It takes all sorts…

 

After a great month at Cheshire & Co, I allowed myself this afternoon a Monte Christo Number 3 and sat ruminating on the many vagaries of life. Why has Miss Minogue not seen the light and swopped her hunk of a well-bred, well-connected, well-everything else of an actor fiancé (who is 19 years her junior), for a well-worn Cwmbran-based estate agent? Would the plastic surgery bill for the X-Factor judges be enough to fund the next Olympics? Who will be the first ‘celebrity’ (I know, I struggled to name half of them as well), to be hoofed off the spangle/fake tan fest that knocks all other spangle/fake tan fests into a cocked hat? Why are there not more bungalows coming on the market? What can get you sacked as an estate agent? (Not fiddling your Rightmove figures as the NP4 demographic will bear witness to…) In Texas, a realtor named Kayle Seloff discovered that “joint activities” of the biblical kind were deemed sufficient to be told that her services were no longer required (well not by the realtor firm at any rate). Miss Seloff was arrested for trespass in a property that she had sold because neighbours had reported “strange activities”. It was heartening to see that she waited to get all communal the night of the closing so didn’t threaten the sale (not wholly unprofessional then…) and that curtain twitching neighbours are lurking in The Lone Star State just as much as in Gwent.

Only in the USA you may think. Not quite. A chapter in the Chesh’s autobiography will be dedicated to my involvement (not literally, you filthy-minded lot) with various “joint activities”. These included a member of staff testing the robustness of the mattress with an agent from another company (a sacking offence in itself, regardless of location) and a buyer ringing up in tears because they had walked in-after completion, to find the old owners “saying goodbye” to their old home-without any clothes on.

Eccentric behaviour has featured on more than one occasion in my experience of selling houses. Not least when conducting a viewing, the next door neighbour appeared in his full-length bedroom window-naked- carrying out an activity that his mother warned him would make him go blind. Whilst struggling to maintain my composure and divert their attention to the newly fitted wardrobes (nowhere near as exciting, but less likely to require the services of a therapist and/or a solicitor), the vendor nonchalantly commented, “Oh, don’t worry, he often stands there about this time”. Well, that’s alright then I thought as I waved goodbye to my not insubstantial commission. Actually, it was; proving that estate agents do not sell houses, people buy them.

 

“You say tomato , I say tomaeto”

 

This week at Cheshire & Co I was almost encouraged to don my roller skates like Fred and Ginger and waltz through the centre of Pontnewydd, embracing my inner Gershwin. The prompt for such a spectacle was not vying for that final place on Strictly Come Prancing, but dealing with a vendor’s interpretation of what exactly constitutes a contract. For those of you who missed the Judge Look-at-me Rynder lecture:

For a valid contract, the basic elements that need to exist are:

(a) Agreement (comprising offer and acceptance). Mutual assent of the parties is the basis of an agreement.

(b) Consideration: This is the value given by the parties for the promise that is being made. Usually consideration takes the form of money, property or services.

(c) Intention to create legal relation: Both parties to the agreement would need to have intention to create legal relations once the offer has been accepted.

(d) Capacity: If the parties do no enter into the agreement willingly, the agreement could be regarded as invalid.

Got that? Because I will be asking questions later.

We took a call from a vendor telling us to take their house off the market because after 5 weeks with us, they were going elsewhere. When asked why, we were told that we had not sent them a contract. Having pointed out the time and date that it was emailed, we were told, “Well, I haven’t seen it”. We further informed the vendor of the time and date that we received a read receipt and were given the answer, “Well, it wasn’t me”. There was little point in asking whether they had considered their computer security or whether they had entered their Jack Russell for Britain’s Got Talent or had offered his services to GCHQ or the Pentagon.

In such situations, one has to ask what is the value of keeping such a client, who has used one of the oldest-and most easily refuted- ‘reasons’ for wanting to go because they have had their head turned by another agent. As the Gershwin song said, “Let’s call the whole thing off”.

