You’re how old..?

In our age-obsessed society where life expectancy is ever increasing and there is a multi billion industry whose sole purpose is to ensure that that we look and live longer than any previous generation, there was an irony this week as it was announced that mortgage lenders are now actively discriminating against the over 45’s by making it very difficult for us silver/devotees of Grecian 2000/bald individuals to obtain a mortgage that extends past the normal retirement age. Those seeking a mortgage who fall into the ’empty nester’ bracket are to be limited to 10 and 15 year mortgages, even though they may well have excellent long-term pension provision up to their eight decade. Part of the juxtaposition is Gorgeous George (did you know that his first name that he loathes, is actually Gideon?) Osborne’s announcement in October of, “The Pension Freedom Revolution” Simon Lambert, This Is Money, 14 October 2014  where many of the restrictive rules dictating how and when holders can use their pension are to be lifted.  Significantly, individuals will be able to dip into their pension pots, drawing on it when needed.  Hence much nervousness in the ranks of mortgage lenders when contemplating an application from anyone who was in their infancy when man first landed on the moon and Sesame Street was launched (quite a year 1969; forget Neil Armstrong, Big Bird made the cover of Time magazine). The justification for such disquietude is that if people dip into their pensions for any number of reasons, then they may not be able to make mortgage repayments in the long term as the piggy bank will be empty. Cue collective sucking of teeth and, “the computer says no” utterances.  All mortgage underwriting is done on a computer with the software having been written and uploaded by that quaint notion-a human being. It is only tacitly acknowledged that the said individuals may well have adjusted the software following direction from on high whereby at the most recent board meeting the executives decree that the company is to reduce its lending this quarter/half year/year. I do believe that everyone is rather missing the point. Regardless of how much income someone plans to earn over the next 25 years, it is how they decide to spend it that matters. If a 47 year old goes in to the Halifax with maximum pension provision up to the age of 70 at £50k per annum, what guarantee does the lender have that the individual sitting in front of them (who is probably old enough to be their father), is going to spend it wisely? Mid-life crises involving pneumatic Russians, sports cars, expensive bikes (Bradley Wiggins, you have a lot to answer for) and a desire to attend Glastonbury can all knock sensible saving plans into a cocked hat. Common sense has to prevail with mortgages underwritten on all available information coupled with a judicious appraisal by someone with common sense. Traditionally this is what bank and building society managers were actually rather good at, rather than trying to flog PPI, additional credit cards and dog biscuits.


“That all you’ve got George?”

For all sports aficionados, 2014 was the 40th anniversary of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ when George Forman and Muhammad Ali gave the world what has been described as, “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”.  Not only did it produce a gladiatorial contest of skill and fortitude, but in the course of 8 rounds (referee Zack Clayton stopping the fight two seconds from the bell in the 8th), it also gave the world some classic one-liners, including Ali pulling an exhausted Foreman off the ropes to inform him that, “This is the wrong place to get tired George”.

Some may be wondering how, (aside from slightly nerdish hero-worshipping), this has any relevance to the noble art of being an estate agent? (Yes, I do know the meaning of irony).  To answer the incredulity; I was this week called out by two previous clients who wanted me to take on their property to market.  Both parties had looked at properties via other agents and quite rightly, the said agents had tried to obtain the instruction to sell the properties of the potential purchasers.  When asked why the parent agency of the individual showing them round the property should be used (instead of Cheshire & Co), they were told amongst other reasons, that their agency was open on Saturday afternoons, would produce a sparkly brochure to out-sparkle all other brochures, and more pertinently, “Whatever Chesh says that he will charge, we will beat it”.  Without wishing to align myself with a sporting god (although I must say that I look mighty fine in a pair of budgie smugglers and if I hadn’t had a nasty cough, I would have won Wimbledon/scored the wining try in the Six Nations/England wouldn’t have gone out on penalties again), it does fall upon me to ask, “That all you’ve got insert name as appropriate?”

Testosterone-fuelled chest-beating aside (and indeed the waving of other parts of the anatomy), there are-when choosing an estate agent-certain requirements that should be satisfied before any potential vendor enters into any kind of agreement for their property to be marketed.

  • The ability to meet your actual requirements (not impose their own).
  • A clear interest in meeting your needs-the client.
  • Positive word of mouth and testimonials from previous clients.
  • Knowledge of the area in which the property that you are hoping to sell is located.
  • Knowledge of the price bracket that your property is likely to sell in.
  • Commitment to frank, realistic dialogue about the market and your situation.

In meeting the above criteria, an agent may not be the cheapest in the area, but there is more than a modicum of truth in the maxim that you get what you pay for.

Start them young these days

Abercwmboi via Marbs…

Amidst my hectic schedule of bronzing myself, watching various female forms bronzing themselves, signing autographs and entertaining Tatiana and her friends to tea and a jam tart, I ‘occasionally’ logged into that pesky social media site known as Facebook, (honestly who has the time, or the inclination to tell the rest of the world what they are doing…)?  One of the more amusing posts (amongst the zillions of pictures of babies and small humans of varying degrees of cuteness posted by besotted parents and grandmothers), was that of “10 Freakiest Villages in Wales”.  Incidentally, some of the aforementioned, less cute offspring did come from some specific postcodes.

