Calm down chaps…

Well a fairly eventful week on a number of fronts, not least that of Ms Mordaunt, our new international development secretary (I now await my admiration of her.. appointment in the cabinet reshuffle to be met with hysterics by the sisterhood). Priti is out having come over all Tony-I-can-fix-the-problems-of-the-world-in-my-next-available-diary-slot/holiday-for a price-Blair, there doesn’t appear to be anyone in those renowned bastions of  chasteness -Hollywood and Westminster-who isn’t preying upon or being preyed upon and some of the hierarchy of Welsh Labour have taken self-governance to a whole new level by ditching any notional adherence to the Ministerial Code. Hey ho. The one thing that seems to have slipped under the radar,clearly not being ‘ sexy’ enough (no pun intended), is that the BOE has raised interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5%.  Regular followers of the original NP property blog will confirm that over the past 6 years (6 years? When I still had hair-ish and before each edition of Strictly Come Prancing lasted as long as a Wagnerian opera with those b%^&dy gimmicky videos of  the dancers and and their celebrity partners hamming it up), we have questioned the validity and expertise of many City experts who year on have predicted that rates would rise “next year”; until the end of 2016 when most of the said pundits were adamant that rates would stay the same “well into 2018”. Ah well boys and girls, it was 50:50.

So what does this actually mean for the property market and the naysayers and prophesiers of doom? Well keep at it lads because there is still an acute shortage of houses for sale and prices are holding up simply because of a lack or property choice. Some of us still in the business are old enough to remember when interest rates went up 6% in one day. The world continued to turn on its axis, but repossessions soared and here we are today with repossessions at their lowest level. A point that few have have grasped (either through willfulness or ignorance) is that interest rates can and do, go up. 70% of all mortgage holders in this country are still on a fixed rate and are insulated against any rise-for now. Post the 2007 financial apocalypse, the stress testing introduced for all mortgage applications was introduced for the very reason of interest rates rising and applicants monthly financial commitments increasing. What never changes is that the right house at the right price in the right location will still sell. Many buyers are still of the mind-set that they will do whatever is required to get the house of their dreams and sod what happens next. Personal choice and we are a free country. As I type this I am listening to the Service of Remembrance, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to live in a country where we can write blogs about interest rates, Cabinet Ministers’ bosoms and Saturday night light entertainment. Without being overly maudlin and introspective, it rather puts everything into perspective doesn’t it?

All is not as it seems…

…Part 1. Last week in Wales, a major news item almost slipped under the radar and certain parties were pretty close to buttock clenching, “We got away with that one” territory. Except they didn’t. If one casts one’s mind back to pre-Nadiya Strictly Come Prancing (sorry, Flavia, you had your chance, you’re history), one might recall that the Welsh Assembly (WA) effected that stamp duty land tax was to be renamed ‘land transaction tax’. What was not made so clear was that they also took it upon themselves to change the rates and as a result, some people will end up paying more than  under the previous structure.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “The devolution of tax powers provides us with the opportunity to reshape and make changes to improve existing taxes to better meet Wales’ needs and priorities. I have always been clear that we will use these powers to help improve fairness and support jobs and economic growth in Wales. These new progressive rates and bands for land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax will make a real difference to people’s lives; help change behaviours and deliver improvements to communities across Wales”. Ok Marky boy. As Lloyd used to say, “Let’s look at the evidence”. At the bottom end the threshold has been raised from £125,000 to £150,000 , i.e. £25,000. At 2% that is a saving of £500 which will help by going towards the survey fee and some legal costs. A quick peak at rightmove shows that currently there are 37 houses on the market in NP44 between £125k and £150k. So potentially, that’s 37 people who will save a maximum of £500 if they wait until April next year to purchase a property. Hardly a ‘real difference’. There are far more significant changes the higher one goes up the property ladder, especially if one is looking to buy at over £400k and the the next threshold of £750k. As the rate increase form 5% to 7.5%, the potential maximum increase of £8750 is a ‘real difference’. What effect will the new system produce? I predict that there will be an attempt at a frenzy-whipping-up exercise by some agents who will urge vendors to,”Sell your house before you are affected by the new tax” or possibly, “Thinking of moving? Then contact us now to see how much it will cost you after April 2018, so buy now”. The leaflet printers in Cwmbran must be rubbing their hands with glee.

All is not as it seems…Part 2. Be careful to whom you offer your keys and I don’t mean one of those clubs who have pampas grass in their garden (you know who you are). A former lettings agent has been jailed after pretending that he was still a lettings agent (there is a cheap joke in there about some agents who are still genuinely employed as lettings agent in NP44… but I don’t want to be a bee–atchhh…). Having persuaded a string of top firms to hand over keys for fake viewings, Ben Ppantoniou then used the keys to get into the properties whilst the owners were out and helped himself to money and various other items including jewellery. The agents that were conned into handing over keys included Knight Frank, Foxtons, Chestertons and Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward. All have now made significant changes to their procedures for releasing keys. I bet they have.

Back to public service…

It was with a teary eye that I bid farewell to Tatiana and her bikini-that clearly was based on the ” how little material will not get me arrested for indecency?” school of fashion. As I handed Svetlana what was left of my bottle of Ambre Solaire, I assumed a stiff… upper lip, you filthy-minded lot and cast my mind to matters current in the world of buying, selling and renting property. Reported across the media and not just in the property press was the case involving a claim for discrimination lodged by a former employee of a very large and successful chain of estate agents. The report of the case highlighted how the case was handled-rather incompetently as it transpired-and detailed that the claimant made the claim as a result of a comment made to her in an appraisal of her work that she would be, “better suited to a traditional estate agency”. The tribunal found in favour of the 59 year old claimant as it was deemed that the comment would not have been made to a younger person. The report did not state how ‘young’ is thought to be younger, or what is the threshold for being considered young. It did get me thinking. In any profession should age or experience be the measure by which someone is deemed capable of doing the job? What is relevant is that age has nothing to do with being professional. Was the one-size-fits-all (unless you are Tatiana) approach of the said corporate estate agency indicative of their being big enough that they felt it perfectly admissable to make such a comment in the first place and is this behaviour indicative of how they treat their clients? Maybe. Ask yourself what is  the average age of senior managers of a large corporate estate agency and compare this to the average age of the manager of an independently owned agency. Does the age of an agent have any relevance to a client selecting them to market and sell their property? Maybe. It is all about the needs of the vendor and they may well want somebody with the experience that they deem necessary for someone to be given the responsibility of selling their property. However well an agent markets themselves (did I mention that I have a side-line as a George Clooney lookie-likie?), it is wholly down to the client and the relationship that they want to have with the agent and how that can be achieved. Experience never leaves you, unlike the film-star good looks with which some of us have been blessed…

The 7 questions you SHOULD always ask your letting agent

All through my career potential landlords have always started a meeting with the same 2 questions

How much rent can you get for my property?

How much will you charge me?

These are the last two questions a potential landlord should ask. Let me show you the seven questions you should ask when considering a new letting agent.

  1. What redress scheme are you a member of?
  2. How many properties do you manage and how many staff do you have to manage them?
  3. How exactly do you screen and reference potential tenants?
  4. How do you manage arrears?
  5. What happens if my property needs urgent maintenance?
  6. What exactly is included in your full management service?
  7. How often will you inspect my property?

None of these questions deal with money they deal with service and only when you have satisfied yourself with the answers should you move onto the money side of things.

If you have an agent who is offering a no set up fee with 5% management charges see how the answers to the 7 questions add up.

It’s a win-win situation….

Or not, if Saturday’s article  in the Daily Telegraph is to be believed. Penned by Ms Amy Willis it shrieked the headline, “Only the agent wins” with an indignation befitting a die hard Corbynista at the forthcoming annual party conference (definitely one for The Chesh’s diary). The first paragraph reported how as agents we are chortling among us ourselves that our main gig is no longer making money from selling houses but we are instead profiteering from mortgage broking and the associated conveyancing services. Really? As was oft repeated in a well-known Hollywood film, “Show me the money”. In seriousness, many agents do indeed profit from the many add-on ‘services’ proffered and we have blogged many times on how we feel about the matter. In fact the fee from the house sale is often outweighed by the add-on monies. But the latter do come about because of one thing; selling houses-the clue is in the title-unless of course one is an online facilitator  of money changing hands, I mean selling houses….Anyway, that was a previous blog.

This is-despite Ms Willis’ best attempts to imply otherwise-nothing new. Go back to the mid eighties and every bank or building society was buying up chains of estate agents, simply to secure their mortgage book and increase their turn over and profit margin on the back of house sales and what went with them. This was way before data bases and data mining entered into the lexicon. Our scribe highlights many practices that are truly appalling and quotes ‘Jenny’,  a whistle blower who has become jaundiced by the business to the extent that she has gone to the press (and 6/4 on got paid for her troubles) to report the nefarious behaviour. The Chesh would have had no problem having his name and visage across the national media, preferably within the single number pages and at least half the page. (It would be the least that I could do for you ladies).

Some of Ms Willis’ ‘tips’ to avoid being “stung” are a little wide of the mark. She advises not to use an estate agent that pushes mortgages as their tricks could leave you out of pocket. Not quite right Ms W. Advise people to ask questions. Some very good estate agents push mortgages and push the prospective purchaser to acquire a suitable product for their needs. Purchasers should be asking the agent what exactly he is getting out of the deal and how using an add on service will benefit them, the customer. Many of the petrol stations that I use have at the pay desk a range of chocolate and the cashier asks whether I would like one of their special offers. I don’t like it, I don’t want it, but it doesn’t stop me buying my petrol there.

This is not like buying a jumper at a well-known retail outlet. People buy houses, they are not sold a house akin to being flogged life insurance that no one is really convinced that they need. The whole point is that both purchaser and vendor should pick an agent that they believe that they can trust. This is done through asking the right questions to establish how the said agent operates and the core principles of their business. A good deal should benefit all parties, no scam involved.

Who gets to wear the moneybelt?

So millions of us stayed up to listen or watch the big event in Las Vegas last night: ‘Money’ Mayweather v the Irish fella, who if the rules of pugilism weren’t being followed would probably rip you limb from limb in the time it takes to say “that’s a nice tattoo”. The build up to this money spinner that looks likely to surpass the $600m earner of Mayweather v Pacqiao in 2015 seems to have been going for at least as long as the Labour leadership contest, but at least with a far more entertaining way of deciding who will be victorious. For all the vitriol and combative ’performing’ it was interesting to learn that both adversaries had travelled to many of the build up events in the same plane and had gotten on rather well…my dear chap. In spite of all the ‘trash’ talk, post fight both parties have nothing but good to say about each other. The cynics amongst us may say that the riches of Croesus can make the most ardent of enemies see each other in a far more mellow light

So what has this got to do with a bank holiday and the business of selling houses? Dubious outfits in shiny, perspiration-unfriendly material aside, there are many similarities. Let me explain.

Many of us in the world of estate agency in the NP4 postcode and the surrounding areas have been colleagues for some time. We socialise together and attend industry events. Sometimes we do a ‘Mayweather’ and tell our story of how good we are and how we will beat the opposition without question. Some of us have even been known to produce certificates to prove our brilliance…you know who you are. Sometimes we lose the fight through a knockout, sometimes on points (yes, even me) and the seller opts for the opposition. At this stage, many of us engage in grown-up post-fight talk and say good luck to the other party.

This week I have experienced a perfect example of the bad loser trash talking. Having been to a valuation, I was given the instruction over two other agents from the area. Yesterday one of these agents rang the vendor (after 1.30, the published closing time of Cheshire & Co and on a bank holiday weekend when the office will not reopen until Tuesday). My industry colleague told the vendor that they had someone looking for the exact house owned by the vendor and that they wanted to make an offer. So eager were they that wanted to do it that very afternoon. As the property is empty could the said agent have a key and take the desparate-to-buy-that-house purchasers for a viewing? In order to do this-and guarantee their sale-the vendor would have to sign a contract with the agent there and then. The vendor then rang me directly on my personal ‘phone-obviously not factored into the other agent’s cunning plan-recounted the tale and asked what I would do?

The aforementioned agent was rung and was told that of course they could view the property; just ring Mr Cheshire and he would help by meeting them there and doing the viewing for them. If this particular buyer bought the property, Cheshire & Co would happily split the commission with them (generosity is my middle name). The only caveat was that the agents were not allowed to advertise the property and then record it as their sale (but they would still have the money). Alternatively, their purchaser could come straight to Cheshire & Co on Tuesday (they could even email the office in the interim) and the said agent would get the square root of naff all.

The choice was theirs to £$”* up. Guess what? They did not want to agree to any of the suggested options and the Marquis of Queensberry rules got drop kicked out of sight. What it does mean is that I and their fellow industry competitors are more likely to bend the rules next time we meet in the ring; punch on the break, slightly low blow or leading with the head. Ah well, I tried.

Colour Blind?

Geoffrey, George, Zippy and Bungle. A disparate bunch (was anyone else intensely irritated by that bloody bear? With his hand-wringing wetness, one just knew that he would be a sandal-wearing, bearded, lib dem voting drip). The gang greeted us five times a week with the cheery, “All above the streets and houses”.  Very apposite this week as many in the business of selling streets and houses got very excited about one of their industry competitors and the said competitor’s seemingly imminent demise. Or not. The arch villain of the piece was purplebricks (PB) who featured on both Watchdog and Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme You and Yours. Firstly, let us acknowledge the power of the t’interweb; I would guarantee that there wouldn’t be many estate agents who would have the radio tuned in to such cerebral listening, but through the medium of bashing away at a smartphone every agent suddenly was able to comment on what had gone down. What exactly had occurred? Well, there was something of a hue and cry about PB’s shady practices involving getting a customer to part with their money. Much was made of the non-payment of the up-front fee charged by PB. This was described as a “loan” facilitated by Close Brothers Finance (same synagogue maybe?) Not true said PB. The customer not paying the money but having the debt met by a third party is not a loan, but a “deferred arrangement” and thus does not come under FCA regulation. Still with me? Why such delight in the supposed discomfort of PB in having to explain their business practices on a national radio programme? Ah well said the sages, PB’s share price will have fallen and they are doomed. Mmm. Yup, the share price did fall by 7% and millions were wiped off the company’s value. Cue high fives and big-ups by estate agents across the land. And what happened? Nature abhors a vacuum and the same premise can be transposed to the stock market. Shares in PB suddenly became much cheaper to buy. So guess who bought them? Those very same uber wealthy gentlemen who already own PB. And the result? PB’ share price rockets again and actually sits higher than it was before. Market forces. Not dissimilar to professional gamblers backing a horse in from 25-1 to 14-1. The price shortens; an ideal opportunity to lay it on the exchanges. The market reacts, the price lengthens and those same wealthy (and ballsy) boys and girls get a second bite of the cherry, backing it to win again at 25-1. Back to PB; who were the losers? Not the Bruce Brothers indeed Kenny and his sister in law Isabel sold £23.8m worth of shares in March if I had just pocketed that type of money I doubt whether watchdog or radio four would bother me that much. One other point that many missed entirely was that the vendors who part with their cash upfront are paying for a service, not a product and more fool them. How many restaurants do you go into and pay before the meal? Much was made of PB launching in the USA where agents or ‘realtors’ fees can be up to 10%. I will be intrigued to see how they propose to sell up-front fees to the land of the free and the service capital of the world. If they succeed in this, Kim and Donald should put their handbags away and let Team Bruce run the world.

May I suggest that a lot of people missed the point? PB are not a threat to good, traditional, independent estate agents. This is not said with bravado and false hope. Cheshire & Co and many of our fellow independent agents in the NP postcode have a very different business model and are appealing to a very different demographic than that of PB. Our business is based on recommendation and referrals and there are certain clients and families who we have represented and looked after who would never go to anther agent, let alone one based online. We all have such clients and we are all in the business of trying to get more of them. Our (and by this I mean all independent agents in the vicinity) biggest threat is that posed by our immediate geographical competitors.

I would further suggest that many agents in the NP postcode have been struck by colour blindness and I am not referring to the rather dubious decor in some offices. Forget purple, it is the colour pink that has caused the biggest ripple in the pond. Have I ever been to a valuation in competition with PB and lost it? Never. Have I been in competition with Pinkmove (PM) and come close, but no cigar? I have, as has every one of my fellow agents, independent or corporate. I must state that I was using WAL photos and videos before PM launched, but why now does nearly everyone of my fellow agents offer wide angle lens photos, floor plans and videos? Of course, the quality varies immensely, but the key point is that PM (or a similar outfit in another area) has changed the game. Back to market forces. This does not mean that all of my fellow agents have upped their game. Some are in a race to the bottom, to offer to do it as cheaply as possible with the primary focus being on doing it for less than any other agent and sod the service provided is moving into PB territory . Again, this will appeal to a certain demographic-but isn’t financially sustainable-as we have discussed in previous blogs and oblivion is just over the hill. Back to the service industry: as independents it is the service that we provide that grows and sustains our business. Falling short in this area means that we have no business.

A picture paints a thousand words…

Back in the day when I got my first job in estate agency some 40 years ago, (I know, I know, Dorian Gray has nothing on me), my old boss used to tell me to ensure that the details that I was dong that day should be the best set that I had ever produced. Unless, I had the right house in the right street at the right price; then he advised the minimalist approach of “House for Sale” and leave it at that. It took some kahunas and a fair amount of wringing of sweaty paws, but it worked.

Why do I reminisce about these days, (apart from the fact that I had hair)? Well because I have noticed a trend emerging in the NP postcode of fellow agents using very scant details which involve a brief overall description and then room sizes only. Quite frankly, an “absolute bloody shower” to quote one of my role models, Mr Terry Thomas and my old boss would be somewhat unimpressed. But, much as it pains me to see shoddy work (ladies, if you are going for surgical enhancement, don’t go Central European, they never look quite as good), I have had two separate viewings this week where on both occasions the potential buyers said, “the rooms are very small aren’t they?” Resisting the urge to reply with, “they are exactly the same f£$*ing size as they say on the details”, I suggested that we take a look at the said details and check the room sizes listed. Both parties nonchalantly informed me that, “We only look at the photos”. Okey fricking dokey.

In the era that we dwell everything is available on a hand held device and is immediately accessible. Bright, shiny, pretty pictures for all to see. The lesson? Make sure that your pictures are the best that they can possibly be and that may mean that the agent-however much he fancies himself as the next Patrick Demarchelier-is not the best person to take them. In fairness, many NP agents do outsource their pictures and many charge you extra for the privilege of their incompetence! You can see the results online-just as the thousands of potential purchasers are able to do. This includes the online agents where some of the pictures seem to have been taken by my grandson. But there is no margin in the cheap upfront fees charged by the onliners to do anything than use the old box brownie

What have I learned this week from my experience? Confirmation that my old boss was on the money. The right house in the right street at the right money will sell, don’t bother with all the writing. When an agent and vendor work together to market a property at its most attractive (including the price) to potential purchasers, then there is no need for gimmicks. Sometimes I miss the good old days, not least the need to buy shampoo.

Things are not quite what they seem…

This week brought the annual pilgrimage to SW19 and the world’s greatest tennis tournament. Cue innumerable pictures of ‘celebrities’ (some genuine A-list, some who lurk between X-Z), Team Middleton doing what Team Middleton do (not much), Claire Balding being hyper-enthusiastic, Team Middeton again (again not doing very much) and the country claiming a level of knowledge of the sport that is singularly lacking the other 352 days of the year. All as expected. Except that on this occasion we as a nation had a player in both individual semi finals. How can this be? Because they aren’t both British. Before anyone gets all Wee Jimmie Krankie on me, I know he is Scottish, I know he is therefore British (shut the f$%& up about North Sea oil and another referendum Nicola) and I know that he is a truly gifted sportsman who was suffering with injury and struggled on in true British fashion before heroically succumbing, but Ms Konta? The Hungarian born and Australian raised Jo Konta? The natural order of things was restored though when having had a wholly unfair level of expectation placed upon her (no change there then), she got outgunned on every front by someone of a totally different class.

Misleading headlines and ‘expert’ opinion again provoked deeper investigation that showed that things are not all as they seem. The BBC led on a report released by the Principality Building Society that states that there is a house price slowdown in Wales. The Principality take into account all house sales-not just the house sales on which they hold a mortgage-and the report says that that in Newport annual house price growth was 5.1%. This is way above inflation and of course, wage rises, so on an average house price of £176,000, that’s £8756 of untaxed profit in one year. For homeowners this is better than working as their home is taking care of a lack of wages (or a significant increase) and rising inflation. The Daily Express goes potty for these figures-even more so than their unending quest of ‘Who Killed Diana?’

This is where there is a problem with these types of figures being released, because what relevance do they have for buyers looking today? Not a lot. I have yet to have a buyer offer lower than the asking price because of a report released by a bank or building society. Rising damp in the gable, enough artex to cover the Pyramids of just trying to be a clever git are all reasons for offering a much lower price, but not a recently published report from industry professionals. Assuming a very local agent stance, may I suggest that prices are holding up in Newport and the other NP postcodes because of one thing: supply or specifically, lack of. All over the area, listings are down and this reduces choice. Added to house price inflation being around 5% and what happens? Prices remain stable and even increase. Not quite what the Principality’s report would have one believe.

What are you going to do about it then?

This weekend saw a rare occurrence in the natural world; worthy of Sir David Attenborough at his most breathlessly awestruck. Estate agents-not a breed known for their piety-were seen flocking to their local places of worship to offer thanks and in some cases the sacrifice of their first born (funny lot up in Abersychan…) to Saint Listalot, the patron saint of property agents. Why such reverent behaviour? The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT)-an organisation as sleek as its name and one that until last week I never knew existed-has deemed that advertising claims must be “accurate and truthful”. Right, I’ve got a ten inch… hydrangea growing in the garden and as regular readers of the blog will attest, Miss Minogue is but one of my many female admirers. This need for rectitude is all because the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against our friends at Purplebricks (PB). James Munro, head of the NTSEAT stated, “we have seen many examples of online agents making unsubstantiated claims about their selling fees when compared to traditional or high street agents” www.propertyindustryeye.com 8 July 2017 “These businesses should ensure that they are making comparisons against like-for-like services,” The Negotiator 11 July 2017 

Very true James, but may I be so bold as to say, do something about it then? When I read that you cite “many” examples of the practice, why has it been allowed to go on for so long? Before us traditional agents get too excited, let’s see what it really means. Well in the long term, the square root of $%£K all. As we have blogged before, the type of client who will use the non-traditional on-liners will know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, so will want one thing and one thing only, the cheapest agent available. Q.E.D. Before we traditional agents get too sanctimonious and celebrate our first victory over PB, we should look at ourselves in the shaving mirror (yes, you too those ladies of a more hirsute nature).  How many agents publish their selling fees and are suitably candid when asked about fees over the telephone? This is when we stray into PB territory: because PB adverts open the door by getting the vendor to be sufficiently interested to ring and book an appointment for a valuation.In exactly the same fashion, traditional agents will instruct staff to ‘just get me there’ and the fee is never discussed openly until the appointment. So are we as bad as each other? We certainly share certain characteristics in that all we really want is to get inside the front door to allow us to display our wares (back to my hydrangea, ladies…) One shouldn’t leave oneself open to criticism by flatly refusing to discuss fees prior to an appointment. If a potential vendor rings and asks about fees, the response should surely be, “very reasonable, are fees the most important issue for you when selling your property?” Their answer will tell you more than you or they, realise.

