The politics of envy…

The Government’s attempt to annihilate the buy to let market as a form of investment was unexpected, unwelcome and unreasoned.   As always, private landlords have been portrayed as exploitive and greedy, fulfilling the role of arch villain in Britain’s housing market, providing the greatest obstruction to the younger generation wanting to take their first step onto the housing ladder. Correct?

Not wholly.  As a generalisation the most vocal of the anti-buy to let brigade would appear-as far as I can see-to be those who couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t join the buy to let market.  Welcome to the politics of envy.  The vast majority of landlords supply good accommodation at a fair rent and are well regarded.  They are the providers of something that people need and are thus recompensed for that provision; the fundamental tenet of a business transaction.  Preventing people buying a new home, have we all chosen to forget what happened in 2007?  The result of which is the current stress testing and mortgage market reviews where even Lord Grantham’s offspring would struggle to be approved.  As for the perceived rapacity of the landlord fraternity who ‘force’ tenants to pay extortionate rents?  In the NP44 postcodes, a property priced higher than the current market rate will not shift.  If someone desperately wants to live in that specific house, they will pay, just as they will pay in the W1 postcodes in London an eye-watering amount for a property because they ‘have’ to live in Kensington.  Welcome to the world of market forces.

Looking at what Gideon did in his election speech, I mean autumn statement, he did not really attack those dastardly money-grabbing landlords; if anyone has more than 15 rental properties, it does not apply.  If though someone is an accidental landlord, who has been forced to go down the rental route because circumstances mean that they are unable to sell, then unlucky.

The people who will be adversely affected are tenants, because if a landlord has to pay an extra £5000 in tax when buying a property, then rents will rise accordingly.  How does this help the first time buyer who is probably renting?  I fail to see how such a tax is going to suppress the buy to let market and curtail the perceived avaricious activities of ‘fat cat’ landlords.  Incidentally, the implication is that their property portfolios have been acquired through nefarious activity, as opposed to skill and hard work.  Theft and/or a dead relative may also have contributed but equally, they may not.  The politics of envy, don’t you just love it?

What will be of interest, is how the buy to let market and the new rules will be policed and how parties will find ways round it. If a potential landlord applies for a buy to let mortgage, the paper trail is easily followed; but what if the buyer is buying a house for ‘development purposes’ to upgrade and then sell, then can’t/or had no intention of selling it and then rents it out.  Does this accidental landlord have to pay extra stamp duty?  I foresee lenders marketing a range of ‘development funding’ mortgages.  The question is how are these going to be policed, audited and monitored?

One final question, is George becoming the man of the people, or Gordon Brown and could this autumn statement be what takes away, rather than gives him the keys to Number Ten?

Which one is Chesh

Good news is no news…

A recent article in The Guardian left me somewhat slack jawed with disbelief.  I know what you are thinking, not my usual, but in the interests of fairness, I thought that I would take a tentative step into the flip flop wearing world of Ed and Ed.  Incidentally, the Collins Dictionary definition of a Guardian Reader is: ‘ a reader of the Guardian newspaper, seen as being typically left-wing, liberal, and politically correct’ , which I am sure that all who know me will confirm that this is a perfect description of The Chesh.  The piece highlighted seven landlords whose behaviour justified their quite frankly, being lined up and shot.  See, don’t I fit the Guardian demographic?  They had all been fined or imprisoned for a variety of offences, not least manslaughter due to a faulty gas boiler.  What first came to mind when looking at their pictures, was “Who in their right minds would rent a property from them?” See, there I go again, playing to type.  Some people though clearly were sufficiently desperate.  The more pertinent question should therefore be, “How in the current era of regulation could they be allowed to behave as they did?”  It would seem that no amount of checks, balances, regulators and ombudsmen (and women, before you grass me up to Polly Toynbee), will counter such Rachman style situations.  I am sure that the ghost of Peter stalks the rooms of such buildings as were mentioned in the article, showing that until it gets into a criminal court room, the effect of the regulatory schemes is on a par with the bite of a broken mouthed ewe.

Of course, headlines about decent landlords and estate agents have no place in the media; as a breed we all enjoy a tale of horror as long as it doesn’t affect us.  My own call to arms was not so long ago when on a Friday night I ventured into the badlands of downtown Cwmbran to procure the culinary classic of curry, chips and cheese. En route back to Cheshire Towers, I passed a property that had been marketed by Cheshire and Co where the vendors were attempting to move out .  I say attempting, because clearly there was some trouble at the mill.  No lights on in the property, various vehicles and people milling about and a young lady whom I recognised in an extremely agitated state.  Embracing my inner Sir Galahad, I pulled over and the said young lady came running over crying.  There was no power in the property, the hired van and its driver were missing in action, it was starting to rain and they were starving as they had had nothing to eat all day.  Cue the offering of my chips and phone calls to Cheshire and Co’s emergency electrician and man with a van.  If only I had been wearing a black polo neck like the Milk Tray Man or white trainers like MacGyver.  The result?  During the next four months, I was instructed to sell the sister’s house, the auntie’s house, was recommended to one of their friends and was banned by the current Mrs Chesh from going out to get a takeaway on a Friday night.

