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.

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?

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 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.

What Estate Agents are REALLY saying..

Not going to bother with the obvious ‘compact and easy to maintain’ stuff, lets delve a little deeper.

When an Agent tells you:

The Vendor will look when he has an offer…
He will only move if some idiot pays him more than  it’s worth.

The property had an adverse survey but the problem has been fixed…
Yeah right.

Yes, the property has been on the market a while but we haven’t been fully marketing it…
Nobody wants to buy it

40% below market value…
Well, sort of..not saying which market

Three bedroom house..
Two bedroom house.

small garden…
Patio.

The Vendor is open to offers…
He’s desperate.

The Vendor is open to offers…
Even he is laughing at the asking price.

The Vendor is keen to get near to asking price…
He’s an awkward sod.

The Vendor will not move for less than asking price…
He’s a REALLY awkward sod.

The property has been up-dated…
Two tins of magnolia, some Ikea laminate and a B&Q kitchen.

That damp patch on the ceiling was a one-off leak…
It’s got an upstairs wet room – you may as well just leave the taps on.

Luxury bathroom…
One of those bloody green glass sinks that just about holds a puddle.

Luxury kitchen…
Vendor splashed out on Wickes instead of B&Q.

It has potential…
No, it’s just horrid.

Competitively priced…
Well, it’s a catchy phrase innit?

Yes, the price is ‘full’…
The Vendor came up with the price

The Vendor is on holiday, can’t show until he’s back…
The Vendor hates me and won’t trust me with a key.

With useful loft conversion…
If you’re a midget.

Characterful property…
Full of spiders

Interesting Architect designed property…
Odd

Could benefit from some updating…
The swirly carpets are sticky.

The vendor is prepared to negotiate on the hot tub…
Hee hee. I know what he’s been doing in it

The Vendor may take some specimen plants with him…
Five Polish guys are booked to strip it bare

All planning permissions and building regs are in order…
We’re hoping

The vendor has eclectic tastes…
He’s barking.

It’s an interesting property…
It’s really, really wierd.

Previous buyer pulled out due to ill health…
Yeah, the survey gave him a heart attack.

I am not keen to insult the Vendor with your offer…
I know he will shout at me.

I have a property that might interest you…
Most unlikely

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.

Buying Agent visits The Lancasters. Do they bomb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have price lists ‘No’.

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

Square footage price? ‘Err, that depends’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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