The Polo Minted Chinese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Knightsbridge Naffness

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Horns:
You heard it hear first. Horns everywhere you turn. Stuck on walls protruding from some decapitated beast. Pointing up from chairs.  Lone horns polished and silver plated to cover where it was ripped from some (I hope) lop-sided wildebeest and of course the 666 stuff.

Arco Lights
Arco lights, generally positioned for guaranteed head banging. No London bachelor flat is without one of those. Size is a direct correlation to owners testosterone level. Always in the way and flaming useless unless your goal is a little spot of light illuminating the rug.

White leather furniture.
Cold, uncomfortable, clinical and makes quite impolite noises if you readjust your bottom. Add some synthetic shag pile rug (most do) for a DIY Austin Powers pad.

Bogs of bling.
There has been a strange proliferation of fancy bogs too. Ones which provide services that I trust no one has experienced since nappy days. They involve buttons, warm air, warm water, warm bums and warnings of the dangers of misuse. Ablutions shouldn’t require that degree of intellectual input.

Wallpaper.
Interior Designers are always going on about ‘texture’ and it seems they have hit pay dirt and are running with it with the emergence of the sandpaper wallpaper. It is actually cork with spangly bits and it seems to be Knightsbridge’s latest answer to the B & Q feature wall. I almost prefer peonys.

Bijoux Bakerys
The Hummingbird bakery. So what if you can feed an African village and dig a well for what fits into a little bijoux box. I feel like whispering to the ladies who prance out with their offerings.
“it’s just fat, sugar and carbs luv”.

Orla Kiely
Eurgh. We still have Cath Kidston lurking malevolently but it’s Orla who is splashing herself on everything these days. You can’t walk into John Lewis without the depressive sensory overload of drab ugly faux-fifties kitsch pattern on everything. Did I mention it was ugly?

Technology.
Gone are the days when you pulled the curtains, whacked a CD into a ‘player’, flicked a light switch and a dimmer was state of the art. No more tranny’s in the bathroom (don’t titter) you’re nowt without an in-built telly and mood lighting. In fact you’re nowt if your entire home isn’t controlled from an iPad.  You will of course need to pop down to Imperial College and borrow a geek with a PhD every time you want to close the curtains.

Chandeliers.
In the kitchen, I’m not joking. Where you find kitchen chandeliers you will be sure to find an oven with cardboard inside and the freezer will only have vodka. Less style over substance, more style over subsistence.

I have visions of interior designers giggling together in their coven as they plot the latest abomination to inflict on the unsuspecting purse of a millionaire. Almost makes you nostalgic for last years cow skin rug. What? You’ve only just got one? Sorry but it has to be zebra this year.

Vendors, this is your two week warning! Take the blo*dy offer.

I wrote the post below back in February 2011 when frankly I could see the writing on the wall. I could see the emergence of over-inflated asking prices and Vendors who’s price expectations were way and beyond what they should have been. This was partly the fault of Estate Agents, with available listings at the lowest levels for decades the easiest and quickest way to be successful in a pitch to prospective Vendors was to price high. But Vendors are not blameless, inherent greed allowed them to ignore common sense and allow their properties to sit on the market getting no offers, dismiss low offers and ignore suggestions of price reductions. This year both Vendor’s and Estate Agent’s have come un-stuck as a result. Transaction levels are through the floor. Estate Agent’s have not been able to sell their over-priced stock (and each one of these costs them money) and Vendors have often ended up taking a much lower offer 6 months down the line as their property sat around becoming stale and thus unattractive to the market. Vendor’s and Estate Agents, today is the 23rd October 2011- here is your 2 week warning;
If you don’t do something very fast, a price reduction or taking that offer you think is too low, you will be whistling until February at the earliest and I guarantee now that you will be getting a lower price than any offer on the table today….

Dear Vendors,

Working on the premise that you are a Vendor who really needs to sell, as opposed to a ‘let’s see what can I get’ tyre-kicker, here is my blunt advice:

You have put your property on the market and one of two things has happened.

Nothing.
or
An offer straightaway.

Why is nothing happening?

As there is a lack of good quality stock at the moment, chances are your property is over-priced or there is something wrong with it. Either way, it is over-priced.

An offer straightaway? Great, but I bet if it’s not the asking price you don’t take it. And if it is, I bet you’re screaming that the Estate Agent under-valued it.

