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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housing bubble, what housing bubble?.. Oh.

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I’ll be honest, I’m a bit perplexed.
I’ve been on the telly and the radio a few times over the past few weeks. Firstly, about three weeks ago, it was to talk about the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney. Carney had said that the BoE had tools in their armoury to ward off an over-heated property market should it arise. These tools were primarily based on reducing the Loan to value percentages that Lenders could offer. This caused the press to question if there was a housing bubble.
His solutions to a problem we didn’t yet have, I pointed out, were interesting as they were in direct conflict with the governments Help2Buy scheme, which was addressing people’s lack of deposits by ostensibly encouraging and facilitating 95% mortgages. Strange as the BoE was surely hand in hand with the Government on Help2Buy.
However, I said that it was far too early to talk of a ‘housing bubble’ and it was clear he was merely being cautious. I also said, with conviction that I didn’t feel Help2Buy was fuelling a feeding frenzy. That it merely aided those in need and gently added to general confidence that had arisen with a little more economic confidence.

Then RICS came out with their suggestion that property price rises should be capped at 5%, with the inference that a housing bubble had started. I hit quite a few screens and airwaves that day. By the end of the day the sweeping 5% cap had morphed into ‘well maybe not 5%’ then ‘maybe geographically targeted’ and ended with a general sense of ‘this hasn’t really been thought through’.
Again, I pointed out, the market simply has a bit more confidence and is a bit better than the past few horrendous years. A little more traction allowing more people to get on with their lives and buy, sell, move. Yes, there may be a little blip before supply starts to meet demand but this should level as builders build and more sellers sell.
It was far too early to talk of a housing bubble, I said with conviction.

I was confident that Help2Buy would not create a frenzy. That it was being introduced gently and that it would slowly but surely help the right people access home buying. I was confident that the lenders criteria on who they lent to would be strict and that we wouldn’t be making the same mistakes of pre-2007. In fact only last week the Chancellor had tried to address housing bubble fears by supporting Mark Carney’s earlier position. The Chancellor is clearly concerned not to cause a bubble I thought at the time. Hmm.

Then, on the eve of the Tory conference, funny that, George Osborne comes out and says they are bringing forward the Help2Buy guarantee scheme from January to almost immediate effect. As I spoke to a BBC researcher on Saturday night (admittedly through a haze of Sav Blanc), we pondered why. There could be no good timing reason for this from a property perspective. The market is close to slowing for Christmas. January made sense.

Suddenly there are reports of high street banks staying open late. Mortgage Brokers I know are in a state of panic as phones ring off the hook, (and suggest lenders aren’t ready even for January). Buyers are calling me saying they need to buy quickly before prices go up. Vendors are visibly digging heels in on what last week I regarded as inflated asking prices. My clients with homes under offer are questioning if they have undersold.

The only thing not visibly changing is stock. It isn’t coming on. The estate agents phones may be ringing – but not with sellers. All in a few days.

Now I’m not an economist but I do understand simple supply and demand maths.

Rather than the ‘steady as she goes’ approach to the housing market, we’ve been delivered a political peeing contest: ‘I’ll take your energy price freeze Ed and raise you our ‘mortgages for all’ corker, Woohoo!’ (but ssh about the supply bit).
I can no longer with conviction pooh pooh talks of a housing bubble – a little political oneupmanship and I fear the supertanker is no longer on what I believed was a steady course. I am left with a sinking feeling.

A Chinese Horrorscope

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Chinese clients arriving. A new thing for me, I’m usually found hanging around Knightsbridge with an emergency headscarf and carefully ending my sentences with ‘inshalla’.. Culturally this is going to be interesting.

The entourage consists of Billionaire lady client, I shall call her Miss Chang and her older sister who I am instructed to refer to as Aunty. The two middle-aged Chinese clients are surprisingly tall and tower over me. They sport cords, sensible shoes and hair styling that involved using a bowl. Also attending is her private banker who will translate as neither lady speaks English. This banker is Miss Chang’s doer and attends to her every whim with a permanently petrified expression. There will be a lot of whims. There is also Bill the 11 year old son, who I am yet to meet. There seems to be no Mr Chang, I don’t enquire.

