“Delightful three bedroom detached… ideal for amorous trysts on company time..”

As someone who favours the tag line, “Further benefits from…” I am not adverse to the use of descriptors to enhance the selling potential of property; but even I think that the above is a little TOO descriptive.   In this week’s MoneyMail (Daily Mail Wednesday 25 June 2014), there was an article that listed several instances of members of the public taking complaints to the independent property ombudsman.  In fairness to the author, the article included some of the more outrageous complaints where the agent was not deemed to be at fault and the complaint was not upheld. Such corkers as hating the town to which they had chosen to live and thereby wanting a refund and demands for the return of a deposit because the property was obviously haunted and the agents had neglected to inform the prospective vendors of the supernatural activity, were two of the quite laughable claims that were rightly kicked into touch by the ombudsman. Not dismissed though, was the complaint against an agency whose agents used the unoccupied flat that they had been instructed to sell for a romantic liaison.  Unfortunately for them, a family member of the vendor came to check on the property and interrupted a full dress rehearsal for Readers’ Wives (or as is often the case, an illicit encounter with somebody elses’ wife). Wholly unprofessional but not wholly uncommon.  I can name  several individuals who have indulged in pleasures of the flesh whilst supposedly ‘measuring up a property’.  A euphemistic term if ever there was one.  You know who you are fellow agents.

In yet another instance of bureaucracy at its most efficient, I received a letter this week from Torfaen Planning informing me that the box sign above our door (actually its sits several feet above the door), was in breach of planning and the matter needs resolving.  It must be moved down a foot and cannot, must not, will cause the end of the world as we know it, if it remains illuminated.  I contacted the council and spoke with a very pleasant lady to whom I pointed out that the sign had been there advertising whatever business had been occupying the property for the past fifteen years; why was it only now that it was an issue? Because they had only just noticed it and realised that it was in breach.  Ok.  As a diligent, responsible citizen I will of course address the situation and rectify the problem.  In a particularly generous move, I am considering offering it to my fellow property professionals who often have the need to, ‘measure up a property’.  They could perhaps adopt it as some sort of estate agent equivalent of the red lights of the oldest profession whereby they attach it to the property that they have selected for their rendezvous but only switch it on when the coast is clear, thus alerting their paramour from afar and preventing any awkward situations such as that listed above.  I would offer it free to whoever feels that they might have a use for it; they would have to pay for it to be rebranded in the company colours…Fellow agents, you know where to find me; illuminated sign or not.



Gareths Dream Team

Gareth’s new additions to the Team!!!

The road much travelled…

Having returned from my foreign sojourn a more relaxed, sagacious and- admittedly- sunburnt man, I would like to think that my time spent admiring the nubile physique of  various ladies poolside has imbued me with an ability to make sense of the world.  As alluded to in my previous sentence, any travelogue would bear more of a resemblance to Alex Garland in The Beach as opposed to Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises but it is early days.   Reading an article in The Guardian business blog, (I know, me reading the ultimate left-leaning, pinky toed paper of the self-appointed, intellectually superior race), I came across an article about the two property portal behemoths, Zoopla and Rightmove.  The latter is currently valued at £2.15 billion with a share price listed at £22.00 as opposed to £2.00 in 2008.  Zoopla this week floated at a value of £919 million; nice work for Alex Chesterman whose worries about Nicholas Anelka at West Brom will I am sure now be viewed with a more sanguine eye.  The thick end of a billion in the bank is a panacea for many ills. Is this though another sign of the booming property market or, although, an indication that more people are actively looking for properties, further evidence that the long sought after footfall through an estate agent’s door is a thing of the past?

The idea behind the daddy of them all, Rightmove, was quite obviously, genius.  What is less obvious to the seeing/buying public is the cost to an agent to use these sites. As a general rule, we all perceive the internet to be ‘free’.  Far from it. As stated in the article, on average, to use Rightmove costs an agent £607 per branch, per month, per discipline.  That means £607 for sales, with an additional £607 for lettings. I’m not knocking it; my hat is doffed to my former fellow Halifax colleague and founder of Rightmove, Miles Shipside.  What is highlighted though, as the hysteria of people not being able to buy a property makes its way back onto the front pages (it had been relegated or even left on the bench in the past fortnight, but thanks to Suarez the papers and the nation need something else to get worked up over), is that buoyancy in the housing market benefits an awful lot of people.  This can be removal men, tradesman, cleaners, solicitors and not forgetting the funders and shareholders of the property portals.

