Transparent as mud…

If one feels compelled to ring any of my fellow agents in Cwmbran, to ask them what they would charge for selling your house, you will receive an answer comprising some-if not all-of the following statements:
…where do you live?..we need to come out to the property before we can answer that…we do not discuss the fee over the phone (my personal favourite; what is the answer if you counter with ‘Why?’).
Why such a protracted answer? Well speaking as an ex-smoker (read corporate estate agent), I can say with some authority that head office will be cracking that target whip like Zorro on speed. Of course, every agent-be they part of a corporate behemoth or as a standalone sole office agency-wants to make as much money as possible. We all want to meet the potential vendor to give our presentation/cabaret act and to try and elicit what any other agent has said that they will charge so that we can price accordingly. What differs in respect of the corporate beast is that they may well have a minimum fee imposed upon them by head office; which may be wholly acceptable in certain demographics of the country but are pushing it (to put it mildly) in the NP44 postcode. The way round this? Overvalue your property by 20%, so that you will definitely go with them, tie you into a 6 month contract and then 5 months down the line as you put the Samaritans in your ‘Favourites’ part of your contacts book, they rock in with the ‘advice’ that if you want to sell your house you need to drop the price by, let me think, say 20%. The reluctance to quote a fee prior to gracing you with their presence can also fall into the ‘hedge your bets’ school of thought. If an agent doesn’t want the property, quoting a TTP fee (think about it), is a win-win situation. Too big a fee may cause the vendor to run for the hills-or at least another agent-or if they should accept the agent in the role of Dick Turpin, then if the house should be sold, then the fee earned makes the vendor go straight to the top of the agent’s Christmas card list.

At Cheshire and Co we charge 1% plus VAT. That’s it, no gimmicks,(prize draws spring to mind), no negotiation. We will happily disclose what we charge when speaking with any home owner as the fee is wholly transparent. Of course we need to come out to the property prior to being instructed because it may be that we decide that it is not for us and neither party, agent or vendor, is going to enjoy the relationship. If an agent starts offering a free haircut/prize draw entry/kitten/small child in an attempt to buy a home owner’s business, then dear home owner, walk away, or do not be surprised or aggrieved when the wheels fall off spectacularly some way down the line. Similarly, if a vendor only wants to pay a £500 fee for the successful sale of a £350,000 house, then they probably get the agent that they deserve.

It took me hours to measure this

Calling all experts…

…I am of course referring to all those who profess to be authorities on any number of varied subjects. This week has seen a plethora of opinions being voiced, from the big, pointy, embroidered hat gang (I admit that I am para-phrasing one of my comedic heroes, Dave Allen), who ‘lead’ the Church of England, postulating and hand-wringing about the state of the nation and how the world would be a better place if we all tick the red box on 7 May ( when it comes to being inspired and following a leader, I wouldn’t follow that lot out of a burning building), to the doyen of the Dog and Duck who offers his knowledge and judgement-at no cost to the recipient-without having even been asked (generous soul that he is).
We completed on a sale on Friday, with the vendors having dropped the keys off at the office the previous evening. We received the release call and our happy purchasers went to their new home only for them to ring us 20 minutes later to tell us that the house was still full of the previous owners’ chattels. Having tracked the sellers down to the local hostelry (ironic it has to be acknowledged), we asked them why they had not emptied the house prior to completion. We were told that after they had finished their round (at 10 o’clock in the morning-I think that they had adopted the Jimmy Buffet line of “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”), they would mosey on down to collect their belongings and anyway, their mate had said that, “There’s nothing the buyer can do anyway”. Really? How about how on legal completion the buyer keeps all the contents of the house that he has bought, which, unless specifically stipulated in the contract are now technically, legally, you can do £&@! all about it, his?
Similar misguided and misplaced prowess was also in evidence when I visited a property that we had recently sold to a couple who were first time buyers. In the course of facilitating their purchase they had asked me what sort of upgrading it required and at at what cost. Interior design is wholly a matter of personal taste (yes, I have seen leopard print velour outside of an establishment where they charge by the hour), but the precept is that if one is spending £100 a metre on ceramic wall tiles for the bathroom, then it is advisable to spend £50 on the tiles and £50 on the tradesman to fit them. Furthermore, the old adage that, “If you can pee, you can paint” is limited in its scope. Yes, we can all paint, but very few of us can paint well. Spending a month’s wages on Farrow and Ball paint to do it yourself invariably results in a blatantly amateur attempt, as opposed to a professional decorator making a great job with the home decor store’s own brand. Back to our FTBs’ abode: I had had detailed reports of the chosen Italian bathroom tiles, (hand carved by Sicilian virgins etc.), only to enter the bathroom to utter OMFG/FFS/WTF (get me with my SMS speak). It appeared that Stevie Wonder had been moonlighting as a trainee tile fitter. When asked who was responsible for the work, I was informed that Uncle Dave had offered his skills. And what does Uncle Dave do for a living? He delivers parcels. Well I hope that he can drive better than he tiles. Apparently the exchange for his labour was “buy him a drink”. I predict that this may be a very expensive round.