There are a few things we would like you to arrange while we are here, the banker tells me. We wish to move in by the end of the week, Aunty doesn’t like hotels. Secondly, Miss Chang is very keen on the Royal family. Would it be possible to meet them, she has asked her friend the Ambassador but he hasn’t fixed it yet. It would be great if we can meet David Beckham too, Oh and can we go to Tesco’s because Miss Chang has read that is where William and Kate shop.

Leave it with me I say, I might just be able to swing the Tesco bit.

The banker reiterates that what Miss Chang wants, she must get. And that goes for Bill too. Cost is not an issue if she wants it. Having recently bought her a Maldives island, her major task had been to ship a couple of sea turtles that had caught Bill’s eye, to the Beijing back garden. Miss Chang had been ‘extremely angry’ when the World Wildlife Fund had got involved and Bill had had to compromise with a couple of terrapins.

Property wise, I have had a brief which consists of finding them an ‘up-scale’ apartment or house close to the son’s new boarding school. Aunty will be living in it as his guardian. Aunty has never been to the UK and will be deposited here when the rest of the entourage leaves in a week. They don’t find this odd.

We look at a house. First question, which way does it face? Banker and I stand there shaking our iPhone compasses for all it’s worth. Miss Chang’s face gave the answer. The wrong way.

Onto next house. I am forewarned, compass at the ready I brightly inform them it faces the RIGHT way, (can’t remember, so don’t ask). Smiles all round and we proceed inside. The Feng Shui analysis and my lesson in spirits (not my favoured kind), begins. The garden slopes the wrong way. The bedroom mirrors will steal her spirit in the night. There are unhealthy looking plants in the garden. Bad. The back door faces the front door, this will allow a strong rush of Chi out of the house, (closely followed by me at this point). It is not square enough. Bad. Bottom line, it’s a bad house and Miss Chang eyes me ferociously for having shown it to her. On the bright side, they liked the cowskin rugs and want some shipped back to China. Can I arrange?

Nevertheless it takes an hour in this wholly bad house and then we head for refreshments. What year were you born? asks Miss Chang through the banker. I tell her. She visibly brightens. Miss Chang is happy. This is good. I am like her, a rabbit. Miss Chang says we will all get on. She likes rabbits. We all smile and nod happily.

It is Tuesday. I finally show them a flat on the Thames close to their hotel, one I have had in mind since talks began and they like it. In fact they want it and they want to move in on Friday but Bill needs to see it. He is 11 years old he is referred to as the Master. He will decide. I’ll worry about the ‘move in Friday’ bit later.

Bill is brought out of school to view the apartment. He is a personable young man with good English. The entourage stand quietly watching with baited breath as Bill walks around the apartment. Touching surfaces and jumping on the bed, Bill gives nothing away. Having exhausted all possible properties, let’s just say I want the kid to like it. Bill goes to the river view window and clocks some swans wafting along the water. His eyes open and he looks at the banker, points and says something in Mandarin. The banker pales visibly. Something is going on. He then speaks with his Mother. They are buying the flat.

They want the furniture, a price of £60,000 is quoted. I think this is high but the banker points out her handbag was £20,000, she’d arranged shipping from Paris herself, so it really isn’t an issue. Hmm, a twenty grand handbag and a £4.50 haircut.

I negotiated as much as I could off and set to work on moving them in 48 hours. I won’t bore you with the mechanics but with an amenable developer and a rather good lawyer charging three times his usual fee, we were on course. Paperwork driven between lawyers, texts from lawyers at 11pm and ‘views’ taken on various parts. It was a blooming joy.

At midday on Friday our lawyer arrived at their hotel opposite the apartment with exchange and completion papers in hand. Duly signed,  I watched as he stood on the highest part of the bridge outside to get a signal and completion took place.

With much hand shaking and smiling, we deposited the entourages belongings with the porter and handed him a twenty. He duly pushed the luggage trolley across the bridge to the apartment along with the gaggle of excited Chinese. I followed behind, with the Tesco carrier bags full of toilet rolls. Yes, we were looked at.

Leaving the clients in the flat, the banker insisted we went for a coffee. I am assuming a congratulatory exchange but I don’t get one.

“Miss Chang is very disappointed in you,” I am told (my mouth may have dropped open at this point). “You have failed to arrange meetings with any of the Royal family or David Beckham and haven’t organised the cowskin rugs. However,” she says, face breaking into a conspiratorial smile, “You can redeem yourself with one very, very important task.

