The Journo and the Oligarch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knightsbridge Naffness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Vendors,

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

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

Nothing.
or
An offer straightaway.

Why is nothing happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very pleasing.

 

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

Buying Agent, the Royal Wedding and a London flat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Buying Agent’s guide to decorating with colour.

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Colour is so important to our ability to express ourselves and where better to make our mark than with our homes. Kelly Hoppen may say greige, taupe or elephant breath. The middle classes may fawn, (pun intended), over Farrow and Ball’s downpipe. The Notting Hill set may worry that Nigella’s duck egg blue clashes with Jamies new pink range. But it doesn’t rattle these people…

Just think how delighted the neighbours must be with these splashes of colour in the neighbourhood.

it is of course the blending of complimentary colours that is so important.

To be really up to date one needs to blend neons and ice cream colours seamlessly

But back in the 1970’s that was less important – easy access from the kitchen to your horse was the pressing matter.

Oh, and we’re back again to that ‘ice-cream palette’.. or possibly the ‘macaroon palette’. I’m getting pistachio with palm of violets and a frisson of lime. Note lovely storage units for fast access to Alka Seltzer.

Patterns must not be underestimated when unleashing the power of colour, especially when mixing and matching with textured floor coverings.

and textures are so important. There is nothing quite like satin for bringing deep jewel colours to life. Particularly liking the contrasting orange table cloth.

Also, don’t be afraid of using window dressing. I grant you that stick on stained glass is ‘a little out there’ but nothing ventured…

and when decorating childrens rooms, it’s OK to stick to primary colours but do make sure that the wall mounted guns and ammunition work together.

…and finally, bang up to date, this London home encompasses the grasping of the eclectic design nettle. Tricia Guild must be kicking herself she didn’t come up with this Designers look… Oh.

…. loving the attention to detail of different curtain panels and the subtle introduction of gilt. Wow, just WOW

So, there you have it, my guide to enhancing your life and in these examples, mine, with colour.
For help with finding your dream property (for properties like above, we can recommend interior designers with paint brushes) find out more here

Vendors! Take the blo*dy offer.

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Dear Vendors,

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

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

Nothing.
or
An offer straightaway.

Why is nothing happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Estate Agents.. Buying Agent translates.

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A quick little guide to help you unravel London Estate Agent speak:
  • Secure gated development …. It needs to be, it’s in Vauxhall.
  • Bright lower ground apartment … when you take the bars off the windows.
  • Charming … pokey.
  • Character features … A fireplace and a plastic ceiling rose.
  • Well maintained … not up-dated since the ’80’s.
  • Conveniently located … above a kebab shop.
  • Luxury kitchen … a bit of granite.
  • Central Ealing location … Hangar Lane.
  • Un-modernised … minging.
  • Recently refurbished … laminate flooring.
  • Ealing Common … Acton.
  • Stunning communal areas and gardens … stunning service charge.
  • Spacious eat-in kitchen … they’ve knocked kitchen into 3 foot side return.
  • Generous entertaining space … lounge knocked into diner.
  • No external shots … ex-local authority.
  • Prestigious development … The ugly one from Girls Aloud bought there 5 years ago.
  • Exceptional value for money … short lease.
  • Lively area … crack dealers.
  • Highly individual … highly ugly.
  • No onward chain … Granny’s died there.
  • Stylish decor … the duvet matches the curtains.