Unidos na diversidade….Forenet i mangfoldighed…

…Jednota v rozmanitosti… Not quite up to speed on your Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch?  Perhaps if I quote the motto of the European Union in English, it may help; “United in diversity” or if you have a particular affinity for the Indo-European mother language, ” In varietate Concordia“.  Rather like naming the Blue Peter dog/cat/tortoise/presenter to replace the one who was caught in an opiate induced state, the motto was determined by a contest involving 80,000 students from the countries of the European Union. Particularly prescient, as this week we were besieged on all sides by matters foreign, brought to our very doorstep by the Nige v Nick debate that raised the most pertinent question, “Who’d choose one of these jabbering maniacs to rule us?” [sic] Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, Thursday March 27 2014.  Ye Gods, give me strength.  It has often been asked whether Nick (Dutch mother, half Russian father, Spanish wife and a career Eurocrat, Europhile who has never worked outside the embrace of its bosom) has the stars of the European Union tattooed on his posterior.  What odds would I get at Ladbrokes? Although this one is more Paddy Power’s politically incorrect cup of tea. Nige isn’t that far behind on the inter-European marital stakes with a German second wife, but enough, this was serious stuff about our future as a nation.  As I said, give me strength.  My ire (and my blood pressure), had already been raised with an article in last weekend’s Daily Mail that wrote of the “People’s Republic of Wales” Robert Hardman , Daily Mail Saturday 22 March 2014.  What pained me as a proud Welshman -“Gymraeg ac yn filch”-(that will test who actually went to or learnt anything from the enforced Welsh language lessons at school), was that Mr Hardman was absolutely on the money.  Let us not forget that devolution came in as a result of a 25%  turnout and a 51% majority for the ‘yes’ vote.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for self-government; the same self-government that has allowed the Welsh Assembly to $&$£ everything up.  One only has to spend a Friday evening in the car park that passes for the M4 at the Bryn Glas Tunnels to see the efficacy of such self-government and those in power looking after their own people (sorry, they are looking after something beginning with ‘p’…).   On the subject of devolution and self-government, you are either in, or you are out.  Look at Scotland; Alex and his mates will keep North Sea Oil , the pound and the Armed Forces -just in case – but south of the border can keep RBS, the deficit and anything else that those the other side of Hadrian’s Wall don’t want.  It don’t work that way jockey.  It rather reminds me of Saddam Hussein who when found guilty and sentenced to death was thereby being granted a fast track ticket, access all areas pass to the 40 virgins he had proclaimed would always be waiting for him on his ceasing to wander the planet, but… he immediately launched an appeal of his sentence – just in case there was TB/syphilis/bird flu in the harem? 

Continuing our Jules Verne tour of the globe; the former subcontinent got a mention in dispatches as regards the property market.  Or more specifically, the housing market in London.  Oliver Atkinson of the online estate agents urbansalesandletings.co.uk was quoted in various media outlets as saying that prices in London “are bordering on the doolally”[sic].  For the anoraks amongst you, this phrase originated from WW2 and the British army transit camp based at Deolali, India. Those who succumbed to fever or mental illness- borne from the conditions- who shook uncontrollably were deemed to have the ‘Doolally (Deolali) Tap’.  (For a fixed fee I can not only measure up and market your property but I can also appear in your pub quiz team).  Anyone with a modicum of intelligence must accept that what happens in the London postcodes is very different to what is happening in the rest of the country.  Yes, there  may be a ripple effect, housing market activity is increasing and consumer confidence is gradually improving, but the overall figures for property transactions are and will continue to be distorted by what is happening within the confines of the M25.  This is best illustrated by returning to the land of Hadrian and his wall; the Land Registry reports that house prices in the North East fell by a further 1.3% in the 12 months up to February 2014.   Hysteria is indeed gripping certain parts of the South East property market, just as it is gripping certain parts of the media who report on the property market. Robert Chote of the Office for Budget Responsibility was quoted on Wednesday as having concerns about the “bubbly activity” in some areas.  This is resulting in sealed bids, open days where the overhead motorway signs are warning of ‘Congestion on Slip Road’ due to the slew of people pulling off to visit a particular semi and people being moved to murder to ensure that their offer is accepted (ok, I made the last one up).  Through all this reportage, there is an underlying theme, a muted whisper that behind all this high octane activity, there is some form of skulduggery or praxis being carried out by estate agents.  Just one question, is it always the case of nasty, nefarious estates agents and never greedy, avaricious vendors?


What’s it all about…..

