Not a great week to be called Jeremy…

.. be it Vine (tries hard but can’t get those hips to work), Kyle (mmm, who would you choose; the purveyor of cheap daytime mocking of the misery of the masses or a 25 year old international polo player 15 years your junior?), or Corbyn (how long have you got-comrade..?)  Alongside the angst of those shackled with an unfortunate first name, sat that of those embroiled in the deepening housing crisis.  What crisis?  Well if one is to believe various news outlets, the United Kingdom is in a property mire that those stuck in are finding increasingly difficult to extricate themselves from.  Housesimple.com has compiled a survey by comparing the number of listings on Rightmove in 100 towns across the UK.  The CEO, Alex Gosling was quoted in a variety of publications, “..across the country there are thousands of frustrated buyers with finance in place, ready to purchase, but the property supply reservoir has dried up..”  Nice analogy there, Alex, but what does it actually mean?  Questions, questions, not least who or what is Housesimple.com?  For those interested (the Christmas party will be in a ‘phone box), the website is-according to its own blurb-‘Online Estate Agency of the Year’-an award presented by the ‘longest established trade magazine for residential sales and lettings agents, The Negotiator‘.  Well that clears that up then and no, it must have passed me by in my 30 years in the business of negotiating.  Alex, having built up a head of steam continues, “Buyers must be scratching their heads as to why sellers aren’t marketing, as there’s no clear or single reason why sellers are sitting on their hands”.  I think that Mr Gosling may rather be missing the point.  Is he inferring that all sellers are first time buyers, or people looking to buy with nothing to sell?  If so, are they victims of those dastardly sellers who are delaying putting their property on the market, thus driving up prices?

The survey did not reveal how many of the, “frustrated buyers” are actually home owners with properties to sell before they can buy another house.  At Cheshire & Co we have a data base of applicants of which 50% have a property to sell and 50% of these have not yet actually put it with an agent.  In simple terms, 25% of the “thousands of frustrated buyers” have not yet left the saddling boxes, never mind made it down to the starting gate.  I would suggest that it is this group that are causing the ‘housing crisis’, if ‘crisis’ is not a word that is being misappropriated.

The old mantra of one having to be on the market before even starting to look at other properties has long been buried (alongside England’s chances of winning the World Cup).  The new trend of people using the internet to check the value of their property to see if it has increased in value since the last time they looked-that would be yesterday-sits beside their finding a house that they want to buy before putting their own property on the market or even calling out the local agents for a beauty parade.  It is this action-or lack of-that contributes to the torpor of the housing market.

Before every property ‘expert’ shouts me down, the evidence of the changing dynamic of the housing market is all around.  The rise of online agents such as Alex’s emphasises the power of the internet.  We use floor plans and videos to allow prospective buyers or those just having a nosey, to do just that.  See a property that grabs their attention and people are out of the gate like the favourite in the Prix De L’Abbaye, even if before sitting down for a coffee and deciding to have a wander around the virtual world, they had not really considered moving house.  The most important people on any applicant list are those who decide however abruptly that they want to move, but have yet to put their property on the market.  Those are the people any agent needs to impress, so that when they do decide to sell their home it is with that agent.

 

Dear Jeremy…

Today saw the property news, (invariably sequestered somewhere between the coffee break puzzles and the adverts for walk-in baths) jockeying for position with the ‘real’ news in the pages of the paper with single numbers.  It even made the headlines on the BBC.  For once, it was not about the heinous breed known as estate agents, but the even more odious sub-class known as landlords. The Local Government Association (LGA)-that will be a bunch of ‘I don’t make the rules, I’m just doing my job in implementing them’ career civil servants- announced that “rogue landlords” must face tougher punishments, including jail sentences.  Hear hear we say.  May I state for the record, that at Cheshire & Co we are unreservedly in agreement that those individuals to whom the term, “rogue” could be applied-and I am not meaning in a Lovejoy/Del Trotter/Arthur Daley manner-should be held to account for their behaviour through the use of the law.  There are however, two sides to every story and dependent on where one finds oneself sitting the ‘other side’ can take on a very different hue.  Just as Mr Corbyn is discovering; it is easy to be a politician of protest when espousing one’s beliefs from the relative obscurity of the backbenches or some Trotskyite convention held in the bar of a student union, but it becomes a little more challenging and perspicacity is dulled by actually being in charge of those people who one used to protest against, (and voted against over 500 times) and having one’s beliefs and ‘principles’ analysed by the nation who now know exactly who you are.