Your not having my watch !

I seem to recall…

…that over the past two years I have on several occasions-from my command bunker at Cheshire Towers and posted in this medium-opined on the sooth-saying of many ‘city experts’. These modern day Tiresias’ have repeatedly, determinedly and latterly rather desperately commented that interest rates would/will/should/must rise. Equally forcibly, I have begged to differ. Even allowing for my Clark Gable-esque rapport with the fairer sex, (cue much harrumphing from those members of the sisterhood who only shave their legs when Harriet Harman says that it is permissible), I don’t actually have the old lady of Threadneedle Street on speed dial. Let us think about this: Mark Carney, the first non-British individual to sit in the big chair at the BOE was appointed by George Osborne. Any rise in interest rates before a general election would be political self-immolation. Yes, I know that the BOE is championed for its independence, but the old pals act of looking after each other is alive and kicking down the the door of No 11 Downing Street. Even though the experts (who are paid significantly more than an estate agent in the NP44 postcode), missed this, in my opinion Professor Thick of the Thick University, Thicksville should have seen this coming over the horizon.
Speaking of ‘The Smoke’, I was once told by that peon of sporting athleticism, Eric Bristow, to, “look where you are throwing and throw where you are looking”. What in the name of all things holy has that got to do with the property market, I hear you importune? Thirty years of filling my dance card in the crowded ballroom of the property market has taught me that home buyers and sellers react to their own personal circumstances; their actions are not predicated by the BOE interest rate. I have yet to have either a vendor or a potential purchaser inform me that a movement in the interest rate will influence their decision making in whether or not they choose to buy or sell. A seller’s principal interest is what their house is worth-now-and a buyer’s interest is in how much they can borrow and how much it will cost them-now. I have to point out that an expert’s opinion in a daily broadsheet has little bearing on the couple who have their heart set on that house in Varteg.

AP McCoy 20 yrs ago

AP McCoy my part in his success

Maxwellisation…

Yes, the man who fell off his boat makes another ‘appearance’ from beyond the grave. The governance procedure that bears his name is that whereby individuals who are due to be publicly criticised in an official report are sent details of the criticism in advance and are permitted to respond prior to publication. It originated from the Mirror Group oligarch being publicly criticised in 1969 in a report by the DTI that saw him take them to court. The DTI were deemed by the judge to have “virtually committed the business murder” of Maxwell ( as opposed to those mentioned in scurrilous rumour mongering who allegedly ‘took him for a swim’ that night in the Atlantic…) How this piqued my interest was in this week’s reporting of the Chilcot Enquiry, which thus far has enquired yet has after 6 years has singularly failed to report on any of the said enquiries. One of the reasons? Maxwellisation. I am sure that much of the correspondence between a certain foreign head of state and his own British poodle, A Blair do follow a particular theme, “Tone, let’s bomb the bastards”, but due to the machinations of the most senior civil servant in the land, the Chilcot Enquiry will not reveal and we, the public, will never know. Such Maxwellisation would be a useful tool in business, not least estate agency and the completion of a sale. A prospective buyer commissions a home buyer’s survey which if fully disclosed would reveal a damp problem; but due to Maxwellisation, the surveyor does not disclose the issue for fear of upsetting the contractor who installed the damp course. I tell you, if estate agents could invoke the premise of Maxwellisation, it would cut the ‘buttering up the surveyor’ budget by half…

