Bricks and mortar bombs – The London property market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– but I digress.

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

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

“Suck it up sprog and crack on”.

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Housing bubble, what housing bubble?.. Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chinese Horrorscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Leave it me with I say,” and leg it.

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

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

Prime Crummy London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Powers goes Arabian in South Kensington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pippa’s bottom of the London property market.

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

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

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

As the weeks pass, I view a lot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loathe Vendor Viewings


Heart sinks, there is an audible sigh and an under the breath ‘bugger’ when the Estate Agent utters the line “The Vendor will show you around”.
Now I can forgive the odd vendor viewing at weekends or evenings but this is a focus on those Vendors who ‘insist’ on doing them all.. Some truisms:

They regard the Estate Agent with disdain and know they can ‘sell’ their house better.
*that’s why it’s been on market 12 months at 25% too high*

They WILL follow you around with a look that says ‘you’re going to pinch something’.
*thanks luv but your Capo de Monte is safe*

You will hear the line ‘We have been so happy here’.
* A rare outing for my cocked head and faux ‘Aww, how sweet’ face*

If it’s a divorce you’ll no doubt get the one who doesn’t want to sell.
*Awkward*

It is made very clear that the hot tub is NOT STAYING
*Phew bloody phew, they just don’t make Civit Bang strong enough*

We built the annexe for my Mother.
*An effort not to ask ‘Erm, did she die in hospital?’ while you scan for stains.*

‘This is the kitchen, my wife’s domain’ followed by loud guffaws.
*It’s how he tells ’em, sigh*

The loo is now a WC, the lounge is a ‘main reception where they like to entertain’ and there is a ‘master suite’ because it has a corner shower and fitted louvred wardrobes.

You must view the eaves storage and the attic where he laid the floorboards himself – there will be a train set.
*15 go’s at pulling down a half tonne ladder and just missing the kids heads*

‘We’re leaving the sauna, we’ve had hours of fun with it’.
* It’s an airing cupboard*

‘We don’t have to sell’
*Don’t tell me!.. ‘You’ll move for the right price’*

‘I’ve been on Mouseprice, the house over the road sold last year for £50k more’
*yes love but that’s twice the size, doesn’t have swirly carpets or a gummed up avocado jacuzzi*

My clients and I wander the property in abject silence, arms clamped to our sides taking turns to say ‘lovely’ – as the Vendor stares at us like a cardigan clad Norman from Psycho.

These are the people who take the stair carpet, every shrub over a fiver and leave wires where the B & Q wall lights were.
So yes Mr and Mrs Vendor, I know your type and whilst I may be saying ‘Lovely’…  I’m fibbing.

Primelocation Blog awards 2011- Oops, we did it again!

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Well, well, well.. thrilled that our blog has won Best property blog post of 2011, quite an achievement considering how many people are out there scribbling to a really high standard on the woes and the details of the property market.

Here’s the list of all the winners and runners up click So many people to make sure you read.

Here’s the blog that won it.. not literature and certainly not in depth property analysis with ‘graphs and things’ but a satirical wander around what I call a wag pad and the developers do not 😉 click

Buying Agent sells her house. Part 3. The marketing

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2nd week of August 2011

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

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

Third week of August

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

First week of September

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

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

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

What about the second couple? I ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

part 4 soon- sales progressing and finding a rental.

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

Buying Agent chooses her Estate Agent. The Diary Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3 soon… let the marketing commence.