Just as I was about to adopt a more measured view of Edward Snowden’s paper of choice (keep up all you conspiracy theorists), I read a line that did make me laugh, “…one of these years somebody will find a popular and efficient way to remove estate agents from the business of buying and selling houses…” [sic]  That should arrive about the same time as men being able to breathe unaided on the moon or if you really want to go to extremes, England progressing beyond the group stage at a World Cup.

On a final, wholly unconnected point, who at Channel 4 had the bright idea to improve their already desultory viewing figures by hiring Gok Wan for their Royal Ascot coverage?  Someone should tell the fashion guru that he will be shortly be dumped on a hostile planet like his brother Obi.  There’s a prize for the first person to contact the office and name which particular Star Wars film and the name of the planet…

We can’t have it all…

In yesterday evening’s annual speech delivered to the great and good at Mansion House, George Osborne caused many people to ponder and ruminate.  Firstly, I thought it rather ironic that in what may well be deemed to be a seismic moment of the coalition government, the (Conservative) Chancellor of the Exchequer was addressing a gathering of the wealth makers  and generators of the nation at a building that sits grandly under the moniker, ‘Mansion House’ whilst over the past few days, the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition have been getting all agitated over their plan to bring in a mansion tax on anyone who has the temerity to choose to live in a large house that has more bedrooms than is absolutely necessary.  How dare they.  Clegg and Co, (I admit that the ‘and Co’ part is diminishing by the day), have this week relaunched their party manifesto that will, as a priority post the next general election, introduce the levy on homes valued at more than £2 million.  Whether this will still seem such a good idea when, post election various former MPs are sitting in the kitchens of their (at least) £2 million homes wondering what they are going to do with their day, remains to be seen. Back though to yesterday. As had been trailed continually in the media, Mr Osborne announced that new powers would be granted to the Bank of England to cap mortgages; either by limiting the amount of money that potential buyers can borrow, or by restricting the proportion of the purchase price of a property that can be covered by a mortgage. All very sensible and to be applauded. 2007 and 95% mortgages still appear as spectral visions in many a nightmare of borrowers and lenders.  Mr Osborne also announced further plans to redevelop brownfield sites with new incentives for local authorities. Therein lies the ever present challenge of the housing market in the United Kingdom; we live on a crowded island where space is at a premium, particularly in areas where employment and economic activity are at their busiest. As always, there aren’t enough houses where there is employment and where there are any number of houses to choose from, there are insufficient numbers of jobs. As George surmised, “..the British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us” [sic]

It could be argued though, that the show stealer was the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who announced that interest rates could go up sooner than the expected 2015 rise. Such an intimation would invariably be met with nervous displeasure by any Chancellor about to embark on an election campaign.  On the contrary, Mr Osborne and his team seem intent on portraying this (with justification) as a portent of the success of the Government’s austerity measures and hard evidence that the economy is recovering and will continue to do so.  Raised interest rates effect everything; credit card bills, investment and mortgage repayments. To return (painfully), to 2007 and the heady days, weeks and months prior to the economy careering with its foot flat to the accelerator off the edge of the cliff; far too much (make that almost everything), was on the ‘never never’ and we had cultivated a society that never really believed that they would actually have to produce cold hard cash to pay for something.  I think it is a fair observation that we were all recipients in some way or another of the hard lesson that eventually, some one has to pay. To return to the road analogy; the speed limits are there for a reason, as are the penalties incurred if they are broken.

