Property market predictions for 2017, I guess?

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I read a little piece by Graham Norwood in Estate Agent Today where he touched upon property pundits such as myself and the far more esteemed spending the last few weeks of the year making property predictions. With a lightness of touch he also suggested that this might be a slightly trickier job than us pundits make out. In fact, I could almost make out a sote voce suggestion that we might all possibly be guessing. Guessing!

Oh Really?

Well I’m hurt. Frankly we are all immersed in the property market and talk to vendors and buyers all day long. We have seen it all, been there, done that. Some of us even have qualifications, (not many). Rest assured, what goes around, comes around, the past, as everyone knows dictates the future and we have some whopping crystal balls that we are brilliant at swinging around.

But maybe he has a microscopic point because in order to predict the future one  probably should have ‘been there before’ (I checked, I haven’t) and also one probably has to be a little bit certain about something. Just something.

And there’s the rub. Brexit, of exactly what can we be certain?

Will it be a soft Brexit? (a definite maybe but what does that mean anyway)

Will it be a hard Brexit? (Ooh, I hope not, really don’t like the sound of that)

Will they cancel Brexit? (don’t get me excited)

Will we just pretend we have Brexited? (that’s a thought, I can keep a straight face)

Will Boris Johnson be inappropriate with Madam President and screw all future US trade agreements? (hey ho, who needs ’em, the US will be so uncool without Obama anyway)

Will Liam Fox slip too many buddies into Cobra meetings and Putin gets the nuclear codes? (Army wives really, really shouldn’t joke about that stuff)

Will all our financial institutions flee to Frankfurt? (a little sob from me as all those potential Chelsea townhouse sales tumble).

Will the pound plummet so far that all our overseas holidays terminate at the Isle of Wight?

Will Mascarpone and Parma ham get slashed from the Waitrose Essentials range?

So many questions, however, the big question, the one that constantly chases me down the street, across the social media strata and in the queue at Waitrose is as always, what are house prices going to do?

Well that depends.

It depends on Brexit, it depends on the pound, it depends on people thinking they will have a job next week, it depends on whether they think houses will be worth more or less next year. It depends on how confident people are of their future. It depends on prices at the pump and on the supermarket shelves. And It depends on whether Brussels are feeling really, really vindictive. Above all it depends on our ruling politicians having the slightest slightest clue – and frankly I am not depending on that.

So grudgingly I have to admit that Graham may have a point, I think perhaps there will be a little bit of guesswork going on. Nay, quite a lot, nay, probs wouldn’t trust any of us. Especially the ones who shouted ” Brexit is having NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER”, on July 1st 2016 (oh yes, I remember you).

However, humour me.. I do have one surefire, rock solid, safe as houses property guess for 2017 (but please don’t get excited if you’re outside of Zone1)

In 2017 more foreigners will buy property in the UK than in 2016…

Stick that in your Cuban cigar and smoke it Nige.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Estate Agent Types..

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Foxy looks great in his House of Fraser suit and wears his pointy D&G shoes with pride, particularly as he got a right deal at TK Maxx. Foxy is driven to sell. Partly because he is on £8k a year basic and a shared flat in Shoreditch doesn’t come cheap. Partly because if he doesn’t he knows he’ll have to stand on a table at the morning meeting and recite ‘I am a loser’ while his colleagues (enemies), jeer and spray him with Perrier. If an unknown number comes up between 8am and 12pm it will be Foxy – ‘calling out’. No matter you found 12 months ago, he was just checking you were happy in it because if you need to sell….

Catchphrase: If you throw enough *!@&..
Likes:  His database.
Dislikes: Loooo-sers.

Caroline is single, she wasn’t always. She has left a number of husbands in her wake. The latest woke to find his suits sleeveless and a Facebook photo of him, a goat and an unverifiable accusation. Caroline is not to be messed with. She rules her Agency with iron talons and only hires young men or women older and fatter than her. She wears power suits in jewel colours, very very high heels and has long swishy hair, which she swishes, a lot. She rarely wears tights on her long fake tanned legs and when in the company of men could give Sharon Stone a run for her leg-crossing money. Caroline prides herself on a new brand of feminine Estate Agency, thus the office has pink accessories, Designer Guild cushions and black and white photographs with motivational quotes.

Catchphrase: Fab after Fifty.

Likes: Carole Middleton.

Dislikes: Younger women.