 

 

A missed opportunity

As I spend my last day on the Balearic Islands contemplating squeezing my bronzed, gym-honed frame into an air plane seat clearly designed for a munchkin, to emerge the other end like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I ponder upon the missed opportunities of life. If only I had answered the phone to that unknown number then I could have been Mr Minogue..if I hadn’t gone to get a cup of tea then I could have bought the future winner of The Grand National at Doncaster Sales (the required £160k is a moot point) and if I had picked my mother’s birthday instead of my own then I could have been the Euromilllions winner and it would have been sod budget airlines travelling cattle class and hello Gulfstream G550. Of course, if my auntie had balls she would be my uncle, but…

A headline in propertyindustryeye.com caught my eye-not as much as the ladies’ beach volleyball team practicing in their very aerodynamic (almost non-existent) apparel-which also spoke of a missed opportunity. The theme of the article was that of an agent charging an elderly lady commission on her property that they had failed to sell after 18 months of unsuccessful marketing, but which she eventually sold to her son in a private transaction. They were alerted to the sale not because another agent crowed triumphantly but because the vendor instead of just withdrawing the property from the market place did the honourable thing and told the agents that she had sold her house to her son to enable her to move on with her plans. Under the threat of legal action from the agents she paid then £4000 in commission. There is no doubt that vendor and her chosen agent had a contract that would have stated that commission was payable no matter who bought the property. The agent would have incurred costs in the 18 months prior to the sale, but, what a missed opportunity. Instead of finding themselves the subject of an article whereby the vendor’s incensed lawyer has complained about their behaviour (very likely costing them future custom), they could have used this sale to their advantage. This could have involved their approaching the vendor and explaining that whilst commission was payable, they were delighted that she had sold her property and that she had done the honourable thing by telling them and that only a small amount to cover costs would be acceptable. Cue a photo promulgated through the wonders of social media and the t’interweb of the agent and the vendor smiling happily together with the necessary blurb of helping customers. A fluffy dog/kitten/small child could also have been commandeered for the photo shoot.

I appreciate that in extracting the fee, the agent was able to put another sale towards their target for the month and keep head office off their back, but I do think that it will cost them in the long term. If of course the said agent-and I am referring to the individual, not the firm-does pick his/her mother’s birthday as opposed to his/her own and does win the Euromillions rollover then he/she won’t give a £$%& about the adverse publicity from strong-arming an elderly lady into paying a fee. I don’t subscribe to the adage of all publicity is good publicity. Just ask Gerald Ratner.

Everything has a value

Having had plenty of time to consider the state of the nation and the world in general (‘off to hell in a handcart’ seems suitably apt), I have been giving some thought to the valuations (and subsequent instructions), that I have lost to other agents. Yes, I know that it may come as a shock, but some people do not choose The Chesh to sell their property. Once I reconciled myself with the fact that not everyone thinks that I can walk on water… I acknowledged that it is unrealistic to think that you will be given the instruction to sell the property from every valuation that you carry out. Of course, as with everything one should try and be exceptional, (I know Ladies, it is a gift…) and we may well genuinely believe that we have been especial, but others may not. That being the case, we move on and in the words of Jim Bowen on Bullesye, “let’s look at at what we could have won”.  As an aside, why was a prize that someone from the midlands could have won always a speed boat?

There are some vendors that as an agent you are never going to get; because your profile does not fit what they want. No, I am not meaning that they have an aversion to tall, debonair, urbane and follically-challenged estate agents but they have determined from the outset of initiating the selling process, that they want one thing above everything else. They want it to cost them as little as possible. I think the word that I am looking for is ‘cheap’ and the cheaper the better. History recounts that when my resolve has weakened and I have ‘done cheap’, these type of vendors complain the most. The premise of providing a top level service and doing it very cheaply is illogical. Everything costs something. It is a non sequitur. Adding further to the illogical argument is the agent who states that they are the best and will provide a top class service, but that it will be cheaper than any other agent in the area. So how are they doing this? They aren’t. They may be the cheapest in the postcode but they are not outperforming every other agent in the service that they provide.

What do we do about illogical buyers and agents? Nothing, leave them to it. They come together because each has what the other wants. History will again recount, that when it all starts to go wrong because the cheap service does not deliver the results wanted by the vendor, the latter will remain with the poorly-performing agent because, yes, you are getting it now, the agent is still cheap. As Spock offered, “I find your lack of logic disturbing”. As do I and that is without having pointy ears and having to wear a snug-fitting romper suit of dubious material.

The days of eye-watering high fees are long gone, but ultra cheap fees also have a limited life-span. They cannot last; let me explain. If a reputable, professionally-accomplished agent has an average fee of say £1500 and completes 4 property sales in a month, then that is an income of £6000. The agent next door who is offering a fee of £750, has to do twice as much work to generate the same amount of income. That is twice as many viewings, double the amount of printing, phone calls, petrol, ink, teabags and most important of all, twice as much time. This is the one thing that you cannot get back, re -sell or repackage.

So what is the answer? (Try and imagine The Chesh and Captain Kirk on the flight deck of USS Enterprise sporting equally fetching out-sized baby-gros, looking expectantly at their half-Vulcan crew member). The only behaviour that you can genuinely influence and control is your own, so as my old Sergeant-Major used to say, “continue you as you are”. Continue with the consistent message of a quality service for a reasonable fee.

And if Spock-like logic fails to win the day, it is always an option to resort to the oldest trick in the book as evidenced at a recent industrial tribunal where an estate agent who was offered a sex act by his boss if he hit sales targets has won his case of sexual discrimination. The lady boss told Paul Elworthy that she would perform the act on him if he banked £180,000. He stated that this proposition made him feel, “uncomfortable”. The tribunal’s findings did not recount whether this was because he knew that he couldn’t make the target, or whether if he did, he was going to have to feign a headache. I know, I know, I will go and get my coat…

 

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go”. So said the cat to Alice in Wonderland. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s fantasy tale of literary nonsense is often used as an allegory for the real world and come 9 June many people will be asking how they came to be in a crumpled heap at the bottom of a rabbit hole or sharing a beverage at some mad tea party. We all have the freedom to choose and come this particular Thursday in June, approximately 30% of our populace will choose not to get off their posteriors and exercise their democratic right. Call me cynical (moi?), but I bet this same 30% are the most ardent of keyboard warriors when it comes to complaining about the actions of whoever is voted in by the majority of the populace. And remember, a majority is a majority, however small. It either is or it isn’t. There is no middle ground option, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant/dead. Aside from deciding who is going to have the choice of what colour to paint the downstairs ‘ loo in 10 Downing Street, many of us now have another choice to make and that is full service or DIY. (I am not referring to services that are allegedly offered in establishments known as  gentlemen’s clubs). The choice that homeowners now have to make when selling their property is no longer to decide between a high street or non-high street agent; that particular horse bolted long ago and is probably now in a ready meal lasagne. The ongoing dilemma is whether they go for DIY approaches offered by the ‘onliners’ or whether to employ the services of a property selling professional based either in the town centre or a nearby village. The exact location in the area no longer matters as the property will be displayed in the same online portals as any DIY service. What does matter is the service provided by whoever has been chosen to sell the property. This begins with booking the valuation, how the valuation is evinced with suitable comparable evidence and continues throughout the whole sales process being brought to a successful conclusion. Said success is borne out of the service provided. Of course some people will go down the DIY route and have the desired outcome. Well done them. Many will start and will swiftly regret their choice. This is evidenced by the number of properties in the NP postcode coming from agents who are solely online and have got absolutely nowhere for their client-the vendor.

Stories frequently appear in the news of people who chose to go to Uzbekistan for their face lift/boob job. Why? Because it was cheap. They return, realise that they are bordering on appearing as Newport’s answer to the Bride of Wildenstein and book an appointment with a Harley Street based surgeon and $%£ the cost. Something that perhaps they should have done at the get go.

The availability of choice is, I believe, having a detrimental effect on those of us deemed to be traditional agents. Why? Because they are forgetting who their competition is. Agents who provide an excellent service at a reasonable fee should not feel threatened by the onliners, The latter are not the competition, other traditional agents are the competition. The competition to onliners is other onliners; let them fight to provide the cheapest service. Let me explain.

If a home owner is minded to use an agent based wholly online, then come what May (geddit?), they are going to use that type of service. Putting aside the fee, they are comparing apples with pears when comparing the service provided with that of a traditional agent based in an office in the locale. These type of vendors like the fact that they are ‘in charge’, primarily because their agent who is selling their property in Ty Canol is based in an office in Milton Keynes- an office that they will never, ever leave. All of  us have encountered said clients; they know better than the professional whom they have rung to value their property, they feell that they are best qualified to carry out viewings etc. Well let them carry on with the responsibility as there in now an outlet for their enthusiasm and it is online. What the traditional boys and girls must not do is join the race to the bottom. There are now an increasing number of agents in the NP post code who are hurtling down the side of the cliff with tag lines with the theme of “we will never be beaten on fees” or “sell your house for nothing”. At the risk of offending my fellow agents, cutting fees is the lazy way to get instructions. ‘Using’ other agents’ photos and watermarking them as your own-yes, fellow NP based agent, you know who you are-or making derogatory comments about a competitor-yes, another fellow NP based agent, you also know who you are-is not the way forward. The moral high ground is notably free of property professionals-myself  an the Candy brothers included- but we are in a results driven industry and spending more time cutting the throat of another agent than letting the service that you provide do the talking, will only have one outcome. Just ask the dormouse, the march hare or the Mad Hatter and feel free to knock the smirking cat out of the tree, particularly if he is holding a Purple Bricks sign….

Come now, John-Boy….

As dawn broke earlier this week over another bank holiday morning-if we are not careful, we will soon have another four-I awoke to Sky News reporting how the Shadow Housing Minister and MP for Wentworth and Dean, the Rt Hon John Healey MP was detailing how the next Labour government would bring about a consumer rights revolution in the private rental market. Actually, ‘detailing’ is something of an exaggeration; to use a phrase from my days in fatigues, it was rather, ‘big hand, small map’ in its narration. But as events subsequent proved, Jezza’s lot aren’t that big on detail; isn’t that right Diane? The general gist was that those in the red corner would help/assist all private rental tenants in the battle against impious, usurious landlords. Quite tight too, and not dissimilar to the pledge on private rentals and landlords made by those sitting in the blue corner not so long ago…

In a piece published in the The Huffington Post on the same day, John-Boy wrote how. “the next Labour government would call time on bad landlords”, introducing “clear, enforceable minimum standards, so that no renter has to suffer problems like unsafe wiring or appliances, problem damp and serious vermin infestations”.  As has been stated several time in our blogs, all rental properties should reach a minimum standard. That is a given. But it in’t a one-way street. What about protection for landlords who have tenants who fail to reach a minimum standard in their behaviour towards the property that they are renting? Trashing the place, Colombia-on-Severn and my particular favourite; having the heating on full blast, with all windows closed and a house full of washing, then three weeks later calling Environmental Heath to complain that their house is full of damp? Believe me Mr Healey, these type of tenants have plenty of protection under the law. If doubting this, please join me the next time that I go to court for a possession hearing under a Section 21 or Section 8 and watch the platoon of lawyers who are there to protect the rights of the tenant; invariably provided by a charity that is being funded by us, the tax-paying members of society.

To the theme tune of Citizen Smith, John-Boy announced that Labour would “empower tenants to take matters into their own hands with new consumer rights” (as a side-note, I almost felt empowered to go and buy a Che Guevara T-shirt, but then I played safe and went for the Turnbull and Asser number). The need for empowerment is because private tenants have less consumer rights than those who have bought a fridge-freezer. And there is the nub of the problem; people who have bought i.e. paid for something with hard cash, thereby under law making them the owner. Check your contract law John-Boy, particularly the paragraph with the heading ‘consideration’. The reason that I point this out is because a tenant signs a contract to say that they will pay a specified amount of rent per month to enable them to remain living in the property that they do not own. If they fail to make payment on the designated date, are their consumer rights diminished? No, they are able to continue living in accommodation that they have knowingly and deliberately not paid for. Try that in The Celtic Manor next time. Who then protects the landlord?Undoubtedly there are rogue landlords out there, just as there are career rent-dodgers and house wreckers. Of course there should be a minimum set of standards that all landlords have to meet. Equally, there should be strict measures introduced to counter the behaviour of tenants who willfully break the terms of their contract.

Handbags at Dawn

The war of words has begun, accompanied by much posturing and pseudo hard man poses, (think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or perhaps Captain Mainwering). No, I am not meaning Putin and the world’s foremost user of hair lacquer (incidentally, it would not surprise me if The Donald had a major shareholding in some purveyor of ungents for the male bouffant), but Purplebricks (PB) and the recently formed Charter for Independent Estate Agents (CIELA). For the purposes of the tape-taken directly from their website-“CIELA is an organisation founded to represent the long term interests of small, independent owner-managed estate agents, defend against advancing corporate takeover, and to promote independent agency to the public as the best option when selling or letting your home.” Glad we got that one sorted out-and no, Cheshire & Co are not a member and do not have any intention of becoming a member of the said organisation (see previous blogs).
The move towards offensive action was preempted by the results of a survey of 1003-yes, that 3 is all important-saying how wonderful the general public think PB are. Good luck to them I say. I once conducted a survey that unequivocally proved that I am the most handsome man in Cwmbran…demonstrating that very carefully worded questions asked to a select few people will get you the result that you want. I know ladies, my modesty is. One of my most attractive features…
I have just read the release from PB and very impressive it is to. Thus experiencing further that you can fool some of the people some of the time. If people are actually taken in by this, then it does beg the question as to whether you really want them as clients? The CIELA founder, Charles Wright says that the report is, “profoundly offensive, not only to estate agents (not me, Charles), but especially to all the consumers who had money taken by PB even though they did not sell their home”. ‘Taken’ Charles? That’s a bit strong; they may not have read the small print or they may have been swayed by very persuasive presentation, but I don’t think that theft or other nefarious
behaviour can be used to describe PB’s business model.
If someone genuinely believes that they can get a ‘proper estate agent’; to sell their house for no monetary commission then I believe that they are beyond saving and probably think Diane Abbott is talking total sense about Brexit and that any ‘Brexiteer’ is fundamentally racist…. (Jezza, even allowing for the indiscretions of youth, what were you thinking?). Technically speaking, we all try and sell a house for nothing-because it is no sale, no fee-we only get paid if we are successful. PB do try and sell a property-sort of-but take the money upfront. How many people fall for this? Well at least 1003.
I must point out that there are some people people (1003?), who have had a fantastic result with PB, because they sold their property and saved thousands. Why such success? Because there is no magic or superior skill to having the right house for sale in the right location for the right price. Many vendors know this, so there is no need for floor plans, videos or freshly baked bread being eaten by cherubic offspring wearing Boden.
Where Charles should take comfort and give his blood pressure a chance to come down to an acceptable level is that there are now an increasing number of people who have not sold via PB and are frustrated because they have paid up front and have nothing to show for it. In the past 6 weeks, I have been called out by 3 different vendors who signed up with PB and now want to try a ‘proper estate agent’. All 3 properties were overvalued-quelle surprise-because they had been valued and listed by a PB Local Property Expert-who would have been paid to list them (as per the PB business model). All 3,vendors had signed up to using a PB panel solicitor and were shocked when I rang one of these solicitors ( who is local) and was given a far cheaper quote for the work.Why? Because I’m not taking a kick back. Not exactly difficult to work out.
What of course the report does not mention is that everyone who listed with PB paid for the privilege and in the event of no sale, they will not be seeing their money again. Why would it? If PB is giving you the Donald then take affirmative action. Protest groups akin to those idiots who called for a candlelit vigil to mark the death of Britain’s place in the EU (yes, really),give me the Donald. Approaching any property with a PB board outside, telling them what you do-and how well-until you get the listing or told to Foxtrot Oscar is far more productive. I wonder how PB will incorporate that in their next report.

A quarter down and some things never change…

The end of the first quarter of 2017 has dragged itself heroically to the finish line and the end of term report would read somewhere along the lines of ‘room for improvement/could do better if working harder and adopting the correct attitude’. On Friday 31 March we received a phone call in the office at 5.15 from a tearful vendor who had been told by the agent from whom she was purchasing a house that if she did not exchange the following Monday then the seller would be pulling out and she would lose her dream home. Really my friend? First up, playing that card at 5.15 on Friday; by lunchtime on any Friday most solicitors are echoing Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet; “it’s five o’clock somewhere” and are ensconced in The Priory (the hostelry version). Secondly, 31 March; thus the end of a financial quarter. Hmm, it couldn’t possibly be that certain corporate boyos are having to submit their figures to the top table and every sale counts? The voice of experience will tell you that they kept their books open until close of business because they have yet to hit their bonus, or they are even money to be looking for a new job ob Monday if this sale doesn’t go through. Whatever the reason, it had nothing to do with my vendor because the file clearly shows that all parties have agreed on a completion on 20 April. No solicitor-however much under the influence of substances narcotic or alcoholic-is going to get the clients to exchange some three weeks before completion (new builds excepted for the spotters among you). Where does, “treating the customer fairly” feature here, when it is clearly the agent trying to influence the matter in his favour.

The onliners are also back in the news with Purplebricks (PB) having to withdraw an advert where it stated that it takes them 14 days to find a buyer. And? The right person for the right property can be found in 14 minutes if all necessary boxes are ticked. What intrigued me was whether any vendor would have had the sense to ask PB whether if they did not find a buyer within 14 days whether they-the vendor-would have returned to them their non-refundable upfront fee?

easyproperty-not dissimilar in ethos to that other company with ‘easy’ in their name-have also hit the news. Why? In short, because they need more money. In revealing their need it offered a fascinating insight into the funding required to set up an online operation. A strategic report attached to the firm’s figures, written by their chief executive, Rob Ellice stated that during the year up to September 30, 2016, the group raised £16m through the issue of shares. Hold that thought whilst I offer some background detail. In the year in question, easyProperty had a turnover of just under £875,000 and a gross profit of just over £492,200; but the pre-tax operating loss was over £11.3m. That is alot of costs. The figures show its total comprehensive  loss for the year was £10.94m. A year earlier, its total comprehensive loss was £6.7m. In his report Ellice says that the business had experienced, “a lower rate of growth than anticipated”. You bet it had, Rob. A genuine question. Who was head of the sales team? Because after the figures for 2014/2015 were released, who on earth bought £16m worth of shares and more pertinently, who was it that did the convincing for them to be bought? Give that person a medal. Roberto goes on to say that it is expected that the group, “will require additional funding in the foreseeable future”. Maybe he should ask Sir Stelios. Interestingly, when easyPropety was launched  in September 2015, Ellice went on the record to say that he aimed to “wipe out” traditional high street estate agents Daily Mirror 25 September , 2015 Live and let live Roberto.

Well that was a waste of ink…

An article recently published in Which? magazine will not be filed under consumer protection/information but most certainly does qualify for the ‘Well that was a waste of ink/Quiet day for news’ category. Incidentally, I was intrigued to learn that Which? is actually the brand name used by the Consumers’ Association, which itself is a registered charity (eh?) The article in question penned -if that is the correct terminology to use for someone whose job title is ‘data journalist’-(the purists among you may deem that to be something of an oxymoron), by a Tom Calver, concerned ole faithful, the overvaluing of property by estate agents. Tom highlights a property that was listed in 2011 where the valuations ranged from £480,000 to £650, 000 Which? magazine 15 February 2107  Tom writes that “naturally” the vendors opted for the agent with the higher listing price. Mmmm. What exactly is ‘natural’ about that? Bearing in mind that Which? in all its forms is there to promote informed consumer choice, did it not ring any sort of alarm bell that there was such a differentiation in price, but obviously the highest price was correct? The most ‘natural’ part of the arrangement would seem to be the appearance of one of the seven deadly sins-greed. Hey ho. Back to Thomas. He does say that the vendors, “queried” the valuation with the agent, but they still went with it. Er, why? Tom recounts with pursed lips and furrowed brow (the default expression for those championing consumer rights, or independence for Scotland; but that is for another day), that the property took a staggering four years to sell for an eventual £482,000. During this time, the vendors changed agents twice and reduced the price “several times”.  May I respectfully suggest that a. they needed to change agents only once and similarly reduce the value on one sole occasion and b. that wasn’t the best example to use Tom.

Further on in the article it is stated that nearly one in five properties (that would be close to 20% then), have to be reduced by 5% or more in order to sell.  Would that mean then that over 80% of properties do not have to be reduced to sell? Not a bad strike rate. The gist of the piece is that it is all the fault of estate agents that properties are overvalued and subsequently reduced to sell. OK. We have blogged many times on the more than dubious antics of our competitors who frequently, (often under direction from people on much bigger salaries than they) overvalue a property in order to obtain the listing. The contract is then signed and goodness gracious, within a fortnight-with no viewings-the vendor is being told that in order to sell they should drop the price. We all know that this happens, but what Thomas omits from his article is that events dear boy (name the Prime Minister who said that) can result in a price reduction being necessary. One of the most common reasons is that after the valuation/survey a renegotiation on the price take place due to galloping beetle rot in the floor boards or the pasture of Japanese knot weed in the rear garden. Some surveyors have been known to down value a property  because… they can. Even if three separate competing agents have all valued it at a similar price. There is also one real driver that Thomas failed to mention; on many occasions, the vendor insists on a certain price before marketing can commence even if it is nowhere near the valuation given by the agent(s). If this is the case, it is backing without the favourite time that the subsequent price reduction will all be the fault of the agent.

I did chuckle when Thomas-with an evermore pursed lip and furrowed brow-wrote that inflated prices meant that vendors had lost their “dream home’ because the property that they were selling had been overvalued. Right. My dream home is a beach-front, 27 room villa with its own cinema and a hot tub on the roof, adorned with Eastern European ladies in various states of undress… but I am not going to kid myself that the reason that I am unable to sign the paperwork is because I haven’t managed to sell Cheshire Towers in Cwmbran. Forgive me Thomas, but FFS.

