Go compare! Well actually, we’d rather you didn’t…

To (mis)quote a well known advertisement featuring one of Wales’s most recognisable TV ‘stars’ – no, not me on this occasion – the advice given to all potential vendors and purchasers should be just that.  When enlisting the services of an estate agent to either sell their property or as conduit for purchasing a house, it is not essential for someone to sign up to their in-house package deal of solicitor, mortgage-broker, EPC-purveyor, chiropodist and undertaker.  Yes, a solicitor will be needed for all conveyancing matters and a mortgage may be required in order to allow the property to be purchased, but nowhere is it recorded as a legal requirement that when using a particular estate agent, you are bound to use ‘their’ people.  An independent estate agent should be able to recommend a legal firm, offer an opinion borne from experience on various mortgage deals, arrange an introduction to an independent mortgage advisor and indeed may have an opinion on suitable footwear and appropriate funeral hymns; but the decision lies with the individual.  In the modern era, all this information is freely available and it is certainly beneficial to seek advice and then compare what is on offer on the open market.  Phrases such as, ‘our packaged deal’ invariably translate to, ‘it will cost you’ and ‘exclusive to us’ does have an element of exclusivity in that, ‘all your money will come to us, nobody else’.

Prior planning and preparation…

During my time serving with Special Forces (or was it the Boy Scouts?) I learnt as every military man knows, the value of the 6 P’s: Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.  This is equally applicable to a night time assault in the Congo (or Aberbargoed for that matter), as it is to protecting and maintaining your property whether selling or renting.  With the onset of winter – which does come every year – why do we wait till mid January and Arctic conditions to arrive before addressing lagging the pipes, ensuring that the boiler works properly or fixing the small leak in the roof that now requires the entire downstairs to be repainted before an estate agent can come and value it with a view to it being sold or rented.  Professional property maintenance always works out as being more cost effective than calling a plumber out at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Speaking of the 6 P’s and planning ahead, I can only offer my thanks to those who commented on my mid-week blog referring to the Council of Mortgage Lenders.  For those who drew the erroneous conclusion that I had too much time on my hands on a snowy Wednesday, may I remind you that the time of posting a blog bares no relation to the time that it was actually prepared…whereas those commenting straightaway clearly did have too much time on their hands and too little to do!

Statistics… and what people want you to believe…

Human nature dictates that we all have a tendency to believe what we want to hear.  This is especially true when it comes to estate agents.  A report published last week by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors states that the housing market is, ” over the very worst”.  Does this mean their worst, the worst in the worst part of the country, or the worst ever, anywhere?  When delving further into the report, we see that the number of estate agents who predict sales to increase in the next 3 months is up by 24%.  How many were polled: 10, 100, or a 1000? And to what are they making the comparison and when?  So let us deal with the facts. House prices last year fell on average across the UK by 1%.  So all elements would agree that an element of stability has returned; but no element of confidence has accompanied this.  For those of us old enough to remember, there was a booming market when interests rates were 16% but there were no concerns about job losses, economies faltering and fiscal cliffs.  What we can draw from the latest figures is that even though there is still the mentality of “I’ll nick this” when purchasing a house, after allowing the usual posturing and games to be played, we usually arrive at a sensible conclusion that benefits all parties.  Whilst we do not expect a boom in prices over the coming months, the days of the desparate seller who is forced to sell at any price, are disappearing.  If somebody does feel the need to have published figures to hand to boost their confidence, they would be better to focus on the Council of Mortgage Lenders who also last week made an announcement as to activity in the property market.  They reported that the amount of loans handed out to first time buyers in the last quarter of 2012 was up 26% from the corresponding quarter in 2011 and was up over 20% from the preceding quarter.  Although they did not state the exact number of loans approved, a percentage figure increase is at least a tangible amount backed up by the actual loans having been received.  It is historic – it actually happened – as opposed to a straw poll of predictions that may never actually come to pass.

Cheap… or professional?

Jam or preserve? Margarine or butter? Proper roast potatoes or those rubbish ones that are pre-packed and you heat up? Champagne or Carva? Just like in life, in estate agency you can have quality or cheap.  One does not equate with the other.  I never fail to be amazed by estate agent colleagues of mine who, when following up valuations and find that a fellow agent has been instructed, utter the hackneyed phrase, “Whatever they charge, I will do it cheaper”.  You know who you are.  If you believe that you provide a professional service, at a reasonable, justifiable fee then why as a last gasp attempt do you portray yourself as desparate?  Is it because some agents get off on the fact that they have more boards up or their right-move figures look fantastic?  None of this means anything to a house-seller.  It merely gives us estate agents the opportunity to indulge in a bit of chest-beating (or indeed whatever ladies do).

What is important is the service provided and ultimately how many houses the agent has sold.

Don’t do a Fizz…

Those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of the residents of Weatherfield will know that last week one of them came perilously close to a starring role in her own funeral (which I am sure would have been held in true, gloriously over-the-top soap style) when she suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler.  As a result of her amorous liaison with the hapless Tyrone, Fizz now lies in a hospital bed, having allowed him to service her boiler without him knowing what he was doing (no smutty jokes please).  In all seriousness, it has highlighted a very important issue which is relevant to all homeowners: do not allow your gas safety certificate to become out of date and if someone is coming to service the boiler to ensure that it meets all the necessary legal requirements, they must be fully qualified to carry out the work.  After all, we all have to have an in-date MOT certificate for our car, with the MOT having been carried out a certified garage.  Failure to ensure that there is an in-date gas safety certifiacte for the boiler in your property is at best, foolish in the extreme and at worst could have you being held responsible for someone’s death.  And this isn’t soapland where miracuous recoveries happen as the credits start to roll.

Green shoots…?

Figures were released this week showing that across the UK house prices fell ‘on average’ by 1% during 2012.  As anyone who understands the rationale behind any ‘figures released’ appreciates, this means that in SW1 and other much sought-after parts of the country house prices went up by 20% whilst in Bedwellty they went down by 19%.  All is not as it seems at first glance; but the doom-laden headline has had the desired effect.

What can be taken from such figures is that a form of stability has returned to the housing market coupled with a small increase in the number of lenders offering 95% mortgages to first time buyers.  This does not mean that I am encouraging people to go out and borrow as much as possible nor am I suggesting that we are about to experience the heady days of the early 2000’s when estate agents were merely the facilitators of people changing address, but here at Cheshire and Co we have already seen an increase in activity in 2013 – even after just 4 days!

If you are thinking of selling your property or taking a first step onto the housing ladder then now may be the time to approach an independent estate agent to take you through the process and offer advice borne from thirty years’ experience in estate agency to help you capitalise most on the tentative green shoots of recovery.  To receive such advice please drop into the office for an informal chat or call Gareth on 01633 869086