Anyway, the LGS have highlighted some horrendous cases where families have been forced to live in squalor for up to 12 months.  The landlord should be accountable, no question.  What I do query though, is what were the Local Authority and specifically, Environmental Health doing throughout the course of a calendar year?  Should their actions-and seeming lack of-not be examined?

On BBC Radio 5 Live, a tenant called Sally was interviewed and said that she had been on the receiving end of poor treatment from landlords, waiting a year for urgent repairs to be carried out.  There is of course the issue of what is deemed to be ‘urgent’; I ‘urgently’ want the Strictly Come Prancing Ladies to come and give a Chesh Special Performance, but urgent should perhaps be omitted, leaving just, ‘I want’.  Life-enhancing as it may be, its not happening could not be deemed life-threatening or ruinous to my health.  A faulty boiler, mould growing across half the ceiling and a circuit board that when one switches on a light offers a 1 in 3 chance of getting a free perm would be deemed in need of urgent attention. Three decades of being involved in the rental of property has taught me that landlords have no interest in treating tenants badly; it is false economy.  If you have a good tenant, then what is the point of treating them in a sub-standard manner.  Look after them and they in turn will keep on looking after your property.

What I have yet to read or hear being discussed is the thorny issue of ‘rogue tenants’ and the protection afforded to the landlord.  In the new spirit of politics and in a bid to not be overly theatrical (moi?), I thought that I would address the matter in true Corbyn style.  I have a question from Sue; she wants to know, ‘Why is my landlord throwing me out?’

Well Sue, if you are still in contract, your landlord cannot legally throw you out; unless he has of course served you with a Section 8 Notice having convinced a judge that you are in breach of your tenancy agreement.  If your contract has ended at the time stated in the initial AST that you signed all those months ago and you have not bothered in the intervening 6 months to find somewhere else to live, why is it your landlord’s fault and what do you expect anyone-other than yourself-to do about it?  Sue did not come back to me on that one.

I have another letter from John, who wants to know why his letting agent wants to come and inspect his house on a regular basis.  Well John, first things first; a professional agent needs to ensure that the property that is your home, but not your house-as you don’t own it-is in good condition.  This serves two purposes: to ensure that you are not in breach of your contract-the blacked out windows, empty compost bags in the neighbours’ recycling bins and the furnace-like heat that is enough to heat the bath water three doors down-are a bit of a give away.  This protects the landlord.  Inspections are also in place to protect you, the tenant.  Regular checks afford an opportunity to point out any issues that may need remedial work or attention, thus preventing them becoming a hazard requiring urgent attention.

My final letter comes from Kylie-Anne.  She writes, ‘I signed my AST in my name and since moving-in, my 3 sisters and their 12 kids have all come to live with me.  Why has my agent got the hump, saying it is illegal?’ Now K-A, I know that times are difficult and it is all the fault of those bastards who wear suits, do up the top button on their shirts and know how to use a razor.  Have you and your family considered living in a commune where you could be bussed out every day to protest against Trident (that’s a nuclear weapon, not a toothpaste), anti-austerity measures and Mars Bars getting smaller?

Yes, there are landlords who exploit people and yes, unequivocally they should be punished.  There are also tenants who have made a career out of exploiting the system.  Just ask Jeremy.