A good estate agent will continually demonstrate how they add value to the service that they provide to their clients, chips or not, by meeting their needs and requirements.  Such service does not necessarily mean the agent with the rock bottom, ‘Whatever he said he’d charge, I’ll beat it’ fee.  It is the agent who charges a reasonable fee for an outstanding service.  A not dissimilar scenario to the readers of the national papers who could be described as falling into the categories of, ‘Guardian readers are generally stereotyped as thinking that they rule the world, as opposed to Daily Mail readers who think they should rule the world, Times readers, who know that they should rule the world and readers of The Sun who actually do’. Anonymous

Post Summer Review

Having returned from my vacation (get me, all transatlantic and WASPish-look it up if you don’t know what it means), I realised that summer was most definitely over.  I know this because there is a house in Cardiff festooned with smirking Santas, flashing snowmen and frolicking elves who by the look on their faces have been told that they are on a zero hours contract; and this was before I had locked myself in the house and switched all the lights off to deter those demanding, ‘Trick or treat?’ Incidentally, what happens when you tell them that you are thinking of their health and not providing them with sweets, but want a trick instead?  Do your car tyres get slashed or does a brick come through the window?  I digress.  As one season draws to a close, I thought that I would review the summer of 2015 for the property market in the NP44 postcode.

Firstly for all new followers (regular readers will know that I have gone on about this in the same way that Status Quo use the same three chords), here at Cheshire and Co we have repeatedly stated that, in our opinion, interest rates were not going to and will not go up soon.  Behold, Gideon’s mate, Mark at the BoE (who owes his job to our Chancellor), has said that an interest rate rise will now be scheduled for 2017 and not early 2016.  This has little to do with fiscal analysis and a lot to do with political nouse.  The timely intervention of Mr Carney is very much a case of the right word at the right time goes along way to solving things; cue Gideon getting help when his back is to the wall.

Back to the events of the summer this side of the bridge.  It would seem that estate agents are now, more than ever adopting the Jim Bowen approach of, ” Let’s see what you could have won”, when telling vendors one thing and meaning quite the opposite.  Classics from the collection include:

“I won’t get out of bed for less than a 1.5% fee” that should actually read, “I will drop my fee to whatever it takes to get your instruction”.

“We have a standard fee threshold that we won’t/cannot drop under” that translates to “Whatever Chesh/whoever says he will charge, I will beat it”.

” We have people wanting to buy your property now! (the exclamation mark is VERY important), in fact I have 20 people who will view this Saturday” that could be transposed into the real world as “I’m going to tell you that your property is worth £30k more than it actually is and I am blowing smoke up one of your orifices in order to get the instruction. You will come with us, be tied into a 6 month contract and in 6 weeks I will tell you to drop the price. Doh!” (again, the exclamation mark is VERY important).

These one liners are easily addressed and appear as frequently as Katie Price/Kerry Katona get married/divorced/bear offspring.

What has been an intriguing addition to the oeuvre are some opinions being expressed through various mediums that are portrayed as facts.  Forgive my having dropped out of English class to watch the 3.15 from Nottingham, but I was of the impression that a fact is something that is known and can be proven to be true.  With this definition in mind, I am struggling to find how some of the recent statements made are backed up by empirical evidence.

“No viewing is a waste of time”.  Put in blunt Anglo Saxon/Bruno Tonioli language, “Bollocks”.  It is if the person doing the viewing cannot proceed and even more importantly never had any intention of offering to proceed.  It is the agent’s responsibility in the service that they provide to their client-the vendor-and the duty of care that this includes, to determine whether the person looking to view the property is in a position to proceed/what their circumstances are.  If they have no means of being able to make an offer that they can act upon, then it is a waste of everyone’s time, not least the vendor, who will invariably have cleaned the property/taken the day off work/changed their diary to facilitate the viewing.  Continuing the theme, on what grounds is a viewing taking place?  Is it to impress the vendor that as an agent you have booked in numerous viewings from ‘interested parties’; that are actually disinterested parties because they are a contingent of people known to you who you have inveigled, bribed and coerced into coming and ‘having a wander  about’ so that it buys you some credit with the vendor?  Naughty, naughty, surely not.