Firstly for the lucky Vendors with a quick offer. You may think this is the beginning of a huge influx of ever increasing offers and therefore think you will sit back and await more pennies from heaven. Well don’t. From long experience the very first offers you get will almost always be the highest and the best. Buyers, when they are first to view on a good property will very often make excellent offers to stave off other bidders. Fresh to the market properties are sexy. If that property has been hanging around they don’t feel the need to and worry why no one else has bought it. The longer it is on the market, the worse buyers concerns about it being a turkey, will get and so will the offers. Don’t mess around with that offer, squeeze as much as you can quickly but remember it will probably be the best you get.

So your house has been sitting around for 6 weeks now, dribs and drabs of buyers no offers until one day up pops what you call a ‘derisory’ offer. Ask yourself how derisory it really is. Is it only derisory in relation to the over-inflated asking price? If it really is bad then rent the place out for three years. If you can’t do that then you are going to have to consider it, because the fact is, unless your house is in prime London or worthy of RIBA house of the year, your chances of getting more will only get worse as the weeks go by.

I am being so blunt on the basis that the market is surprisingly buoyant at the moment for Vendors but only due to lack of supply and low interest rates. It won’t last. This lack of supply is very likely to change as the year progresses due to un-employment, rising interest rates and general economic woes. When more properties come onto the market and the demand doesn’t rise, the chances of you getting the price you are offered today will decrease faster than a spider down a plughole.

If my house was going on the market tomorrow and I needed to sell this year, I would be pricing it very realistically, perhaps even under-pricing to create interest. (buyers love what they perceive as an under-priced property). If I had no offers after 3 weeks full marketing with a good Agent I would be dropping the price and I would be looking lovingly at any offer from a buyer with cash or a low LTV mortgage.

To heck with price indices and ‘what it’s worth’. A property’s ‘value’ is only ever what someone is willing to pay for it. And shortly, there will be fewer people who want to pay anything and more for them to choose from. So don’t puff out your chest and allow your ego to run negotiations.

Grasp the nettle and take that decent or even half decent offer… indecently fast.

A Buying Agent’s sad tale of a ground floor London apartment

 

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I really, really wanted to like this flat, with £2m burning a hole in my pocket my fingers are crossed. It’s over-priced but I’ll address that later, if I like it.

It’s in one of my favourite blocks in Chelsea, where I have just completed on a second floor flat. It has gardens emulating a mini-Hampstead Heath and a really nice ‘feel’, an unquantifiable but essential ingredient. Short walk to a tube and to the Kings Road makes it a spot on choice for my clients. But there are two problems I know I will have to overcome. Firstly it’s ground floor, secondly my client has no vision and can’t see past the wrong colour sofa let alone bigger issues needing creative thinking. However, I enter with hope in my luke warm heart.

It has been ‘done up like a kipper’. A beautiful Gleneagles breakfast kipper rather than an Iceland boil in the bag version.

Corded wool carpet everywhere. White shiny kitchen. Quality dark wood doors. Zebra print accessories and stupid flat sinks that hold a centimetre of water. All very predictable Chelsea 2011 but it’s what my client wants- a walk in, drop your suitcase, Harrods take-out and shake your cocktails pad.

The developers have really gone to town, spent a fortune and have done it almost perfectly. Almost.

It’s a ground floor flat and as such at least 50% of your possible viewers have disappeared at Rightmove stage. It’s a big issue. Oversea’s clients will worry about it as a secure lock-up-and-leave. Women will be worried about security and all will be concerned about people peeking in. Starting with the beautifully dressed bedrooms. They all have lovely big sash windows and no curtains. This indeed lets light pour in but also gives unadulterated views which I struggle to tear myself away from. All the bedrooms look onto a light well with what appears to be a pebble dashed, moss encrusted WW11 bunker housing boilers. At eye level. Great. Breakfast in bed watching the plumes of CO2 waft gently into Chelsea skies…. but you won’t be alone, your neighbours in all those other windows will be watching you, watching them, watching it. ‘Humph’ I think.

Then the sitting room, a lovely room but through the un-dressed windows, through the railings I stare as the neighbourhood strolls past. Almost at touching distance but most certainly at ‘locking-eyes’ distance.

‘I was hoping the ground floor issue wouldn’t be such ‘an issue’ I say to the Estate Agent. ‘My client won’t be able to see past it, whatever I say – if only they had put voile at the windows or plantation shutters that actually closed, it might have worked’.