She’s back

The pulchritudinous Ms Beeney graced the pages of the property news this week.  Again.  Whilst I would always be pleased to view her ‘come hither’ simper, it was especially welcome this week as a break from being assaulted from every quarter by the barbate/too lazy to shave (you all know my views on beards), character who is now the leader of the Opposition.  I would imagine my reaction to his omnipresent visage is not dissimilar to that of Team Burnham, Cooper, Kendall, Reed, Hunt, Umuna et al as they run screaming for the hills/to apply for that extremely well-remunerated consultancy role, preferably on the other side of the Pond.  I digress.  The reason for the lovely Sarah (for any female, bra-burning human rights lawyers who may be reading this, I am guilty as charged), making a not unwelcome reappearance was yet another article reporting the rise of online estate agents and more pertinently for those of us who still have an office, why vendors should choose to sell their house through such an agency.  The headline asked, “So could an online estate agent save you a fortune?” Money Mail, Daily Mail, Wednesday 15 September 2015  Well of course they could, only the wilfully ignorant would dispute the point; they could also cost you an awful lot of money as well.  Not forgetting that the amount of savings made is determined by what fee an office-based agent had planned on charging and what they planned to do/the vendor expected for the money.  The author of the article, Victoria Bischoff clearly limits her research to a particular demographic as she cited the average fee of an agent being 1.5% rising to 3.5%.  I would be delighted to tout for business in the idyll that she inhabits.  According to Ms Bischoff, online agents now have 4% of the market.  As at 0650 hours this morning, there were 354 houses fully available for sale in the NP44 area.  Using Ms Bischoff’s figures, that should be 14 houses listed with online agents.  There is 1.  The article quotes Paula Higgins CEO of the Homeowners Alliance (very Corbynesque), who states that “Online agents are fast becoming mainstream” ibid  Whilst her point is factually inaccurate in relation to Cwmbran, I do accept her rationale.  She elaborates further, “… and they are only going to get more popular” ibid  Well it would be statistically impossible to be less popular than they are already in the Cwmbran locale as zero is not recognised.  Where she is on the money is when she says, “..and this is the high street agents’ own fault.”  Spot on.  The reason many high street (or any side street for that matter) agents have such a bad reputation is because it has been deservedly earned.  I do believe that the presence of online agents will increase and this is for several reasons: 1. People always want to spend as little as possible and anything that promises the world for a fiver will always appeal.  Think budget airlines; you want to go somewhere as cheaply as possible, having paid £4.50 for a ticket you are herded into a metal box that in a previous life was used for flying fake dog turds into Taiwan and your baggage allowance would not cover the wardrobe of a pole dancing dwarf. You arrive at your destination bedraggled, craving alcohol/nicotine/amnesia, vowing NEVER to use that airline again, but you do. Why? Because it was cheap.  And why was it cheap?  I think we’ve already answered that one.  The second reason is that many high street agents and the pressure of being part of the corporate beast means that they cannot survive by selling houses alone.  Here at Cheshire & Co, a wholly independent agency shorn of the shackles of corporate estate agency we have no need to try and flog packaged mortgage schemes, packaged solicitors’ schemes, guaranteed rental payment schemes and any other gimmick that can bolster the revenue stream by our recommendation earning us a kick back from the provider.  I am a firm believer that all agents should embrace every nuance of modern technology to enhance the service that they provide.  But integral to this service are the customer-facing traditional values on which business relationships have been successfully facilitated through the ages.  We provide a service that somebody requires.  Whoever it is that wants our service, pays for the provision and we are bound through the core values that we espouse to deliver to the very best of our ability.  Just like Jeremy has assured his comrades.