This may come as a surprise and perhaps Which? in its role as a public service provider may need to be more eager to promote, but estate agency is not an exact science and the value of a property is what one person is prepared to pay for it. That’s it. Estate agents are the whipping boys (and girls for all the Germaine Greers out there). If a house sells too quickly (forget the effort put in to market it to maximum effect), the agent undervalued it. If is takes too long to sell, the agent overvalued it (not withstanding the toe-curling, migraine-inducing decor and pet graveyard in the garden). We now have an influx of online agents who charge a fee for merely listing a property, never mind actually selling it. What incentive is there for such agents to value, not just accurately, but fairly? Perhaps Tom and his cohorts at Which?-as per their remit of informing the consumer-should write an article on this?

Who wants to go and live in Spain?

A recent few days on the Iberian peninsula gave me much cause for consideration. Whilst enjoying the temperate climes, Havana Club rum and majestic, mountainous views (invariably encased in material working overtime to try and pass the fit and proper test of ‘clothing’…), I also spent a few hours dealing with my counterparts in the world of Spanish estate agency. And let me tell you; it made me wonder which nation has got it right and whether things should, or even could change in the UK. If someone decides to call out an agent to their Spanish property, the agent does not arrive all geared up to perform their routine to get the instruction. Nor do they present the sales package that makes them better than any other agent in the area (albeit that they may well be the best in the area at what they do). No; having been called out to a property the agent gets the contract out straight away. There is no beauty parade or cabaret act to convince the owner to pick them. In calling them out it is decreed that the home owner has already consciously chosen to use that specific agent; the home owner is instructing them-that is not open to question. There is no such thing as sole or joint agency. If you want to instruct ten agents, then go ahead; winner takes all. There is no stamping of feet and brexit-like “it’s not fair” behaviour if it is sold by another agent-everyone knows the rules of the game. To this end, it is industry practice that all agents arrive to that first meeting with a contract stating that if, within a 12 month period, the property is sold to someone who they initially introduced, then the introducer gets the fee. This is applicable whether the vendor has 20 contracts with 20 agents; the 20 agents understand how it works. I wondered how this would go down with the property fraternity in the UK in general and specifically the NP4 postcodes. It is imbued in us that we have to be sole agents-there is no sharing the market. Why? During our pick-me presentation we all say how good we are and some (you know who you are), devote a whole part of their routine to booting the boot in on their fellow agents. Really though, what relevance does this have to selling the house? If we are that good, then who cares about other agents, because we are going to sell it, right?

At my next valuation, I am going to say that my fee is the same whether I am sole or joint agent. Nor will I  discourage the vendor from employing another agent because I know that Cheshire & Co are good enough to sell it. Why wouldn’t we be? Capitulating on the fee is almost an admittance that you might not be quite as good as you initially said. Of course, some you win, some you lose and undoubtedly a refusal to bend may well lead to a vendor choosing to take their business to an agent who, having told them how utterly brilliant they are, when asked about their fee replies with the line, “Whatever Cheshire & Co said, I will beat it”. You know who you are.

 

 

The truth is out there…

Life as an estate agent can be a challenging one, not least because of the lowly opinion held of us by most of the general public, jockeying for position with the pond life of politicians, bankers and journalists. Some of the opprobrium directed towards the profession over the years has been deserved; some not. The ire has been levelled at both independents and corporates, both of which face shared and individual challenges. What is a little disappointing is when comments and statements are made purporting to be fact, when they have little relation to the truth; something endemic to our society. What is more than a little disappointing is when this is perpetuated by fellow estate agents to their colleagues and competitors within the industry.

The power of the internet and Facebook (amongst other social media outlets) has allowed many a keyboard warrior to list many an alleged action or behaviour. Forget disgruntled letters to a national newspaper-that requires time, considered thought in order for the editor to consider it for publication and money-the price of a first class stamp would have bought a round of drinks several years ago. No, the immediacy of bashing a keyboard or handheld device (stop smirking at the back), means that a one man campaign of misinformation and factual inaccuracy can be waged and disseminated to the wider world: immediately. Terrific; thus lost wallets/dogs/children/any item of sentimental value is reunited with its owner. Similarly factual inaccuracies are put out there as the truth with no corroborating evidence. Unfortunately for those feverishly bashing out their missives, if they are not necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, this can be just as easily proven.

At Cheshire and Co we have no problem with canvassing letters, leaflets and brochures being dropped on properties with one of our boards outside. Why would we? All agents have used this method as an attempt to generate business. Describing it as “attacking” as a fellow agent who works for a corporate entity in the Principality has done is somewhat overly dramatic on his part. Taken literally, “attacking” other agents boards would mean physically taking a sledge hammer to them; not the most grown up or professional of behaviour. Speaking of levels of professionalism, I have twice had to contact my previous HR Director at Peter Alan-I choose to name the company, not the individual-as one of their former employees had approached several of my vendors, making false and slanderous statements about me and my professional conduct. This inappropriate and unprofessional conduct was acknowledged by Peter Alan and I received an apology.

It is fortunate that some of us left do have a sense of humour. The many letters that vendors have passed on to me-all kept and available for viewing by anyone who has an interest-querying why their property has not been sold when they (the agent) have busloads of people wanting to not only view, but buy that exact property, do make entertaining reading. Just one query: do none of these people have access to the internet and is their only means of communication with the outside world though this said agent? Really? Next you will be asking me to believe in fairies: the same mythical spirits that put up a corporate agency’s board outside a property when the regional manager of the said corporate agency detailed in an email to me that they had never acted for the owner of the property… Another cracker is when a vendor receives a letter from an agent-again I have any number available for viewing-addressed to ‘Mr and Mrs’. This invariably raises either a smile or a grimace dependent upon whether the Mr or Mrs is no longer around having died/joined a commune/run off with the next door neighbour.

Perhaps I am destined to spend my life in a state of mild disappointment. Although the alleged (there’s that word again), extra-curricular dalliances of Miss Minogue’s now ex-fiancé means there is still an outsider’s chance of her making my acquaintance (think Foinavon in 1967 or Leicester City in 2016). No, my view of the world is increasingly jaundiced when a fellow property professional (there’s that word again), responds to one of my posts-imploring potential vendors to call more than one agent out to value their property, because they may receive more favourable terms from one agent as opposed to another-with that succinct but unbecoming of a professional (see, that pesky word makes yet another appearance), “bollocks”. Anyone who would like to see this on my timeline is welcome to a viewing and no, that isn’t a euphemism. How or why is it “bollocks”? Is it untrue? Professionally negligent to make the suggestion? I await an answer.

Perhaps I am being a little harsh and the individuals who have taken it upon themselves to make personal attacks on myself as an individual and as an industry competitor are merely making a bold bid for Employee of the Month/Year. Loyalty can only be applauded, but as anyone from the intelligence world will tell you, always, always, always check the integrity of your source.

The clue is in the title: ‘service industry’

Bob Monkhouse once said, “People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well they’re not laughing now.” Just as those who scoffed at the idea that the British public would ever vote to leave Europe never for one moment thought that well actually, the British public might just say thank you, we’re off. As I type, the House of Commons has endorsed the legislation by 498 votes to 114 that allows Britain to trigger Article 50. I bet that when a certain D Cameron threw in the referendum promise in a last ditch attempt to stop traditional Tory voters decamping to UKip (and thus handing victory to Labour) that he never ever thought that it would a. work and b. that the Labour party would be losing MP’s faster than one can say Tony who?

When we opened the doors of Cheshire & Co 6 years ago, I told everyone that it was my belief that traditional high street estate agency was finished as we knew it, due to the power of the internet and the accessibility of data to everyone. At the time, many of my fellow estate agents who I had worked with on many high streets across the principality laughed at me and questioned my sanity. Interestingly, many of these individuals now work for Purplebricks, the online estate agency founded in 2014 by brothers Micheal and Kenny Bruce. Not a criticism boys; merely an observing of the facts. Similarly, we were derided by many when we first posted online a video of a property together with floor plans; now find me an agent who does not offer these as part of their service, (admittedly at an exorbitant, additional cost. You know who you are).

It is not just a move away from the office based on the high street of Cwmbran or any other town or city. The tactics and outlook of estate agents have also changed. Current literature is awash with agents advertising how “big” or “successful” they are. This has in some instances been ‘evidenced’ by falsifying or misappropriating the information inputted on rightmove. Again, you know who you are. A classic example of ‘my…….(fill in as deemed appropriate) is bigger than yours’.

I doff my cap to the Purplebricks marketing team who have earned their monthly bonus several times over in recent days. Press releases with the theme of share prices have dominated the property headlines, with the absolute cracker of reporting how the board of Purplebricks has issued a statement to the City saying it has no idea what lies behind the soaring share price the hybrid agency has enjoyed in recent weeks. Well played boys, well played. And what has been the result? The share price has risen around 40 per cent since the start of 2017 and – despite the statement from the board – it ended Friday’s trading at 189.01, almost twice the price of shares when it was originally floated at 100.00 just before Christmas 2015. It is clear to me that the Bruce brothers are after one thing and one thing only-a stock market listing. When they get this they will cash in their chips-who wouldn’t?

It is not the local independent who needs to fear the likes of the online agents, but the corporate entities that the NP postcode-like most-is awash with. The corporates-and I know, because I was one of their managers-cannot cut their fees to try and match either their online or independent counterparts, because head office will not let them.

I am still surprised that many of my fellow local agents forget the word ‘service’. A current advert in that bastion of the fourth estate, The Argus, cites how one estate agency has sold more properties than a number of other agents (who they choose to list). What cannot speak cannot lie and I am not intimating that figures have been massaged (see my earlier point re you know who you are), but what the advert does not show is how good they are for the individual customer in the service that they provide. Manchester United are the biggest football club in the world, yet are well off the top of the Premiership. So clearly, they are not the best. Citing how, as an agent, you sell more houses than any one else may be an incontrovertible truth, but does it tell the whole story? Does it list how many offices that agent may have? Does it show the conversion rate of listings to successful sales? For those residents of the NP postcode, nobody would dispute that the local supermarket sells more meat than Doug Willis, but if they want something special, where do they go?

As independents, we cannot even begin to compete with being the biggest, but we can aim to be the best at what we do. The service that we provide to our customers is our income generator. Referrals and repeat business will drive any independent agent, regardless of the postcode. Being the biggest isn’t all that it is cracked up to be; just ask the gentleman who recently made the headlines for officially having the world’s biggest penis. It has ruined his life…. apparently. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing whether I would agree with him…

 

“You’re terminated. Get to the chopper”

So speaks Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new host of The Celebrity Apprentice. In a move that not even the most hung-over-drug-induced-bong-smoking-embracing-their-inner karma-so rad-it-hurts script writing team could have come up with, the reality TV show had to find themselves a new host because the current host got the biggest gig in the firmament: 45th President of the United States of America. I wonder whether there was a clause in the scree of paper produced by NBC’s legal team that made provision for his being released from his contractual obligations because of  having to pick the new carpet for the Oval Office? It made me smile when I heard that the theme tune to The Celebrity Apprentice is “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I don’t think that anyone could disagree that it would have been an equally appropriate theme tune for the Clinton campaign to be carpet-picker-in-chief. I would like to think that I and the new commander-in-chief of the world’s most expensive military with the second largest nuclear arsenal, (that will soon become the largest if his inauguration speech is any indication of what is to come) have quite a lot in common. An appreciation of the Eastern European female form is one of them. A deep and enduring love for what hair we have left another. Although if I may be so bold Donald, I really think that the shaven action hero look trumps (geddit?) the sugar-icing on a christening cake look. Just my opinion, but I bet Melania would agree. Tell her The Chesh said. No, what really unites us is the internet and the scurrilous statements perpetuated about us through the cyber sphere. Intercepted communications implying that the Russian government had helped to elect him are almost of equal import to landlords who we last represented two years ago (with no complaint, I must add) slating us on a review site. Being serious for one moment, the review that featured on raterAgent the team at Cheshire & Co were outraged to read, not least because 1. It was wholly inaccurate (and that is a generous description), as evidenced in the Cheshire & Co response, but 2. It made no sense at all. Why post an outraged, damnatory review two years after any involvement with the agency who managed your rental property; why not before? Why mention another agency extolling their efficiency? Why not write a review praising them on their own website/review page? The conspiracy theorists among us might suggest that a representative from the said agency prompted our reviewer to punch out his disgruntled dispatch…Only time will tell.

 

Remind me, we are in 2017?

I appreciate that our bank balance and credit card statements will tell us that we are still in single digits for the date of the new calendar year, but I am querying not the day of the week, but the year of the millennium. 2017? Or 1917 if one is a certain Mr Fergus Wilson. According to the New York Times, 2017 is, “The Year of the Renter” New York Times, Friday 6 January 2017. Not if the infamous Kent property magnate has any thing to do with it. Regular followers of our blog will note that we have had cause to mention this gentleman before in previous dispatches. The owner of in excess of 900 (yes, that is the correct figure), buy-to-let properties has a history of making statements bordering on the ridiculous, contentious and willfully bellicose and the the British media has a history of publishing them. According to the Medway Messenger and kentonline.co.uk, Fergus has introduced a set of rules for any potential tenants of his houses and this “letting criteria” is being introduced as a means of, “fine tuning” the business to “best advantage”.OK. Are you sitting comfortably children, shall we begin?

For Mr Wilson, the following (amongst others), are, “not acceptable”.

  • Tenants with children under 18. What happens if the tenant gets pregnant?
  • No single parents. What happens if a relationship breaks down or one partner is killed or is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has the temerity to die? Forget choosing the hymns for the funeral, you need to be finding a new house.
  • No low income workers. How does one define ‘low income’. Does no income but a trust fund of £3 million exclude them?
  • No single adults. So they may be earning a considerable amount, but because they are working hard at their job of heart surgeon, lawyer, professional poker player they have no time /interest in socialising/meeting potential spouses, so that rules them out?
  • No battered wives. So battered husbands are alright? And when does a wife start being classified as battered? If she does get belted every Friday night (or any other day of the week) and leaves her husband taking their three year old with them, does he get kicked out as well for being a single father, even though the child is no longer there?

In his interview, Fergus says that he has, “nothing against lesbians, single mothers” and wait for it, “coloureds” kentonline.co.uk, Friday 6 January 2017 FFS, Fergus, it is 2017 in Kent, not 1957 in Alabama. Interestingly, Fergus does not state criteria re no renting to lesbians or homosexuals or “coloureds”, so why mention them in the same breath as single mothers with whom he must definitely does have an issue? Nor does he state that that has has anything against fat f£$kers. The photo accompanying the article possibly explains why…

Subsequent failure to meet any of the criteria would not give Fergus possession of the property under a Section 8 notice, so how exactly does he plan to manage his way out of any of the rules being flouted. Does he plan to visit the wife in A&E as she waits to have her arm reset whilst giving a statement to the police, to try and issue her with a Section 8?

Not much results in my being left dumbfounded, but I genuinely had to check the diary to confirm that it wasn’t April 1.

One last question; How the hell did he manage to acquire 900 properties?

 

Well, that didn’t quite go as planned…

As 2016 bumps along to the end of a long and sometimes fairly tortuous road, The Chesh has taken a look at some of the issues that have vexed him and will continue to do so in 2017. Some are property related as befits a professional of his standing, some aren’t. Go figure.

  • Amidst the raft of regulations that have-quite necessarily been introduced to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords-I have yet to read of anything whereby the landlord (and to a lesser extent, the agent) are protected from the less than acceptable behavior of tenants. I’m thinking those with a particular horticultural passion who recreate a mini Columbia upstairs.
  • What exactly do councils deem to be urgent as regards work being carried out on a property and what confidence do we as taxpayers have in councils to carry out their public duty? This was reinforced by a recent article from that megalith of the fourth estate, The Bexhill On Sea Observer that reported that Rother District Council (RDC) had successfully prosecuted a property company for failing to comply with an abatement notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I was left somewhat bewildered-not by the awarding of the order- but by the council taking 12 bloody months to do so.  The member of RDC for housing emoted how the tenant had been forced to live for 12 months in, “appalling conditions”. I don’t dispute this, but why didn’t RDC move their collective posteriors a little more quickly? They had issued repeated requests for 6 months for the work to be carried out because, “landlords have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their tenants”. Indeed and where does the council responsibility kick in when protecting the health and safety of the tax payer?
  • Rent Smart Wales’ what’s it all about? I know, I know, it was a rhetorical question; the good intention of getting rid of rogue landlords and agents, protecting tenants and oh, yes, raising extra income for the Welsh government. In practice? Well last week, I had a meeting with the Torfaen representative of Rent Smart Wales, who was a very professional lady trying to do a good job.What did make me a smile was her aim to take a, “very soft or light-fingered approach” to those who failed to comply. I pointed out that this usually costs about £175 per hour and if she intended to take a “firm or disciplined approach” it went up to £200 per hour. Just ask Max Mosley. Ok, I’ll get my coat. The problem with Rent Smart is that the legislation is ill-conceived, costly and leaves the burning question of who will eventually pay? Methinks the tenants….
  • Continuing the theme of leather clad ladies (a la Mr M above), will 2017 see it become de rigeur that leaders of a G7 country wear leather as per our own PM Mrs May?
  • On the international scene will the ‘special relationship’ between us and our friends in the US of A be bolstered by Donald and Boris sharing hair care tips/styling points?
  • Who is going to replace Len on Strictly Come Prancing? Will it be sequins and spray tan guns at dawn if Anton Du Beke (plain old Tony Beke in a former life) does/doesn’t get the gig?
  • Having appeased their inner Mary Whitehouse will SCP return to the less-is-more costumes of old; before my eye sight goes completely?
  • Will Sports Personality of The year actually be awarded to a personality next year? Before some outraged member of the Ladies’ Doubles Team gets her knickers in a knot, I am not disputing sporting achievement, but personality? Come off it. Or rename the award.
  • Will Prince Harry be allowed to marry an American divorcee with a fair few miles on the clock? Is he going to continue to get precious about the intrusive media coverage of someone who has her own dedicated section on pornhub (so I am reliably informed..)?
  • Will Kim Kardashian feel the need to keep her clothes on in 2017? Are we to be outraged if she doesn’t?
  • Will Miss Minogue finally succumb to her desires and dump the toyboy fiance for Cwmbran’s leading property expert and No 1 Strictly Come Prancing fan?

Something to ruminate, cogitate and discuss over the coming days as you give serious thought to whether a life sentence at HM’s Pleasure would be worth never having to see certain family members ever again.

Festive greetings from The Chesh and his harem (I mean the team at Cheshire & Co)

Tony Blair now working as an estate agent…

…actually, I lie, it’s Cherie. Has the Chesh finally lost his marbles (alongside his hair and Kylie Minogue’s ‘phone number), I hear you ask? Well no, not exactly. But as I typed the headline and committed it to ‘print’, it must be true. Just like the same El Tone in his September dossier back in 2002 wrote that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had the capability to launch an attack within 45 minutes. We went to war on that one, so lurid and possibly exaggerated claims about selling houses pale into insignificance. Although the online agent purplebricks (PB) would beg to differ. This week PB announced that that they are now generating a,”maiden profit” (no, I have never heard the phrase either). Within the same statement, their CEO Michael Bruce offered the somewhat mind-boggling quote that, “…we are agreeing a sale every 16 minutes, 24 hours a day…” Really? Boy scout’s honour, cross my heart really? I mean, really? In order to compute this, I dragged out the abacus and worked out that with the sales: time ratio that he offered, that equates to 32,850 sales a year, 90 sales a day with 3.75 per hour. These figures make Pinkmove, Savills and anyone else in between look like a right bunch of slackers. The truth is out there as Mulder and Scully tried on a weekly basis to prove. (Incidentally, I never knew until recently, that his sister had been abducted by aliens). I digress. City analysts have shown that PB only sell 5% of their listed stock. To produce the figures quoted by their CEO , this means that they must list 657,000 houses a year, that’s 1800 a day, 75 an hour and one listing every 1.25 minutes. FFS. Add these figures to the statement made by Portico, the Wetsminster agent that transaction levels are down 60% in London and PB mist be selling just about every house that comes on the market in London. Back to Mulder who claimed, “I saw Elvis in a potato chip once”. A signed photo of the Chesh if you can name the episode.

Questions, questions…

Well, the past week has thrown up a number of ‘let me tell you’ pub bore points for discussion (you know who you are). In no particular order:

  • Who would have thought that a former Rhodes Scholar and one-time candidate for leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition would seek repatriation into public ‘affection’ (not here he didn’t), through the medium of dance?
  • Did the Strictly Come Prancing (SCP) team have their own version of The Schlieffen Plan to get rid of him had the viewing public through some masochistic tendency voted to keep him again?
  • Can the SCP team be anymore blatant in their desperation to get a Clifton (home-grown from Grimsby, no bloody foreigners) into the final?
  • Why was Danny wearing a pair of Len’s old trousers-circa 1980-for his samba?
  • When will politicians and their support teams learn not to wander around in public-knowing that a 1000 eyes (technological and literal) are going to be watching them-whilst carrying highly sensitive documents. Have they never heard of a satchel?
  • How many people long for the return of Chancellor Gideon?
  • What odds the said former incumbent of No 11 was thinking ‘thank f^&$ it’s not me, I get £120k per speech now’ whilst observing his successor deliver his Autumn statement?

Chancellor Hammond’s headline-grabbing announcement of landlord fees being scrapped furrowed many a brow in the property world. First up, it referred to England, not Wales. So those who never have any attention of venturing east of Pontypool can look away now. Secondly, it sure opened up a can of worms as agents became increasingly emotive about what they actually do to earn their fee.  In some cases, this ranges from bugger all to the bare minimum. This is unprofessional. May I offer that there are many agents out in the wilds of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Newbury, Varteg and Cwmbran who do not mug off their tenants. Our job at Cheshire and Co is to find the landlord the most suitable tenant not the one who can move in the quickest. As a result, we also have a duty of care to the tenant, because sometimes we just know the the landlord/tenant mix will be wrong. An example of allocating the right person to the right landlord was when we were recently informed by a nervous tenant that she had had the supplier cut off the gas because on the first day in her new house, she had smelt carbon monoxide gas. What is the obvious mistake there science buffs? So we called out the plumber ASAP who reported back that in fact the smell was oil-based gloss paint as the landlord had fully redecorated the property and had only finished the day before she moved in. The landlord was very sanguine and said not to worry, that these things happen. The point is that we knew that this particular tenant was somewhat emotionally fragile due to recent events in her personal life so would require a compassionate landlord. Whom we found. How did we know this? Let us return to the issue of fees.

When a potential tenant has viewed a property and wants to proceed and make an application we get them into the office and help them complete a 6 page application form, fully explaining what will happen next. This takes as long as the wannabee tenant requires. The form is then sent to an outsourced referencing company who will complete in depth checks. We will receive any number of calls from the referencing company asking for help because the applicant’s employer has not answered any phone calls, emails and has ignored the small plane trailing a banner saying, ‘Answer your phone’. This can also apply to the landlord. We then get involved and chase all the the necessary information-that we have already paid for to be chased down. Once we have all the referencing back we prepare a case to put to the landlord as to why the applicant will, in our opinion, make a good tenant. We then prepare the 10 page contract and include all the relevant additions that either the tenant or landlord has requested.