“What Bill liked most about the flat were the swans. They want some shipped to Beijing. I need it sorting, a minimum of two, no excuses.”

Ironic, I think. First I’m berated for not arranging a Royal meet, then they want me to nick some of their swans.

“Leave it me with I say,” and leg it.

At home, trying to make sense of the past few days, I idly Google Chinese horoscopes. Turns out I am not a Rabbit, I am a Tiger. Funnily enough, this is a very bad match.

If you’re looking for a London property finder, visit our website at www.bdihomefinders.co.uk.

20 ways to spot Mr Metrosexual’s home.

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A new era has dawned. One of bromances and grooming. An era of men in charge of their surroundings, their home styling. Men who still wander the backstreets of Soho at weekends but now it’s to seek out the latest objet with which to decorate their homes and their bodies. They think they’re different, they think they’re cutting edge. I have news for them. All hail the metrosexual lemming.

1. Face scrub.. Kiehls. Plus the toner, shaving cream, moisturiser ad infinitum, all displayed dimly, in the black bathroom..

2. Turntable for vinyls.. which he will only use when his mates come round. To play Miles Davies.

3. Black towels. So cool.. if they got washed. :-/

4. Amaretto. For when he has ‘a bird’ round.

5. Floor cushions, known in designer circles as Toss cushions… hmm.

6. Pool table. Grey baize, chrome legs. To match all the other chrome stuff.

7. Mortuary kitchen. Steel – lots of it, apart from in the oven, which will have cardboard.

8. Paul Smith.. The metrosexual posterboy. Those stripes will be on everything.

9. Liberty Print Shirt.. cos boys can wear flowers right. (Best not venture out in Newcastle on a Saturday night).

10. Pantone Mugs.. yawn

11. Danish furniture.. yep, he’s been down Fritz Hansen and got the cow hide egg chair and teak sideboard.

12. Leather rug.. channels the little boy’s inner-cowboy.

13. Helmut Newton print of woman smoking a fag, in stockings – large and not pornographic because it cost £5k. and is therefore Art.

14. Artemide lamps – The posh boys desk lamp – a complicated array of wires and weights – posh boys Meccano.

15. Massive plasma- just massive.

16. Distressed leather armchair, exposed brick. Cos that’s what men like innit.

17. Mens Heath magazine on the coffee table. The only well thumbed literature in the pad.

18. Pop art poster. Be it Andy Warhol or the Beano.

19. Ironing board.. permanent fixture in second bedroom.

20. Gym bag. In hall. Festering.

The Journo and the Oligarch

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I called up a terribly upmarket Estate Agent I know. Average sale £7m, he doesn’t sell flats, he sells ‘residences’. In fact he doesn’t ‘sell’ at all, he merely gives hand-picked potential buyers an opportunity to buy. I needed a favour, a very serious journalist wanted a potted tour of the super-rich lifestyle in London. Could we have a poke around some of his fancier listings? We will be terribly well behaved, I promised.

Hmm, he mused, my clients are terribly discreet people, they wouldn’t want a journalist poking around. However he offers me a couple of South Ken basements that were empty. Oh please! I exclaimed, we need some serious bling, not an Arab students damp homework pad.

Well, I suppose if the journalist didn’t speak, didn’t write specifics and you pretended they were a colleague, I may be able to show you a £30m Oligarchs den… Bingo, I feel clever!.

We met on a Knightsbridge street corner. Agent suited, booted and silk handkerchiefed. Journalist in duffle coat, Clarks shoes and carrying a practical shopping bag.

We rock up at a very swanky building. The immaculate porters are Gucci clad and muscles bulge through the perfect cut. These are no ordinary porters, there are no smiles. They wear the look of men who can kill with one Mr Spock hand movement. Our Agent answers security questions and then takes us to the centre of the cavernous marbled foyer and whispers ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’, there is sweat on his upper lip, ‘ there are some things you need to know… when we get into the lift there is video and audio surveillance. When you are in the apartment, ditto. Everywhere you go you will be on camera and on audio. YOU SAY NOTHING!’

‘AND’ he flushes ‘I have just been told the owner will be in’ – he turns to me. ‘You will probably be interrogated’. He then briefed me on what I would say. Apparently I have a very wealthy client, I am to be as vague as possible because this particular Oligarch has far more enemies than friends. If he gets the slightest hint that my ‘client’ is from the wrong group of Oligarchs, THERE WILL BE TROUBLE.  On the bright side, he chirps, they have switched off the retinal scanning entry thingy.

