Balls…of steel, or a balls-up of epic proportions?

In the interests of impartiality, (I know, I know, Ladbrokes have stopped taking bets on my succession to Ban Ki-Moon), I have tried to look dispassionately at the Shadow Chancellor’s pledge to raise the top tax rate to 50p if/when Labour retrieve the keys to No’s 10 and 11 Downing Street.  This notably coincided with the announcement last week of a record drop in unemployment.  Firstly, like the majority of those in a position of power in any political party, (step forward, Dave, Ed and Nick-but only if your wife says so, Nick), he has minimal – make that miniscule-experience of working in a job that has actually produced anything, employed people and had the all too real maxim of not reaching targets meaning not having a job because there isn’t the money to pay the wages.  Speaking of there being no money, he was of the same political team who on leaving power left a note mockingly telling their successors, “There is no money left”. Your parents must be so proud of you boys.  When he did work in the Treasury with his chieftain, Mr Brown, he was mindful of the power of the City and the need to be seen to be supporting it and its wealth generators.  Hence keeping the tax rate at 40p until a last desperate ‘up the workers’ throw of the dice before the general election.  He insisted yesterday that he wasn’t anti-enterprise although the letter in Sunday’s Daily Telegraph signed by the likes of my uncle Ian, (of the ‘Sir’ variety, CEO Kingfisher) and other business leaders, does beg to differ.  These people do employ massive workforces and do strive to meet and surpass targets – because it generates wealth- yes, for them, (and no doubt they will have fantastic holidays, a penthouse and a permanent table at Le Caprice), but also for the broader labour force, (note the lower case ‘L”). They are vehement in their dismay at Labour’s seemingly ex post facto step.  What also concerns me as an alumnus of Fairwater Comprehensive is that Mr Balls is a former Harvard Kennedy Scholar (Economics).  What ever colour one’s political flag one has to admire the intellect that attained such a high level of academic achievement.  So what happened?  He got it horribly wrong the first time; has he learnt nothing from his former misguided endeavours? 

Finally, continuing my quest to alter my post code from NP44 to NY 10017,  (look it up), I have to admit that on a purely personal basis, man to man, he has a face that I just want to smack with a scaffold plank.


This was the week that…

… saw two teenage lovers re-enact their own modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, swapping the balconies of Verona for the poolside of a five star hotel in the Dominican Republic, special parking badges being issued to people too fat to walk any distance from their car, (and before the indignant start screeching about medical conditions, I know, it is called E.T.F.M. Eating Too.. – you can work out the rest), and mendacity rising to the top of the character traits shown by many in the public and not-so-public eye.  Fibs, falsehoods, disinformation or porkies, choose your synonym; some absolute corkers made an appearance this week.  Justin Bieber, Nick Clegg, Mrs Nick Clegg and anyone who was asked by their partner, “Does my bum look big in this?” can all take a back seat, as one of my fellow estate agents in the Cwmbran locale fought his way manfully to the top of the pile.  Having quoted a, (fairly exorbitant) fee to a prospective vendor, coupled with the assurance that he would sell her property in record time, he was asked whether, if the house did not sell within this period, the fee could be altered decrementally, the longer the property remained on the market.  ‘Oh no’, he replied, ‘the ombudsman does not allow me to do such things’.  What an absolute load of bollocks.  The ombudsman to the property industry (and other industries), is there to mediate in matters where two parties cannot find resolution.  To quote from the official Ombudsman Services website, “Our job is to investigate complaints fairly by listening to both sides of the story and looking at the facts.  We will decide what action, if any, should be taken when you and a property company can’t agree” [sic].  It should be noted that this is for disputes with agencies that have signed up to the scheme-for a fee.  Similarly, The Property Ombudsman Scheme (TPO), is a “voluntary redress body to resolve complaints against residential estate agents and residential letting agents”. [sic].  Again, it is a voluntary scheme where a company pays to join.  The rationale behind such membership is broadly sound and invokes to potential vendors, tenants et al the warm fuzzy feeling of security that is intended; alongside the facilitators of the scheme making money.  Speaking of the latter, neither scheme has any legal jurisdiction over the fees agreed between vendor and agent.

At Cheshire and Co we have made a conscious decision not to join either scheme; parting with monies that allow us to include the sign on our door and thereby kid potential customers that the practices that we employ have their best interests as the overriding factor. And yes, we did all come down in the last rain shower.  The one body that we are acutely aware of -as should anyone in any business – is Trading Standards. It is they who can shut a business, including an estate agency.  Good business practice is self-serving and does not include using people or organisations’ names in vain.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” Albert Einstein.  We believe that selling your property is an important matter.

“Coming together is a beginning….

..Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” The words of none other than Henry Ford.  (Even if you don’t know of him, you must recognise the surname? No-one is that insular are they?)  It is a belief that perhaps should have been heeded by some of our political figures during the past week.  When Labour came to power all those years ago, (trivia question: Name the (now) professor who played the drums at the 2005 Labour Party Conference as Tony Blair glided up the steps to the theme of, “Things Can Only Get Better”?), Gordon Brown, Prudence’s brother and best friend gave The Bank of England greater independence, allowing and indeed encouraging its governor a free voice.  Oh how times change.  The past five days – in fact the past five hours – have seen a plethora of banking changes heralded by Ed Milband that will be implemented on Labour taking back the hot seat at Number 10.  Though leaked to the media in the preceding days, Mr Miilband announced his proposals in what was vaunted to be a key note speech to the University of London earlier today.  Jostling for primacy on his to-do list were a cap on bonuses paid to bankers and the formation of at least two, new, “sizeable and competitive banks”, to challenge those currently in existence.  “We need a reckoning with our banks, not for retribution, but for reform”.  Speaking of retribution Ed, have you heard from your brother recently?  As is the norm of the modern world, these proposals had already been touted and promulgated to the world some days ago, allowing any number of comments to be made.  Not least of those offering opinion was the current Governor of The Bank of England, Mark Carney (exercising the free voice championed by Mr Brown).  Mr Carney was adamant that the proposed cap on bonuses would not help the roses grow in the garden.  He is of the opinion – that one should perhaps heed as he was selected as Governor of the BOE presumably because he knows something about banking – that  a cap on retail bank market share in the US had, in part, fuelled the behemoths on Wall Street that were at the very epicentre of the global financial crisis.  Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umumna reiterated the plans of his glorious leader with his comment that, “It is not healthy for us to involve governors of The Bank of England in big political debates”. Ok.  Did you really think about what you were saying there Chuka?  Anyway, if Messrs Miliband, Umumna and Co. aimed to generate activity in the economy, they got what they wanted.  As I type, millions are being wiped off the share prices of both RBS and Lloyds.  Well done lads.  Perhaps we should not be wholly surprised as it was the Labour party who ‘instructed’ Lloyds to take over the Halifax/Bank of Scotland with the result that Lloyds shareholders saw the value of their holdings dive more quickly than Andy Carroll when there is only a minute left of extra time.  Mr Carney’s view that Mr Miliband’s policies are unlikely to benefit the country was perhaps strengthened by his listening to Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week when Mr M. got in a bit of a pickle both numerically and tautologically when struggling with the concepts of a quarter of a million and 250,000.  I know that I struggled on occasion with O-level maths, but I am not putting myself forward as the future leader of a G8 country.

In his comments on matters fiscal, Mr Carney took the view that the growing housing market would not be a threat to financial stability as mortgage levels and property sales are coming from such a low base.  We have been saying this for some time; just as the Help to Buy Scheme is modest in scale compared to the overall market.  The hysteria over a housing bubble is now akin to that generated by the possibility of catching bird flu from chicken McNuggets (I am not going to walk myself into a libel case by questioning the organic origin of the said nuggets).  Future borrowers are already being subjected to tougher mortgage criteria before institutions deem them suitably risk-free.  Without a doubt this will hinder the steady progress of the housing market’s resurgence as it increases completion times and may well bring about higher charges.  As always, the results will be determined by what the computer does with the information put into it by whoever is doing the inputting: regardless of their intelligence, subject knowledge and common sense.  Now everything is based on what the PC says.  There has to be some correlation between the increasing reliance on computers and obesity rates going through the roof.  The days of someone getting up from their desk and walking to ask someone with a better knowledge base than theirs are diminishing as quickly as people are buying a bigger trouser size.

To go back to Mr Ford.  He was a pioneer of ‘welfare capitalism’ and was stridently against labour unions believing that many were too heavily influenced by some leaders.  He took the view that the latter often started with ostensibly good intentions but ended up doing more harm than good.  What price would I get on there being a picture of a Model T on the walls of Miliband Towers?

“Those who have knowledge don’t predict….

…Those who predict don’t have knowledge.”  Wise words from the 6th Century Chinese poet, Lao Tzu.  But rarely heeded over a millennia later.  Just as every year has its in thing to be doing/wearing/following, (in 2013 it was the year of the ‘selfie’, an obsession with Royal babies and Miley Cyrus’s heroic efforts to make us forget that she was ever a protégé of the Disney factory), 2014 is already following the trend; literally.  If the newspapers are to be believed trends, or more specifically trend spotting is the new trend of the new year.  Still with me?  Alongside the articles beseeching us to get fitter/drop a dress size in a fortnight/’discover a whole new you’, (I have enough trouble locating the old me), were several articles on improving our financial well-being to put us in fiscal nirvana by 2015. These industry commentators cited their top selections as regards tapping into the equities market that has over the past four years enjoyed what industry insiders call a ‘bull-run’ with markets at or above record highs. The macro marvel that was highlighted was none other than Bellway Homes whose reservations are up 43pc and whose pre-tax profits have increased by over a third to £141m in the latest full year results.  As John Ficenec writes in The Daily Telegraph, “the macro marvel is all about trend spotting”[sic] The Daily Telegraph, January 1 2014.  Please forgive my sounding slightly impertinent, but wouldn’t the real skill be in spotting the trend of the company’s ever improving  market performance before the results were announced?

