“First ever”… Er, not actually…

Friday saw-according to some sources-the dawning of a new era in estate agency. Online agency sellmyhome.co.uk claimed to be holding the first ever “virtual open house” via its Facebook page. The property was a two bedroom flat in Hackney and it was claimed that the virtual tour would chime with, “the demographic of first time buyers in Hackney and wider London, who struggle to take the time out of hectic schedules to visit numerous properties” [sic]
This chiming of the demographic (what marketing course have they been on?), does generate some further discussion:
Without wishing to pour water on their bonfire, here at Cheshire & Co, alongside many other agents nationwide, we have long offered the facility for a vendor to have their property videoed and the walk through tour posted online for people to view within their hectic schedules of using the internet whilst at work for non-work related activities/watching the box set of Breaking Bad/painting their toes/generally faffing about or indeed for people who genuinely want to look at the property, with a possible view to visiting it and if all the fates are aligned, making an offer. There we have it people, it gives a potential viewer/purchaser further detail before deciding to visit the property. Note the clue; before actually visiting the property, as a living, breathing individual. Now of course, there may be some people-who-for whatever reason, choose to buy the property purely from the virtual tour. If it is a first time buyer, I would cautiously opine that if you are parting with the best part of £300,000, it would pay to go and actually look at it, but similarly there may be investors and more seasoned property purchasers who are willing to take the chance. If so, fair play, and trust me, no agent is going to argue against such a move. The fun begins when the surveyor goes round and discovers the Japanese knotweed clinging to the outside of the kitchen wall, which was artfully edited out in a sweeping panoramic move that would befit a David Lean cinematic epic. According to Will Clark, the agency’s director, “customers have been crying out for a way to cut down the hours spent on the business of property viewings” [sic] Well William, I rather believe that it is your agency that wants to cut out on the hours spent showcasing properties to prospective purchasers. As is expected in today’s social media driven world, the virtual tour was featured in several online property websites, that allow viewers to comment accordingly (take note the producers of Top Gear). One gentleman who chose for his name to appear in lights on more than one occasion, was David, who works for www.virtualwalkthrough.com/agent He did a great sales pitch for his company (who wield the camera to post the tour), but what he did repeatedly acknowledge was that the virtual tour was a means of people deciding whether to actually go and physically view the property. His most telling comment was, “I have said this a million times now. We never discourage buyers from physically visiting properties before they invest in them, we just provide more information online so that they can better decide which properties they want to physically visit.” [sic] He also let slip that this was the first virtual tour that his company had done for an online agency.
David, you and I are singing off the same song sheet (other clichés are available). William-of online agency lustre-you are technically correct that the tour for the property being marketed by your company is a first in that it is the first one carried out by the company that you employed to do it that they have sold to an online agency; but that is about it. Virtual tours are a phenomenal tool to have at one’s disposal, but they complement the rather quaint notion of the agent earning their fee and meeting the interested parties at the property, something that an online agency, virtual tour or no virtual tour, don’t do.

Hurrah! At last someone talks sense…

Hold the front page; there is at last an article in the press with which I concur. I know, editors across the fourth estate are breathing a collective sigh of relief that The Chesh has given his approval…In a week where Gideon-I mean George- showed that a. He may well have played a blinder b. His tailor needs to add an extra two inches to his trousers (all men will empathise about needing an extra two inches…) and c. With his Gladiator/Antonio Banderas haircut, if it all goes awry on 7 May, Hollywood may beckon… I was pleasantly surprised to read an article by Max Davidson in the Daily Mail on how not to sell your property. “The seven deadly sins of house-selling…” Max Davidson, Daily Mail, Friday 20 March 2015 Max writes about research conducted by David Grundy of My On Line Estate Agent who lists what vendors should really try and avoid when showcasing their property to prospective buyers. What is omitted from the report is how before even getting to the stage of an expectant buyer stepping across the threshold, how some vendors do nothing to help present the property in the best possible light at the listing stage. I have lost count of the number of times that I have gone to a house to prepare the details and take photos to be greeted with, “I’m sorry, I just haven’t had time to tidy up”. What, for the past 20 years? Invariably, the vendors of such properties-whose vacuum is usually lost under a midden of detritus requiring forensic gloves and/or the use of a gas mask-are wholly unembarrassed at the state of their home. What tests most estate agents’ diplomatic skills and requires them to tap into their inner Henry Kissinger is when a vendor asks an agent to, “Tell me the truth, what do I need to do to get more interest?” Believe me, the truth is not what they want to hear. “Clean the £$%^&” place”, however tactfully put can elicit any number of reactions, ranging from effusive thanks (?) to questioning one’s parentage.
The real challenge as Mr Grundy’s report highlights, is the viewing brouhaha. The house has been cleaned to CSI standards, the coffee is percolating merrily, the artfully scattered scatter cushions are doing their thing, but this idyll of domesticity still has one glaring error: the vendor. The first rule of showing a property to an interested party is get the vendor out. I am always amazed by estate agents-several in the Cwmbran locale-who do not accompany viewings and leave it to the home owner, who it should not be forgotten, is on completion of a successful sale going to be paying a fee for their services, which I have always been led to believe included showing the property to people who are considering parting with their hard-earned cash. Most vendors do take our advice and leave us to do our job, but we have had vendors who have insisted on pointing out; “That is where Mimi the dog is buried…We spent a fortune on all that artex and I hate it… That is a picture of my wife, who chose the artex and then ran off with the milkman…I have to move because I have had a promotion at work and now earn a fortune.. Due to my promotion I don’t want to live in this £$%^(9*£” Max Davidson is on the money when he says that agents like to show the property when the owners are miles away. If someone has placed their faith in an estate agent then they should avail themselves of their professional expertise and get their money’s worth. An integral part of this is the agent accompanying the viewings and highlighting certain features of the property; this does not include a pet cemetery or why the vendor now buys their milk at the supermarket.

