren on the High Street, when it makes perfect sense to sell your house for free on Sarah Beenys site or pay £1000 to one of the new guys?

The dire state of the market is one reason. Vendors coming to market are generally doing so because they need to. They don’t want to mess around with creative models they want the property sold. Note the rise in popularity of auctions as another example of this.

The main reason however is that Vendors seem to recognise, particularly in difficult times,  that there is more to selling a house than whacking pictures and floorplans on the worldwideweb. Getting a viewer through the door is relatively easy, getting that house to exchange is not.

There really is a chasm between what is marketing a property and the actual selling of it.

I am by no means in the thrall of Estate Agents nor am I a Luddite and when I talk of High Street 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 his stuff Estate Agent. I and every buyer I know does not want to be escorted around a home by the Vendor extolling the virtues of his hot tub. And 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 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 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 are diametrically opposed.

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. 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.

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.

The failure of more creative models to break the mould seems to say clearly that Vendors think the same way.

The death of the High Street Estate Agent has been rather exaggerated…

 

Primelocation property blog of the year award 2010

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From hundreds of entries I have just heard that I am a nominee with five others for the Primelocation property blog of the year award. ‘Bit chuffed’ is an understatement.

Writing is not my day job but I started all of this because I was a bit hacked off with all the obsequious postings from those in the property world writing with agenda’s. Estate Agents bigging up the market. Other Buying Agents flogging their wares and pundits doing excel spreadsheets with wholly meaningless statistics. Nowhere was anyone looking at the the stresses, strains and bullsh*t of property and addressing it with any humour. Heaven knows there is a bundle of laughs ripe for the picking in the property world.

I fibbed a bit back there. I do have an agenda. I wanted man in the street to understand that not all Buying Agent’s talk whilst chewing plums and have black labradors. I also think that by pointing out the ironies of the property market, it might knock some of the pretentiousness out of it and help the ordinary buyer see through some of the clap trap.

So, may I unashamedly ask for your vote if I have raised even a little titter? Voting closes February 6th 2011 and truth be told, having spent many years as an Estate Agent to glean this knowledge, don’t I deserve just a little sympathy vote? 😉