We then get the tenant back to the office to go through the signing-up procedure. After 5 minutes, most tenant’s eyes glaze over as all they want is the keys, but we make sure that we go through everything in the contract that applies to them. We then get a total of 4 contracts signed, not copied, go through the EPC  and the gas safety and ensure that the tenants sign to confirm that we have done this. No proof of this on file and we cannot issue a Section 21 notice at the end of the contract. This all takes time. We then go to the property with the tenant to explain how everything works. In total, a conservative estimate would be that we have spent 5 hours just getting the tenant through the front door. Once we have deducted the outsourced referencing fees there is very little of the £180 fee left.

What this scrapping of fees does ask is who is going to pay for the work carried out by the agent? No prize for answering the tenants in some way, shape or form. Watch this space.

Incidentally, what of the lady who mistook gloss paint for carbon monoxide? Even though the contract quite clearly stated that the emgency call-out fee for the plumber was to be paid for by the tenant, the landlord said, “Give the girl a chance” and settled the bill. Lucky girl.

“Prediction is very difficult…

…especially about the future” As a Nobel prize winning physicist, who amongst other things developed quantum theory and furthered the world’s understanding of atomic structure, Niels Bohr was probably better qualified than most to offer such an opinion. That said, very few people are immune from embracing their inner Nostradamus or the more bargain basement Mystic Meg. As history demonstrates, if we got it right more often than not, the human race would not be in the state that it is today. As we sit here watching the slow motion car crash that is the American presidential election, who would have predicted that the most powerful person in the world would be selected from those two? As one pundit put it, if the bar were set any lower, they would trip over it. Who predicts who will be choosing the new decor for the Oval Office? Closer to home who envisaged a certain N Clegg crawling back out of the post-election/party obliteration abyss to try and challenge Brexit? Actually, as someone whose whole career has been gifted to him courtesy of the EU, this perhaps shouldn’t come as the greatest surprise. Similarly, would anyone have predicted Great Britain having the Number 1 ranked tennis player in the world, or the 5th in line to the throne having a girlfriend who can be found not in Country Life or Debrett’s Peerage, but on the adult entertainment site, Pornhub (I am told that it is very informative..)? As the summer ends, so the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and forecasting arrives. Throughout November, various experts and professional organisations release their forecasts for the housing market in 2017. Give me strength. Savills, one of the big boys, was first out of the traps by releasing a five year forecast. That’s right, five years working with the Gregorian Calendar, not indulging in some kind of Dr Who-esque time travel. I must admit that I have not read the Savill’s exposition. I far prefer reading the old ones and I do wonder just where the authors are and what they are doing. If they are sitting poolside on their Caribbean island being waited on by one of a posse of pneumatic blondes, I doff my cap and will become an avid disciple of property market predictions. If they are still within the land of the rest of us mere mortals, I shall stick with reading the tea leaves and trying not to run over any black cats.

This week also gave us the news that Channel 4 are launching a new property programme called Coast v Country. The aim of the programme is to ‘persuade’ buyers who want out of city living to buy their next property either in the country or on the coast. In presenting them with potential homes in the differing locations, they will be ‘forced’to choose. Ground breaking stuff, I think you will agree. Forgive my being ever so slightly pedantic, but if you are someone who no longer wants to live in a city, then not living in a city means living in the country, or by the sea, (or on the moon, or possibly at Her Majesty’s Pleasure). Joking aside, this time next week we may all be considering a move. Depending upon who is chosen by our friends across the pond to put their finger on the red button, we may all be finding that a bunker thirty foot under ground is a very attractive proposition. I will be intrigued to see how the Savill’s forecasters describe this new concept in the housing market.

Questions, questions…

Are the lady dancers on Strictly Come Prancing really wearing more than in previous years or is it a sort of ‘dress-my-dolly’ in reverse; as the season progresses and the glitterball gets ever closer, do the costumes become more revealing? Week 1, think maiden aunt; the grand final, think a strip club in Vegas. I will be monitoring the situation closely-all in the public interest of course. Continuing on the prancing front, what did/does Len Goodman have against last year’s winner, Jay? Does Craig have a personal sponsorship deal with Max Factor or possibly Pollyfilla? Who ever thought that the deeply unpleasant Team Brown henchman Ed Balls would ever be repatriated into society through the medium of dance (although others-Craig/Trade Descriptions-might struggle to find that it should be classified as such)? With that very tenuous political link, I do wonder whether the Governor of the Bank of England (BOE), Mark Carney, will fall foul of Mrs May’s determined bid to remove all those who formed part of the Cameron posse. Gideon has gone and as he made his best mate head honcho at the BOE, one does wonder whether our Canadian friend will be seeking alternative employment. If he does, what will happen to the property market? Despite all the pontificating and somewhat self-indulgent debate, nobody knows. It’s 50/50, it either goes up, or it goes down. Thanks Chesh for pointing out the blindingly obvious, but the amount of drivel written and spoken recently on the matter does create-deliberately I think-the impression that the issue can only be resolved by applying some incredibly scientific formula akin to splitting the atom, combined with the wisdom of Solomon.

Biblical pansophy aside,as regular followers of the blog will know, here at Cheshire & Co we do have issues with journalists adopting the role of Gypsy Rose Lee and spreading their opinion of what the future holds. A recent article by Victoria Bischoff in the Daily Mail had an hysterical headline screaming indignantly about loopholes that allow landlords to dodge the soon to be imposed curbs on buy-to-let properties. One question: why is actual law deemed to be a loophole? In the article, Ms Bischoff explained how it would be more tax efficient to own buy-to-let properties through a limited company. Hello? Earth calling Planet Bischoff? Having blogged on this subject back in Spring 2015, is Ms Bischoff resorting to going through back editions of the original NP property blog in order to write her articles?

Another question: when are they going to give up on the doom-mongering over Brexit? Change the record jockey. ‘Brexit fears’ and ‘Brexit winners and losers’ will eventually lose their attraction as headlines-I hope. Many tears are apparently being shed by those who are deemed to be victims of the currency crisis, another tragic result of the Brexit fear that is sweeping the country on a par with rabies in a dogs’ home.Yes, I accept that if you are about to buy your euros to go to Lanzarote, a £1000 will give you 200 euro less than on June 22, but is that enough to force you to cancel your holiday? The driving associations also get their moment in the sun with a spokesman for the AA-amongst others- sucking his teeth  whilst explaining that as petrol prices are linked to the dollar (no, really?), the cost of refuelling the family car will increase by £7 a month. This is the motoring equivalent of King Herod’s purge of baby boys-apparently. Come on kiddiwinks. Mark-whilst he still has the gig-or more specifically the Monetary Policy Committee has dropped interest rates to 0.25%. Maths was never my best subject, but a 0.25% reduction on a £200,000 mortgage saves £500 a year, or just over £41 a month. So if you are a mortgage holder who uses a car-a fair chunk of the demographic I would bet, then you are about £34 a month better off. Why has no one written an article on this?

 

 

“Get out of my dreams….

…and into my car” That was the line that we gave the ladies back in the day; a comment that is likely in today’s world to get you a. an opportunity to sample the hospitality of the Gwent or b. arrested and locked up. So grooved a certain Billy Ocean (better known to his friends and family as Leslie Charles-but with that name he was never going to make it as a happening chart topper). This was the era of great tunes and dire clothes; think leg warmers, shoulder pads and finger-less gloves. It was also the time when we first saw people camping outside estate agents in an attempt to secure a property when it came on the market the following day. Yes, you did read that correctly, camping, and this was way before the have tent, will travel, Glastonbury-induced, wear-braids-in-my-hair-even-if-I-am-over-40 festival vibe, took hold with the tenacity of Japanese knotweed. What caused me to reminisce about the days when I had hair (no braids) was the reporting last week of people camping outside an estate agent to hopefully put their name down for a property on a new-build estate in Dartford, Kent. The desperation was as a result of Dartford being one of the few places where homes are semi-affordable and London is still within commuting distance (one hour).

Being old enough to remember the last three property crashes, I see frightening similarities in these ever repeating cycles and buying a tent is only a small part of it. Property news this week has been full of details of how the big boy estate agents (i.e. corporate groups) are buying up lots of smaller, often independent estate agents. I must point out that they are not rushing to purchase the solely online agents. On that note, I read that PurpleBricks  has now launched in Australia. Financial analysts, Jeffries, report that during the period November 2015-March 2016, PB only sold 14% of their listings; a conversion rate that would see most estate agents seeking alternative employment. But as PB gets paid up front, do they care? So one should perhaps recognize them as a listing company as opposed to an estate agent, but nice work if you can get it Shep.

The predecessors to the likes of Connells, Countrywide and William H Brown included Lloyds Black Horse, Abbey National and the Halifax Building Society; all of whom paid casino money for estate agents. Was this to earn from selling houses? Of course it wasn’t, it was to protect and grow their lending book. How times have changed. Some ten years later, the original vending partners of many of these agents bought them back for around 10p in the pound. My point is that just after these acquisitions in the 1980’s and booming prices, the market crashed. I bought my original Cheshire Towers for £87,000 in 1988 and sold it ten years later for…£87,000. It sold last month for £220,000. I refuse to drive past it.

Fast forward to 2006 and people were channeling their inner Ray Mears and camping outside a development on the old Black Cawson smelting works site in the dock area of Newport. Similar vignettes took place around the British Isles and yes, you’re right, the market crashed. In my lifetime, stampedes to buy new homes at the same time as mass purchasing of estate agents have led to one thing only, trouble with a capital T. In fact, stampedes of any kind don’t usually end well; just ask John Wayne, he made a career out of stampeding disaster.

I am not saying that we are due a crash. If I could make successful predictions, I would be blogging from my private island in the Caribbean. I do though keep telling the young bucks on the real estate scene in the NP postcode that experience never goes away. In 2004, 5 and 6, I said to any young agent that would listen that prices can actually go down as well as up. Then, as now, I am met with the, ‘£$%& off grandad’ look. Ah well.

There are always though fresh lambs to the slaughter. Not least when it comes to accepting the b$%ll£ks put out by certain members of my property agent brethren. Even this morning the delightful Sarah Beeney (I have met her and she is indeed most beguiling), was advertising that her company Tepilo sells 250 houses a month, Well done Sarah. Out of interest, how many have you not sold from the instructions that you took on board? What the ever lovely Ms B does neglect to elaborate on is the cost involved. If you choose to part with the seemingly very reasonable ‘pay now’ fee of £495, you must realise that  if you want a board to advertise that your property is for sale, that will be an additional £60, photos are £120, a floor plan is £75. A premium listing on rightmove is £75 (come on Sarah, we all know that they cost £20), a video will be £90 and an EPC a further £90. So a grand total of £565 on top of the original, ‘great value’ listing fee. So that is £1060 before you start, not forgetting that you do your own viewings and negotiate your own sale. Well played there Sarah, I doff my cap.

Cheshire & Co – The “Pet Friendly” Letting Agent

Finding a property to rent when you own a pet can be very difficult because not all Landlords are willing to accept your furry friends, but here at Cheshire & Co we are proud to announce that we are embracing pets and becoming one of the first Letting Agents in the NP postcode to become “Pet Friendly”.

We have recently employed a new Head of Pet Relations who will be on hand to answer all your pet related questions and give you top tips on how to approach finding a property to rent when you have pets.

Pets are a major part of our modern lives and millions of us nationwide now own a pet of some description, with it being thought now that one in three homes own a dog!

Being “Pet Friendly” is a important move forward for us here at Cheshire & Co, because there are hundred’s of pet owners either currently in rented accommodation or actively looking for “Pet Friendly” accommodation across the NP area.

The ultimate decision on whether a property accepts pets is at the discretion of the Landlord themselves, but here at Cheshire & Co we try to ensure that all our Landlords are fully informed on the pro’s and con’s of having pet’s in their houses or flats.

Typically we would ask the tenants presenting with pets to be flexible in their search for a property and ideally we would recommended they begin their search at the earliest opportunity in order for them to be matched with the most suitable property to meet their needs and the needs of their pet.

Ideally you should also consider creating a CV for your pet; which includes details of their last vaccinations, flea treatments, worming treatments and even previous landlord references for your pet (if they are available).

Many Landlords think of the worst-case scenario when they think about pets in their property, so as a tenant with a pet, you need to think carefully about how you present your pet to your potential new landlord and we would strongly recommended the Pet CV.

Owning a pet is a rewarding experience and here at Cheshire & Co we would like to help you make finding a “Pet Friendly” property as easy as we can.

For more information please visit www.cheshireandco.co.uk or call us on 01633 869086

 

If I could turn back time…

…cue the mental picture of me prancing about a battleship with big hair (yeah, right) wearing a fishnet body stocking and very little else (calm yourself please ladies). Incidentally, after the furore over Cher’s big hit and the infamous video (and outfit), the American Navy released a teeth-sucking, holier than thou statement stating that if they had had forewarning of Ms Sarkisian’s outfit-or lack of-prior to the video being shot aboard USS Missouri, they would not have allowed the filming to take place. Personally, I bet the American Navy’s recruiting figures went through the roof after the video was released. Back to the more mundane issue of a survey released last week by Which? magazine that seems at first reading to indicate that the internet is not as all-powerful as we once thought when it comes to the property market and house searching.  Really?

Which? surveyed 2000 people who had just completed a property purchase. A truly representative sample? Bear in mind that Building Society Association figures show that on average 35,000 people a month complete a property purchase. The survey report states that property hunters are shirking the gifts of the technological era and more than half of those surveyed still favoured traditional methods of finding a property. Of the 55% who chose to ignore an online portal, the routes chosen to find their dream home included:

  • 10% said that they saw a board
  • 6% saw a house in the paper
  • 9% were told about a property by a third party
  • a whopping 11% were approached directly by an agent
  • 4% were attributed to ‘other methods’. Does this include fiddling with the brake pads on Aunt Mabel’s car?

Mmmm. I am sure that these figures have the likes of purplebricks reaching for the smelling salts. On the surface it would appear that we are returning to the days of old, when I did have hair. On closer scrutiny, the survey reports on the results from a combined number of old methods, which may total 5% of a modest survey, but when broken down individually, mean very little. Trust me, I am an estate agent, (an oxy-moronic phrase if ever there was one) and people do not drive around looking for boards on the off chance that they find one outside a house that they just have to buy. It has been years since the office received a call that started with, “Hi mate (well, it is Cwmbran), I’ve just seen one of your boards”. No today’s ‘phone call begins with, “Aright butt, just seen this house on the internet”.

So has the property buying world done a volte face and ditched the wonders of the t’interweb? I don’t believe so. Some agents however are going to have to start to amend their working practices and their use and abuse of the property portals. From 1 October, TPO and Trading Standards are to outlaw the practice of portal juggling; whereby an agent lists old and already sold properties at 2am in the morning and then withdraws them at 8am, having in the intervening period  produced some blurb about the number of properties that they have recently sold and how these figures put them as numero uno in the area for successful house sales. Naughty naughty. This outlawing of the said practice is to be inserted into the TPO Code of Practice document. Next time you ask for a valuation, ask the agent if they have a copy of the said Code of Practice in their briefcase. Now that would produce an interesting survey.

 

There’s a first for everything…

…well at least since King John of Magna Carta fame was strutting his stuff attempting to control those pesky barons (think Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party). As the ‘First Welsh Tax for 800 years’ headlines have been screaming at us over the past week, come April 2018, it will be all change. Er, right. The Welsh Assembly will gain royal assent for a replacement for the current SDLT (Stamp Duty Land Tax) for the far punchier, straight-out of-the traps ‘Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes Bill’. OK. Try that one after three Bacardis or a pot of Tetley for that matter. Just one slight crib with the title; in 30 years I have yet to be privy to any way of ‘avoiding’ stamp duty or the like, without incurring the wrath of the powers that be and/or a substantial fine and time at one of HM’s hostelries. Anyway, who am I to question the wisdom of our National Assembly? What I can ask, is why is this happening exactly? According to Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Government Finance Secretary, the tax will “broadly mirror” stamp duty, providing “consistency and stability” for business and a “smooth transaction” for those involved in the property market. Er, right. So what is it abut the current stamp duty that doesn’t allow all these things to happen, particularly as the incoming tax is planned to be very similar?

As no-one has yet explained why the change and why the need for the change, how about the cost? In true obfuscation and wishy-washy, we don’t actually have the answer to that one, the Assembly have said that they will publish the rates and bands for the proposed tax closer to the Spring of 2018 (i.e they are still arguing over what they will be) and the “economic conditions at the time” will be taken into account (cue lots of hand-wringing and anyone who is anti-socialist and has worked hard to be able to buy a large house will get screwed).

Until the actual tax rates are announced we will know very little about how this will impact on buyers. Is it possible that sellers will also feel the weight of taxation on their shoulder? There’s a thought. What is noteworthy, is that there is no clear mention of whether the new tax will ‘broadly mirror’ the current tax for owners of more than one property. All the Assembly have offered is that higher rates are “under consideration”. My second career as a Jesuit priest/lion tamer/porn star/Olympic gymnast is also “under consideration”…

Again, there was a paucity of straight forward, unequivocal answers to the question of where will the money earned from the new tax be spent? Ummmm. Answers on a postcard please. If they are looking for a project (always very favorable and earns brownie points in the ‘doing something for the community’category),  The Chesh Retirement Home for Fallen Women would be a worthy recipient. I will be starting interviews for potential residents next week. Dress code for the interview is optional…

“We also sell houses…”

 

Obviously. One would like to think that the clue is in the title, ‘Estate Agents’. Ah, but one should not be so easily fooled. What in the name of all things holy is Cwmbran’s answer to George Clooney on about you may well be thinking? No, I haven’t finally succumbed to the after effects of too much Bacardi or the beseeching phonecalls of Svetlana and Tatiana. As we speed through 2016 faster than a certain D Cameron has ditched his pledge to continuing serving the good residents of Witney, it is becoming ever clearer that estate agency involves selling many products and a house is only one of them.

Here at Cheshire & Co we have long had a dislike for shiny suits, pointy toed shoes, that annoying woman on breakfast tv, dodgy marking on Strictly Come Prancing and packaged services as part of the conveyancing jamboree. By this, I mean mortgage or legal services that are tied up in a cute little bow when using a particular agent to buy or sell a property. This allows an even cuter little kickback to go to the said agent. Here in the NP44 postcode, I can ring Rumpole and Deed Solicitors for a quote and it will be £250 cheaper than if one of my brethren offer the same solicitor. Why? Because they all love The Chesh? Nope (though, obviously they do love me), because my fellow agent will be receiving the additional £250 for the ‘recommendation’.

Cash back is yesterday’s man though (rather like you Gideon, no longer known at the address of No 11 Downing Street). Data capture now surpasses package kick backs, sporting the cutest bow that would make Minnie Mouse green with envy. Why? Data can be sold again and again and again to an ever increasing number of sources. To highlight this, Zoopla Property Group (ZPG) is seeking to integrate uSwitch, its price comparison service (no meercats involved), with MoveIT, its agents’ platform for ancillary revenue generation. The clue is indeed in the title; ‘ancillary’, meaning f2*k all to do with selling houses. A further example was given when ZPG was quoted as saying that its acquisition of the Property Software Group would allow them to create, “more integrated offers to agent members and site consumers”. I’m telling you Minnie, you need to sort out the headgear.

The PR team at Zoopla have been working overtime and issued this corker of a statement telling the general public why this meeting of minds will be a panacea to all the ills of the property world. “The collaboration between the two provides agents with a unique referral service offering price comparison to home-movers…helping consumers save money at the right time, whilst boosting agents’ bottom line”. I think that you may find that the last phrase is the key to it all, boosting the bottom line.

We are all looking to boost our bottom line, it is the driving factor of the market place, be it selling houses, cars, shiny suits or pointy toes shoes. But such flagrant flogging of peoples’ details does not sit well with me I’m afraid. Perhaps TPO should make it mandatory to disclose at the point of signing the contract with the agent, how their data will be used. A lifetime of cold callers trying to flog double glazing is akin to signing your life away.

History has shown-be it an agent in Cwmbran or Mayfair-that business is generated through referral, recommendation and repetition. An agent is unlikely to be recommended or used again if they have tucked someone up on solicitors’ fees and subjected them to a lifetime of cold calls as a result of data capture.

“We also sell washing machines…”

My weekend was spent in Londinium to celebrate my birthday (no presents thank you people, merely donations to The Rest home for Ladies of the Night…) As Samuel Johnson wrote, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. Indeed there is Samuel, just ask Keith Vaz, I mean J-I-M. For what else is a washing machine salesman to do in his spare time when not selling washing machines (or chairing the Home Affairs Committee for that matter), than to request the company of two Eastern European gentlemen of the night? I won’t be asking for donations to that rest home I can assure you. Just a query on the whole teeth-grinding, stomach-churning, wince-inducing saga; how can one claim to be the victim of a ‘sting’ when you were the one who initiated the whole thing by making the first ‘phone call? Just wondering.

Having popped into No 10 to give Theresa a few pointers for the G20 summit, I decided to walk down the Old Brompton Road/corner of Earls Court Road and look at the office of my fellow estate agency professionals. Goodness me, to paraphrase Dorothy, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto”. From Chelsea to Knightsbridge I counted 15 agents-the daddies of the corporate property agency world and well-heeled, one-man independents. Not one had any sticker in their window advertising Rightmove, OnTheMarket or Zoopla, or for that matter any poster or flyer promoting local business, the circus or whatever charity they supported. Each one had double yellow lines outside and no indication of any available parking or passing trade. They all had had very smart tea and coffee machines and a suitably enticingly-comfortable looking sofa. None of them-and I reiterate, none-had a piece of paper on display anywhere.

Having girded my loins I ventured through one of the portals and spoke with the (very aesthetically-pleasing) staff. Good looking aside, boy were Miranda, Felicity and Philippa professional. Obviously an audience with The Chesh was not an everyday occurrence for them, but having overcome their initial shock they were very informative.

No Rightmove, OnTheMarket or Zoopla? No need, I was told, nobody ever asks, it is taken as a given that we will be online. Why wouldn’t we be?

Double yellow lines outside and no passing trade? We don’t want any passing trade, we are too busy via the internet.

Then why the coffee machine? Because if someone does come in, they have obviously made the effort to do so, so it is our job to make them feel welcome. Please note, that I wasn’t offered a cup-possibly because in the first nano-second, they recognised that I was never going to be able to afford anything that they might have for sale.