So are contracts actually worth anything? Yes, they are, not least because The Property Ombudsman and Trading Standards decree that we must have them. What should be noted, is that they do not have to be signed, but evidence must be produced to show that they were produced and sent. Take note Mr Jack Russell.

In other property news involving the big boys in the badlands of SW1-where I can assure they will have the vendor sign the contract, preferably in the blood of their first-born, before even considering doing anything- it is reported that ‘open house’ events are on the decline. Alex Newell of Hanover Private House is quoted as saying that there are not enough, “ultra high net worth client individuals who want to mingle with the competition” Daily Mail 11 August 2016 Very Marie Antoinette. Dear old Alex did helpfully point out that for houses in the £250,000 to £1.5 million price range, there was still merit in opening the door to the plebeian masses. Thanks, Alex, I get a lot of £1million plus properties in Varteg.

My humour did improve when I saw a job advert for one of Wales’ high-end estate agents whose corporate mantra is to not list properties for less than £500,000 and have a “quality team of professional and very experienced experts”. Of course they do, as we all do. No one is going to have a team of rubbish, unprofessional idiots who haven’t a clue what they are talking about. Then again…What did rather dent the validity of their claim of how quite brilliant and experienced they are, was that the job being advertised for that of a sales’ negotiator finished with the line, “would suit a school leaver”. Who let that one go to press?

 

 

 

I’ll be wearing a raincoat and carrying a paper open on the crossword page…

Yesterday morning having completed my Olympic training session (squeezing into those sparkly, high-legged numbers for the synchronized swimming is a challenge in itself, let me tell you), I was tucking into my beetroot and spinach smoothie-to be followed by a Nutella sandwich-as favoured by the new stars of the Rio Olympics and the interweb, the O’Donovan brothers, who have combined winning a silver medal in the rowing for Ireland with screen testing for a spin-off of Father Ted, when I came across an article in the Mail on Sunday called, “The Secret Agent”. Written by Marc Shoffman, this revealed to the plebeian masses, “the shadowy world of hush-hush home sales” Mail on Sunday, 13 August 2016. The secret squirrel routine used to be reserved for the seriously wealthy and/or famous, but is now being employed by those much further down the food chain, (not so much Hello cover as Angling Weekly or The Argus).

This involves buying agents. These apparently differ from the likes of me and the rest of the estate agent band of brothers in that they work for the potential purchaser “scouting the market for properties based on a brief and working to obtain the best deal for them” ibid Ok, I understand the cloak and dagger bit but the reasons as to why someone buying a three bedroom family home amidst the other 500 three-bedroom family homes on a (very pleasant) estate in the suburbs, left me somewhat bemused. “Rising house prices and higher stamp duty costs” ibid Run that past me again. As far as I am aware the SDLT (Stamp Duty Land Tax) as imposed by HM’s Government, does not differ whether you choose to buy a property using a buying agent, a boring old estate agent, or a mucker down The Dog and Duck.

 

Our buying agent colleagues, (or should that read ‘competitors’?) act–according to Mr Shoffman-in “mysterious ways”. Incidentally, for those keen on their religious trivia, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways’ does not appear anywhere in The Bible and is one of the most repeated misquotes ever. Just as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) never actually said, ‘Play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca. Anyway, back to poison-tipped umbrellas and Rightmove reports trumped up by the agents inputting the data…Such covert operating techniques by these 007 buying agents include using already established links with local estate agents- that will be classified as talking to them then and “picking up gossip at the school gates”-that will be classified as booking a one-way ticket to the Royal Gwent. As befits such dangerous, daring and nerve jangling work the buying agents earn handsomely for their efforts; a retainer fee plus commission of between 2 and 3 per cent. The latter did make me think that isn’t in their interest to get too good a deal for their client, as this would knock their commission fee. Cynical? Moi?