He turns to the journalist and says ‘What is your name? she squeaks ‘can I be Mrs Smith?’. That’ll do, he says.

I try to wipe thoughts of container ships headed to Murmansk out of my mind but Journo and I look at each other, now not feeling at all clever and both wondering if we should leg it.

Nevertheless, we enter the lift. Not a sound is uttered and we all stare at our feet and I wonder how the hell I got myself into this.

Lift opens and we sink our way through carpet two inches deep to double mahogany doors. The retinal scanning apparatus blinks at us but the doors are opened by a wizened old Babushka who ushers us in. The owner is waiting for us. Piercing eyes and a charmless demeanour. The words ‘never smile at a crocodile’ pop into my head.

I am introduced, as is ‘Mrs Smith’. Oligarch wastes no time on pleasantries. ‘Who is your client?’ Oops, wasn’t expecting quite such a closed question, major wriggling is called for. I inform him that my client is a young Muscovite but for discretion’s sake I must withhold their name at this stage. WRONG ANSWER. His eyes narrow and he turns to the Agent. ‘You know I insist on the names of all potential Russian buyers – I am disappointed’. Ooh blimey, you really don’t want to disappoint this chap and the thought of him twigging I am poking around his residence with a national newspaper journalist makes me feel faint. The Agent visibly colours and I wonder if they make Tena’s for men but he suggests they discuss later and could we have a look around. Gruffly he concedes and we start our tour.

Frankly, neither the Journo or I gave a toss about a tour at this stage but we went through the motions. Black silk bedding. Tick. Half naked pics of the latest wife. Tick. Personal spa with massage tables and white robes. Tick. And so on. However, Journo and I just shuffled through each room miserably, concentrating on saying absolutely nothing and avoiding even the most furtive of glances under the Big Brother spotlight.

Having allowed the minimum polite amount of time, I say with faux cheerfulness, ‘We mustn’t inconvenience you anymore than we have already’, but as we all stand uncomfortably in the mortuary like kitchen, the Russian isn’t having any of that. Mr Oligarch wants to chat. Oh God.

He wants my name, my company name, where’s your card? where do you live? Journo’s eyes are wide with a semblance of terror.

Sod it, I think, ‘I have another appointment, must dash’, I say in a rather pleading manner to the Agent. Finally we are ushered out through whence we came.

Remember Michael, says Oligarch with wagging finger, I want names.

We reach the lift rather faster than on arrival, in fact I contemplated taking the fire escape for speed.

We stifled our giggles of relief until past the Stasi porters and out of terror firma.

I turn to the Journo. ‘I like to see my name in print as much as the next media tart but never again, NEVER BLOODY AGAIN’… She nods furiously.

Prime Crummy London.

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A current search of mine is for a ‘do-up’ in prime central London. Lick of paint, add a white shiny kitchen, do a Kelly Hoppen greige on it and flog it on for a few more pennies. You know the score, I want crummy..  Gotta be easy eh?
Err. No.
It seems everything in London has already been ‘greiged’. Prime London is a sea of wide boarded light oak flooring and grey velvet sofas with grey velvet cushions. Everywhere is dressed with ‘stupid silver stuff’ (I don’t call it stuff). Silver lamps, silver objets, glass and silver tables. Silver antelope heads, silver sunburst mirrors. Every kitchen has white Corian worktops a Prosecco cooler and a three foot high tap that sprays your crotch. Hi-tech everything is de rigeur- you need a masterclass with Stephen Hawking to switch on the lights.

With price per square foot the Holy Grail of London property, every square inch has been eeked out. Meedja rooms are hewn from the subsoil. There are ‘sort of’ kitchens squashed into corners of living rooms.  Mezzanines scraping your head to provide a curtained master bedroom (no sex please, I have a mezzanine) and bathrooms so small you can brush your teeth and shower your bum at the same time.

But they do come with a new and rather desirable upside now hitting my in-box- a price reduction. This is because little of the money sloshing around prime central London (and there is plenty) wants them. What this cash really, really wants is a doer-upper, with a chance to make a swift buck and to greige it themselves. And they will pay for the privilege. Really pay.