But not a piece of paper anywhere? “Darling” purred Philippa (the next Mrs Chesh), “…it is 2016, we don’t do paper”. When I questioned this, she offered to let me into a little secret and beckoned me to follow (I was hyperventilating by this point). She took me to the back office and there was pile upon pile of files and paperwork. There followed the almost Bond-esque line, “When you are on a yacht, who wants to see the engine room?”

When we talked about business she concurred that their biggest problem was getting instructions. When I at last thought that we had at least reached a common ground on people not wanting to pay fees, I was spectacularly shot down when I was told that, “We don’t get the business if we do not charge enough”. Dear Lord, back across the bridge I will go to a different universe.

What did come over very strongly was that the whole business was based on service; top-notch, out-of-this-world service and the resulting referrals. Much of their business came from selling property for the same family over and over-being the only agent that the said family would use. No cheap fees, no cheap service. Admittedly, this is in a social demographic where anything less than expensive people don’t want to be associated with. Speaking of which, their average fee was 2% and their average sale price was £1.5 million, with 10% individual commission on each sale. Taking their average selling price, each exchange was worth £3000 to the individual sales person. I asked the future Mrs Chesh how August had been, Quiet actually she said, just 4 sales. That would have meant £12000 to her at least; no wonder she’s good.

The biggest difference was highlighted when I asked what completion day was like-vans, people trying to squash a three piece suite into the back of a mini-bearing in mind that this was the capital with no parking anywhere and yellow, if not red lines everywhere. The look that I got! “Most of the sales that we do around here, people don’t move in”. Right, I thought, buy-to-let? Nope, they just stand empty. People aren’t interested in yield, they just want capital growth. So in 2 years time, Philippa will sell it for them for £2 million, with a cool half a million profit. It sure beats 7.5% yield on rental income.

After 15 minutes, they had had enough of me (see my earlier comment about affordability). I bid them farewell and offered if they every ever wanted to try and sell a first-time buyer property in Varteg…
 

 

 

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?

 

The Original NP property blogger is back

Plus Ca Change…

…acknowledged through gritted teeth if you are one of the many beleaguered souls sitting in your motorised vehicle on the M20, whilst the solitary French border official at Dover does very little, very slowly. Forget Brexit; leaving the British Isles is proving more challenging and there isn’t even a requirement to invoke Article 50. The allure of foreign culture did also issue its Siren’s song to ‘The Original NP Property Blogger’, who found it in himself to drag his weary soul away from Costa Del Cwmbran. The ladies of Gwent’s loss was their counterparts in the Balearic Islands’ gain. My absence coincided with the Cheshire & Co website being rebuilt; so as I bronzed my David-like self (I’m talking Michelangelo, not Brent), I had time to contemplate all that was going on in the world.

Where to begin? Wales did superbly well in the Euros, but did not actually win anything. Gareth Bale’s man-bun makes him look like one of the cast from Planet of The Apes. A majority of the electorate voted out; the minority who voted in upheld the ethos of democracy until it went against them and then threw themselves to the floor like a spoilt toddler. The night of the long knives became the morning, afternoon, tea break, pee break, time it takes to like something on social media of the long knives, as former political allies gave Iago, Othello and Team Macbeth a run for their money. Putting oneself forward as a potential leader of one of the main political parties (either in Government or the Official Opposition), appeared to rest on some very specific criteria: a. Female. b. Your name begins with ‘A.’ c. Nobody has heard of you. d. You must have a hairstyle that would have Vidal Sassoon needing the smelling salts. e. Your campaign is launched with much fanfare and is just as quickly extinguished when your party realises that actually they really don’t want you to be in charge. Oh and not forgetting the England Manager, who is chosen with the selected individual being the same persona who Manchester United flatly refused to contemplate taking charge at Old Trafford (with some of the English selection panel comprising of some of those very same people who are uneasy bed mates with the Glazier family). Mmm.

And the world of estate agency? Well, plus c’est la meme chose. The market players of the selling and letting variety are arguing with the market players of the property portals. What is a first is that the decision will be made in the High Court. Agents’ Mutual (AM) are embroiled in what promises to be an eye-wateringly expensive (what legal matter isn’t?) contretemps with Connells Group. AM, the parent company of OnTheMarket (OTM) has sued estate agents Gascoigne Halman (who are owned by Connells Group) and Moginie James, for damages in the High Court. OTM accuses them of breaking the terms of their agreements by listing properties on more than one other portal. OTM has been ordered to pay £1m into court as cost cover-for the other side. The High Court has now referred the case to the Competition Appeal Tribunal, a specialist court for competition disputes. The case itself is deemed to be a key test of whether the portal can sustain its ‘one other portal’ rule. Of course, I am interested in the outcome, but will it affect business. No. Realistically, how many agents feel it necessary to list on three portals and the daddy of them all, that everyone clicks on is Rightmove. I can understand how agents were tempted to leave old faithful, a true and loyal companion for twenty years, for a younger, firmer, seemingly more attractive model, but what lies beneath the bonnet is a wholly different matter. Speaking of which, a friend recently returned from a holiday in Thailand and whilst there came very close to getting up close and personal with a lady boy. Looked like a lady, talked like a lady, walked like a lady. It was only when ‘she’ drove him to ‘her’ place and reversed the car straight into the garage first time, that he thought, “Hang on a fricking minute”…. I know, I know, complaints on a post card please to somebody who cares.

Back to the world of selling houses. Whilst utilising the hotel’s wifi-usually seen to best effect when standing in the deep end of the pool or leaning precariously off the balcony-I was amused to read of the latest class of estate agent. Not ‘hybrid’, that went out with Cameron and Farage, but ‘Premises Free Agents’. Ok. So the implication is that as they are not paying for an office their costs are lower. As we have blogged before, no office obviously means that what an agency-if office-based- is required to pay in rent, does not need to be covered by the fees charged. It also means that there is nowhere for any client-purchaser or vendor-to go with any query. A not dissimilar situation to the empty border control posts at Dover port. Admittedly in this case, there is an office of sorts, but in true Gallic fashion they just can’t be bothered to go there. I know, it was a close run thing for Foreign Secretary; Bojo or me. I think the hair won it for him.

 

 

 

Who was kidding who?

This week saw fun and games in the world of property portals, as the new kid on the block OnThe Market (OTM) found itself being faced with legal action by a group or over 40 separate estate agents. To be technically and legally accurate, the action is actually being taken against Agents’ Mutual, the parent company of OTM and the aforementioned 40 odd property professionals are combining ire and kitties to fund the litigation. If you remember, OTM was set up to challenge the The Don himself, Rightmove by another group of heavy hitters including Savills and Knight Frank who got the hump over having to pay large fees to the astonishingly successful king of property portals. No one is knocking the rationale of reducing the monopoly, but where the reasoning fell short was that the OTM gang fully expected all of us mere mortals to join them in protest over the stranglehold of Rightmove. It didn’t happen and whilst OTM now have 7000 subscribers, which is not to be sneezed at, it is still a wasp sting on the bottom of an elephant. Where the real problem lies and what has got various parties demanding retribution/blood is how they have arrived at these figures.

When launched, OTM told its new members that their subscription fees would be always be equal to or even lower than future joiners. This raises two questions: 1. What business would be stupid enough to offer such a deal as without a crystal ball who knows what the future will hold and what market forces will be at play? and 2. What business would be stupid enough to believe this promise-from a group of estate agents of all people….? Now it is the turn of the subscribers to OTM to get the hump as the results of their joining are not what they had hoped or been told (again who believes that a group of estate agents are telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth..?) This failure to deliver what was promised coupled with the fact that many left Rightmove to join OTM and are tied into a 5-year contract, (yes you did read that correctly), is what has-yes, you’ve guessed it-given them the hump. Incidentally, Rightmove continues to go from strength to strength.

The reason OTM got to the 7000 figure is that they have virtually been giving away their product. We should know, as even in the lowly foothills of the property world that is the NP4 postcode, we got it for peanuts after holding out. Would we leave Rightmove? Now who is being stupid? If we did, we would be closing the door in a month.  Whether we are happy with the fees charged is irrelevant; we could not operate without it and they know that. They have rightly made themselves indispensable. I am sure that these nice chaps will sort it all out…

Finding a way around things has just presented itself in the buy-to-let market which Chancellor Gideon had tried to stifle with the extra stamp duty thresholds. What he forgot to cover was commercial property; pubs, offices, shops, bars, even petrol stations. All of these are showing increasing rental returns, with far less legislation than a buy-to-let flat or house. Of course, in the future, if the owner wants to increase the capital value, they could always turn them into, yes, you are ahead of me on this one, residential flats or houses that would be ideal for the buy-to-let market. What about the stamp duty levels for the new buyers? Trust me, when a vendor has made a very healthy profit on their investment, they will be only too happy to factor in the new stamp duty as a discount for the buyer. Remember, they, the seller did not pay it in the first place when they bought the property.

So, one has to ask, did the resident of No 11 get it wrong without thinking and rush it through, or did he actually do an awful lot of cerebral gymnastics, because the people buying this type of commercial property are not your typical buy-to-let investors but extremely wealthy individuals or corporate bodies with bags of cash to spend and a lot of tax to write off. Now who is kidding who?

Fiddling the figures…

This week, the press has featured a number of articles detailing a practice that has aggrieved Cheshire & Co (and has subsequently been mentioned in this forum), for several years. The key phrase, is ‘portal juggling’. No, not what you do with the pneumatic Tracey from HR after three Stingers, (incidentally, the favourite tipple of Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant) too many at the annual conference, but the age old habitude of fiddling the figures. In the world of estate agency, this principally refers to Rightmove, although other property portals are available and open to similar abuse. What does this mean in layman’s terms? It involves estate agents taking their existing properties and removing them from their chosen property portal, then immediately relisting them, thus creating the illusion that they are listing far more properties than they actually are, with the associated fallacious impression of the number of properties that have been sold. Hence the headlines, “We list more properties than anyone else”, or “Number one for sales in the area”. It can be done very easily; I spent two hours yesterday on a portal and by changing dates and post codes, I eventually came up with a chart that could be published to the masses, that showed that I was Number 1 in the area. The recent articles focused primarily on London (don’t they all), but agents in the NP postcode are not immune to such behaviour and the accompanying bragging rights. Without coming over as excessively holier than thou, it is something that can have serious ramifications.

In London, the National Trading Standards ‘Estate Agency Team’ (no, me neither), are now getting involved and the one thing that no business wants is Trading Standards crawling around their office, because if they cannot find evidence of portal juggling, they will make it their mission to find evidence of some other activity that carries a penalty. Data collection company Propcision centred their search activities around the development at Battersea Power Station and established that one property had been relisted 35 times in a 6 month period. This meant that it ‘appeared’ that 368 proprieties  had been sold on the development rather than the slightly less jaw-dropping 35. Michelle Ricci, the founder of Propcision had been in contact with both the agent concerned and the developer and has been left disappointed but not surprised that neither party has made any attempt to speak with her. It will come as no shock that although Rightmove and Zoopla have systems in place to “monitor” these situations, there does not appear to be any penalties, nor dare I say it, any great urgency to do anything about it.

What is the effect of such portal juggling, aside from agents in certain postcodes using their portal figures as a means of beating their chest and adopting various other Neolithic tendencies? When a surveyor carries out a mortgage valuation, one of the key, if not the key pieces of data that he/she uses to arrive at the valuation is the number of comparable properties sold and at what price. If they are struggling to agree that a property values up, then comparable evidence of-using the Battersea example-367 (as opposed to 34), other properties makes their decision a lot easier and gives them far more comfort. In turn, this creates a false impression of a rising market, which makes property purchase far more difficult. At some stage, the roundabout does have to stop, as indicated by reports this week that London property prices have finally stalled. If the initial asking price was already inflated due to unchecked, unqualified and misleading data, then at some point the whole thing will implode. Will the practice continue if unchecked and unchallenged by any authority? Will estate agents discover a moral marrow that prevents them from indulging in such activities? Highly unlikely, but stranger things can happen. Who would have bet a week ago on the Conservatives becoming the Official Opposition in Scotland; in the process deposing Nicola, ‘I’m not actually an MP, but I’m Scottish and we have North Sea Oil, so there’ Sturgeon?

It isn’t ‘do as I say…

…it is ‘do as I f%^*&ing tell you’. As offered as a piece of advice by my father on many occasions. As regular blog readers will confirm, my patience has been frequently tested over the years, as a cast list-on a par with that of Ben Hur-of vendors, landlords and purchasers has sought my professional opinion, discarded it in it entirety because they/their mate down the pub/pet hamster knows better and then blamed me for the subsequent cock up.

On Thursday, I received a substantial dose of my own medicine. Having dragged myself to the doctor’s, as I could not walk, let alone do my usual 10k morning jaunt followed by swimming 4 times around the boating lake-naked-ladies 0630, but no flash photography please, it frightens the ducks…I was diagnosed with gout-possibly the worst case ever seen in South Wales. I was given 12 tablets by the doctor and was told to follow the instructions that included going home and very specifically lying down and elevating my foot for the following 48 hours. Fast forward to Saturday where in the intervening time I had blatantly ignored medical advice and was now considering amputation as a viable option to dull the pain. Having dialed the out of hours helpline and told the very attentive person at the other end of my tale of perilous privation and agony, I was politely asked whether I had followed the doctor’s advised treatment programme and had kept my foot elevated. Er…. that would be a no. I was then not quite so politely asked what I had expected to happen if I chose not to follow the professional’s-whose opinion I had sought-advice. You got me there. For those of my fan club rearranging their plans to man a mercy mission rota at Cheshire Towers, you may stand down, as having done what I was originally supposed to do, the pain has eased and I may make it through the weekend.

The relevance to estate agency? Well not just to estate agency, but to any profession where the advice and guidance is sought of those who have chosen to be an adherent of the said profession. And then, as I did with the professional recommendation of the doctor, discarded and ignored. Prior to my own personal installment of Emergency Ward 10 (Question for the pub bores amongst you: What was the name of the fictional hospital where the series was  set? Correct answers get the prize of toweling me down after my morning aquatics), I had the novel experience of a vendor telling me that she wanted, “accurate and subjective feedback from viewings”. Okey dokey I thought, there’s going to be trouble at t’mill. And there was. The viewers thought that, ‘the kitchen was very dated’, ‘the separate bathroom and loo were very 1950’s’ (the period in which the house was built and such design features were in fashion), ‘plenty of potential’, ‘great rear garden’ and finally, ‘not worth the money’. As requested, I dutifully reported these back verbatim. Two days later I received a rather emotionally wrought email from the vendor, accusing me of many things, including being disrespectful to the memory of her late mother who had been very happy in the property since she moved there in 1958 (see earlier points referring to the kitchen decor and bathroom arrangements). The real zinger was that I needed to change my attitude…. Having read and reread the email whilst taking deep breaths and thinking happy thoughts (Svetlana and a friend in a jacuzzi with a bottle of Dom Perignon usually does the trick), I manfully picked up the telephone to call the lady with the intention of having a suitably frank discussion along the theme of WTF? Dear Readers, Svetlana and Tatiana did their thing and GC didn’t make a complete idiot of himself; as one would hope of someone who has been a professional in the property world since the time when there were only 4 TV channels. I acquiesced to the vendor that she was right and could we start again? The customer is always right, even if they are spectacularly and breathtakingly wrong. They aren’t. The vendor then offered her apologies and said that when she first had the house valued, her mother had only recently passed away and that maybe she was not in the best place emotionally to hear some seemingly harsh truths and was not ready to accept professional advice and opinion. Myself, on the other hand had no such excuse when treating the doctor and his advice and opinion with a disregard befitting a teenager; because teenagers know everything don’t they?  A life lesson for us all this week and let me tell you, gout is more painful than having your nether regions waxed.  Bet you didn’t think that I would be able to make the comparison did you? Budgie smugglers are unforgiving, particularly if a bit of pond weed ends up where it wasn’t intended….

For hire…

Hackney carriage drivers, barristers at law, ladies (and gentlemen of the night-note how PC I am…) and estate agents. Which two of these professions share similarities in their conduct? Brownie points and the last Rolo if you correctly selected estate agents and those from the Cynthia Payne Finishing School. Why? Because under current legislation we do not have to accept a fare or brief. Before anyone starts, just to clarify: in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland), prostitution itself (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal, but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place and owning or managing a brothel are classified as criminal activity. There you go. In simple terms, as an estate agent, we can say, ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ and walk away. Does this happen often one may ask and why so?  In the world of highly targeted corporate agency, probably not, but in the sector of independents, whilst not common, it does happen; and not without good reason. Last week I was invited to value a property in a popular and established area of Cwmbran. It was without doubt in the top three of the worst properties that I have ever visited. The kitchen would have scored -5 on the 1-5 hygiene raring as supplied by Torfaen Council. Having taken a deep breath and ventured upstairs, I was met by the sight of the owner’s paramour asleep on the bed-naked. “Don’t worry about her, she’s been working nights”, I was told. “Not as a fricking cleaner” I thought to myself. The owner was very eager to establish the property’s value and what Cheshire & Co could do to market the property. After another deep breath, I suggested that firstly, in order to show the propriety to best effect,a general declutter and tidy up would be a good idea.  This was met with an unequivocal “No”. I tried another angle of explaining that a property that photographs well attracts far more people. Again, a manifest refusal to do anything (and that anything could have been as basic as clearing all the c”£p off the floor so that one could actually see whether it was carpet/ tiles/laminate/concrete). At this point, I took yet another deep breath, girded my loins (calm down ladies), and informed Mr Vendor that on this occasion Cheshire & Co would not be able to help him and suggested that he may like to get a second opinion from a fellow agent whose tetanus and life insurance policy were up to date. Mr Vendor then told me that I had to market the house if he wanted me to do so. Having pointed out that I did not choose to take him up on his offer, he asked me of which redress scheme was I a member and for my membership number, as he wished to make a compliant about Cheshire & Co refusing to market his property. I always carry a copy of The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice and having produced the said copy I asked him to highlight which section would cover his alleged complaint. Leaving him to consider his options, I exited the property.

All joking aside, I would not expose my employees or members of the public to such squalid conditions. It is a fair bet that many of Cwmbran’s other property agents would not do so either; although some would, as at the very least it would boost their already manufactured Rightmove figures…

Carry on Stampeding…

Further to last week’s ‘word of the week’ that was in vogue with the popular press, we have been amused to read that the stampeding continues (everyone must be exhausted). At the forefront, was a company called Oldbury Residential, who, it is reported, have completed the purchase of four properties in Manchester and succeeded in doing so before the stamp duty deadline. In the process they saved themselves more than £10,000 in tax.  Well done Oldbury Residential, or more specifically, Ms Cherie Booth QC and her son, Euan.  I was delighted to see that they took the advice of Cheshire & Co and bought them all through a limited company. Quite how this sits with the Labour MP who complained about the “Tory scum landlords” I’m not sure; possibly in the same echoing ‘no comment’ chasm that dealt with the revelation that Margaret Hodge-that fierce critic of tax avoidance and the former head of Britain’s parliamentary public accounts committee -had been the beneficiary of shares in a family company from a foundation based in a tax haven. What odds that Jeremy won’t be standing up at the next PMQ’s and saying, “I have a letter here from Margaret in Islington…”?

It would appear the Gideon’s apparent intention to ‘”cool” the buy to let market has been somewhat underwhelming.  The rush to buy before 1 April has led to-yes, you are ahead of me on this one-an increase in the number of buy to let landlords. Mmmm, well played there G-man.  Seguing in rather tidily with the ‘stampede’ is the move of the major high street banks to “slash” (this week’s ‘word of the week’) interest rates on their buy to let products.  This was allegedly prompted by a concern that the market would cool (as No 11 claims was the Chancellor’s intent), and the major banks will lose their market share and more importantly profits and senior management’s bonuses will take a clobbering.  Yes, cynical is my middle name.

Cynicism has not been misplaced this week as yet another miracle of  selling proved.  Having been to list a property whose owners had given their current agent notice within the correct time frame, I was less than surprised to be told that the soon to be agent without portfolio now had a prospective purchaser who was ‘desperate’ to find a house that was coming to view the said property on the very last day of the notice period; which happened to be on a Sunday, at 4pm, unaccompanied by the agent. Well I never. Cue Surprise Number 2 when on the Monday, the vendors were told that the full asking price had been offered and that the purchasers were immediately proceedable. All hail those ace agents (who hadn’t even conjured up their granny to look at the property in the preceding 6 months). Alas, in a subsequent exchange with the agent, they were told that the purchasing process of the immediately proceedable, ‘desperate’ purchasers would take at least 12 weeks. Right. Really.  The vendor agreed that we would keep in touch on a weekly basis to see how things are progressing.  In the meantime, I have nipped round to William Hil to see what price they will give me on the sale falling through.  If it does, not only will I have enough to pay for the Cheshire & Co Christmas Party (they have a 2 for 1 deal going at the local’ Spoons if I book now), but I might give Cherie a call to see if she wants to add the property to the Oldbury Residential/El Tone’s Retirement Fund portfolio.

 

 

 

 

“… we should move expeditiously but not in a stampede..”

So said the 15 times re-elected Republican senator, Henry Hyde.  Judicious words, as one would expect,or at least hope from someone who chaired the Judiciary Committee and the International Relations Committee at the time of 9/11. Considered and measured behaviour has been in short supply over the past few days, whereby everyone’s favoured course of action has been to err on the side of hysteria as opposed to caution.  Word of the week has been ‘stampede’ (Scrabble value 13 if you are interested), which has been bandied about at a gallop. As we approached 1 March, the press breathlessly told everyone that there was a stampede to get property sales completed before the stamp duty changes kicked in and the buy to let world ended the following day (obviously). Countrywide has now reported that there was a stampede of people aiming to complete before 1 April.  For those of you who may be interested, (at least try and pretend that you care…) completions were up 17% on the equivalent period in 2015.

The press continued with their favourite word this past weekend as according to various reports, the Labour Party were involved in their very own stampede (no, not the one on 8 May last year when everyone tried to distance themselves from having had anything to do with Ed M), to condemn David Cameron.  It has been widely, if begrudgingly acknowledged that he has not broken any laws, but is guilty of being rich.  As one commentator described it, 50% of the people say that he is rich and well done, whilst the other 50% are saying that he is rich so therefore automatically qualifies for getting the sack.