 

I do understand that high net worth clients, be they buyers or sellers, desire a certain degree of privacy surrounding their business dealings and any exchange of monies. This could be because they are about to off load the Current Mrs Celebrity Wife, (the curse of Hello strikes again), or they are about to go belly up courtesy of a large and unexpected HMRC bill (take note Miss Turner). There are many wholly valid reasons for transactions to be off grid and off the market, but I don’t see the practice spreading across Torfaen.

That said, there is always some character to whom the world of the dark arts and “If I tell you, I will have to kill you’ theory appeals. Having recently listed a property, I arranged to meet a potential purchaser for a viewing. The said gentleman had registered with us as a first time buyer and had confirmed that he had   a mortgage in principle in place with a hefty deposit. Jolly good; well done the team at Cheshire & Co for collecting the necessary information. But as I should have remembered from my days under canvas (I’m taking about living in the bundu living off snakes and leaves not buying a cake at the local village fair), one’s intelligence is only as good as the source. On meeting my eager-beaver first-time buyer I discovered that he was actually a middle-aged gentleman with several property transactions to his name, who wanted to buy a project £35,000 under the asking price. When I asked why he had engaged in such subterfuge he said that he, “didn’t want everyone knowing my business”. If his offer had been successful that would have included the seller, all the staff at Cheshire & Co, his bank manager, surveyor, lawyer and the 4 men he planned to employ to carry out the refurbishment. Not exactly, ‘everyone’, but a fair cross-section of the local demographic.

 

Now if the gentleman had asked me to keep the matter as discreet as possible I would have said ’of course’, whilst pointing out that once completion had taken place it would be a matter of public record. That one always gets them.

 

There is course merit in using all the tactics and services that are increasingly available, be you purchaser or vendor. But as in life in general, a certain amount of honesty and candour is required. Back to you, the ex Mrs Grant Bovey.

 

 

“Dancing the Salsa, would Ed Balls and his partner please take to the floor”

Not a line that I ever thought that I would be writing nor one that Alan Dedicoat thought that he would ever be announcing to the masses on a Saturday evening. WTF or LMAO would possible be more appropriate responses in the modern era but I did choke on my seaweed and carrot smoothie (it takes effort ladies), as I heard the news that the former Shadow Chancellor and class bully has signed up for Strictly Come Prancing. I suppose it is an obvious career step; a former Harvard postgraduate and Economic Secretary to the Treasury swopping suits and discussions with the Bank of England and its Monetary Policy Committee for a snug fitting sequinned number and a weekly meeting with the fake tan lady whose job it is to ensure that you would not look out of place on the Cuprinol colour chart. I wish him well and must admit to being a little envious; not because he will look better than the Chesh in unforgiving fluorescent polyester disco pants-he won’t, obviously- but because most men of a certain age have to pay an eye-watering amount to get to grips with a shapely Eastern European lady wearing very little-not the other way round. Being somewhat shocked was the order of the week as rent-a-quote, I hate the Establishment, former director of Liberty, Shari Chakrabarti came over all Neil Kinnock and accepted a peerage. Really, should we surprised by peoples’ behaviour?

A rhetorical question that I answered earlier this week when told by a landlord that, “If you did your f£$*&ng job properly, this wouldn’t have happened”. When I pointed out that he had actually found the tenants and moved them in against my advice, he accused me of being some sort of merchant banker… When I further pointed out that none of the tenants that Cheshire & Co had found for him were in arrears, he told me that he would see me next Tuesday (work it out…).

Unsurprising human behaviour was again to the fore when I received a telephone call from a lady who I mentioned some months ago in this blog. Having received the instruction to market her property, behold, a miracle occurred and the corporate agent (whose contract was 24 hours from coming to an end) had somebody who was going to buy her house that very day. Five months later and the buyer has now disappeared and the likelihood of the house being sold through the corporate agent is even smaller than Tom Daley’s budgie smugglers. The lady had followed my advice and had kept a log of all her communication with the agent. This was on a par in brevity with a haiku poem; not one ‘phone call from the agent. Every piece of information the vendors had gleaned, they had had to extract from the agent’s office by visiting it in person and not leaving until getting some sort of answer to their questions. Words fail me.

