House sales and baked beans all the same … apparently


No, that isn’t a variant on the ‘Go forth and multiply’ imprecation that has occasionally been heard to pass from my lips. It is the acronym so beloved of supermarkets and any number of retail outlets that call to us with their siren’s song of, ‘Buy one, get one free’. It always seems such a great offer until one gets home and wonders just what exactly you are going to do with 16 hot cross buns when the use by date is tomorrow. One may wonder what such marketing techniques have to do with selling houses. Well, the CEO of Countrywide, Alison Platt is of the opinion that the dynamic employed by some of the retail behemoths could and indeed, should be applied to the business of selling property. I don’t think that employing the B.O.G.O.F. sales promotion is quite what she had in mind (unless of course you live in Varteg and then it is a case of ‘needs must’…that’s a joke people-before you lob a brick through my window). What she spoke of was how estate agents could learn from the likes of Tesco due to their being, “customer focussed”. Ok.  Firstly, Ms Platt is must be said has a vested interest in the positive promotion of the company founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen.  Not least because it was announced this week that she is to join the board of Tesco as a non-executive director.  Those of us who have been clinging onto the property merry go round for the past decade may remember that in 2007, Tesco launched Tesco Property Market. This encouraged vendors to market their own homes without using a traditional estate agency. The homeowner was responsible for the creation of their own particulars and the management of viewings; for the sum of £199. Vendors were presented with a For Sale board but not much else. The more cynical amongst you may think that this is pretty much the norm for many estate agents in the NP44 postcode and beyond…  The venture came to a rather swift end when the now defunct Office of Fair Trading deemed Tesco’s service to come under the qualifying criteria of an estate agency and was thus subject to the Property Misdescriptions Act (1991). Cue the closing of Tesco Property Market. Fast forward to 2016 and Ms Platt is urging estate agents to adopt similar practices to the entity that is now responsible for part of her salary.  Forgive me for my naivety, but as regular readers of the blog will attest to, here at Cheshire & Co, we never forget that it is ALL about the customer, the client who has asked us to market and sell their property. Without the said customers, there is no business. Ms Platt elaborates further when she speaks of how at Countrywide, their customers don’t look at them and compare them to other estate agents but to other retailers, just like Tesco.  Mmm.  Fair enough, comparing the country’s largest greengrocer with the country’s largest estate agency does have a common theme in the size of the entity in question, but the last time that I looked, retailing was the concept of buying something at one price and selling it on to another party for a higher price, thus creating a profit.  I fail to see how this segues with being seen as customer focussed.  Of course, every agent is trying to obtain the best possible price for their client and this may well involve the vendor making a profit on a property that they purchased when the top level of football was the First Division; but equally, it may not. Telling a vendor that their property is worth significantly more than it actually is in order to gain the instruction is straying back into the territory of Tesco Property Market and property misdescriptions.  This is as far removed from being customer focussed as you can get.  You know who you are.

Disappointing, but not surprising…”

So another year begins with great expectations and hopes of a bright new dawn and we haven’t even got through January and my hopes have been dashed on the rocks of dodgy journalism and the somewhat perfidious behaviour of my fellow estate agents. Firstly, I must hold my hands up to breaking my own resolutions; despite my best efforts, I am only managing 8 miles on my morning run as opposed to my planned 12…., I have shown weakness in occasionally replying to Kylie’s texts, despite telling her last year that her minx-like behaviour had to stop and she would have to direct her attentions elsewhere… and I have found myself being suitably irritated by a. people dispensing utter b&*”£$t and b. the recipients of the latter actually believing it. Last week I spoke with a vendor who had been quoted £3000 to sell a house valued at £100,000. Eh? Apparently, the mortgage arranger had been “very good to us” (the vendors of the said property) and they didn’t want “to upset him”. I am sure that they were receiving a ‘very good’ service that was undoubtedly accompanied by a ‘very good’ fee, with which I have no problem. My issue is that that is the basis of any contract, which has nothing to do with an individual’s emotional wellbeing, particularly when it is revealed that the arranger works for the £3000-quoting agent. Now who is getting a ‘very good’ deal? Another valuation revealed an agent who had initially quoted a fee of £4000, but on learning that they were losing the instruction to Cheshire & Co said that they would reduce the fee by £2000 if they could keep the property to sell. So why not quote that fee at the off? Well there goes another of my resolutions; stopping asking stupid questions.  Come on Chesh, wake up.