Such a shame. There is only one thing patently wrong with this place, it’s ground floor but it seems the developers have tried to mitigate that by throwing money at everything else and hoping people won’t notice. It’s stuffed to the gunnels with glittery objets, fancy rain showers and potted orchids but all I have burnt into my retina’s is the builder walking past the window and winking at me.

This flat is not going to sell anytime soon and certainly not at anything like what they seem to be hoping for, all for the sake of a bit of John Lewis voile.

‘Actually’ says the Estate Agent, ‘the Developers, the actual money men, wanted to do something like that with the windows but their Interior Decorator said it wouldn’t go with the ‘theme’.

‘That’ll be the style over substance theme, will it?’

Silly as it seems, many buyers really don’t have vision and really won’t see past solvable negatives, so it’s crazy to freely hand those negatives to them- even on a silver salver.

The irony is, this flat was all about window dressing, except where it was needed.

…and if you would like to discuss me working on your home search .. there’s more information at www.bdihomefinders.co.uk or call me for a chat on 0845 603 6110

Fly on the wall in a Knightsbridge Estate Agent’s.

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W.A. Ellis, the Knightsbridge Estate Agent founded in 1868 and dealing with some of the most prestigious addresses and clients in the world think my blogs are funny, which is nice. They want me to write one about them. ‘Only if it’s warts and all’ I warn. I don’t want people thinking I have moved over to the dark side. ‘Warts and all is fine’ they say. I really hope they mean that and I really hope I am not going to have to spend an entire day with roaring ‘Ruperts’.

I arrive at their Brompton Road office. A cavernous labyrinth covering many floors, housing nearly 50 property pro’s and belied by the subtle shop front. If Estate Agents did Tardis’s…

Leila on reception greets me. She’s a born and bred Londoner, a nice change to your standard London EA receptionist, who are generally chosen for inside leg measurement, blondeness and the ability to speak English is an after thought.

Simon, my ‘charming as they get’ host for the day arrives. ‘Lift or stairs?’ he asks. ‘Stairs’ I say and emerge panting on the sales floor eyrie in the Knightsbridge treetops.  I can see down to a square which has been a temporary home to Bill Gates and Woody Allen among many, I may know this but I suspect W.A. Ellis couldn’t possibly comment.

The sales team greet me warily, they know I am writing a blog, some even know what one is. I feel like Katie Price infiltrating the Royal box.

Simon has calls to make, so I tuck myself into a corner with a steaming mug of Earl Grey. Hate the stuff. I attempt invisibility but with flapping ears.

Graeme, an 18 year old recruit to WAE ‘quite a few’ years ago is on the phone. ‘We’re not going to start this if you’re not going to finish it’ he booms at what I picture as an increasingly squirming buying agent. “I won’t have my client messed around’. I warm to Graham.

Receivers are covered as questions get thrown to the floor.. ‘What’s current best square foot price for a 1st floor Cadogan?’ ‘Anyone seen anything good on Egerton..?’ ‘Whats the chance of demising that roof terrace on Walton Street?’ A neat summary of the complexities of buying in London.

‘Our Vendor’s just lost out on an Eaton Place, can we find one, £5-£9m?’ says Jamie, who started as a saturday boy and was then supported through a Real Estate Degree by the company… I bite my lip, dying to say ‘tell them to call me!’

It’s time to hit the road with Simon. We are street walking Knightsbridge style. Well he is. I am sporting Clarks comfort heels and blisters, he is in Gucci. First stop a pied a terre in South Kensington. It’s tenanted, (cue untidy) and has the added novelty of a snarling home alone Chihuahua.’It’s on webcam’ Simon informs me, ‘they watch it from work’. No kicking the dog then, I tell him.

First viewer is a glossy buying agent. ‘It needs gutting’ she proclaims. ‘Is your client happy to do that?’ asks Simon. ‘NO’ is the curt response. Oops, I look away and concentrate on my role of shooing dog from ankles. Another viewing and another buying agent lollops up the common parts. Simon talks through innovative ways to redesign layout. The buying agent has other ideas, dumb ones. I bite my lip. Onto the roof terrace, Simon starts a techy discussion on it not being demised and ways in which to mitigate that. It’s high up and we are surrounded by London chimney pots. If I had an umbrella I could be Mary Poppins but Simon is no Dick Van Dyke.. He’s more Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, I think wistfully. I try to focus back on roof terrace demisings and not dwell on the unlikelihood of me being mistaken for Nicole Kidman.