What did bring a smile to my face was reading the promotional blurb for yet another online estate agent. Having signed and more importantly paid up front for the ‘advanced marketing package’ and the ‘gold standard viewing package’, the said agent would find you, ‘your perfect buyer’. Let me tell you, however troublesome they may be throughout the viewing, consideration and exchange process, once they complete, all buyers are perfect.

 

The original NP property blogger posts again

“Our Survey said..”

More often than not, it was “Eh-uhhh” accompanied by a commiserating Bob Monkhouse, Max Bygraves or Les Dennis, who must on occasion have pondered, “Just how bloody thick can people really be?” As one to chuck in when there is a lull in the conversation, Family Fortunes was based on the American game show Family Feuds, which I think to be a far more appropriate (and honest) title as the Jones family from Cwmbran silently seethe all the way back down the M4 because one of their clan revealed the limitations of their shared gene pool by giving a really, really stooooopid answer to a question.

At Cheshire and Co we are prone to answering in similar fashion to Mr Babbage (the name given to the computer on Family Fortunes-the mathematicians amongst you will immediately understand the relevance-those still struggling with Baby’s First Abacus, the answer will be given at the bottom). Post the Brexit hysteria that produced surveys almost as quickly as the political parties changed leader, last week saw the reporting of some actual facts relating to the business of selling houses. Nationwide reported that house prices rose faster in July than for the previous four months and that the annual price increase across the UK was on average 5.2% The Brexit naysayers were adamant that the bottom would fall out of the market and that London would be most severely hit. Well, everything is relative. A property that was on with one of the big hitters had been listed at £24 million and ‘only’ sold for £19 million. A £5 million loss? Er, not quite. The same property had been purchased 5 years ago for £12 million. So the vendor actually ‘only’ made a profit of £7 million. Hardly a property disaster.

London’s sharp boys, Foxtons have reported a dip in profits that has led them to reconsider their branch operation. Note, a dip in profits, not a loss. What did make me choke on my stick of raw carrot (it takes effort to maintain a physique such as mine), was their further reporting that their average sale fee had gone up slightly to £13,552 per sale. Is it any wonder that sellers in London and the South East are tempted to try on line, enquiries answered by a call centre in Wolverhampton, £1500 fee up front agents?

On the subject of fees, a friend of mine this week exchanged on the sale of his property at a price of £1.2 million and his agency fee was a total of £21,600. Yes, you did read that correctly. When he asked me what they had done to justify the figure I was tempted to say that they didn’t have to do anything as means of justification as he had signed the contract agreeing to pay them. My grumbling pal said that he had been tempted to use one of the internet agents who wanted £2000 but that he had not fancied doing any of the work –such as viewings –himself. When I said that I would have done it for £3000, he said, “but look how far way you are”. I replied, “How far away do you think that your online ‘local’ property agent will be?”

Discussion has turned again to ways to stimulate the property market. George/Gideon who used to have the keys to No 11 and now just has a ‘Change of Address’ card came up with Help To Buy et al. Personally, I think that the Government should consider bringing back some form of MIRAS. For those of you who weren’t about when there were only 4 television channels, this is Mortgage Interest Relief At Source. This was actually Labour policy (yes, your lot Jeremy, if you can’t remember, ask Diane), where to help FTB buyers get on the housing ladder, buyers would get tax relief, at their standard rate, on the first £30,000 that they borrowed. I appreciate that such thresholds would be useless today, but how about if a seller is saving on average £5000 in fees by using an online agent, some of the monies saved could be offered to FTB to help with their deposit? This would not be a vendor gifted scheme as it would not affect the true consideration (ie the price) of the property. I’m here Theresea, just give me a ring…

P.S. Charles Babbage was an English mathematician, inventor and mechanical engineer. He originated the concept of a programmable computer. See the link?