Michaela is more careful about showing off her tattoo since being promoted from receptionist, although the fake tan has sadly dulled it anyway. She has also splashed out on a couple of Next suits. Michaela would like to live in every property she shows and she tells every buyer. Sadly this is just a pipe dream since boyfriend Gaz was made redundant from Kwik-Fit. Still, his Grandma is ill and she’s got a lovely retirement bungalow in Bognor, so there is hope. Michaela has Heart.

Catchphrase: It’s alright for some.
Likes: Loose Women
Dislikes: Anyone abov’emselves.

Christine looks Mumsy but she has seen it all and let me tell you, it was all negative then and it’s no flaming better now. The only people she likes are her son, who is perfect and the Manager and district Manager, who she bakes cakes for. Those young ruddy negs in the office are a constant irritant and they ain’t picking up the phone first or getting their bleeding fingers on her applicant list if she has anything to do with it. They can do her viewings though.  Christine only likes buyers who are male, middle class and flirt with her. Do not bring children to viewings, that steel eyed stare will cause them nightmares.

Catchphrase: I spoke to that applicant first.
Likes: Strictly Come Dancing
Dislikes: People.
Dave is to be found south of the river offering ‘sell your house for £500’ deals from his one man office above Greggs. ‘It’s all about volume innit. Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap didn’t do Tesco’s any harm did it?!’
Dave is a bit stressed, quite a bit of the time, because he isn’t piling them high and frankly he’s not selling them neever.
You can find the Greater Spotty Dave on Rightmove. His properties have the toilet seats up and the washing up takes centre stage. If you look even closer, there he is complete with flash in the bathroom mirror.
Dave drives an Astra but he really, really aspires to a Vectra.

Catchphrase: I just want to offer punters value for money.
Likes: Greggs sausage rolls and Boots meal deals.
Dislikes: Any Estate Agent with a listing.

Sheila is to be found in the shires, Sheila is upper middle class and upper middle aged with hair sprayed so hard you wouldn’t get through it with a toffee hammer. Particular specialties are equestrian property and being scary. Expect the Spanish Inquisition if you try to book a viewing, so for ease of passage change your name to Camilla, honk a lot and have equine worming tablets visible in your handbag.

Catchphrase: If Daddy hadn’t lost on Lloyds I wouldn’t be here.
Likes: Princess Anne
Dislikes: Commoners.

Rupert
Can’t miss him out!
The older generation Rupert wasn’t quite bright enough to go to University but young men from frightfully good families do need a profession with a business card and the City was picky back then. The younger generation have Land Management degrees from St Andrews, Durham and of course Cirencester. Dead handy because they never know if Papa might pop his clogs and they’ll have to take the reins at the family large-holding.
Never try jokes or irony with a Rupert – they won’t get it. However, they ‘won’t get it’ with the most impeccable manners.

Catchphrase: Do you play Rugger?
Likes: A blo*dy good pheasant shoot
Dislikes: Being called an Estate Agent.

So, due to concerns of biting the hand that feeds me, let me make it clear that these character are not based on anyone living or dead and bear no resemblance to any Estate Agent I have met in the course of my daily life. In fact I shall go as far as saying I have made it all up and that all Estate Agents are made of sugar and spice and stop for hedgehogs crossing the road. Apart from Rupert of course, who shoots them.

Bricks and mortar bombs – The London property market

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It’s fun and games on London’s property battlefield this year and to be fair, the Shires are seeing the same. Anything half decent coming to the market is swarmed upon by battalions of buyers. Mass viewings are becoming the norm. A recent ‘viewing’  I had of a £4m Chelsea house saw 40 people through the door in two days. A Berkshire waterside development a few weeks ago saw 250 viewers at it’s launch, (pre-floods!). And if you want a ‘do-up’, bring body armour. It’s a war out there.

Those new to London house hunting, start their search with the confidence that with a million quid sitting in the bank, they can wander the streets of London chased by salivating Agents flinging gorgeous properties at them. Err, no. They’re just joining the herds of others with wads of juicy cash being treated to a taste of cattle class. Make no mistake, the London property market is swimming in lolly.

It’s different this year because the Brits are back. So it’s not just soiled Asian notes being thrown at everything, it’s also the flush Canary Wharfers, the Trustafarians, the middle aged Brits who are now confident enough to dump their cash into property stock. But unfortunately the amount of stock hasn’t really risen much, so the supply and demand mismatch continues.

Asking prices have always amused me and currently pricing varies from ‘they’re having a larf’ to the increasingly popular ‘under-price and create a frenzy’. And that is precisely what we’re getting. A frenzy, a battlefield, bidding wars. Bidding wars every flaming time and to increase the joy threshold, estate agents are quickly falling back to their default setting of ‘sod the buyer, plenty more where they came from’.