Each day I call Agents and scour properties for tell tale signs of ‘tiredness’. Any opportunity to dig down, build up or plonk on a side return is pounced on by me… I am closely followed by the jangling coins and the quivering jaws of every Tamsin, Dicky and Henri with a trust fund, bonus or a dodgy accountant.

The zenith of property finds is the ‘old lady dowager just died’ property. No mourning in London. Pink bathrooms, an old electric ring cooker in the kitchen and a smell of wee are guaranteed to send buying hearts across London pounding. At one of these rare occurrences recently I was milling with a throng of unshaven geezers with steel toe caps peeling off ‘monkeys’ to the cabbie. Long tressed Chelsea housewives with iced expressions and City boys arriving courtesy of their Addison Lee corporate account. All eyeing each other up venomously and all with a determination to pay whatever it takes to get it. It’s crummy, so it’s very yummy. The get rich quick crowd and the Chelsea Sarah Beeny’s fight to the best bid death.

And, you know what? They will pay too much. They will add a mezzanine, pay £500pw to rent velvet sofas and they will greige it. They will whack it on the market at an outlandish sum and find that it sits – and sits, because almost everyone is looking for a ‘do-er-upper’ just like them. Then they will reduce the price (because they have borrowed up to the hilt) until they just about claw back what they spent on it.

If you want a home and a deal in Prime Central London- don’t dismiss something fully blinged and horribly over-spent on with the oft heard words ‘I’m not paying for someone else’s profit’, because you probably aren’t.

Instead, why not kick off your Tods on the underfloor heating and enjoy the spoils of someone else’s pricey re-plastering, re-wiring, re-plumbing. Take their Miele appliances, the latest Megaflow system and the expensive flooring. You don’t like the mortuary style kitchen? then replace it. You don’t like the sanatorium white walls, paint them.. buy right and you’ll probably still be in credit. And best of all leave them with their months and months of negotiating with planners, screaming at labourers and sleepless nights as their overdraft facilities slipped away, along with any profit. In the fiercely competitive London market the ‘done ups’ are often a much better deal than the ‘do-ups’.

Crummy is currently far too yummy for my taste. Perhaps the cleverest thing to do in the raging price seas of London is to un-do it up?

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.

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.

Buying Agent sells her house. Part 3. The marketing

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2nd week of August 2011

Photography done and it looks lovely.  Not sure about the words on the brochure but I figure no one reads them anyway, I don’t. All I need is a postcode, as many photo’s as possible and a floorplan, then I can make my decision to view.

Starting to get a bit frazzled. Dreading having people through my house. I am not Mrs Tidy and keeping the place ‘right’ will be a bore. Also I really find the thought of people viewing my house as quite upsetting. A home is not a commodity, no matter how hard you try to pretend it’s just a ‘transaction’.

Third week of August

With the brochure ready I suggest to the Agents that they call their ‘hot-box’ buyers. No, they say, we would rather give it a proper launch to maximise the excitement. I hope they know what they’re doing. D Day is set for 6th September. Schools are back and hopefully the buyers are hitting Rightmove, checking their emails and planning on getting into somewhere new before Xmas. I know full well that I have a 6 week marketing window before the buyers go into hibernation and the economy probably implodes. Fingers crossed.

First week of September

First phone call comes in- Can I bring someone around on Thursday 8th September? Then another call- I have two first viewings. More phone calls, and more viewings are booked in for the following week. I find myself interrogating the receptionist making the bookings. Are they in a chain? What LTV mortgage do they need? Do you know them? When I started asking if ‘they are nice?’  I decided to shut up. I was developing into one of those ‘hands on’  sellers that I despair of.

Thursday morning.. lot’s of Febreze, cat litter box cleaned and hidden. Bed’s made, which is a first. Cut flowers plucked from garden and I even start thinking about brewing coffee, I allow myself a wry smile and stop right there on principle. If it’s going to sell, then the smell of cookies and a cynical attempt at ‘you too can live my pretend lifestyle’ ain’t going to be the reason. I then get the hell out of there.

When I get back – they are still viewing so I hide down the lane. I watch them leave and pathetically leap on the young Estate Agent James for feedback. ‘The first one said over-priced- although his wife disagreed’ My hackles rise. Over-priced? Over-priced, I hear myself getting shrill and all the advice I give people about ‘listening carefully to feedback’ get’s dumped as I explain to the patient young James why they are WRONG!