Trending on the trending theme are commentators  viewing the Bank of England’s latest quarterly appraisal of mortgage borrowing – published on December 20 2013 – that showed that homeowners are continuing to reduce mortgage debt and build the equity in their properties at the slowest rate since 2010.  Industry commentators believe that this is showing a trend towards a more normal housing market as opposed to the trend of the post-apocalyptic financial crisis of 2007 that stopped borrowers cashing in on the ever increasing value of their homes.  As always, the definition of ‘normal’ can be open to all sorts of interpretations.  We believe that people are starting to feel more confident in that they do not feel the need to pump every spare penny into their mortgage repayments, as better or at least less bleak times are approaching.  People feel that they can live a little more.  This is borne out by figures published by the LSL that show first time buyer transactions rose 28pc in the 12 months to November 2013; a clear sign that strength is gradually returning to the market. 

One trend that will undoubtedly continue with a gilt-edged assurance is that of Keith Vaz MP turning up to anything that offers a photo opportunity.  He has started his 2014 campaign of exposure to the masses with a zeal comparable to Susannah Reid trying and failing to win Strictly Come Prancing. When not welcoming newly arrived Romanian immigrants at Luton Airport, (incidentally, I am with Rod Liddle in The Sun who wrote that the sight of the erstwhile Member of Parliament for Leicester East bearing down upon me would be enough to make me jump back on the next plane back to Brasov), I fear that he may come closer to the Severn.  If the proclamation by one of my colleagues in the property market of South Wales that,” they sell more houses…than anyone else…”,  (criteria not specified), is to be applauded, then Mr Vaz could hot foot it down the M4 to award them a gold star, “I met Keith Vaz” badge.  I do have to ask in response to the hysterical ululation of another agency, “And?”  The vendors with whom I  speak want to know how I am going to sell their house, not that belonging to anyone else.  They do not care if only one a house a month is sold in their particular demographic, as long as it is their property and the appearance of, “that smirking oil slick” [sic] (Rod Liddle’s words, not mine), The Sun January 9 2014, would have no relevance whatsoever to a successful house sale, or indeed beginning a successful career as an immigrant worker/beneficiary of the British welfare system.

Enough trending on trends.  I leave you with the words of the former United States Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, Edgar R Fielder. “He who lives by the crystal ball soon learns to eat ground glass”. Edgar R Fielder, “The Three R’s of Economic Forecasting-Irrational, Irrelevant and Irreverent”, 1977. Take note all wannabee Delphic oracles.

O.ther B.ugxers. E.fforts…

….As the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire; established on June 4 1917 by King George V for all you anoraks out there) is more commonly known. By some blip in the postal system and/or a typing error on the list that was prepared for the Honours and Awards Committee, my name did not appear on the New Years Honours List.  Shocking, I hear you say.  Bearing in mind that it was established as an order of chivalry and I nearly always hold the door open for members of the fairer sex – unless of course it is raining, Kylie or Flavia (who got married last week – how dare she?) are strutting their stuff on the box or there is only one milk chocolate digestive left in the tin – I would have thought that I was an odds-on cert.  As the saying goes, if you want something doing properly, do it yourself.  To that end, in pursuit of a bit of bling I am going to nominate myself.  I didn’t think that this was possible and not really cricket, (for the benefit of the English Cricket team that’s when you try and use the wooden thing – the bat, to hit the red round thing – the ball), until I discovered how certain agents get to be ‘Leading Small Estate Agent in South Wales’ or ‘Best Letting Agent in Rydale’ (up North if you are interested).  Following on from an article this time last year in the Daily Telegraph by their chief property expert Graham Norwood that proclaimed ‘Britain’s Best Small Estate Agents’ (Daily Telegraph 12 January 2013), I decided to delve a little deeper into how this list was compiled.  In fairness to Mr Norwood and his team his list generated a considerable amount of discussion in the feverish world of social media, culminating in his taking to a blog site to explain how he did his picking.  He explained that he consulted with over 200 property contacts that he had established in his 12 years of writing about residential property, plus he asked for suggestions on Twitter.  Not the most exhaustive selection process it has to be said, and the title was a little misleading as it was the top 20 selected from the ones that he knew of; not from a pool of every agent working throughout the British Isles.  As he admitted in his blog, “..the list is largely personal…nor are these agents the only good ones in the country”[sic]. He did though state his belief that it was a more independent means of selection than that of self-nomination for awards; a practice that is common throughout the industry and explains why certain agents proudly display how they have won an award in a category that only they knew about…

Reading through his list did reiterate two very pertinent maxims to which all estate agents should aim to adhere at all times: excellent customer care and knowledge of their subject matter making vendors and buyers happy with the minimum of fuss.  On a personal level, putting my magpie-like characteristics aside, I would rather see a contact book on my desk full of customers who would use my agency’s services again, rather than a shiny plaque on the wall covering the damp patch.

To conclude the first blog of 2014 covering the topics alluded to above, namely cricket, self-worth and awards for personal endeavour, I draw your attention to one of the best sledging lines ever used.  The Australian pace bowler Glenn McGrath asked the slightly rotund Zimbabwean Number 11, Eddo Brandes why he was, “so f”£$ing fat”, to which Brandes replied, “because every time I £$%& your wife, she gives me a biscuit”.  No answer to that really.