In fact every property we have bought in the past six months has been against the backdrop of other rampant bidders and often sealed bids. On each occasion my clients have turned to me and said ‘I don’t want to be involved in any bidding war’. Because to be honest, it does feel terribly un-British all this bidding war stuff. Unfortunately there is a simple and blunt response to that – well you won’t blo*dy buy anything then.

The reality is that lack of stock, loads of good buyers means only one thing, you have competition and in a war that means enemies. Buyers better get used to it. It is a war out there but it’s a psychological war.

Bidding wars, sealed bids and all that jazz can turn warriors into lily livered cowerers. It is easy to become disheartened and throw the towel in at the first hint of competition and it’s particularly scary when the impersonal ‘best bids by 5pm friday’ email hits the inbox.

But you really shouldn’t be put off. Without wanting to sound like I’m bragging (well a little bit, you have to take it where you can) I have sat here and realised that I and my colleagues have won every ‘bidding war’ we have ever gone for – and not overpaid to do it.So, how do you do it?

I am tempted to end this here with a cheeky ‘call me, hire me, pay me’  but heyho, I’m a fool to myself.

Well half the battle is to actually be in it (to win it, as the saying goes). You won’t buy a home hiding in the trenches scared or in a huff. Sounds simple but rest assured many good solid buyers are doing just that, running scared, white flag aloft at the first whiff of competition, so there’s some of your competition gone for starters. Don’t be scared off, if you’re offering, you’re half way to buying a home.

Part two of the secret to success is all about relationships. Actually, let me clarify that – it is ALL about relationships. Men and alpha females tend to glaze over when I say this and throw withering accusations of weakness at me. Because people commonly seem to think ‘tough negotiating’ means aggression. It’s a war so lets go in all guns blazing, show them how tough we are, pop some smoke.

Nope. Doesn’t work. Because people, funnily enough like to do business with people they like. And these ‘look at the size of my wad’ Captain Flashhearts, send them scurrying for the ‘no likey, no lighty’ button.

The Agent knows that if you’re a pain in the butt at this stage, the next few weeks of sales progression is going to be a right old nightmare. Trust me, Agents are people (no really), and if they can influence the Seller to avoid someone who is likely to give them hassle, they will.

The meek, insouciant, no head above the parapet approach doesn’t work either, you’ll just be mown down in a hail of indifference.

The key to success is building a relationship with the Agent and ergo the seller. A relationship which cements the fact that you are a good buyer. You have funds in place, you have a proactive solicitor, you are desperate to buy it and you won’t mess around. This is so often far more important to the seller and agent than a few extra grand from some bolshy Rambo.

Because no matter what price you offer, you are unlikely to get it if the Agent doesn’t know who you are, what you are and if you’re a safe bet. Really helps if they like you too.

Whilst you need to develop a relationship with the Agent that gives them peace of mind, it is a two way street, you also need to develop one so that you understand the Vendors position. It is rarely the one with the most gunfire (money) who wins the war. There are usually many other things that could sway them in your direction. You won’t know that unless you are eyeballing and talking and asking. Then your offer can be tailored to what the Vendor wants. At the risk of repeating, it’s rarely just the money. Some Vendors hate the idea of developers buying their home. It could be timescale. It could be fear of you being a flaky buyer. I’ve even won houses by saying we’d take on the blo*dy cat. You won’t know what the Vendor wants unless you have a relationship because if you don’t know what they want, you can’t offer what they want.

We all know the UK property market is far from ideal, I become all misty eyed dwelling on the good old days of using wit, diplomacy and empathy to chip the asking price, not add to it. The days when properties came on at ‘a bit too much’ and you offered a ‘bit less’ and a deal was done with all parties feeling they’d scored rather than been screwed. There’s nothing I (and believe it or not most estate agents), would like more than a balanced property market where supply and demand were fairly matched and it was all terribly British and respectful. But it ain’t. And if you want to buy a house, flat or shoebox in London, you’re going to come up against it and you need to meet it head on.

Neither lily livers or egos win the war. Don’t be put off by the fearful term ‘bidding war’. Gird your loins, throw your intellect grenade, and fire your charm offensive, they’re deadlier than you think. Also they cost nowt, nobody gets hurt and frankly, if you lose, there will always be another house. Always.

So, to conclude the warfare theme, most nights I download about my latest turf war battles on Skype, to my camouflage draped husband somewhere in the desert.

The irony is not lost on me, in case you’re wondering.