Whilst my blood pressure continued to rise in direct proportion to the price of oil falling through the floor (on a separate note, a certain SMP of the Alex Salmond variety who you couldn’t shut up about the price of oil this time last year has been notable by his reticence recently), the odds of my visiting the doctor were shortened when I read an article by a “business reporter” by the name of Rosie Taylor. The lady in question should be had up by Trade Descriptions. Fortunately she is only given a small column to play with (stop sniggering), but she still gave it her best shot to induce hysteria with the headline “Right-to-buy rush pushes home loans to 7 year high” Daily Mail Friday 22 January 2016 Rosie, Rosie, was this a last minute job or did you not get the sub-editor to have a quick look? Ms Taylor’s article was actually about buy-to-let and not right to buy. I am sure that Gideon would be laughing all the way to next door if his right to buy policy had created a ‘rush’. Ms T further reported that last year loans worth £220 billion were “handed out” [sic]. That is disingenuous writing; “handed out” implies some form of gratis payment. A likely story when it comes to mortgages or in fact anything to do with purchasing a property. She gets further excited by £19.9 billion being dispensed in December alone. Well £220 billion divided by 12 is £18.3 billion, so why the excitement about December’s figure?  Calm down Ms T.  Looking at this more rationally, the money allocated in December would have been relating to mortgage applications submitted some 3 to 4 months prior, so the Chancellor’s policy had nothing to do with the so called “rush”, as it was money that was already in the mortgage pipeline. If Ms T knows of a mortgage lender who can facilitate an application in November resulting in a completion by mid-December, then please give them my number; Miss Minogue will have to wait.









If all other resolutions have been broken…

Alongside the deluge of guidance/direction/admonishments that we are all going to die if we don’t do as we are told (technically speaking, we are all going to die) that rain down upon us at this time of year, that will-if followed-‘guarantee’ that we will live longer, lose half our body weight and ascend to some transcendental nirvana, has come some guidance as to how best to sell one’s home.  In a week where I was genuinely surprised, a litre of Diet Coke Citrus Zest costs more than a litre of petrol and diesel, meaning that the Chesh is now more expensive to fuel than a Bentley drophead convertible-same great chassis though ladies-I was suitably underwhelmed by what the article suggested as “top tips to get buyers queuing up” Daily Mail, Property Section, 16 January 2016. Yes, it did contain some useful information, the same useful information that has been regurgitated in property articles since the Queen Mother was ignoring the limit of her overdraft at Coutts (£4 million if you are interested). Included in the advocacy were:

  • “Don’t ban shoes”.  Absolutely right.  When I turn up at a valuation, I always carry shoe covers and put them on unrequested.  When people are taken to view a property, the agent should provide shoe covers for those doing the viewing so that nobody is put in an uncomfortable position be it vendor or prospective purchaser.
  • “Offer them a cup of something warm”.  What?  This isn’t America, (where by the way agents charge between 5-10% and for that money I would have a tea urn and a selection of snackettes permanently on the go in the Cheshmobile).  Regular readers of the blog will know that at Cheshire & Co we advocate the vendor ideally not being present at the viewing, but if circumstances dictate that they must be in situ, it really is better that they allow the agent to do their job and don’t point out that the established rockery in the garden contains the remains of a succession of family pets and/or the ex-wife..
  • “The right agent”.  Enough said.  This surmises the whole article.  The tips offered should already have been suggested by your agent. If your chosen agent is fulfilling the criteria of their contract-and we are not talking about the ‘Ha, you can’t go to a another agent for at least 18 weeks, even though we have spectacularly overvalued your house just to get the instruction’-type written contract, I am talking about the literal interpretation of a contract, written or spoken, where two parties enter into a agreement that one will provide a service to another for recompense-that the agent will make every possible effort to sell a vendor’s property for the best possible price in a suitable time frame, the agent will have already advised and discussed with the client the ways to maximise the appeal of the property.

As one of my new year’s resolutions was to remain my modest, humble self (most resolutions are for self-improvement, how does one improve perfection…. just asking..), I do have to point out that whatever professional guidance is offered by an estate agent, much of the art of successful house-selling is common-sense.  ‘Price, position and presentation’ (equally applicable for any night time activity),  are what drives a house sale.  The clue is in the title, ‘house sale’.  No amount of baking bread or mugs of coffee will result in contracts being exchanged if the price is too high.  This is reflected again and again when vendors succumb to the pressure of an agent who has to meet their monthly target for listings, who tells the vendor that their property is worth £20k more than it actually is and they have 40 people waiting to view the property right this minute with the cash burning in a whole in their pocket.  The home owner signs up, because obviously their property is worth that amount-despite the house three doors down, in better condition having sold for £30k less-seduced by the pound signs promised by the agent.  Fast forward a matter of weeks, with a no-show from the 40 people desperate to buy and the only suggestion from the agent is a price-reduction.  Mmm.  If I may add one further tip to anyone contemplating selling their home, use your common sense.  If I suggested that going to the gym and changing your hairstyle would guarantee you a date with Miss Minogue, would you believe me?  You should be so lucky.