What about the second couple? I ask

‘They seemed to like it’ he says. The Agent then has to endure my picking away at his statement. How d’you know? What’s their position? What about price? I am even annoying myself.

The next morning James calls with feedback- I am impressed. He recounts that he met the ‘might be interested’ couple in the pub last night and they were poring over the brochure, which he felt was a good sign. The first couple were ‘still thinking’ and he had yet to talk to the second couple. He tells me that this second couple were despondent about ever finding a long term family home, so they had reduced their price and search to an in-between’ townhouse which they would stay in for a couple of years. James had called them to say ‘Hey! I think I might have that dream house you really want’. Clever James- creative thinking and knowing your applicant list well is how good agents do deals.

Two hours later James calls again. He has an offer. £25k below asking- at the level I actually think it is technically ‘worth’. They are in rented. 60% LTV mortgage agreed.

I ask James ‘how much they liked it’ James tells me ‘she’ walked through the door and said ‘it’s perfect’ and didn’t stop beaming. That is what I want to hear, because that is what my reaction was. I want the buyer to have complete emotional buy in- if they have that then they are far more likely to breach the undoubted hurdles that crop up during the buying process. If they are buying on a practical basis they are far more likely to be swayed by the forthcoming economic maelstrom or by any crappy legal woes.

‘Go back and tell them I am very keen to do a deal but they were the first through the door and I have four more viewings booked already. I would be foolish to take such a hit straightaway. However, I make it clear to James to not lose them. I tell him that I would be prepared to look at less than asking but when pushed for a figure I say £5k more than I would actually take- gotta be careful, because if I told him my actual bottom line- trust me, that’s all I will get.

Phone rings ten minutes later with a higher offer. This is a very good sign. These buyers mean business, no messing around, it shows they really want it. This offer is £10k more than before- another good sign, they aren’t playing silly beggars with £1k increments. I want to close this. The thought of no more people coming around is delicious. I go back with a split the difference offer of a couple of K, 28 days to exchange and 28 days to completion thereafter and the deal is done. This has taken 22 hours. The viewings booked for next week are cancelled and the listing goes straight onto Rightmove with a big ‘under offer’ across it. Even in this market, with decent property, decently priced, ‘you snooze, you lose’.

My head is spinning. I need to find somewhere to live. I am going to move into rented. That will be straightforward, won’t it…?!

part 4 soon- sales progressing and finding a rental.

By the way.. I am rather excited at being nominated for Primelocation Blog of the Year again. A quick vote would be everso appreciated 🙂 VOTE

Buying Agent chooses her Estate Agent. The Diary Part 2

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So the decision has been made to sell and now I have to decide which Estate Agent to use. I am relishing the prospect about as much as I relish bikini shopping. I have three choices, the middle market brand, the top end Ruperts or the village independent. Three choices and three goals- top price, least hassle and FAST, oh and one more esoteric need – how to put this delicately, hmm.. I don’t want to have to deal with anyone thick.
I have a middle market house which is quite individual (my use of the word is different to an Estate Agents- when they say ‘individual’ they mean odd, it isn’t). It has no major flaws such as road noise or structural or covenant issues so it is not technically a tricky one to sell. I decide to rule out the middle market brands simply because they don’t bring anything particularly special to the table, which leaves me with the independents in the village or Rupert.
The Agent’s in the village are pretty good and have the advantage of picking up specific buyers for the village and cheaper fees but will they attract and give confidence to that most delicious thing on a country agents wish list… The London buyer? Those lovely ingenues with the tendency to pay more than they have to. As a seller I’d obviously quite like one of them and they are just that bit more comfortable with a big posh UK brand, they are given the confidence that the price is right ‘because Rupert said so’.
The Ruperts (there are two to choose from in the town) also have the benefit of really classy photography/brochures and (here comes the contentious bit where I grab my tin hat), their Negs tend to be brighter. Like anyone, I want to squeeze every last penny out of my major asset. Their fees will be higher but I am gambling on getting a higher price which will cancel it out. On balance I think my particular house, in my area, is a good match for a high end brand, so (with a modicum of shame), I am going down the Rupert route. Having spent two years tweeting, blogging and taking the extreme Michael out of Rupert, his quilted Barbour and signet ring, the irony is certainly not lost on me.