Apaches whirr overhead and he has an SA 80 submachine gun nestled on his Army issue pillow (I had casually written AK47 but I am peevishly informed they are blo*dy RUSSIAN). For the record he’s relieved to have got shot of Gary Barlow but there’s always a spare tent for Katherine Jenkins.

– but I digress.

We debate again that wars are won not through fire power but through empathy, relationships, intellect and above all diplomacy. Funnily enough, rather British traits, I like to think.

But through the staccato link that Skype allows us, he solemnly intones for my umpteenth time of hearing the British Army’s rallying cry to all those troops fearful of entering the battle zone.

“Suck it up sprog and crack on”.

Housing bubble, what housing bubble?.. Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chinese Horrorscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Leave it me with I say,” and leg it.

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

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

20 ways to spot Mr Metrosexual’s home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Pantone Mugs.. yawn

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

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

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

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

15. Massive plasma- just massive.

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

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

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

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

20. Gym bag. In hall. Festering.

Prime Crummy London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Powers goes Arabian in South Kensington

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We have up to ten million pounds to spend and a client who has signed up because my blogs ‘make him larf’. I’m hoping he’s not banking on a running comic routine as I accompany him around London. He’ll soon find out I do grumpy, bitchy and sniffy far better than comedy. But at least with this budget there’s no messing around with £1.5m trying to get a bedroom big enough to extend your legs when you’re putting your tights on.

Still, we have loadsamoney and a client with a sense of humour, this looks like being a fun search.

It doesn’t start well. A Grosvenor Square apartment is dismissed on account of machine guns and Yanks in Aviators below the window. In Connaught Square Tony Blair as a neighbour wasn’t the selling point the Agent had banked on, while TVs coming out of white leather beds and neon-lit cocktail bars in Kensington Palace’s back garden grates on my clients ‘keeping it real’ tastebuds.

The riverside glass sub-penthouse (the Agents laboured description ) facing Cheyne Walk is greeted with guffaws. And before you ask, yes I do go south of the river but rarely more than 30 feet and never without my trusty Kevlar vest.

Clearly nothing refurbished will work, standard London bling turns my clients stomachs. So I take them to an Arab owned flat with 16 feet ceilings overlooking Hyde Park. It is grotty with potential. They love it.

Negotiations start which end up at full asking- £6.3m. ‘Job done’ I muse, which is always dumb, because it is not. Apparently we need to grease ‘the Mrs’ hand with a few more Dinar for her to give up her London shopping pad. We walk away at £7m with a sucking lemons face because it is still ‘not quite enough’ and leave a stinging flea in the Agents ear.

Panic descends because the clients have now fallen in love with overlooking Hyde Park, being next to the Albert Hall and wanting a refurb. My suggestion of One Hyde Park is met with eyes lowered and a sotto voce ‘Do I look stupid?’

As for the Lancasters, I’m afraid the striking distance of hooka pipes and goat kebabs didn’t float my clients boat.

This is not the widest geographic remit I have ever been given (equating to about 200 yards) but lady luck smiles on me.

An ingenue agent punching well above his weight has access to a flat in the same block as the loved and lost Arab pile. I am sceptical but on entry smell a gem, albeit a comic one. My heels sink into deep 70‘s shag-pile and we enter the mens smoking room overlooking the park. One wall is a 1970‘s mirrored bar fit for any 6 star Jumeirah and suedette sofas Jason King would die for. The bar conceals itself remotely leaving demure bookcases, an essential requirement for when a Princess pops her head around the door to see how the Princes’ tea party is going.

The ladies have their own similar room, wall to wall with silk clad seating, silk walls and a silk canopied ceiling. In each there are chandeliers the size of a Chelsea Cloisters one bed flat- blue for the boys, pink for the girls.

As expected the bathrooms were black (apart from the limescale)- 1970’s specials with curtained corner baths, gold swan taps and more chandeliers. Then the piece de resistance in the Master. The circular bed with upholstered shell canopy, built in ashtrays and fridge, oh and of course the ‘overhead mirrors’.

What’s this button? I ask. The Agent and I try it out. Ooh, it revolves. He and I resist the temptation to jump aboard. Flaming tempting mind. Must say I haven’t had such a titter since a particularly obnoxious Rupert stepped his Gucci’s into an Oxfordshire horse pat.

I call the client ‘You wanted comedy with your property search?

How about Austin Powers goes Arabian.. It’s a cracker! but just one thing before you see it. If I get you a good price, can I have the bed?

The Pippa’s bottom of the London property market.

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

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

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

As the weeks pass, I view a lot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.