Another flat, and £1m nicer. Tim is already there with a gaggle of even glossier buying agents and their uber-glossy clients. I look around trying to find fault then remind myself that today I am not a buying agent, I am an EA.. I need to project the positives. ‘It’s very light’ I say lamely. Tim and Simon classily avert their eyes from the wired glass views onto the dingy light well and say ‘Absolutely!’ I’ll stick to being a buying agent, I am so much better at being negative.

Discussions are on lease length, service charges and sink funds, as the common area’s are, shall we say, ‘very’. It gets very technical buying flats and the best agents spell out the good AND the bad at the front end. It save’s lawyer/buyer histrionics the day before exchange.

We trot back to the office and I grab a cuppa with Lucy Morton, the doyenne, the matriach, if not supreme commander of not only WA Ellis but most committee’s, boards and advisory panel’s worth listening to in the property world. In this world, at this level she’s as rare as hens teeth, she is a woman and a phenomenally knowledgable one. Her awards shelf competes with Ant and Dec’s. I comment on the longevity of their staff, many over 15 years and Jamie starting as a saturday boy. ‘Oh yes’ she says ‘He was so young when he started that I wouldn’t let him cross the Brompton Road’. I get a maternal twinge, then remind myself he is an Estate Agent.

I am told to talk to Charlie about the lettings side, they cover a large swathe of London from this office, unlike the multitude of offices I have to call when using ‘the brands’. Ah, the delicious Charlie. I force a lame News of The World style interrogation on him. ‘Tell me your funniest tenant story’. I am regaled with inebriated Polish girls, the quaintly phrased ‘birthday suits’ and Dan stuck in a lift “I was talking to his feet for an hour”.

A quick catch up with Katya, IT manager and Bill Gates’ most dedicated of Bulgarian disciples. She rules all things wifi and web with an iron curtain fist… and Louboutins, then it’s off with Jamie to see something in the teens of millions with the added bonus of a real-life buyer, not a buying agent. It’s an astounding chandelier hung Edwardian apartment overlooking the poshest of the posh London squares. Decor is a feast of 1980’s trompe l’oeil and rag roll paint effects but what the heck, it has a 30ft balustraded terrace with glorious black and white original tiling.’ Can we take those up?’ asks the prospective buyer. I have visions of decking, blue LED’s and Cargo tea lights, my intake of breath is audible. She needs a different type of decking. Lip is bitten yet again.

Back at the office I am flagging. We have walked literally miles, as no one was getting me on the back of their ubiquitous red scooters.

I finish off with the sales guys. Dominic tells me he has been in Lettings, Sales and the surveying department.. he is a chartered surveyor and his desk, littered with very funky spectacles points to a personality too. Another ‘hens teeth in the industry’ moment.

As I am leaving, the whole office ask ‘Have you seen Trevor Place, it’s a corker’. Genuine enthusiasm for a listing is a rare thing to hear from Estate Agents. ‘Yes, I have seen it’, I say, (it is £17m of delicious double fronted real estate), but there’s one thing I haven’t seen today’, I tell them…. ‘A Rupert’.

We do have one of them they say, a little crestfallen… but we keep him in Accounts.

Very pleasing.

 

..and if you would like to discuss me working on your home search .. there’s more information at BDI Home Finders or call me for a chat on 0845 603 6110

Buying Agent, the Royal Wedding and a London flat…

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‘We’ve got a new flat coming on, only allowing Buying Agents in for the first week, do you want to come to special viewing?’ said the uber smooth Chelsea Estate Agent.  Seems another London Vendor wants to try and avoid hoards of the un-washed rampaging through their pad. No doubt they also think they can create a fierce bidding war amongst the gaggle of Buying Agents, ironic and wrong when you consider that our clients measure us on getting the best price. However, there remains there an impression amongst sellers that Buying Agent’s clients have more money than sense. Still, can’t hurt I think, will pop along and see just how over-primped and over-priced it is.

It’s a hot day and my standard black suit uniform was not a good choice. Parking down a Belgravia back Street I took a leisurely stroll to the red brick flat tucked behind the Alice band mecca of Peter Jones. The Sloane Square shops and street cafes are palpably excited by the imminent nuptials of Prince William, regarded by many of the hair-tossing blondes quaffing espresso’s as ‘the one that got away’.

Outside the flat, the literally less cooler side-kick of Mr Uber-Smooth is waiting on the pavement, suited, booted and sweaty, rather like me. He is there to usher ‘us’ in.