I decide to only call one of the Ruperts in- why not both? flimsy reasoning but based on me wanting as painless a process as possible. One of them, when I have walked in on business over the years has been less than friendly – the other Manager, who I am inviting, treats me like a Goddess and makes me roar with laughter, shallow but pleasing and as simple as that. I really can’t be *rsed to deal with a snotty so and so.

So I ring up the Manager who makes me laugh and ask him just one question: Is my house an OK price for their office – or will it stick out like Katie Price at a Cadogan Square tea party. He reassures me that it sits just fine and they have plenty cheaper, sorry ‘less expensive’… I must remember we’re in Rupert territory. Having braced myself for the process (and removed undies from radiators, cleaned out the cat litter), I ask how quickly he can come around. Hmmm, slight hitch, he is off on holiday for two weeks, he will send his second in command and a Neg around. Hmmm again, young Ruperts, this needs preparation I think, as my eyes narrow. I am almost (not quite) ashamed to say that I find myself thinking along the lines of ‘Do they know who I am?’. They’re not going to bring me one of your bloody market reports are they? You know, those ones’s where it’s always a good time to buy AND sell. I decide to take no chances, ‘Right’ I say ‘I am going to send you some of my blogs and you are going to make sure they read them, starting with ‘Prince Charming The Estate Agent‘. Oh, and any hint of smarminess and they’ll be wishing they worked for Spicer-Haarts’.

Truth be told, I am a bit disappointed, I was buying into grey haired, older than me Estate Agent with a twinkle in his eye, and I am getting his mini-me’s. On the morning of ‘the visitation’ I am surprisingly agitated but clearly not as much as the frightened little rabbits who present themselves on my doorstep. Heaven knows what fear of God their boss put into them. I let them have a wander around, Estate Agents wandering around my house, evaluating, appraising,nose poking, eurgh horrid. Hard as you try it’s tough regarding your home as a commodity- few manage that emotional sidestep.

‘So let’s talk price, what do you think?’ I ask them. There are almost perceptible beads of sweat appearing on the upper lip of mini-me number 1 and boy number 2 fidgets. If I was a cruel and cold buying agent, I might be taking pleasure in this. No comment. ‘Well, over the road sold for X’ pipes up one. ‘No it didn’t’ I point out. ‘Yes it did’ he replies bravely. I bite my lip but not quite hard enough. ‘Lets agree to differ’ I say ‘but I do know the Vendor and the buyer and I checked Land Registry’. Cheap shot, quite possibly beneath me, I chide myself… but only a bit. However, I do remind myself that it helps if your Estate Agent likes you.

No 1 suddenly blurts out his view on the value, ‘excellent’ I say, ‘just what I thought’. They hadn’t tried to please or buy me with an inflated price. There is a palpable outlet of breath and relaxing of muscles all round and smiles. So, shall we put a little bit on top (3%) so the buyer can knock me down a bit and feel he’s getting a deal and I have the chance of getting a bit more than its worth if it gets significant interest? We all agree.
‘Onto your fee’ I say.. Apparently head Rupert has told them to give me a discount but it’s still 1.5%, I am OK with that. I want the office to be motivated, after all they are on commission and they might be keener on other higher fee properties if I really screw them down. Besides, if I am right about the quality of the team they should make that fee back for me through intelligent negotiating. Slight hitch when they tell me I have to pay £650 up front for the photography, EPC etc.. humph, I hadn’t banked on that. However, really good photography is key to marketing and to be fair, I expect my clients to pay up front because it shows commitment and weeds out the tyre kickers, so I find it difficult to whinge. I have a go mind, but they are intractable.
Right guys, we have a deal, they seem shocked that I’m not going to delve into the minutiae and make their lives just a little bit miserable. Why would I do that? I want them to really want to do a good job for me and the more they like me, the more that is likely to happen.
They approach the front door to leave, far more relaxed than when they arrived but I have to say ‘just one thing’ and they breathe in and eyes dart ‘I do no viewings, NO viewings ever, I never want to be present when someone is snooping around my house, that’s your job’. ‘Of course’ they reply, clearly relieved I hadn’t dumped something tricky on them.

So, I’ve gone and done it now, I’ve hired myself a Rupert and whilst I think I have made the best choice for my specific property, I must confess that at the thought of what is ahead, my stomach does do a little back flip.

Part 3 soon… let the marketing commence.