This segues neatly into the premise that the number of viewings has a direct effect on the chances of securing a sale and there is a distinct correlation between viewings and the ‘It’s Gone’ board going up (accompanied by the trumpet fanfare of beatific cherubs-a nice touch I think that you would agree).  There is some value in this statement, because without a viewing it is highly unlikely that a property will be sold off the page-electronic or otherwise.  Unless one is in a sealed bid scenario-unlikely in the NP44 demographic-then one viewing, the very first viewing can mean a sale.  Here at Cheshire and Co we had two such scenarios this summer.  Only one person can buy a property, it isn’t a kibbutz.  Again, this alludes back to it being the responsibility of the agent to establish the facts before bringing a person to a property.  Nothing is likely to disillusion a vendor more than 20 people coming to view a house for none of them to make an offer.  Unbeknownst to the vendor is that none were in a position or ever had any intention of making an offer (due to their being on day release, Interpol’s Top 10 Most Wanted etc.)

Feedback from prospective purchasers has also come into discussion.  The feedback of, ‘We want it’ is the estate agent’s equivalent of Simon’s, ‘It’s a ‘yes’ from me’.  Other feedback does have a value, even if it is to reiterate what you as the agent has already said to the vendor, that they have chosen to ignore. “Priceless” and “Invaluable” have been two adjectives that I have recently heard used to describe feedback.  How does one quantify feedback and what makes it so critical that it is beyond value?

Floor plans and video tours of properties are here to stay.  They do not sell houses on their own, that is indisputable.  But as part of a modern marketing package, they do offer the opportunity for a prospective buyer to see as much as possible before picking up the phone or getting in the car.  At Cheshire and Co we have sold two properties this year because the prospective purchaser was able to look at the video online and “It meant that I could get a feel for the property because the pictures can hide a lot” and “I always thought that $%^& was a £$%^&7£ and I wouldn’t have bothered coming to look if I han’t been able to have a look round in the video”.  No one is claiming to be Steven Spielberg, but it is a facility that can play a vital role in securing a sale.

The latest Rightmove figures show that listings are down so stock is in short supply.  Translated into Cwmbranese this means that agents will cut each other’s throats and sacrifice their first born in order to get an instruction.  Thus, it is a great time to be someone with a property to sell.

The new breed of estate agent be they solely on line or a hybrid (such as Cheshire and Co) of a ‘traditional’ office using all the facets of modern technology, have one thing in common; they do not spend money on renting High Street premises but instead spend the money saved on staff and technology, including the best Rightmove package that their budget allows.  Rightmove provides us the agents with really useful information.  I know, I find it hard to believe that me, the Chesh who has only just placed his quill pen into retirement is eulogising about technological data.  The data shows that customers spend time considering if they will contact the agent of a property that they have seen.  This is called the ‘engagement window’.  The longer this engagement window lasts, the higher the conversion rate in contacting the agent.  The engagement window starts with photos, thus the more photos the agent provides, the longer the interested party stays on the page.  In fact, ‘time on page’ (to use the industry lingo), is a commonly used measurement of an online asset.  This does provide me with the opportunity to give an example of how Tatiana and Svetlana with their surgically enhanced assets achieve the numbers of people viewing for such considerable lengths of time…We also know that 9 out of 10 buyers will look for a floor plan.  If they are still interested then they will look for more information either in the written advert or by viewing the video tour.  Time spent doing this gives them greater confidence to contact the agent and book a viewing.

To paraphrase some of my fellow agents, the “priceless” question is will vendors go for the cheap fee agent who doesn’t use many of the technological offerings out there and whose customer service is, shall we say ‘open to improvement’ or will they go for the reasonably-priced agent who embraces technology but combines this with what some now see as the old-fashioned quirk of communicating regularly with their client, be it through the written or spoken word?

In my role of offering public service, I thought that I would conclude the review with some gentle amusement.  Don’t say that I don’t have your best interests at heart.

1.  A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: ”Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: ”The driver just insulted me!” The man says: ”You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

2.  A young blonde woman is distraught because she fears her husband is having an affair, so she goes to a gun shop and buys a handgun. The next day she comes home to find her husband in bed with a beautiful redhead. She grabs the gun and holds it to her own head. The husband jumps out of bed, begging and pleading with her not to shoot herself. Hysterically the blonde responds to the husband, ”Shut up…you’re next!”

3.  My mother-in-law fell down a wishing well, I was amazed, I never knew they worked.

4.  A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named ‘Amal.’ The other goes to a family in Spain, they name him Juan’. Years later; Juan sends a picture of himself to his mum. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wished she also had a picture of Amal. Her husband responds, ”But they are twins. If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”

5.  There’s two fish in a tank, and one says ”How do you drive this thing?”

6.  When Susan’s boyfriend proposed marriage to her she said: ”I love the simple things in life, but I don’t want one of them for my husband”.