I can spot an Estate Agent in a sea of suits, likewise, your standard London buying agent sticks out like a ham sandwich at a Barmitzvah. There he is, helping his client out of the Addison Lee mini-van. Eww. Tall, slim, foppish blonde hair and an air of superiority not picked up at a free school. As my Mother might have said, this chap really fancies himself. He catches my gaze and promptly dismisses me. Middle aged women aren’t on his radar of who to suck up to, unless they are Hermes toting clients. The suited client is a banker, tanned and glued to his mobile. ‘Should have come to me love’, I think, I don’t do mini-vans.

I get a special welcome at the door, a reward reserved for someone who is currently buying something from them. Talk turns to that purchase.’We need to exchange soon on that’ he says. I point out the obvious, ‘Your client shouldn’t have such a crap solicitor then’. He agrees and shuts up.

Entering the hallway, like most of these red brick mansion blocks it is dark. Really dark. The common area’s have been nicely done and the velvety carpet with brass stair rods feels inches deep. ‘Take the lift’ he says. Nope, I always take the stairs to check it doesn’t turn to glossy woodchip paper on the first landing. At the flat’s front door I am greeted with piles of Church’s brogues and the alternative choice of blue plastic bag covers for my shoes. Don’t really like the mortuary technician look so I opt for bare feet but amuse myself with the thought that as my new shoes have leeched dye onto my feet, the shoes are probably cleaner.

Peering into the hallway, I have to smile and find myself uttering to the buying agent un-doing his laces ‘Elephant Breath’. He blanks me.(Never trust a buying agent who doesn’t know his Farrow and Ball’s).

With trusty camera phone at the ready, I launch forth to take discreet piccies for this blog. Bugger, the bloody Vendor is seated at a desk. Blonde and scary looking, we nod acknowledgement and she get’s back to her lap top, surfing net-a-porter as I suspected. She is seated under the one thing I wanted a snap of, a great big Banksy style painting with the inspirational words “SHIT HAPPENS’. Graffiti is now clearly middle class.

The flat is carpeted in grey corded wool, the sort of grey that we used to only use for undercoat on drainpipes or battleships. Walls are predictably from the Farrow & Ball palette. The grey palette. Walls not painted are clothed in modern dark wood panels, with the odd Plasma TV inset. To use a technical term, this flat is done up like a kipper. It feels like an army of stylists, designers and purveyors of ‘objets chers’ to gullible buyers have spent a month titivating with their Chelsea price tagged magic wands. Nursery in Designers Guild? Tick. Orchids in pots? Tick. Alessi in the kitchen? Tick. Blanket in accent colour draped across bottom of bed? Tick. All very expensive, all very ‘yawn’.

The art work was vibrant and copied by the two accent colours scattered around the place. A shocking pink and purple theme was carried through the flat with cushions, vases, throws creating a zingy design equivalent of ice lollies against a thundery grey canvas. I am seeing purple used a lot recently, especially with hot pink. Reminded me of my favourite two felt tips when growing up in the seventies.. and my leg warmers.

Frankly, it is all far too obviously styled for my liking, the family and baby photo’s look incongruous in the very un-homely setting. For a family home it’s a  bit sad looking really. The sofa’s never been sat on and the beds have never been romped in.

Wandering down to the pavement, as usual I throw an ‘it’s a bit over-priced’ at my friendly Estate Agent as we eye incredulously the latest in customised Mini’s. Zebra skins are on so many London floors these days, now they are being parked outside. Daktari meets Chelsea.

‘No love’, he says, ‘one next door went for £250 sq ft more than this last month… And it’s not as good’. Bloody Hell, I think, thats 500 quid a square foot more than this time last year.  ‘Oversea’s dosh’, he says.

This sort of over-primping tends to put off us ordinary Brits (even one’s with £3m to spend). My Brit client’s would look at it and think, how much of this am I paying through the nose for? And frankly I come from the same ‘hackles up’ school of thought. However, the oversea’s client who thinks London is the safest place to buy, thinks prices will continue to rise and can also buy the furniture, (designed especially for the flat), thinks differently. He gets an off the shelf, no hassle, fancy pants ‘lock up and leave’. Sod the premium.

The Vendor may have got the Zeitgeist spot on by surfing Net-a-porter. For an oversea’s buyer, this flat is exactly what they want – Pret-a-Porter.