“You’re only as good as your last…

…game/winner/hit/performance…” So goes the old adage, advising us not to place too much emphasis on what has happened in the past. Top earner on bob-a-job in 1972, Regional Manager of the Year-1997-1999, breaking the 1000 barrier for number of ‘friends’ on Facebook in 2015.. All highly commendable, (well maybe not the last one, you social misfit), but mean absolutely naff all in the context of what you are really judged on in the here and now-your most recent performance-be it riding a horse, attracting members of the opposite sex (that seventh Sambuca and low lighting have a lot to answer for), closing a deal, or for those of us fighting our way through the foothills of the property market, selling a house. A recent survey carried out by Portico estate agents in London, the results of which were published, concluded that only 12% of those questioned placed importance on the age and history of an estate agent. Noting that Portico themselves were established in 1818 (the same year that Chile gained independence from Spain and Illinois became the 21st state of the USA), so clearly years logged is important to them, I did begin to wonder who deems the age and history of a firm to be of such import that it is a deciding factor in agent selection. Well some research on Rightmove showed that many agents who have been in operation since the last king was on the throne really do believe that being able to remember the days when a pint was 20p, smoking was de rigeur and Cher still had most of the face that she was born with will convince the undecided to choose them over some upstart of an agent who has only been around since Katie Price was on Husband No 1 and still referred to as Jordan. The new kids on the block (remember them? You should have seen me throwing a few shapes to ‘Step by Step), are not immune to hyperbole. Invariably they refer to themselves as, ‘vibrant’, ‘progressive’, or if particularly full of themselves, ‘visionary’. The latter I would apply to behemoths such as Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg, not anybody in the Cwmbran postcodes, not even myself (I know, selflessness and modesty are my middle names).
All such proclamations are jolly good, my dear chap, but what do they actually mean in relation to delivering a service to the client and-this is the real deal maker or breaker-how do they affect the fees that a potential customer will expect to be charged? Another scan through the competition reveals that alongside Cheshire & Co, there is only one other agent in the target areas of Cwmbran and Newport that clearly states in their advertising their services and their fees. Forget the ice bucket challenge, that is so last year. Instead, ring an estate agent in Cwmbran and ask them what they charge and what exactly constitutes this fee. Answers on a postcard please, the winning entry will receive a signed photo of me, surely that is worth the cost of a ‘phone call…

“We are all doomed…” possibly…maybe…

So would utter Senna the Soothsayer to Frankie Howerd’s Lurcio in Up Pompeii.  The history of those predicting the future is something of a mixed bag; from Cassandra of Greek mythology, who having spurned the advances of the god Apollo was cursed by him to never be believed (cue the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy), through Caesar being told beware the ides of March (he didn’t have to after the 15 March 44 BC as that night at the theatre he was stabbed 23 times), to Mystic Meg (who spectacularly  crashed and burned in her prophesying when failing to predict her sacking by Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror).  As we rub our crystal balls (no sniggering please), the resident clairvoyants of the Fourth Estate have committed their predictions for the housing market in 2016 to be immortalised in print.  These range from us needing to save the number of the local Ferrari dealership to our ‘favourites’ in our ‘phones as we are all going to be millionaires by Easter, to saving every last penny in the piggy bank as the housing crisis ever deepens.  Before we all pin our colours to the mast, who would have predicted that Chelsea at Christmas would be fighting relegation and what price would have been offered in the summer for The Special One being told that actually he wasn’t all that special and could he close the door on his way out?

Looking back at previous predictions, in 2014 we were all being warned of the effect of the impending rise in interest rates. Read our previous blogs and remind yourself of what Gipsy Rose Chesh-Nostradamus had to say on the matter.  Here we are in 2016 and interest rates are the same as we opined they would be throughout 2014 and 2015.  Reading the left wing press over the festive period would have cemented the view of a crisis in the housing market, yet reports published in December show that housing repossessions are down to the levels of 2004.  Similarly, the number of first time buyers applying for mortgages in December was the highest December figure on record.

Let us all be a little more savvy and acknowledge that none of us really know what is going to happen.  The one thing that I can be fairly sure of though, is that when all estate agents are back in the office today, we will all click on Rightmove intel to see who is number 1 in the area.  Childish? Yes.  Predictable?  Absolutely.  This will then continue as estate agents who previously could not stand each other develop a bromance to complain about the new agent on the block who has ‘revolutionised’ (read taken some of their business) selling houses in the area.  Tempus fugit boys and girls and we have to move with it and adapt our practices accordingly or we will be joining Piers Morgan’s (real name Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan and was born as Piers Stefan O’Meara) career as a tabloid editor in the same place that he left his job with CNN.