7.  My personal favourite.
The Lone Ranger is ambushed and captured by an enemy Indian War Party.
The Indian Chief proclaims, “So, you are the great Lone Ranger”,
“In honor of the our great gods, you will be executed in three days.”
“Before I kill you, I grant you three requests.”
“What is your first request?”

The Lone Ranger responds, “I’d like to speak to my horse. ”
The Chief nods and Silver is brought before the Lone Ranger who whispers in Silver’s ear, and the horse gallops away.

Later that evening, Silver returns with a beautiful blonde woman on his back.
As the Indian Chief watches, the blonde enters the Lone Ranger’s tent and spends the night.
The next morning the Indian Chief admits he’s impressed. “You have a very fine and loyal horse and are a man who clearly has a passion for life”,
“But I will still kill you in two days.”
“What is your second request?”
The Lone Ranger again asks to speak to his horse.
Silver is brought to him, and he again whispers in the horse’s ear.
As before, Silver takes off and disappears over the horizon.
Later that evening, to the Chief’s surprise, Silver again returns, this time with a voluptuous brunette, more attractive than the blonde. She enters the Lone Ranger’s tent and spends the night.

The following morning the Indian Chief is again impressed and slightly in awe of the Lone Ranger’s seeming disregard for his approaching death.
“You are indeed a man of many talents and are facing death with great courage”
“But I will still kill you tomorrow.”
“What is your last request?”
The Lone Ranger responds, “I’d like to speak to my horse, alone.”
The Chief is curious, but he agrees, and Silver is brought to the Lone Ranger’s tent.
Once they’re alone, the Lone Ranger grabs Silver by both ears, looks him square in the eye and says,
“Listen very carefully, you big-eared, hairy idiot, for the last fricking time, I said, BRING POSSE”



The headline doesn’t always tell the story…

Some headlines of last week did leave even The Chesh-the most ardent of human rights supporters…-thinking, ‘ooh, there will be trouble in the goalmouth with that one’.  The header that caught the attention the most (thus achieving every advertising executive’s Holy Grail of the headline making the headlines itself), was the tag line on the Cardiff agent Cathays advertisement for, “a good looking girl to work in the front office of a property agent’s…to get the students in” [sic] Well, my mother did always say that honesty is the best policy, but such candour was met with cries of opprobrium and chest- beating anguish from every female of the species whose favoured garb is a hemp smock and who hasn’t attended to any personal topiary since Sharon was on the X Factor.  Leading the outrage was that professional outraged person, Harriet Harman.  As one would expect from someone who-after 28 years on the Front Bench- came up with the quite brilliant idea of Labour’s Pink Bus, she was almost incoherent with indignation.  In fact, I hadn’t seen her quite so agitated since Michael Gove, in response to her getting all hot and bothered about elitist (read ‘unfair’) fee paying private schools pointed out that she had actually been a pupil at the £20,874 per annum St Paul’s Girls School; an establishment that specialises (through its ruthless selection policy) and rightly prides itself, on creating the much despised by the Left, elite.  Sorry, I was off on one there.  HH tweeted that the advert was “unlawful” under the Equality Act and demanded to know what the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was going to do about it. The EHRC gamefully and through gritted teeth thanked HH for drawing it to their attention and said that they would investigate.  As Cwmbran’s own NGO on such matters, I looked at the advert again.  First of all, it caught everyone’s attention.  That’s one big gold star.  Secondly, what were those protesting seeing as their main cause for complaint?  Surely they would not be so narrow-minded and whisper it, discriminatory, to think that the advert only appeals to men and thus only women would be offended?  Like any student city heaving with multi-culturalism, Cardiff  is crammed with testosterone filled Alpha males, but also with bi, lesbian, homosexual, transgender, transsexual and every other nuance or variation of the human condition.  Were those most offended (HH and her supporters) aggrieved because the words ” good looking” and “female” were used and would they have been equally offended if it had read “good looking person, male or female”?  Over the years, I have made the mistake of picking the good looking one (human and equine), for the said specimen to be absolutely f;&@-€g useless, be it typing up details or putting its head in front at the lollipop.  It may also be the case that the looker ( that’s looker with an ‘L’), has the exact skills required to perform the job to the exacting standards demanded.  Returning to Cardiff, if the pulchritudinous one can do the job well, what is the problem?  Incidentally, attend a motor show, a trade show, or any other event where people are being asked to buy and count how many “unattractive” girls or boys are being employed…