Cheshire & Co experienced Cwmbran’s own version of the Calgary Stampede this weekend and it had nothing to do with tax returns and offshore trusts and everything to do with a bath. Bear with me on this one.  We look after a property where the tenants have had a few problems with the rent (finding it) but the landlord has been very understanding and has allowed them to pay off the arrears monthly.  On Friday, the tenant reported a bow in the kitchen ceiling because the lavatory above was leaking and, “had been for some time”, which they had not chosen to report “some time” ago. We arranged to visit the property the next day-Saturday- at 0900hrs.  Upon reaching the office the following morning, I discovered that our answering service had had a nervous breakdown as a result of innumerable increasingly hysterical and irate messages informing us that the said ceiling had now collapsed.  We immediately went to the property and established that the leak had actually originated from the bath where the tenant had decided to take off the side panel, “some time ago” but had chosen not to replace it for practical, plumbing or aesthetic purposes.  As we set to rectifying the situation, our and the contractors’ efforts were somewhat impeded by the stampede-bigger than the cast of extras in any John Wayne film- of family, friends, some one that they met in Alicante ten years ago and the neighbour that they loathe, who were all demanding that the tenants were put up in the Celtic Manor, had an entire new bathroom suite fitted and/or were given a new house to live in (and potentially flood).  I would point out that the tenants themselves were very happy with the arrangements made.

I did note with a wry smile that none of these concerned, stampeding citizens who were morally outraged at the circumstances that their friends/family members found themselves in were on the scene or beating a path to our door to help them with the repeated, late monthly rental payments.  Nor had they stampeded to help with the alleged leak in the bathroom.  They did though continually refer to the rich landlord who was making money out of people who could not afford to buy a house.  This would be the same landlord who was allowing the tenants to discharge the arrears month by month when he was wholly within his rights to show them the door.

Rather appropriately as I listen to PMQ’s and the teeth-sucking, hand-wringing of Jeremy’s lot, I rather think that -as with many things-Winston Churchill was spot on when he said, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery”. But not the sharing of the necessary equipment to replace a bath panel.

Carry on as you were…

Yesterday was either April Fools’ Day if following the Gregorian calendar, or the first day of the New Year if stuck in a 1582 time warp and clinging to the Julian calendar. Either way, 1 April ushered in a “whole new world” according to various parts of the popular press, as Chancellor Gideon saw the first day of his “draconian measures” being implemented that cover the buying and selling of property. The Big G (him, not me), has actually been rather sneaky (some may read it as ‘cute’ and I don’t mean that in the sense of fluffy bunnies/puppies/kittens/cheerleaders); as the new rates of SDLT and the ’15 house’ rule are for those buying 15 houses in the same transaction, not as was initially announced, for anyone owning 15 or more properties.  So who, in practical terms, is exempt? Statistically, no one. When the Chancellor announced the proposed changes last year together with reduction in higher rate tax allowance for buy to let, he gave every large higher rate tax payer notice to get their affairs in order; i.e. get all properties into a limited company.  As we have said before, any higher rate taxpayer with a substantial portfolio who had not gone down the limited route should have been looking for a new accountant. If such tax payers adapted their affairs prior to 1 April 2016, then yes, of course there would be some stamp duty to pay, but considerably less than the rates in force from 1 April. Also, corporation tax is now 20% – very attractive to higher rate taxpayers – and of course should the limited company dispose of one of its assets there are a myriad of allowances/off setting/delaying tactics that can be employed before a penny of corporation tax is handed over.  In our opinion, no harm done by G to any of the big hitters.  Well played there my friend.

As was to be expected, the trade press is wallowing in misery because of the “end” of buy to let and industry professionals having to put the brochure for the high end sports car/holiday/girlfriend back in the drawer. The diary at Cheshire & Co is as full this week as it has been all year.  The ‘effect’ of the new changes was in evidence when a buyer who had agreed to buy a property some time ago chose very recently to change lender. He will not complete until this week, thereby incurring additional stamp duty to that which he would have paid had he completed prior to 1 April. When asking him how he felt about the additional cost (£2250),  he said that he viewed it as, “an interest free loan over the next 3 years.” Having sought further explanation of his rather sanguine response, he said, “I will simply charge £15 a week more in rent and the tenant will pay the stamp duty”. Fair enough. So G, how exactly do you see the reforms bringing control to the housing market and thus helping those renting to get on the housing ladder? Nothing changes. Not even if one chooses to believe the results of a recent poll in the International Business Times that reported earnestly that almost a fifth of landlords in London ‘planned’ to sell up because of G’s tax hikes on the buy to let sector. For those of you who may be interested, I am planning to give Miss Minogue a call tonight…

Whilst some reports have indicated that some landlords plan to sell up, several data reports show an increase in activity in the buy to let sector ahead of April 2016 as investors rushed to beat the stamp duty rise.  Should a report be published at the end of 2016, here at Cheshire & Co we predict that there will be no dramatic drop in the number of buy to let properties. Firstly, because of the activity prior to 1 April and secondly, because if any buy to let properties do come on the market, have a guess who will be circulating like vultures? Correct: other buy to let investors.

For all the furore, there does not appear to be-from where we are sitting-any major changes to the dynamic of the buy to let market. Neither is there any substantial additional  help for those tenants wanting to purchase a property. Nothing changes then… Does anyone have the dialing code for Australia?

“Laws control the lesser man… Right conduct controls the greater one” Mark Twain

As I recline this evening on the chaise longue at Cheshire Towers-indulging my inner sybarite-to watch a celebration of Her Majesty, I have been given pause to ponder the behaviour of my fellow humans.  As HM has shown throughout her reign, it is advocated to do the best that one can and what one believes to be the right thing. Having been incapacitated during the past week (fear not dear fan club members, The Chesh lives to fight another day), I have had time for reflection on the vagaries of the human condition. Due to my enforced withdrawal from sports, I was able to watch the fallout from the budget and the resignation of IDS. Principled or precious?  As always with the departure of any public figure, there was an immediate stampede of those wanting to jump on the bashing bus.  What made me chuckle was the amount pf people who somewhat sanctimoniously offered how they could not believe that he could sit at Cabinet for four years when he clearly was not wholly supportive of the PM and the Chancellor.  Without digressing into a discussion of democratic freedom of expression and the intelligent exchange of educated opinion (that is normally reserved for ‘Spoons on a Thursday night), I do have to point out one small thing that I learnt many years ago when sitting with the big boys at the corporate table; having gained one’s place at the trough that is accompanied by the procuration of the big bucks, big car, secretary with the big…WPM count, one soon learns to weigh up whether keeping those perks is more beneficial than making a stand over one of your principles. Hypocritical? Possibly. Sensible (particularly when you have a wife who has to have the latest Louis Vuitton)? Most definitely. As has often been opined, money does not buy you happiness.  Very true, but it is preferable to be miserable in the back of a Mercedes than on a push bike.

Even allowing for the vast quantities of drugs that have passed through my system-all legal I may add- you may well be wondering what my musings have to do with estate agency? As with any group dynamic, be it at a COBRA meeting (if ever an acronym belied the banality of its meaning-COBRA is far sexier than Cabinet Office Briefing Room A), or a regional managers’ meeting at head office, to survive one does have to go along with the collective view, or for those ballsy enough,one makes the conscious decision to leave.  I have no problem with employees who do their master’s bidding.  At some point all us independent estate agents have taken the corporate shilling with all its associated lagniappes (look it up).  For most of us, independence was thrust upon us-forget the PR spin-because for any number of reasons we were, if not unemployable, at least less employable than some eager young buck willing to play the corporate game.

Closer to home in the metropolis of Cwmbran, I have received a panacea to my ills; no, not Tatiana in the nurse’s outfit, but evidence that imitation is indeed the most sincere form of flattery. Thank you, you know who you are.  For those of you who think that you may know, answers on a postcard please.

 

 

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

As the Easter Bunny limbers up for his annual exertions with a few zumba sessions and holding back on the Jagermeister during the week, the season of publishing reports awakes from its 10 months of slumber where no one really gives a hot cross bun about figures and their interpretations.  Cheshire & Co have a somewhat dim view of surveys, but would like to think that a report does occasionally contain something pertaining to the truth.  Alas, this week’s editions show that the ‘truth is out there’, sort of; but how it is collected, assimilated, interpreted and then presented to the unsuspecting public is as varied as the ‘medications’ being taken for all manner of genuine heath reasons by members of the World Tennis Association Tour…

In the past seven days, Halifax have reported that house prices in the UK rose in 2015 by 9.5% (compare that to the rise in wage inflation), yet Nationwide report that house prices during the same period only went up 4.5%.  The Office of National Statistics says the average house price increase in the UK was 6.7%, but for those people living in Blaenavon it was only 1%.  Unlucky.  Halifax also said that house prices increased by more than the average worker’s annual earnings in more than a quarter of local authority districts in the UK in just two years.  Firstly, that is an awful lot of data inputted to give one average figure and secondly, it is more than a few mores and how is ‘more’ quantified?  Having thought about this for a minute, I realised that actually, this is just a reflection of the UK demographic and actually means b”£&*er all.  If you live in SW1 and earn your monthly wage as a hedge fund manager, your house will increase in value by a considerable amount.  If you work as say, the Prime Minister on £163,000 per annum and own a property with £2.5 million, then it is easy to se that over two years your house will have increased in value by more than your salary.  If you live in Blaenavon, a 1% increase on a house valued at £90,000 would come nowhere near the wages of someone on the minimum wage.  One does have to wonder what the reporting of the said reports actually means and what relevance they have to the general populace.  I think that I can safely report, ‘not alot’.

The one that did hold my attention was that of the accountancy firm Moore Stephens that published that in in 2015, 285 estate agents went bust in the UK and that their findings showed that this was due to independent firms being squeezed out by large corporates and new online companies charging vendors far less than their high street office based counterparts.  In fact the likes of Connells and Countrywide are not squeezing out agents, they are actually buying up medium sized agents.  The big boys are not interested in selling houses, but have their eyes firmly fixed on the data capture that acquiring smaller agents brings.  The information on buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants, pet budgies etc allows them to sell more products and services.  Remember that emails cost nothing and once they have this data, they have it forever.

Buy-to let; the end is nigh…maybe…possibly…

‘Could’, ‘may well’ and ‘possibly’; all suggestives and in the reporting this week of a BOE survey, cloaked in the shroud of doom and financial misery. Ah well. In another classic example of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, been caught, trained and handicapped to win the 2.50 at Chelmsford City, then ended its days in the Happy Horse Home/glue factory/lasagne, the BOE is looking at the potential risks stemming from the increasing number of participants in the buy-to-let market. What pre-empted Sir Jon Cunliffe-the BOE’s deputy governor for financial stability-briefing a hearing at the House of Lords that buy-to-let could potentially be risky, were figures released by the central bank that show lending to landlords has “surged” (is it just me or are you rather bored of hearing that word?) from 11.3% of new loans in the third quarter of 2007 to 15.6% in the same period of last year. Ok Jon-Boy (those of you who have been around long enough could start humming the theme tune to The Waltons). Firstly, we are looking at a period of 8 years, not 8 months. The increase in landlords may well be reflected in other comparable figures for the same time frame; not least an increase in the populace. For those who wish to embrace their inner nerd, the population of the UK on 31 December 2007 was 61, 327, 759.  The UK population on 31 December 2015 was 65, 039, 298 and as of 17:54 hours today 06 03 2016 it was 65, 102, 983. Got those memorised? Secondly, the 15.6% of the whole lending market means that 84.4% of the whole lending market isn’t engaged in facilitating buy-to-let borrowers. Sir Jon then offered up the results of a recent survey that threw up the result  that 60% of buy-to-let landlords would consider selling up if rental income could no longer cover their mortgage costs or if house prices fell by 10%. Let us consider these statistics. It was a survey, which by definition opens itself up to dubious results that frequently fail to materialise in the real world. For example, in the most recent census in England and Wales almost 0.9% stated their religion as Jedi, surpassing Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism and making it the fourth largest reported religion in the country… and let us not forget the predictions of last year’s General Election, where a certain A Campbell was still insisting that the polls were right and the figures coming in were wrong, wrong, wrong. Mmm. More relevant to Sir Jon’s figures however, is 60% of what? Of whom? And the portent of doom is somewhat diminished by the lack of confirmation. They “would consider”, “if… they might”.  I might be considering taking up holy orders and if Miss Minogue decides to call off her engagement (be still my beating heart), I might consider offloading the current Mrs Chesh to a permanent vacation in the Rest Home for the Bewildered. Sir Jon then adds to the air of general indecision and vagueness by commenting that the buy-to-let market could lead to a downward spiral in house prices with the accompanying threat of instability in the housing market in general. He then does say that buy-to-let ,”looks like a pretty good investment” compared to what is offered elsewhere. What that be contradiction with a capital ‘C’ Jon-Boy?

Ok. Buy-to-let was not the cause of the 2007 crash; it was risky lending. Not to potential landlords, but to anyone who had a pulse. With a minimum 20% deposit required for a buy-to-let mortgage, a 10% drop in prices will not, in our opinion make people leave the landlord sector. As for rental not covering mortgage costs, with the same minimum 20% deposit and interest rates still at record levels and predicted to fall further (as we at Cheshire & Co have opined for the past 18 months, I may add), the chances of mortgage payments outweighing rental income is not going to happen anytime soon. If they did, landlords would simply put up rents and people would pay; because they could manage to make their rental payments whereas they would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting the stress test criteria for a mortgage.

Speaking of passing tests, for those devotees of The Walton clan:

  1. What was the name of the town where Team Walton lived?
  2. Who were the US presidents during the era in which the series was set?

Answers on a post card or via social media. The winner gets a signed headshot photo of The Chesh. Second prize, is the full body shot. Third prize is the same, but without any clothes on. You have been warned.

 

 

To avoid disappointment, lower expectations.

On Friday night I spent 4 hours in Cardiff that were 4 hours that I will never get back and I could have been doing something really productive; like washing my hair.  The choir was great, the Band of the Welsh Guards as national-pride inducing as ever and the goat was simply outstanding doing its goat bit.  The match? Well, a win is a win, whether you win pretty or you win ugly, but you know that you are not worshipping at the altar of sporting prowess and finesse when the crowd start doing a Mexican wave…half-way through the first half or Fusilier Llywelyn (of the four hooves) moves across the try line better than either side’s Number 8.  Ah, well.  My wife chose to wear a blue scarf and was constantly greeted with, “Bonjour” in a Parisian via Pontypool accent.  A classic case of people assuming something whilst knowing nothing.  It was an evening of great expectations that sadly fell a long way short of the mark.  Speaking of expectations and poor performances, it is not just the sporting press who have felt short-changed.  As is our wont, Cheshire & Co have-on more than one occasion-blogged about something that is now making the property headlines; in this particular case, the demographic of potential house purchasers known as “second-steppers”.  According to Savills, who have conducted some sort of survey, the number of transactions for those looking to move on from their first starter home is down 25% on the 10 year pre-credit crash average (that just slips off the tongue, doesn’t it?).  This means-according to Savills-that there have been 5.26 million fewer transactions “than expected”.  Here is the rub or the $60,00 question: how on earth does one arrive at that comment supported by those figures? ‘ Less than’ or ’10 years ago’ I can work with, but “expected”?  Who was expecting what under what conditions?  Wiffly-waffly, or to use a well-worn phrase from my Army days, “Big hand, small map”.  When I thought about it, the Savills’ report is typical of certain parts of corporate estate agency.  By about July 2016, the various managers will be asked to begin preparing their forecast and budgets for 2017, with an agreed signing-off date of November 2016.  This is understandable due to size but what must also be understood is that it will not necessarily be realistic or accurate by the time that it is published for public consumption. Again, we have blogged before about the numerous assistance schemes that are available to help people get onto the first rung of the property ladder.  Is this to be seen as genuine help or a well-executed political move?  Does the end result differ if it is one or the other?  Whatever contributed to the Savills’s survey results differing from what the soothsayers had uttered, at no point in their report did they proffer the possibility that many of these ‘buy our next house’ possible purchasers who bought their first property pre-crash are quite happy to sit on their increasing-in-value asset rather than strap themselves up to the hilt in debt.  In life making assumptions can be a dangerous occupation or as my old CO would say, “Assumption is the mother of many a F$%^ up”.  Wise words.

Exit, brexit…

Or that should perhaps read,”I don’t really want to go there in the first place/I can’t get out of this godforsaken $%^&*”£ quick enough”.  Forget Boris ‘It is with a heavy heart (not)… I want to choose the carpet in Number 10’ Johnson, Dave ‘I’m adopting the American presidential approach where by my second term all I am doing is working my notice-what happens in Europe in ten years has sod all to do with me’ Cameron or Angela ‘If we’d made it to the other side of the Channel in 1940 (Hitler’s Directive No 16) this would never have happened’ Merkele pantomime of who wants to go, who wants to stay and who-whether or not they want to stay will be told in no uncertain terms at the next Cabinet meeting that they are going-the real brexit is about Cardiff.  Ronnie Sullivan got the hump and enraged ‘true’ sporting fans when refusing to go for the 147 maximum break at the Welsh Open as the £10k on offer was not sufficient.  Last time that I looked the debate was still raging as to whether snooker actually qualifies as a ‘sport’ or whether it remains a ‘parlour game’ (those of you who watched Steve Davis on ‘Superstars’ will appreciate that the athletic prowess associated with sporting endeavour and success was embarrassingly absent) and I don’t believe that it states anywhere in the rules that a player has to go for the maximum break.  It was left to Ding Jun Hui to pocket the money for which he was I am sure delighted.  It obviously didn’t bother Ronald too much as he still lifted the trophy for the fourth time yesterday evening.  Aside from doing a Linda Evangelista, what Ronnie was underwhelmed by was Cardiff itself.  Having had a haircut, a Chinese (meal, not opponent) and a coffee, Ronald announced that he was bored in Cardiff, as there wasn’t much to do.  Going on previous form and his liking for a punch up, Columbian marching powder and ladies who charge £150 an hour, I can assure him that Cardiff would be more than capable of easing the boredom, although the Welsh Tourist Board may not be quite so enamoured with such marketing.  The other celebrity looking to (and succeeding in) spending as short a time as possible in the Welsh capital was Rhianna.  Having announced her Cardiff tour date to much, “I can’t wait” fanfare, the gig is now cancelled due to “logistical reasons”.  Mmm. Would a ‘reason’ be insufficient ticket sales?

Elsewhere in the country, it was reported at the weekend that instead of looking for the exit, many people in the Salisbury Plain area are going to be looking for the keys to get into their new luxury apartment located in the historical setting of Shepton Mallet Prison.  This is possibly the first time that people will be actively looking to go to prison (even one that holds the record for having the highest walls of any of HMP’s establishments).  On the same page of the property news, Ross Clark, a “property expert” answered questions posed to him by members of the house owning/selling/buying public.  One gentleman wanted advice as to whether he should wait until the spring to sell his home, or-as his local estate agent advised-sell now as things may not be so good after the budget.  This did do a Ronnie on me: Firstly, estate agents make their money from volume of sales, not necessarily extracting the best possible price from one individual property (less it being Buckingham Palace in size).  Ross elaborates further when he stated that there is good reason to wonder whether the market will still be as strong in April.  True, but come on Ross, we are now in the last week of February, the chances of getting a completion before the 1 April are as likely as Ronnie O’ Sullivan being given the Freedom of the City of Cardiff.  The final piece of ‘expert’ advice was to ensure that the estate agent takes new pictures of the property as a photograph in wintry conditions would be a “clue” that the property was taking time to sell.  Of course a picture with snow on the ground and a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign-for a property that is being marketed in June-will not help, but I think that an even bigger clue will be the line on the botom of the Rightmove listing that says ‘Date First Listed’.  Just a thought.

Does Size Matter?

Well they always say that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  As I experienced this week when accompanying a prospective purchaser around a property. The said gentleman informed me that “Your details are 2 inches out in the kitchen”. Possibly.  “You can get fined for that under the Property Misdescriptions Act”.  Wrong; on two counts.  I invited him to sit down and discuss the subject. After looking at the ceiling and stroking my cheek in the manner of Marlon Brando in The Godfather (sadly I did not have any pussy on my lap to stroke-I mean the four-legged variety that eats Kittykins-what did you think that I meant?), I pointed out that his argument for my potentially receiving punitive measures had one major flaw.  The Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 was replaced on 1 October 2013 by Consumer Protection Laws. As a side bar, the old legislation gave estate agents a 10cm margin of error on all dimensions when marketing a property. Stepping away from Imperial to Metric, two inches is the equivalent to 5.08 cm; so if the measurements in the kitchen were “out” by 2 inches and the Property Misdescriptions Act was still in use, I  was not in breach as I still had 4.92 cm to play with. Stop laughing.

The recent legislation offers even greater protection to the buyer. As well as not misleading buyers with factually incorrect information, estate agents now have to take care to ensure that they don’t omit information that is clearly important, or that would affect the value or sale of the property.  Photo shopping out the abattoir next to the property or the railway line running past the garden would be good examples.  So a great piece of legislation, with potential purchasers feeling safe in the knowledge that the agent is giving  a complete picture of all the relevant information to allow someone to come to an informed decision.  But how does an agent glean all the necessary information.  Yes, we do our homework, but when asking a vendor to complete a property questionnaire provided by their solicitor, there are invariably more “Don’t know” boxes ticked than not and this is supposing that a vendor is always wholly honest when ticking the other boxes. In addition, vendors are asked to sign off the details as factually correct before they are published for public viewing. This piece of legislation does make sense and for most respectable agents it will likely mean to simply carry on as you were.

Speaking of protection and honourable behaviour, I asked the potential buyer why he was viewing a property that was on the market for £150,000 when he had a deposit of £10,000 and a mortgage in principle of £110,000. “I don’t want to tell you everything” was the reply. Ok. I wonder whether legislation is being contemplated to protect agents from $£&*)”s?

Back to my old mucker Gideon and his new rules on stamp duty.  Originally I understood that the rules would not apply if you owned more than 15 properties.  It now transpires that the exemption only applies if you are buying more than 15 properties in one transaction. This is real time, not Monopoly.  Further more, if you already own a property, (or lots of them) and declare that your next purchase is to be your “main private residence”, then you are also exempt. I wonder just how many people are considering ‘moving ‘ after April 1?

 

 

It’s all a matter of perspective…

This week has yet again shown that events and their effects can be viewed through the whole scale of human emotion; it all depends upon where the individual(s) observing sit in the world (both literally and figuratively).  It would seem that after the first caucus, Donald Trump does still have a chance of winning the nomination to run for the 45th presidency of the United States of America.  Is this a surprise?  However unpalatable some of his views may seem to various tranches of society, a lot of people are thinking about voting for a man who actually says in public what a lot of people are thinking and saying in private.

Frank Bruno is talking about making a comeback.  Come now; who-apart from Frank thinks that this is going to happen?  Not only will he never get a licence form the BBBC (British Boxing Board of Control) but who in the media world is going to risk putting him in a fight where there is a strong possibility that he could get killed? It brings a whole new meaning to Brad Pitt’s utterance, “The first rule of Fight Club.  You do not talk about Fight Club.”  Take heed, Frank.