…Alfie? (Give me the Dionne Warwick version any day over Cilla ‘I’m a professional Scouser’ Black).  Actually, with this week’s Budget having come to pass, the question should really be being asked of George Osborne; or in the interest of Coalition politics, the ultimate dog-in-a-manger, meddlesome old woman Vince Cable should perhaps be being courted for his Solomitic prophesies. In reference to the property market, the 2014 Budget contained no absolute howitzers unless you belong to that bracket that wants to buy a property in London (primarily) where the average asking price is just over £552,000. (Yes, you did read that correctly).  As of midnight on Budget day, the stamp duty for residential properties held in corporate portfolios worth over £500,00 increased to 15%, whereas prior to the hour of Cinderella, pumpkins and glass slippers it had only covered properties worth £2million or over.  Will this have any impact?  Well I suppose it might possibly deter a buyer from Europe from purchasing a pied a terre in the middle of London via a corporate envelope; whether it puts off the Qatari Royals from mass buying flats in Battersea Power Station (the cheapest retailing at £650,000), is anyone’s guess. Miles Shipside, Rightmove’s director was quoted in many publications, “Some deals may fall out of bed as corporate buyers try and renegotiate, and may give a knock down price opportunity to those Londoners looking in the half-million to £2million bracket…” [sic].  Meanwhile, back in the property world of NP44… I nearly crashed my car whilst driving up Avondale Road.  Eight boards in a twenty foot stretch of railing?  This raises a myriad of questions: not least what is so awry with the development that so many properties are available? Devil-worshipping?  Cannibalistic tendencies? The neighbours from hell -I refer you to my first point?  As the boards are equally split between sales and lettings, a potential investor may well be put off by what appears to be a very high turnover of tenants and the competitiveness of the market of actually moving the property on. Of course a more cynical individual may take the view that some agents may have a put a board up without actually having a property to sell, but due to the proliferation of their competitors they feel that they are missing out..

“A man is his own easiest dupe…

…for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.” Demosthenes.  Now I would like to think that I share many characteristics with the 4th century BC Greek statesman and orator; a patrician air, an ability to express contemporary society’s political and cultural proclivities, (ok, Pontnewyyd Social Club may not have absolute parity with the Senate in Athens, but you get the picture) and the prowess to wear a toga and not look like Frankie Howerd (titter ye not). Much of last week’s media reporting of the workings of my fellow property professionals did have me agreeing with The Big D having asked (and had it answered unequivocally), “Are people really that stupid?”  Firstly, I will acknowledge that estate agents and those who brand themselves as property or land agents (don’t think that the difference in title and the tweed suit raises you to a moral high ground), are placed by society as a whole somewhere between journalists, (step forward Ms R Brooks) and politicians, (that would be you, Mr A Blair). Wait a minute, don’t they know each other and didn’t we as a nation elect one of them to lead our beleaguered isle…? I digress.  Being employed by someone to market and hopefully sell their property is a job description akin to murdering their first born son.  Just call me Herod.  I wholly concur that there are some very dubious characters peddling their wares as estate agents, just as there are some very dubious characters peddling their wares as doctors, bankers, politicians and members of the clergy.  We do as a profession generate a quite unique level of opprobrium.  Some of which is deserved.  I do though have to ask who is gullible/desperate/sufficiently intellectually challenged to fall for some of the behaviour? Secondly, is some of this “shocking” behaviour as dastardly as is portrayed? In no particular order, examples cited in last week’s papers:

  •  Staging a two hour open viewing with the aim of pushing buyers into making higher offers.  What a load of bollocks and a minute’s consideration of the rationale involved clearly determines this.  Open house viewings are invariably held at empty properties and in my experience, 85% of the viewers are there because they have nothing better to do, fancied a nose around and are a TWOFT.   Open viewings are legitimate and have their place, but time restrictions do not push people into increasing their offer.  It isn’t a game show where you have to answered the question before the commercial break.
  • Non refundable deposits to filter out those potential buyers who are not serious.  This is genuinely appalling. Ballsy of the agent but you really would have to have been short-changed on the grey cells to agree to this.
  • Introductory fees forced on potential buyers.  Again, appalling, but who in the name of the good Lord, (other deities are available) would allow themselves to be “forced” into doing this?
  • An agent stating that a property is only available to cash buyers – and demanding proof.  A cash-only policy is a definite no-no, but any professional agent who is working for the best interests of their client – the vendor- should be requiring proof of funds before wasting everyone’s time and depleting the emotional bank of hope and enthusiasm.  There is a world of difference between an agent congratulating themselves and crowing to their client about the huge number of viewings booked for their property when none of those viewing have the funds even for the deposit, and a select, smaller number of viewings by those whom the agent knows have the financial means to make the purchase.
  • Getting unnecessary planning consent for extensions in order to boost asking prices.  Why shouldn’t a vendor do this?  Who is that deems the consent to be, ‘unnecessary’?  People viewing a property that they think may in its current condition be slightly small for their planned expanding family may make the purchase if they know that planning has been granted for an additional bedroom and bathroom.  Planning consent merely broadens a vendor’s potential market.  What isn’t there to be commended in such a move?