“As a general rule..people ask for advice only in order not to follow it…

…or if they do follow it, in order to have someone to blame for giving it.” Alexandre Dumas. I could empathise with the French novelist and playwright (Q. Name two of his most famous works? Clue; “All for one and one for all”), this week when valuing a potential vendor’s property. The Chesh cabaret act was in full Vegas mode and I duly obtained the instruction. I was informed that I was very professional, “well-researched” and all-in-all, a thoroughly decent chap. In addition to the paean to my professionalism, I was also told that the other agent who had come to value the property was a “p%^&k” whose knowledge of the local property market was negligible. I have to say in defence of the other agent, that the individual in question is not clueless and is a professional of some year’s standing. Having measured the property, taken pictures and closed the act with a bring-the-house-down rendition of “My Way” Ok, I made the last bit up, I asked the vendor to agree the asking price that we had discussed at length. The gentleman then ‘suggested ‘that we ask an additional £10k to the price that we had debated and cogitated about, as the other agent-whom he had dismissed with a disdain bordering on contempt-had said that it was worth more than I had advised. Clearly the other agent was such a buffoon that the vendor wanted to use his valuation that fails to stands up to any researched comparables? What odds that the vendor starts to ask in the time that it takes Sharon Osborne to put on all her makeup, why there has been no interest, accompanied by, “You said…” At the other end of the spectrum, I recently listed a property at an asking price agreed between myself and the vendor after-quite rightly-much discussion and use of supporting evidence. It was sold on the first viewing. Was the owner pleased at the alacrity of the sale? That would be a negative ghost-rider. He was aggrieved that the sale had been agreed so speedily as I had obviously undervalued it. As George R.R. Martin wrote, “People often claim to hunger for the truth, but seldom like the taste when it is served up”. Q. What is the name of his multi-award winning, record-breaking, fantasy drama series that features amongst other things, some very attractive ladies who-alongside their sword-fighting capabilities-have an ability to divulge themselves of their clothing quicker than I sold the aforementioned house?

Can you guess where this is ?

“Let’s get this mother out of here…”

The unrecorded and therefore unofficial (although often repeated by the men who were actually there), last words of the last man to walk on the moon, Jack Schmitt, the lunar module pilot of Apollo 17 who with his commander, Gene Cernan were the last people to trot along the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The last recorded word spoken from the Moon was the rather utilitarian and infinitely (geddit?) less sexy, “Ignition!” Why this meander amongst the sepia toned memories of those halcyon days when the idea of living on another planet was thought of as a genuine possibility? Forget a turn-key starter home the right side of Griffithstown, the Moon was where the movers and shakers and those with a permanent table in The Priory (the restaurant, not the rehab clinic), were going to be living. The death this week of Leonard Nimoy brought a tranche of ‘Remember when’ moments from those of us who were around at the very beginning trying to master the Vulcan salute. Nostalgic reminiscing aside, it was an era when anything was thought to be possible and the future held endless opportunities. Fast forward over four decades and ‘live long and prosper’ is, even to the most ardent optimist, an unlikely possibility. But is it reason for wretchedness and despair? Of course not, it’s called life; deal with it. In the era of 24 hour encouragement to be miserable, a day, nay an hour does not pass without some report or ‘expert’ adding to the list of woes. This week the Nationwide released a report showing that there has been a sharp fall in home ownership for the 25-34 year old generation. The report highlighted how, in 2004, in those bucolic days when house prices never ever went down and the 25-34 generation had never known anything but a property to increase in value, the buying market for the under 35’s was 59%. In 2015, this has dropped to 36%. Ruth Sutherland of the Daily Mail shrieks that this is a “dramatic shift and one that indicates a major social change has taken place over just ten years”. Daily Mail, Wednesday 4 March 2015 Well yes, there is a difference, but the world does change. It was as late as 1976 that there were still houses in Wattsville that had neither hot water or central heating. By 1980, this had all changed and I heard nobody bemoaning the “major social change”.
The housing market and estate agency, like any industry has to deal with the circumstances that they find themselves in today. Some will be beneficial, others less so. The Nationwide report and Miss Sutherland’s article, whilst interesting reading are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. As the pointy-eared one himself said “Random chance can operate in our favour”.