 

“The truth is incontrovertible…ignorance may deride it…

…but in the end , there it is …”  So spoke a certain Winston of the Churchill variety, (no, not the irritating puppet that was voiced by Martin Clunes until he-rather inconveniently for the insurance company that was paying him-was banned from driving).  I thought of the statesman on Saturday night as I watched the grand unveiling of the Strictly Come Prancing Celebrities and their dance partners.  However fixed the grin (grimace) of delight, certain members of the prancing troupe just know that they will be leading the group dances as early as Week 3.  I will offer my very own glitterball though if Kristina ‘The Siberian Tiger’ Rihanoff manages to avoid the first cull with DOD (that also stands for Dead on the Dance floor).  I will of course be offering the penthouse at Cheshire Towers for her to recover from the experience…

Wilful ignorance is something that estate agents deal with on a daily basis.  Having recently been instructed to sell a house via a large national builder under one of their assisted move schemes alongside, as is the norm, a second agent, we duly published the details.  The latter were produced to our usual exacting standards to display the property to best effect.  Our fellow agent merely copied and pasted a previous set of, (in my and the homeowner’s opinion, very poor) details created by the original agent who had unsuccessfully marketed the property.  Two weeks into the whole process, the vendor informs me that he has decided not to buy a new home from the aforementioned national builder, but will instead simply sell his home on the open market.  He chose to stick with Cheshire and Co due to the, “great service… the details really show off the house…you always answer any questions/keep in regular contact…”  Within 48 hours, that had all gone the way of Kristina’s chance of getting her paws on this year’s glitterball.  We were/are apparently, “small, aren’t you… not in the town centre…you’ve only been open four years.. you don’t have a branch network throughout Wales to advertise my property…”  All of which, as factual statements are correct.  I countered with:

  • We are small and independent and very good at what we do.  Which is why after just four years of trading, we consistently get work from three behemoths of the building trade who could choose any of the ten other agents in our locale, but choose not to.
  • We are not in the town centre, where in order to get to, “We’ll sell your house and stripe you in the process” you have to park 500 yards away and walk to their office.  We have a private car park right behind our office whereby even a three-legged tortoise would mange the trip before sundown.
  • We do not advertise on a regular basis in the local paper with its very restricted distributive reach.  This is because last month our properties appeared 350,000 times in Rightmove searches-THE national property portal that can be accessed from the moon-whereas the Argus only print 15,000 property papers a week.
  • We are not part of a corporate network in Wales, although our properties can and frequently are viewed by people from across the British Isles (and beyond).  Not being a part of the corporate beast means that we can concentrate on achieving the best possible result for our clients-the vendors-as opposed to having to adopt the corporate tactic of threatening them with the loss of their firstborn/car/cat/revealing their membership of Ashley Madison to their wife if they don’t reduce the price (that was originally inflated), in order for us to secure a sale and get Head Office off our case.

My truthful answers-that could be corroborated with hard evidence-were met with the reaction of the rest of ‘Europe’ to Great Britain’s annual Eurovision offering.  What did make me chuckle was the home owner who, having been privy for some time as to how, as a company, we conduct our business, telling me, “Well, I thought that you would have worked harder to get my business”. O.K.  It brought to mind the following tale that illustrates that you just can’t please some people:

On their way to getting married, a young Catholic couple is involved in a fatal car accident. The couple find themselves sitting outside the Pearly Gates waiting for St. Peter to process them into Heaven.

While waiting, they begin to wonder: Could they possibly get married in Heaven? When St. Peter showed up, they asked him.

St. Peter said, ‘I don’t know. This is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go find out,’ and he leaves.
The couple sat and waited, and waited. 9 weeks passed and the couple are still waiting. While waiting, they began to wonder what would happen if it didn’t work out; could you get a divorce in heaven. After yet another month, St. Peter finally returns, looking somewhat bedraggled.

‘Yes,’ he informs the couple, ‘you can get married in Heaven.’

‘Great!’ said the couple, ‘But we were just wondering, what if things don’t work out? Could we also get a divorce in Heaven?’

St. Peter, red-faced with anger, slammed his clipboard onto the ground. ‘What’s wrong?’ asked the frightened couple.

‘OH, COME ON!’, St. Peter shouted, ‘It took me three months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it’ll take me to find a lawyer ?