If a potential vendor or purchaser believes that an estate agent is trying to mug them off, then they should walk away.  No one could campaign on the ticket that there is a shortage of estate agents. “Caveat emptor” is applicable to all parties; and to paraphrase The Big D, those who get mugged off have usually allowed themselves to be treated as such with a certain word tattooed across their forehead.

“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ Keep them dogies movin…”

The reason for channelling my inner Rowdy Yates ( the real star over his boss Gil Favor), is that yesterday on Radio 4’s You and Yours, the world of selling houses and estate agency in general was likened to the ‘Wild West’. Now I would like to think that I can work a pair of buffalo-hide chaps better than most (without looking like the really camp, hirsute one from The Village People), but I prefer to meet the general public wearing a suit.  Each to their own though.  The comparison was made by a an American lady who holds the position of chief executive of The Homeowners’ Alliance (HA).  This is an organisation that has self-styled itself as, “the voice of the homeowner”[sic] that aims to support and serve Britain’s 17 million homeowners and 5 million prospective homeowners.  At a cost, incidentally, of £29.  Now this is not a huge outlay nor am I knocking the formation of a support group. ‘Hello, I’m Gareth and I’m an estate agent”. (Apologies to anyone who has been offended – have a drink on me).  The reason for their presence on prime time radio was the publication of a report compiled by them that focussed primarily on the secretive nature of estate agents in revealing to prospective vendors the actual cost of selling their property.  Hidden fees, additional clauses and the demand for additional marketing payments were amongst the examples of unprofessional behaviour.  According to the septic (tank – for those of you who aren’t au fait with rhyming slang), the HA visited 169 websites and  rang 41 agents to try and establish the cost of selling a property and the vast majority of the agents were less than forthcoming about the fees that they would charge.  On the subject of roguish behaviour, articles in yesterday’s written press commented on the “return of rogue agents”  [sic] Daily Mail , Friday 7 March 2014, in tandem with soaring house prices.  Again, the subject of agents signing people up to 6 month contracts without there being any interest in their property was the main thrust of the article.  I will let you into a little secret; this has been going on for years and I could name half a dozen agents, (invariably part of large, target-driven national chains) who operate in the NP44 postcode who have always done this and will continue to do so.  It is not condonable in any way; and at Cheshire and Co – as a small independent – we never ask a prospective vendor to sign such a contract.  But one thing should be pointed out, nobody has to sign the contract and if you are asked to do so, don’t.  The wonders of modern technology mean that if considering selling your house, you are able to research agents from wherever you may be based.  Also on Radio 4 was a lady from the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), who advised that when choosing an estate agent one should always choose an NAEA member.  Why?  Firstly, her fellow guest said that most of those whom they had identified from their survey who were purveyors of dodgy practices were actually NAEA members and secondly, what can the NAEA actually do for you the vendor (or as an agent)?  To quote from the NAEA’s website, “every year, unlicensed agents cause Britain’s homebuyers and sellers unnecessary stress and hassle” [sic] and they as a body aim to, “reduce this through self-regulation” [sic].  Very commendable, but I refer you to my earlier question. And I must point out a couple of issues that are raised from the NAEA blurb.  “Unlicensed agents”, implies that to operate as an estate agent one has to hold some form of licence akin to the legally binding document required to drive a car or watch a television.  No such license exists. The “unlicensed” bit refers to not being a member of the NAEA that as our American friend reports has dubious quality control measures.  This segues neatly with my next comment.  Membership of the NAEA is voluntary and the organisation itself is self-regulating. Having reported agents  who proudly proclaimed that they were NAEA members, but whose business practices were spectacularly in breach of the NAEA voluntary code of practice, I awaited definitive self-regulatory action to be taken. I am still waiting.  As always, the body that everyone who operates a business should be hugely respectful of, is Trading Standards. They don’t charge you a £1500 fee plus VAT to list their acronym on your website, they just shut you down.  Self-regulation my £$%&, they regulate through the law of the land and if you don’t play by the rules, you aren’t allowed to play.

As they said when setting out on the Sedalia Trail, “Head ’em up! Move ’em out! Saddle up! Ride around!”  I’m not sure how well that will go down as I bellow it out of the car window on Cwmbran Drive…