The WHO (the World Health Organisation, not Roger Daltrey’s lot), now want films that show people smoking to be given an 18 certificate. So Breakfast At Tiffany’s, 101 Dalmatians and Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland would all have the same classification as The Exorcist and those foreign language films featuring athletic-looking ladies from Sweden…In my time, I have seen many films where the characters smoked, but I have never felt compelled as a result to go and buy a packet of Marlboro.  I have though seen many works featuring our Scandinavian friends and as result, I have felt a need to… learn Swedish.

Oil prices have now returned to about $30 a barrel, which has led to many people in the oil business or with their money in oil producing countries to ‘get their money out’.  It has been reported that $250 billion (yes, you did read that correctly, billion), has been taken out of Saudi Arabia in the past 3 months and has found a new piggy bank in London, where -amongst other things-it has been invested in property.  Thus the lull in the London market (that would be viewed as a buying frenzy in every other postcode in the country), during late 2015 has been replaced with a rocketing trajectory as the oil money does its thing.  This has now resulted in a new London ‘help-to-buy’ scheme to enable people with smaller deposits to buy properties in the Capital.  Of course, a small deposit in London would buy in its entirety a rather nice house in Tonypandy.  The residents of North Pontypool are awaiting the launch of the ‘Varteg help-to-buy scheme’.

Plans can and should always be made.  Events then come along and put the kibosh on everything.  Trying to slow down the growth of the property market by increasing stamp duty on second homes will have an effect on those whom one could describe as ordinary people.  It will have absolutely no effect or prove to be any form of deterrent to the billionaire looking for a home for his money.  And if you own more than 15 properties, then you will be exempt from the changes to stamp duty.  It’s back to those billionaires again; it’s back to the man with an estimated net worth of $4 billion who is on course to be the first presidential candidate to make a profit from his campaigning, regardless of whether he gets to choose the new carpet for the Oval Office.  There is a lesson to be learnt there.

House sales and baked beans all the same … apparently

B.O.G.O.F

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.

 

Lessons learnt…

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?

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…

Raising some awkward questions…

Last week’s report on BBC News did not do anything to improve the opinion of letting agents held by the vast majority of the British public.  It focused on House(s) in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and the agents that oversee their being occupied.  HMO’s fill an essential role in the housing system and are a classic example of a good deal benefitting all parties.  Those who cannot afford an individual property have somewhere to live and those who provide such properties are rewarded well.  That is the theory.  As evidenced by last week’s report, some of the accommodation for which people, (who did not have any other choice) were paying were truly appalling.  The letting agent that the news team accompanied to an HMO that was beyond disgusting was confronted by a neighbour of the property.  The agent immediately apportioned the blame to the tenants but was countered by the neighbour saying that he was complaining about the poor state of the outside of the property, (the agent’s responsibility) that was a blight on the whole street.   I understand that HMO provide accommodation for those at the bottom end of the housing market, who cannot afford to rent a place on their own, but let us at least begin with treating them as human beings.  Their not being able to afford more than the rental for one room does not automatically mean that they will choose (and deserve) to live in filth.  I appreciate that some tenants can be complete £$%*&” who treat the landlord and the property with utter contempt and trust me, this can be seen in the higher bracket, professional end of the market too.  One property that Cheshire & Co managed comes to mind, that was rented by two doctors.  All I can say is that no wonder the NHS has the problems that it does with MRSA.  But how is an agent allowed to rent out a property that would keep Environmental Health and various other agencies going for a year in paperwork alone if it were anything other than an HMO?

All agents have recently been required to join a redress scheme; what form of punishment or penalties are in place for agents such as the one featured in the report?  This is a problem that goes beyond political parties and I am fed up of attempts to control ‘Tory scum landlords’.  I am sure that all landlords are not all cut from the same political cloth.   The hypocrisy of it all was never better exemplified than by the late Michael Meacher MP.  A far left politician who once described home ownership as a curse on our nation.  It turned out that he was a property millionaire with 8 houses.  Mmmm.

Three is a magic number…

A report this week stated that sex is good for you three times a week; no more.  Sorry ladies, perhaps if you would like to enter the monthly prize draw?  I did wonder whether one’s allocation would have to be used on a scheduled weekly basis or could be stockpiled until the end of the month/financial quarter.  The latter could of course be extremely dangerous (just ask Lamar Odom of Kardashian infamy), but what a way to go.  It reminded me of the ever present three word theme that is used in advertising, the ubiquitous posters imploring you to change your life in some way; the nursery rhyme that features visually impaired rodents and the chatlines for “Blonde Swedish Housewives”, (other nationalities are available and anyway, they all live in Croydon and the closest that they have ever got to Stockholm is the local Ikea).

At Cheshire and Co we are always looking to market properties in innovative ways, so I am considering a new approach to listing houses.  For example, if we want to sell any house in Llanyravon and Croesyceiliog, all we have to say, is, “off road parking” and it will be gone before Rightmove can produce a weekly report on its data.  Similarly, “flat rear garden” for a property in Henllys and Ty Canol will result in “too late jockey” for anyone who thinks that they will wait until the weekend to book a viewing.  There is of course much opportunity for artistic interpretation, not least the quintessential, “requires some upgrading” that can mean anything from replacing the perfectly serviceable but a little tired 1970’s kitchen, to the more realistic, “it’s falling down”.  As I write this poolside in Marbs, whilst the current Mrs Chesh puts some hard training into the athletic discipline of “serious sun bathing”, I am making a pledge on my return that when writing up new property details, I will make a conscious effort to wean myself off my old favourite, “further benefits from”;  a classic of its time, rather like my vinyl Slade collection and sheepskin coat.

Just in case you think that my time in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca is spent doing nothing but admiring the view (human and geographical), may I enlighten you to a piece of trivia. The number 3 is the largest number still written with as many lines as the number represents, i.e. III.  The Ancient Romans did write the number 4 as IIII, until it was replaced by the subtractive notation IV in the Middle Ages.  Bet you didn’t expect to read that in a property blog.

 

 

Putting the right foot forward…

Well, that’s it all over then.  The Rugby World Cup that is.  There will of course be 3 further games of what could be some of the most exhilarating play ever seen, but for the Home Nations it is acknowledgement that yet again, no one was good enough.  Be it 1 point or a yawning margin of defeat it reads the same; close, but no cigar, not even a cheroot.  There is an irony that a nation with a population that does not even reach double figures is most likely going to walk off-deservedly so-with the hardware.  The irony of the situation was not lost on me when I drew the comparison with world of estate agency.  I know, even when watching the Mother Country twice lose the lead to SA, I am thinking of work.  Dedication is my middle name.  Cynics may say that the weekly Rightmove figures were a welcome distraction from watching my countrymen commit hari kari in front of a global audience.  What was evidenced over the weekend was that size and location can be massively overrated ( stop the tittering at the back, you with smutty minds).  At Cheshire and Co I regularly find myself being told by potential clients having told them what we as agents can do to ensure that their property is sold, “yes, but you aren’t in the town centre and you aren’t part of  a big corporate chain are you?”  Correct on both counts, (which, incidentally you knew before walking through our non town centre based, independent office-that you were able to park outside).  But they still came and on receipt into their bank account of the monies from a successful sale, they really did appreciate that skill, professionalism, commitment and hard work trump a shiny corporate issue uniform and the corporate mentality that goes with it (and I can speak with authority on this as I was part of the machine), every time.

Sartorial differnces aside, the other thing that got my attention was that Lloyds-the bank owned by you and me-had commissioned a report into ‘second steppers’, those who are taking the next step on the property ladder.  My first reaction was, ‘what has this got to do with increasing my share price?’  My second reaction having read the report’s findings, was that some people have too much time on their hands and need to get a proper job.  The report cited research that involved asking homeowners (it did not say how many), where they intended to get the deposit to buy their next home. Apparently, 14% would “consider” asking a family member for help and half of this unspecified number could not move for the second time without the assistance of a family member.  And?  I would reckon that 7% of those who decide to move would not have been able to without the ultimate ‘help’; someone popping their clogs.  As we all know, where there is a will, there is a relative… What was the point of that report and how much did it cost to collate such seismic information?  The report’s findings have nothing to do with Jeremy’s housing crisis, because second steppers are also benefitting from surging house prices, as they have a house to sell.  There will always be a proportion of people who fall outside the norm-whatever that may be-and it is the norm that people need help for, for any number of reasons;  it is called life.

 

A whole new experience…

In a week that saw Wales undertaking victory celebrations as a result of losing… and Anton falling foul of not having to choreograph a novelty show for a naff dancer with all the grace of a galumphing hippo… I also found myself facing a new one that will feature in my forthcoming bestseller, ‘The life and times of a (devilishly good-looking) estate agent in South Wales’.  I have already written to George to confirm that he is going to play me in the mini series…  After the deja vu scenario of seeing a property for which we had received a proceedable offer-that the vendor had rejected with disgust as being far too low and then had said that he was taking the property of the market-being listed with another agent with an asking price the same as the offer that had been denounced, I was visited in the office by another potential vendor. Having informed me that the acquisition of the listing was between us and another agent (6 other agents had been discarded), he wanted to ask some further questions before making his decision.  The first one was the timeless classic, of  “How much will you reduce your fee?” (no prizes for originality there), but the second question was a bit of a googly; “What percentage of stock do you sell?” 47.5% I replied.  The follow-up really did have some top spin; “What are you going to do to improve those numbers?”  I have to admit that my initial reaction was, “What the “£$% has it got to do with you?”, but then my inner Andy ‘I love you Jezza’ Burnham kicked in and I responded with, “What is important to us is what we will do to sell your house and by the way, of the sales that we agree, 97.5% actually complete, a figure of which we are very proud”.

After our Watchdog wannabee had departed, I did reflect on how statistics can be used to say pretty much anything.  It is a rare specimen of the estate agency breed that doesn’t look at their percentages in comparison to their competitors.  I cannot speak for the females of the species but from a male perspective it is rather akin to waving certain parts of one’s anatomy at one another. Grown up and professional doesn’t cover it  (well, certainly not in my case…)

Is it now easier to remove a tenant?

Well, possibly. That should not be interpreted as agents wanting to chuck out respectable tenants who meet and frequently surpass all the criteria in the ‘Ideal Tenant’ list being given far greater liberty to do just that.

Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 lies at the very heart of modern tenancy law in England and Wales.  A notice validly served under section 21 will force a court of law to grant a possession order without the landlord having to establish a “ground” for possession.  Under the Rent Acts (applying to tenancies granted before 1989) tenants enjoyed strong security of tenure and could only be removed on limited grounds.
New provisions enshrined in the Deregulation Act 2015 (am I the only one to spot the irony in the title?), will impose restrictions on a landlord’s ability to give a section 21 notice to end a tenancy.  Before looking at the detail, it is important to make the point that (with one exception referred to below) the new rules will only apply to new assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) entered into on or after 1st October 2015.
The changes may be summarised as follows:

Timing restrictions

For tenancies which first begin on or after 1st October 2015 it will not be possible to give a section 21 notice in the first four months of the tenancy.  In the case of replacement tenancies (new tenancy with same parties and same premises as previous tenancy), the relevant period is four months from the day on which the original tenancy began.

The new provisions also stipulate that, once a section 21 notice has been given, possession proceedings must be commenced (where appropriate) within six months of the service of the section 21 notice.  In other words, “use it or lose it”.  For notices given under section 21(4)(a) – relevant in the case of statutory periodic tenancies – the relevant period is four months from the date of expiry of the notice.

Relaxation of date requirement in section 21(4) notice

This is a somewhat technical change but it may come as a relief to those landlords and letting agents who struggle to count days correctly.  Don’t laugh, there are more than you think.  Under the new rules, the need for a landlord to specify the last day of a period of the tenancy as the date on which the tenancy comes to an end will be removed.  However, while this certainly removes an element of precision from the wording of the notice, landlords and letting agents should still be aware that the date specified in the notice must still be (a) not earlier than 2 months from the date on which the notice is given and (b) not earlier than the earliest date on which the tenancy could be brought to an end under the traditional common law rules (by means of a notice to quit).

Retaliatory eviction

This is the area of new law likely to cause the greatest amount of  gritting of teeth and imprecations to inflict damage upon one’s fellow man.  For tenancies which first commence after 1st October 2015, the service of any improvement notice under the housing health and safety rating system by the relevant local authority or the carrying out by them of any emergency remedial action will mean that a landlord will not be permitted to give a section 21 notice for six months.  That deals with the situation after an improvement notice has been served.  But what about the situation where, before any involvement by the local authority, the tenant has made a complaint to the landlord or his letting agent?

Where a tenant makes a complaint about the condition of a property in writing, the landlord will have to respond within 14 days in writing setting out what he intends to do about it and what the timeline for doing this is.  If the landlord (a) fails to reply or (b) replies by serving a section 21 notice or (c) gives a reply that is inadequate, then the tenant may complain to the local authority who must inspect the property.  If the local authority then serves an improvement notice or carries out emergency remedial action, any section 21 notice already served will be rendered ineffective and no further notice can then be served for six months.  This lacks clarity in a number of respects and it remains to be seen how it will work in practice.

The following potential problems are immediately obvious:

Local authorities are likely to be faced with a substantial increase in demands to carry out inspections and one can imagine that they might not be able to cope, at least not within a reasonable timeframe.

The courts are likely to have to deal with more defences to section 21 claims and this could substantially impact on the accelerated possession process.  The pressure on courts to deal with extra hearings could, it is thought, cause the possession process to become untenable.

Landlords are likely to find themselves facing many more complaints about condition.  This is not in itself a criticism of the new regime but it seems inevitable that some complaints will be more tactical than genuine.  Put less politely, the ‘professional’ chancers will hold their form and run up to their handicap mark.  If the simple method of ending a tenancy by giving a section 21 notice becomes problematic because of a complaint made by the tenant, landlords in future faced with a tenant who is not paying rent might be forced down the route of using a section 8 notice and establishing a statutory ground for possession.  At Cheshire & Co we are well schooled in preparing the paperwork for section 8 notices and include this in the service that we provide to our landlords.  Many agents though would not touch it with the proverbial barge pole covered in something altogether unpleasant, thus for the landlord who has a property let through such agents, what previously could be a simple and cheap process instigated without the help of a lawyer now potentially becomes a much longer and more costly exercise.

This is a not insubstantial body of new regulations to get to grips with.  In the interests of public service broadcasting, may I offer some advice for serving a section 21 notice:

  • Get the right date-on everything-too many notices have found themselves in the bin because of a cock-up with the calendar.  The two months’ notice is from the date the tenant receives the notice, so always give an extra few days.
  • Do not send recorded delivery as they may refuse to sign for it and when they do sign for it, the date of the signature may render the notice invalid.
  • You will have to show the court proof of service.  Always get the proof of posting as the courts will accept this.
  • If there are two tenants or joint tenants, send one joint notice in both names and one for each individual tenant.  A judge will need some convening that the dog ate all of them.
  • If you are hand delivering the notice, put the means of the delivery in the actual letter and ensure that you get a picture of you pushing it through the letter box, together with a signed witness statement from the person watching/photographing you doing it.

If a tenancy has been conducted correctly by all parties, then the end of the tenancy will have been discussed and nothing will come as a surprise.  If there have been ‘challenges’ throughout the tenancy, the notices and the legislation surrounding them are there to protect all parties.  As a letting agent, you will get the property back…eventually…

 

 

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 ?

 

For every action, there is a reaction….

With tomorrow’s Bank Holiday comes the end of the summer.  Cue the arrival on our screens of a plethora of adverts featuring roaring log fires, rosy cheeked infants sitting at tables covered with enough food to keep them going until February whilst their parents smile beatifically at each other, (just before they serve the divorce papers/commit matricide/announce that they are going to live in a kibbutz with Roger from Accounts).  So with the dawning of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness  I sat down yesterday with the papers to confirm that I actually could recognise some of the contestants on this year’s Strictly Come Prancing.  Before I got to reading of the spray tanned, besequinned posse, I noticed an article about a young mother who has lost a quite astonishing 9 stone.  As Cwmbran’s resident fitness and health guru-Ladies, you may look, but touching does carry a cost-I was intrigued as to how she had shed the equivalent of a conditional jockey who could use his full claim.  Boot camp? A slimming club? Er, no; she had stopped drinking 4 litres of Coca-Cola every day.  Well blow me down with a wave of a fairy wand.  Who would have thought that not consuming your very own sugar mountain every 24 hours would have such a huge impact on your weight.  As I myself indulged in a Coca Cola and its bedfellow Havanna Club 7 year old, I pondered the quite blindingly obvious effects caused by certain actions that I find myself dealing with in the world of selling houses.  Only this week, I encountered a couple who had clearly purchased the latest bestseller, “How to try and buy a house, p”£$ing off the agent and the vendor in the process”.  They also scored a maximum 10 for effort as they had clearly read it from cover to cover and tested each other on the content.

Let me revisit a very pleasant property, where in my presence they said to the vendor-a mature lady who had spent many happy years living there-how much they liked the property, how they could imagine starting a family there, how happy she must have been living there with her late husband and what a terrific vegetable garden he had created and how they would be delighted to keep it going, (obviously after removing the pile of vomit that I had involuntarily deposited on it having heard their spiel).  Tactic Number One-getting the vendor on side-was employed to great effect-even I was impressed. “Oh, they are such a nice couple, I would love to sell to them” said Mrs Vendor. “In fact, they can have the washing machine (a very recent purchase), the oven (modern and in immaculate condition), the fridge (same detail as the oven), the cat (not so modern but cats don’t live forever). Well played Mr and Mrs Prospective Purchaser.  The next day enamoured with how well their fervent following  of their recent literary purchase had gone, they employed Tactic Number Two-play it cool with the agent-with yours truly. Having rung as part of our follow up I was told, “Well, we aren’t that bothered, we quite liked it, but we have loads to view, we’ll ring you back if we want to make an offer”.  Please yourself mate, but when/if you do decide to ring back, it may already be under offer. “Oh”.  Indeed.  Continuing our follow up process, we rang again a day later to be met with Tactic Number Three-come in with an offer way short of the asking price-“Tell her its ok, but we offer £15k below the asking price and that is our only offer, we won’t move”. Okey dokey.  I rang the genteel and charming vendor to relay the offer. Word for expressive word, “Tell them both to fuck off”.  Of course Mrs Vendor, I managed to say after I had picked up the phone from where I had dropped it.  Having transposed this into estate agent speak, I rang the couple to tell them that, “Mrs Vendor is pleased that you made an offer, but at this stage she wants as close to the asking price as possible”.

4 days and 36 phone calls later we agreed a sale at £2k below the asking price and no, they did not get any white goods, nor the cat, (who at this point was adding his own offering in the vegetable patch).  The purchasers had clearly skipped the chapter that told them that under the Ombudsman’s Scheme that we must join, estate agents have to show due diligence to the buyer as well as the purchaser.  As members of the redress scheme, it is in nobody’s interest for us to try and have anyone’s pants down.  Our purchasers’ zealous following of the, “What to do to get the property at the lowest possible price” backfired quite spectacularly.  Let us not forget that a good deal should benefit all parties.

Who exactly decides whether to buy or not to buy?

To paraphrase the former resident of Stratford-upon-Avon, that is the question.  With reports in the media of surges in house prices, a housing shortage, interest rate rises and the real decider on this morning’s news-that One Direction are taking an indefinite hiatus-it is worth looking at who/what are the real power brokers and game-changers in the house selling industry.  Yes of course the tsunami in the Square Mile and the global exchanges impacts upon everyone and the ripples are felt in the comparative duck ponds of Cwmbran, but who actually decides whether the first time buyer gets the house in Fochriw?

As agents we have fought to gain the instruction (I still bear the nail marks from one of my fellow agents-he really should go for a fortnightly manicure), complied with all the necessary regulations governing vendor and property details, negotiated a sale with someone on day release, instructed solicitors and ensured that the mortgage application forms have been correctly completed. Then the fun really begins; a phone call from a firm of chartered surveyors who need access for the mortgage valuation.  This is met with one of two possible responses: “No problem, they are a reasonable bunch”, or “Here we go again…”.  Only last week a surveyor called to collect a set of keys and we supplied him with enough comparable date to choke a decent sized donkey.  History has taught me not to have the insolence and temerity to ask whether everything was ‘ok’ so I awaited the valuation report.  He had down valued the property by £1000. Yes, one thousand whole English pounds. £10,000 or even £5,000 I understand, but £1000?  What is the point?  When I asked what was his rationale and how he came to this conclusion, I was told, “Because that’s what I think and I can put it in my report”.  Well that told me.  There is nothing that we can do as agents.  In the old days-when I had hair and Kelly Maloney was still Frank-one could appeal and in fairness to the system, one could nearly always resolve the matter.  Not anymore.  In this statistically driven era that we inhabit, points mean prizes.  If a certain percentage of a surveyor’s valuations are successfully appealed, then this effects their professional indemnity. If they have already used up their appeal quota-no matter how solid your grounds for appealing-you have as much chance or reversing the original decision as Sunderland have of winning the Premiership.

Forget Shakespeare’s Globe and cast your mind back to the earlier times of the Colosseum in Rome.  The thumbs up or thumbs down given by the emperor to decide upon the fate of the gladiators before him is replaced by a chartered surveyor giving his or her life-changing decision as to whether a house has been correctly valued.  I think that I would look great in armour and a loincloth….

 

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance”

Alas, for Major General ‘Uncle John’ Sedgwick, a Confederate sharp shooter could indeed have hit an elephant, but instead made do with a human being at the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.  I was reminded of my fellow military conquistador this week (stop laughing at the back, being able to quote entire scenes from Dad’s Army is the equivalent of attending SAS training…), when a landlord uttered the words that invariably make the recipient develop a nervous tic, “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright”. Mmm.  Words, that in my experience, proceed a situation that is a cause for concern and isn’t alright, not by a long chalk. The,”It’ll be alright/It doesn’t matter” argument is invariably used by people who have no experience/detailed knowledge of the subject that they are discussing.  This week, the aforementioned landlord insisted that he would obtain his own gas certificate for the property that he has decided to rent out, having appointed Cheshire & Co as his agents.  Two weeks, ten days, one week, three days before the nominated move-in date we repeatedly requested a copy of the said certificate, to be told that it was, “on its way”.  Forty eight hours before the move-in date we told the landlord that the tenants would not be moving-in without the presentation of a valid certificate.  “It’ll be alright”, he said. No, no, no, it won’t.  If one chooses to move someone into a property that does not have a valid gas safety certificate and they die from a gas/boiler related issue, then we, the agent and the landlord go to jail.  It never fails to amaze me that reasonable, sensible, educated people who are professionals in their own field think that they know best when it comes to my chosen field and in particular have a far greater understanding of the law in relation to the said area of expertise.