Lest we forget…

May I first accompany this week’s blog with the caveat that my ire has been stirred and I have to say, that for this I make no apology.  I am writing this whilst listening to the coverage of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the jaw-dropping stories of those survivors of the first day of Operation Overlord. By the close of 6 June 1944, the Allied forces had taken the first step of establishing a foothold in Europe, eventually helping to bring the war to an end.  Amongst those being interviewed was an American soldier who reminisced that after he had been hit for the fifth time in the space of approximately 100 yards, he was evacuated as, “I wasn’t much use anymore because I had been hit in both legs…” Also recalling the day was a Royal Engineer corporal who was responsible for driving a bulldozer that pushed the bodies of fallen Allied soldiers into a huge crater on the beach caused by the German bombardment.  It really made me think; as it should.  It contrasted sharply with another conversation to which I was privy earlier this week.  Having shown a perfectly well-presented, first time buyer property to a first time buying couple, I was told that they didn’t like it as they wouldn’t be able to fit their television, (with proportions akin to those required to park a tank) on the wall.  I was also asked, “If there was sky”.  I resisted the urge to reply, “Yes, it is the blue thing above us”.  As I left the couple to contemplate what else they didn’t like about the property that was admittedly smaller than Buckingham Place and no, didn’t have an en suite to the master bedroom – all points very clearly articulated in the property details – I wandered a short distance along the street.  There I met an elderly lady who was actually washing the pathway in front of all the houses in the street, (yes, you did read that correctly).  In reply to my somewhat dumbfounded query of what she was doing, she answered, “well, you have to keep the place clean, in case there are any visitors.”  Having asked her when the she last had any visitors and being told, “two years ago”, I had to take a deep breath and have several words with my inner genie to stop myself marching back up the street to the aforementioned first time buyers and telling them exactly where they could place their monster television.  I know, wholly unprofessional and the sort of behaviour that will be the equivalent of Banquo’s ghost on the internet and twitter sphere.

Speaking of contrasts, this week’s headlines again shrieked how as house prices ‘rocket’ (incidentally, can they find no other verb; do they not know how to use a thesaurus?), we are all doomed.  This is obviously a different kind of doom from that of two years ago, when as house prices ‘plummeted’ (ditto my first comment), we were also drop kicked into the abyss of despair.

Before I implode and go and have the first of many Bacardis, may I leave you with the words of our nation’s leader 70 years ago, “Attitude is a little thing, that makes a big difference“.  You said it, Winston.

I think that you will find that we have said this all along…

Many of our blogs over the passing months have commented on the ever increasing histrionics surrounding good ole George and his ‘Help to Buy’ scheme (Edition 1 and 2). Those members of the 21st century Greek chorus deplored the irresponsibility of the scheme and howled how the end of the world was not so much nigh as having already begun, with the housing market heating up at a speed and temperature akin to some volcanic inferno.  One of the high priests of this doom was none other than arch knife-in-the-back man Vince ‘call me Iago’ Cable. He could be heard on every media outlet, urging the residents of No’s 10 and 11 to, ‘stop it now’.  On one point of clarification he was referring to the HTB scheme, not the sharpening of the knife that he was planning to stick (using someone else’s paw) in the back of his party leader.  I digress.  According to reports this week, the Treasury have released, “the first comprehensive measure of the scheme”, which provides an unfettered view of the damage that Help to Buy is callously and immorally foisting upon the nation.  In Wales, HTB has accounted for a massive 5% of all completions in the period October 2013 to March 2014.  Pass me the smelling salts Petunia, I’m coming over all light-headed…LMAO, LOL and other acronyms that are slightly less sanitised.  Now various pundits who were being smothered to prevent them offering a divisive opinion are being dragged out of the undergrowth to opine that actually, the government subsidies are having a far lesser effect than was predicted in many quarters in creating the current rapid rise in house prices (in certain geographical areas).

In the UK, a total of 27,861 homes have ben sold under the two phases of the scheme.  Between October 2013 and March 2014 approximately 500,000 homes were sold in the UK.  Again, that pesky 5% keeps making an appearance. Of this half million. only 7,313 were bought using the mortgage guarantee scheme; a figure that correlates to an even more under-whelming figure of 1.2% of house sales.

Returning to the Hellenic theme: the chorus in any play spoke in unison, commenting on what was happening, creating a sense of unity and uniformity.  Something that Vince and his cronies would do well to heed.  Incidentally, the chorus originally numbered fifty, but Sophocles drastically cut the number to 12.  A  somewhat topical parallel perhaps with Nigel Farage and the Liberal Democrats’ seats in the European Parliament….?