Speaking of upsetting the delicate sensibilities of various parties I refer you to last  week’s blog on the playground battles of property portals. You will be pleased to know that the petty squabbling continues. In November, Cheshire&Co withdrew from using Zoopla as the service was appalling and the data was invariably out of date. Zoopla have drawn their handbags with a flourish, writing to, (what they believe to be) all our landlords (I refer you to my earlier point about out of date data). They have assumed the role of ‘custodian of landlord welfare’, by informing the said landlords that their chosen agent (moi) is not a subscriber to Zoopla and as a result their property is not getting the best coverage to instigate a rental/sale. The landlord is implored to change to an agent that is on Zoopla. Ok, that would be an agent who is on Zoopla and Rightmove, as I have yet to find an agent in our area who is not on Rightmove. After my initial apoplexy, I did laugh. The letters sent to empty rental properties were addressed to “The Landlord”. Mmmm. Dear Zoopla, as they are empty rental properties and you have discovered their existence through looking at the Cheshire&Co website, who did you expect to find the letters? The owner of the property-the landlord- or a representative from Cheshire&Co who manages the property on behalf of the landlord and as part of the management process inspects an empty property on a fortnightly basis? This was a shining example of why we left Zoopla in the first instance. Perhaps I should instigate the Cheshire Enquiry into why so many agents have dropped Zoopla and wonder what steps they would take to invoke Maxwellisation?

Back of the net !!!

Reinvention of the wheel?

This week the world was agog with…… the launch of a new property portal. I know, you can hardly contain your excitement and this dazzling piece of news only escaped your attention because you were negotiating Greece’s debt obligation to the Eurozone/watching Celebrity Big Brother/regrouting the downstairs loo. Admittedly, the launch of  www.OnTheMarket.com has possibly only energised/intrigued/bemused the property industry poobahs and us mere mortals further down the food chain, whilst leaving the general public blissfully ignorant. The seismic change in the world of property portals (and yes, I did write that with a straight face), is the big (read ‘only’) two portals of Rightmove (the leviathan) and Zoopla (would like to be Rightmove, but isn’t) being challenged by the aforementioned young pretender. As per the arrival of any new contender with their eye on the throne this has caused varying amounts of interest, concern, ennui and “bring it on” utterances, dependent upon who sits where in the housing portal hierarchy. What has caused much chatter is OnTheMarket stating that an agent can be with them and/or one of the other two, but not both. Also, online agents are not permitted to join, so that tells them, those pesky miscreants giving estate agents a bad name…

No agents relish the fees that Rightmove ( forget Zoopla, it is a definite second, in this case the first-and only-loser), bleeds from us, but like car insurance you have to have it to exist. Just as those-disguising their wares behind meerkats with dodgy foreign accents appreciate whilst counting the contents of their ever expanding piggy bank- the big boys at Rightmove know that they have us by the short and curlies.

Forget the claim of the new kid on the block that it was launched to “break the duopoly” of Right move and Zoopla. No, it was a calculated move to try and break the monopoly of Rightmove by forcing them to reduce their fees as agents leave the portal in their droves to join the Zoopla/OnTheMarket charabanc. Mmm. 11 out of 10 for a ballsy move boys. Having checked yesterday, 6 agents in the Cwmbran and Newport area are now with OnTheMarket; with a grand total of 6 having left Zoopla and a whopping 0 having left Rightmove. Unlucky Zoopla; as we used to say in the Army, ‘Close, but no cigar’.