For those interested, Abercwmboi means ‘Mouth of the Boi Valley’ and Yns Y Bwl has no literal translation but does produce some good rugby players.  A notable omission from the list was Garndiffaith, a hamlet just a few minutes from Cwmbran (South Wales’ answer to Marbs).  The literal translation is ‘Desolation’ and if you have ever had the misfortune to be there in the months September through to August, then you would appreciate the accuracy of the title.  If you ever hear the words (warning) that someone is from, “Up the Garn”, then you tread very carefully whilst looking for their twelve fingers and third eye. In these PC times, it is good to have a laugh about/with my fellow proud Welshmen. I would chuckle just as much about a list of villages that included Chipping Camden, East Ilsley and Yarm.  The latter are all-and I speak from personal experience-very lovely places and I am sure that according to the local inhabitants there are many three-legged children a couple of miles down the road.

In these times, PC is a way of life; and I don’t mean those individuals following Sir Robert Peel into Crown Service.  As in any area of longitude or latitude, people here in Wales, actively and vocally discriminate against people from the next village or conurbation, with vendors, buyers and landlords stating emphatically that they don’t want someone as he (or she) is from somewhere that didn’t make it onto the “Freakiest Village” top ten.  As I discovered when listening to Radio 5 Live, this mentality is not restricted to this side of the Severn Bridge.  According to the report, people on zero hours contracts-some 1.4 million in the UK-are being discriminated against by landlords in the South East who do not want them as tenants.  When letting a property, one cannot discriminate against a potential tenant on the well-trodden grounds of race, sexuality, disability, gender etc.  Nor can one positively discriminate in favour of a tenant because they have a fantastic pair of…legs or some other Tatiana-esque attribute.  What one can do and indeed should do, as a professional agent, is say to a prospective tenant that neither you nor the outsourced referencing company think that the individual can afford the rent, whether they be a zero hours worker, self-employed, or in full time employment.

Are landlords in the South East discriminating against a large tranche of prospective tenants? No, they are making a business decision. It may, at first glance seem somewhat short-sighted but think about the contributory factors.  The rental market is still on fire in the South East of the country and there are vast numbers of very well paid individuals looking to rent.  Is choosing a tenant on a guaranteed £100k a year as opposed to an equally hard-working but zero hours contract worker being discriminatory?  No, it is called market forces.  Welcome to the real world.

If we took this approach to the area where we operate there would be alot of empty houses.  An agent has to adopt a balanced view, appreciating local market forces.  A zero hours worker who has always paid their rent on the nail for the past few years will not qualify for the landlord to buy a rent guarantee policy (in the event of non-payment of the rent, the policy would pay the landlord up to twelve months equivalent monetary value to the rent), but would seem like a good bet to me.  Whether a potential tenant is from Fochrhiw, Aberbargoed or the moon and has eight fingers on each hand, the agent having received the referencing should discuss it (and any other associated factors), with the landlord before coming to a final decision that may or may not allow the ‘prospective’ part to be dropped and replaced with ‘current’ or ‘new’.

And finally, politically incorrect question of the day (if not the decade): ‘What is the definition of a virgin from…(insert village/locality of choice)?’

Answer: Someone who can outrun her brother.

Doctor knows best…

Yesterday, whilst swinging my man-bag and strolling through the playboy centre of Puerto Banus, I walked straight into my doctor of thirty years.  Having chatted genially for some time and established that we were both on holiday with the named individual on our respective marriage certificates (it has been known… “Darling, work are sending me away on a b%^&dy course for a week…”), I was also able to determine exactly who from the pantheon of movers and shakers in the NP44 postcode owned palatial properties in the den of iniquity that is Marbella.  What it did highlight was that even in the age of the information super highway where any amount of intelligence, wisdom or data is merely a mouse click or a tap on a small screen away, local knowledge and expertise still has the ability to reign supreme.  Knowledge of one’s chosen subject matter should never be underestimated but is increasingly discarded as not wholly necessary. Last week (prior to my waxing and spray tan), I went to a valuation where the vendor informed me that  his property was definitely worth £130,000 as the property over the road had sold for £125,000 and his was in far better condition.  No, it didn’t I told him, I sold it for £118,000 – whatever your former neighbour may have smugly announced.  I was also informed that a full rewriting had been carried out on his property, to which I responded with a request for the installation certificate.  “I don’t need one”, I was told. Yes, you most certainly do.  It may be possible that that the local, independent estate agent knows more about the selling of properties in the area, for no reason other than that is their job.

Which rather neatly segues with Ms Sarah Beeny and her latest televisual programme, “Selling Houses”, that goes under the working title, “Tell estate agents to f%^* off”.  For the benefit of the court, may I state that it is a good programme with mass appeal that conveniently promotes Ms Beeny’s online, pay-up-front estate agency; for which there is a place, as there is for all things.  I do feel however that – unsurprisingly – it is edited to heavily favour the ideals espoused by Ms Beeny’s latest venture. In all previous incarnations on the small screen, Ms Beeny has always advocated vendors asking at least three estate agents to come and value their property.  Now, to highlight how there is no longer any need for a living, breathing person to have any physical role in the selling process, one misguided agent is called out and Ms B then queries the validity of their appraisal.  At no point are we told what the brief was to the agent nor the parameters (if any) that they were required to work within when offering a professional opinion. Cut to the final few minutes of the programme and we learn that after seven months the property has been sold for £10,000 more than the estate agent valued.  The thirteen unqualified viewings and delayed completion date, (by 4 months) because of “complications with the buyer”, are nonchalantly brushed over.  The owners, rather than looking rested and luxuriating in the comforting glow of Beeny-land look in desperate need of a stiff drink and a week spent lying pool-side in 30 degrees.  Which reminds me…