Whilst on the subject of phrases that are guaranteed to cause uncontrollable teeth grinding and an irrepressible urge to thump someone, I had a bonanza week with one vendor uttering in a plaintive tone, “Don’t be like that”.  As Newton’s Third Law states, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’.  So, in relation to selling houses in South Wales, why am I ‘being like that’?  Possibly because having agreed upon a fee and secured a vendor a sale-for cash-they then try to renegotiate the fee.  What really pickled my walnuts was when it was presented as that they were actually doing me a favour. “I think that I can get the family to accept £300,000 (the asking price!) if you reduce your fee by £500”. Do I have £%$& tattooed across my forehead? May I respectfully suggest that you and your family not receiving the £300k will have a greater resonance than my not receiving £500?  You may be unsurprised to learn that the sale has gone ahead at the agreed price and for the agreed fee.

To complete the hat trick it was the written, not the spoken word that whilst an irritant, did actually make me smile.  Agents target each others boards, fact. Agents failing to recognise that the property that they have feverishly pushed a leaflet through the door is empty, fact.  If it is quite obviously empty, clue: no curtains, no furniture, who would you expect to pick up the letter imploring the owner to change agents as their current agent is Sisyphean?  That is correct: the said c£$* agent. The BS-ometer was red-lining this week when, in one of these epistles, the agent claimed to have the market edge because throughout the tenancy they monitor the credit status of the tenant.  WTF for?  History and a understanding of the human condition will show that as long as the tenant pays the rent on time, keeps the property in good order and doesn’t hold weekly meetings of the local chapter of the Klu Klux Clan in the garden (those burning crosses are a hazard), then nobody is interested in their credit status.  It also raises two further ruminations.  I assume that my fellow agent has it within the terms and conditions of the rental agreement that the tenant has signed that the agent can conduct multiple credit searches/constant monitoring of the tenant.  I am sure that they have.  Secondly, what about the credit status of the agent and the landlord?  That nice shiny new ‘executive’ car that the agent pulled up in-that is on the never never-how does that reflect on his/her credit score?  Why on earth is that anyone’s business and what relevance does it have on his ability to rent out a property, I hear you ask.  Absolutely £ all.  Just as the tenant buying a sofa from a well-known furniture store that, when they have finished paying for it (when the next King George is on the throne will have cost them the equivalent of the GDP of a small African nation), has nothing to do with their making the rental payments without fail every month.

On a separate and final musing, Rightmove has released the results of a survey to determine the ten unhappiest places to live in the UK.  All of the ten were in the greater London area, home to unrelenting house price inflation.  Perhaps money does not buy you happiness after all.  On the other hand, it is preferable to be miserable in the back of Mercedes than on a push bike…

Let the silly season commence…

August has long been regarded as the silly season in the media, where stories make the headlines that would normally struggle to find a resting place somewhere between the TV listings and the adverts for walk-in baths. It would also now appear that aside from odd-shaped vegetables and babies with luxuriant bouffants, August is now ‘Protect the Tenant’ Month/’Get landlords to do the council’s job’ Month. Firstly, all months should be about protecting the tenant; that is one of the principle responsibilities of the professional lettings agent; as well as protecting the landlord. The two are symbiotic and should always remain as such. However, it would appear that Harrow Council’s Selective Licensing Scheme that aims to look after both tenant and landlord has been deemed by many commentators to be tantamount to harassment-of both parties. The scheme will require landlords in Edgware and the surrounding environ to make-from 1 November 2015-monthly inspections of their tenant’s homes. Under the licensing conditions, the Council also makes landlords responsible for ensuring that external areas are maintained in a reasonable state of cleanliness, including removing any bulky or non-domestic items of waste. The National Landlords Association (NLA) is warning that some of the licence conditions will lead to tenants felling harassed and hounded in their homes and it has branded the conditions unacceptable and unfair for landlords.

I agree. So why did Harrow feel the need to introduce the scheme? At Cheshire and Co we endeavour to inspect our properties every two months; for the benefit of the landlord and the tenant. We supply the inspection dates 12 months in advance, send a reminder email and text 2 weeks and then 3 days before the inspection date. Have a guess how many of the tenants fail to make an appearance? Answers on a postcard and the winner gets a signed picture of me. The list of excuses given for a no-show would fill a book. The purpose of the inspections is to ensure that the property is not being abused under the terms of the contract (3 dogs, a cannabis farm, 47 illegal immigrants) and also to determine any issues that the tenant may have with the property and to address them swiftly and in the appropriate manner. Getting landlords to be part-time bin men is pushing it in my book; if an individual owns a property with a mortgage from the Halifax, they would be rightly outraged if the H called to ensure that they had got rid of the sofa sitting in their driveway. Similarly, what happens with one rented flat in a block in which the remainder are all owner-occupied. How do Harrow Council plan to patrol the cleanliness of the area outside? Well, that paving slab is your responsibility… For tenants, a monthly inspection is excessive; once every 60 days is not unreasonable and if the property is not a cess pit and there is a problem with a wonky door/leaking shower, the problem is rectified sooner rather than later.

I would be intrigued know the real reasons behind Harrow Council’s decision. Saving money by getting landlords to do the Council’s job through refuse collection and inspecting properties for illegal activity under the guise of tenant protection is a. sneaky b. lazy and c. disingenuous.

 

Who actually is the protection protecting?

Those who know me will be aware of my intense dislike for self-regulatory clubs; with the exception of Slimming World where the weekly humiliation of standing up and saying, “Hello, I’m Gareth and I’m a fat b”£$ard” does have the desired effect. Which is why the founders of  all diets clubs that have been syndicated across the globe are now lying beside their pool in their penthouse in Monte Carlo, where the size of their girth is in direct proportion to the size of their bank balance and the size of the bosom of the honey lying beside them. That said, when I succeed in returning to my usual Adonis-like self, the ladies love me even more than they did before.  The clubs that I am referring to-and I use the term, ‘club’ deliberately- are those that purport to provide some sort of protection against rogue elements of a particular industry.  Mmm.  In my profession, not one that is known for being held high in public esteem, many industry professionals use regulation and codes of conduct as a shield to rip people off in a manner that would make Derek Edward Trotter blush.

Many years ago in my father’s time, one did business on a handshake and giving your word, something that I try to follow.  There were no such things as compliance officers, regulatory forms, checkers of the regulatory forms or checkers of the checkers of the regulatory forms. This week, I have come across a case where a couple who are selling a house and have completed all such regulatory forms and their ilk have, through this process been royally taken to the cleaners in a horse and carriage by one of the corporate agents who do business in the Cwmbran area.  Having looked at their situation from valuation to instruction and now to marketing, it is blatantly apparent that aside from the aforementioned coach and horse, an entire armoured division has crashed through the Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice.  The same code that was created to protect the interests of Joe Public (and his family, estranged or otherwise).  Having shown Mr and Mrs Property Owner the pretty sticker that demonstrates that they are members of the scheme, they then proceeded to tell the hapless couple that their property is worth at least £20k more than its true value, at a fee of 2%, to then, a fortnight into the 6-month contract to tell them that they have to reduce by £20k as the price is why there has been no interest.  Nothing new there then but they keep on doing it. Why? Because they can.  Why?  Because what and where is the code of practice that is in place to check whether agents are playing by the rules?  In Wales, we now have the Housing Act (Wales) 2014, which having waded through the  blurb, means that we, as estate agents have to be “licensed” by Autumn 2015.  For starters, ‘Autumn’ is sufficiently vague to be open to all sorts of inspired interpretation.  Fear not, all those who are worried about the stipulation (a considerable bunch, on a par size-wise with those who support Lord Sewel…), we have been given until 2016 to test the scheme and if there are any complaints from the industry, there will be no fines during the trial year. Well that’s alright boys and girls, carry on as you were.  £$%* me sideways!  If you are going to bring in a rule, then bring it in and make those who need to abide by the rule aware of the consequences if they fail in their responsibility.  An agent has to apply to join and must pass the “fit and proper” test.  Mmmm x infinity. That will be entertaining.  Agents will also have to undertake local authority training but if they have passed their Landlord Accreditation Test-as Cheshire & Co did over three years ago-that will be accepted.  Everyone’s protected then: the local authority, the people who are doing the checking to see whether all the paperwork has been completed as per the guidelines and last, but most certainly not least, the agents.  The hapless soul looking to engage in a contract with the agents to use their expertise and professionalism?  Ah well, mmmm…

My advice to anyone who is thinking of selling or renting a property is to ask about as to who has a good reputation in the local community.  By that, I do not mean an agent who has sponsored a painting competition at the local primary school.  If there is an agent’s board up in your street, then ask your neighbour what they think of the service provided by the agent and would they recommend them.  Please do not just call out one agent.  We appreciate that we all are part of a beauty parade.  Finally, please people, do not believe everything that you are told, make the agent justify their advice/recommendation with hard facts.  After all, what can’t speak, can’t lie.

 

 

One does wonder…

…why a landlord needs the services of a lettings agent.  What a landlord needs is the services of a good agent to facilitate their (the landlord’s) property being rented out to the right people for the right price-for all parties.  Thank you for pointing out the blindingly obvious Chesh, I hear you mutter.  My pleasure.  Further to the earlier blog that featured ‘We’ll have the pennies out of a dead man’s eyes” Agency, we were contacted by a landlord who had a tenant in his property that had been found by an agent on a ‘let only’ basis as the landlord was of the opinion that he “knew best” regarding letting his house.  The tenant that had been found for him was four months in arrears, had a Dr Dolittle thing going on in the property that was now “wrecked”.  Most excellent.  The subsequent conversation then took place:

GC: “Mr Landlord, have you served the Section 8 Notice?”

Mr L: “What’s that?”

GC:  Ohhhhhhhk. $%^& me. “Have you carried out the bi-monthly inspections?”

Mr L: “They would not let us in, so we had to go when they were at work.”

GC: Double $%^& me. “Ah, good.  So you know where they work and can issue papers at their place of work?”

Mr L: “No, I haven’t a clue where they work.”

GC: Triple $%^& me. “No problem, do you want me to get them out of the property?”

Mr L: “No. The original ‘find only’ agent has re-housed them. Can you believe it?”

Actually, yes.

GC: “Would you like us to manage the property so all this hassle is taken away from you and all you have to do is look at the monthly rental sitting in your bank account?”

Mr L: “You must be joking mate.  I am not paying you £50 a month to do f”£$ all.”

After I had pointed out that this approach had left him £2000 in the hole and that wasn’t including the cleaning and redecorating of the property, I respectfully suggested that we were not the agent for him.

Trust me, when as a landlord you-through a combination of luck/judgement-get the right tenant without using the services of an agent, it is wholly understandable to ask, Why use an agent, this is easy?  When things do go wrong, that is when a good agent earns their corn, with the emphasis on earning it. Errant/missing tenants, missed payments, boiler’s having a nervous breakdown at 3am when it is -5 degrees, those are the reasons why you pay for an agent to manage your property.

 

Why do people hate us so much…

…. other than an inherent dislike of people who have it all; looks, flair, sartorial elegance, exquisite taste, Errol Flynn-like measurements… Anyway, enough about that lucky %^&£$) who we would all like to be.  It is though an interesting question. Having popped across to advise the Cordoba football team on the benefits of a diamond formation and enjoying a post-training sangria, I met a couple who had every reason to think letting agents were the spawn of the devil.  Over a six year period, renting throughout through the same agent, they had changed properties four times as every time they had finally agreed upon where to put the sofa the landlord had decided to sell the property.  Each time, their dutiful agent ‘rescued’ them from their plight by sourcing another property for them straight away.  Four times?  Of course, on each occasion, as it was a new landlord the agent said that they had to be re-referenced; at £300 each time.  Really.

On my return, I researched their situation a little further as I had the details of where they had lived throughout their own version of Changing Rooms.  At no time did the properties that had been claimed that the landlord wanted to sell ever appeared for sale.  They had though appeared as available to rent on several occasions, (at the exact time when a tenancy would be up for renewal) and had been let within weeks.  The four properties had, in a six year period, generated a total of twelve new rental contracts.  So that is twelve lots of charges to the landlord for “finding” a new tenant (one can just hear the conversation, “Sorry Mr Landlord, the tenants want to move out, but don’t worry, we will have it let again soon..”) and twelve lots of administration/referencing fees to the prospective tenants.  As Noel Biderman replied when asked why he ran the online ‘dating’ service Ashley Madison for married men and women that has 30 MILLION members, “You do the math!”  In these parts, it is commonly known as, ‘having someone’s pants down’ but not in the capacity envisaged by the Ashley Madison members.  Others may call it a variant on a Ponzi scheme.  It is obtaining money under false pretences.  Much like half of the Cordoba football team.

Yes, we are all in the business, indeed any business, to make money.  That is the aphorism.  Unless of course you run a charity like Kids Company where you don’t want to make any money, but you don’t pay any tax or VAT and then get the Labour chancellor to write off £600,000.  I wonder whether that comes up in the current leadership election? But that is for another blog.   Without wishing to have sole occupancy of the moral high ground, how does a letting agent reconcile this and be able to sleep at night?  Very well indeed I would imagine, in the master bedroom beside the pneumatic blonde PA.  There lies a whole new meaning to the question, “Do you take shorthand?”

If it ain’t broke…

Whilst partaking this week in a brief sojourn in Spain, I found myself in the same hotel as the football team Cordoba FC.  Having imparted my Harry Rednappesque pearls of wisdom, ‘Don’t tell the taxman anything ….’ (That was a joke Harry, you can send your libel lawyer back to his golf club), I found myself comparing the realities of life with what our national newspapers were choosing to report.  As the pound has been sent on a meteorite-like trajectory against the euro to reach its highest level since 2007, the news has chorused how the British can now have their cheapest holidays for years. £500 now buys you close to 700 euros, which is 132 euros more than two years ago.  The cost of a 5 euro drink has now fallen to £3.60.  So why change £500? Why not change just £440 and still benefit from the strength of the pound once you have cleared Customs?  If you take the money, however strong the pound is against Johnny Foreigner you will spend it.  All of it.  Just look at my bank balance after being away with the current Mrs Chesh.

This encouragement to buy industrial quantities of sun cream was accompanied by dire warnings from the Governor of The Bank of England (BOE), Mark Carney.  Interest rates will rise in the near future and those borrowers who took out mortgages at rates lower then One Direction wear their trousers will be in mortal danger as they have never experienced a sudden increase in costs.  Let’s look at this.  If someone obtained a mortgage at rock bottom rates, they either took it out after the crash at which time they would have been subject to stress testing and the mortgage market review to see if they can still afford the mortgage should rates rise, so the buffer is built in to the original mortgage offer; or they have strapped themselves up with Porch finance that they acquired after obtaining their original mortgage.  A little dishonest? Very much so, but lenders do still seem to think that they are  worthy of an honesty not often seen outside the confessional.  Let’s face it; what are three Hail Mary’s in comparison to having your home repossessed…Is that the Holy See calling..?  The BOE are apparently worried that any rise in interest rates will halt the recovery.  So why do it then?  On the basis that the economy is recovering why change things to put it in jeopardy?  I have a theory:  George/Gideon and Mark are muckers-one was given his job by the other- and last week a whole range of cuts to our benefit system were announced (‘about bloody time’, I hear the masses cry).  Maybe, just maybe, the announcement that interest rates will go up at some time is Mark helping out his mate to prove that we are all in it together.  Speaking of changing things, having watched Cordoba train this week, I now understand why they are flopping about in the murky depths of the pond that is the Second Division of the Spanish League.  Boys, If I can see that you need to make some changes, it isn’t so much broken but almost beyond repair.

Where to begin…

It may be the middle of ‘The Season’ and the social butterflies are whizzing between the Summer Party at The Serpentine Gallery, watching the Ashes, attending the Hilton/Rothschild wedding (now that must be some pre-nup) and parking their well-clad posteriors in the Royal Box at Wimbledon (if one can squeeze past the omnipresent Middleton tribe), but for those of us who do not appear regularly in Hello, Vanity Fair and their ilk, it has been a week of much to digest on the property front that may or may not affect one’s ability to flog a house. For some instead, it may be a case of flogging a dead horse.  Let me explain.

Pre Gideon’s budget we had an example of what may be wrong with our society and its rewards for earnest endeavour, or let’s be frank, for doing absolutely $&^£ all.  We had a second time buyer who made an offer on a house.  As any professional agent should do prior to taking somebody to view a property, we checked that he had a deposit, plus funds from the equity from the sale of his house, plus a Mortgage in Principle (MIP). Having had his offer accepted, he went back to his lender of choice to complete the mortgage application.  All was rosy in the garden.  That is until the lender came along with industrial-strength weed killer and nuked everything within a five mile radius.  Our buyer had failed because on affordability, the lender (or should one say the minion completing the form on the computer), had deemed that the cost of looking after and feeding his dog pushed him over the limit.  Of course it did.  For the sake of procreation! (work it out).  The answer is get rid of the dog (unfair) or don’t declare the dog on the mortgage form (untruthful).  Incidentally, he has had a mortgage with the lender for four years and has never missed a payment.  On the same day, a young female (I would be done under the Trade Descriptions Act if I used the word ‘lady’), came in to the office to enquire about renting.  She was on benefits, had three children and the DSS were going to pay her first month’s rent as she was deemed to be ‘vulnerable’.  The bond scheme were going to underwrite the deposit, so the system, the state and those members who earn and pay their taxes (see Exhibit 1-the gentleman above), were funding the entire enterprise.  Added to this, she wanted to know whether the landlord would allow pets as she had three dogs.  I checked with the DSS and the bond scheme and neither of them had taken into account, or seemed unduly perturbed that the taxpayers were subsidising Operation Pooch.  Yet the bank that likes to give that “little xtra” fell at the first when learning of the existence of one dog.

Fast forward twenty four hours and I have-after consideration, excogitation and deliberation-deemed that the future prime minister has played a blinder.  Let us consider the headlines, misquotes and budget induced hysteria and soothsaying.  The Budget Special in the Daily Mail Thursday 9 July 2015  hollered, “Tax Relief Blow to Buy to Let Market”.  What a load of tripe.  Phillip Waller reported that shares in Baretts, Taylor Wimpey and Bob the Builder Enterprises “tumbled” due to Osborne-limited tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages.  There was another corker on page 9 of the same publication penned by none other than Louise Eccles (who has previous on this subject).  Apparently, “…shares in house builders…estate agents… and buy to let lenders… tumbled”.  Do I sense a pattern emerging here?

Firstly, any professional landlord who is a 40 or 45% taxpayer who was operating pre-budget as a sole trader and not a limited company should consider having their accountant shot and if post-budget the moves are not in place to arrange a limited company, then the said accountant should be hung, drawn and quartered and then shot.

Secondly, in Louise’s article, she religiously quotes many experts including Paul Emery at PWC who opines that, “this is going to make landlords put up rents and does nothing to resolve the issues of a lack of housing supply and credit availability which is creeping up”. ibid  The Chancellor is then quoted, “Buy to let landlords have a huge advantage in the market as they can offset their mortgage repayments against their income, where as home buyers cannot”.  I wholly agree on the credit situation.  But.  Nowhere was it mentioned that landlords pay a higher rate of tax on any annual profit and their capital gains tax liability is greater when they come to sell the property.  When a home buyer comes to sell their home, there is no capital gains tax.  The Big G said that these reforms would create, “a more level playing field between those buying a home to let and buying a home to live in”.  People do not buy homes to let, they buy properties.  Look at the dictionary definition of a home.  But George knows this and is merely letting the poor saps come to the (erroneous) conclusion.  Louise (whose fire is well and truly stoked by now), also decries the removal of the automatic 10% wear and tear allowance for furnished properties.  So that’s one in every hundred that could be claimed automatically by ticking a box and not having to show any receipts.  Again, I think that the man with the red box is well aware that any landlord worth his salt keeps all the receipts for maintenance and that this always comes to more than 10% of the rent.  C’mon people, wake up.

My respect for the Chancellor is driven by the fact that, like any truly consummate politician, he does not actually mean what he says in the manner in which the great unwashed have chosen to interpret it and he wants the proletariat to come to their own conclusions about what it means for them.  Anyone who is a professional landlord will/should be operating as a limited company and subjecting themselves/their limited company to corporation tax and dividends.  Just check those rates out as opposed to higher rate personal tax.  If a professional landlord isn’t doing this I refer you to my earlier comment about using accountants for target practice. The area that the Chancellor appears to be going after is the amateur landlord division, referred to in Louise’s article, as “the boom in amateur landlord investing in property in recent years”. ibid That’s right, because 7% yield is better than 2% interest in the bank.  If any of these “amateur landlords” are basic rate tax payers then they will lose absolutely nothing and if they happen to be higher rate taxpayers, I would imagine that they are already, or soon will be acquainted with the incorporation forms.  What should be noted is that, “The changes only affect residential properties and individual landlords, not those who operate property companies. The changes do not apply to properties let out as holiday homes” ibid

So the G-man has ‘appeared’ to go after those people who have made a major contribution to the housing “crisis” and as a result has tipped his cap to the left wing, property owner hating, ‘down with the capitalist pig’ brigade when in actual fact he has done nothing of the sort.  If you are running your property empire as a sole trader you possibly will get what you deserve.  These changes are due to come in in 2017, when, ooh, what a coincidence, the rate of corporation tax is being reduced.  People, does the Chancellor have to give you an even bigger shove?

The passing of another sunrise and sunset brought news that, “House builders shares recover as buy to let clampdown  fears ebb” Hugo Duncan Daily Mail Friday 10 July 2015  Well that didn’t take long.

I can’t quite work it out…

Firstly, why, having returned from my er, ‘training camp’ in Ibiza, my suits all seem to have shrunk… Whilst contemplating this conundrum-aided by a cup of tea and a piece of cake- I found myself facing a second puzzlement.  Why are house prices continuing to reach stratospheric levels-if the media are to be believed-whilst the mortgage screw is being tightened?  An article this week penned by Louise Eccles  in the Property Section of the Daily Mail detailed how the Bank of England (BOE) are prepared to step in if the amount of debt incurred through peo0le borrowing through mortgages continues to grow to the size of Piers Morgan’s ego.  The BOE have already imposed a cap on lenders to ensure that “no more than 15 per cent of its home loans were for sums greater than 4.5 times people’s incomes.. ” [sicDaily Mail 3 July 2015  This is all very sensible, but from our daily experience of the species of mortgage brokers, we are continually finding that lenders are looking for any reason not to loan, never mind offer a seemingly excessive amount.  As a result, many genuine  prospective buyers are being refused mortgages. Taking this as a ‘driver’ (get me with my corporate speak, soon I will be indulging in some ‘blue sky thinking’…), I cannot understand how house prices are  ‘rocketing’, ‘soaring’ and any other aviation inspired verb that the journalist chooses.  In the same article, it was commented upon how house prices have risen sharply during the past 12 months amidst a, “chronic housing shortage”.  Casting a wearied eye back to 2007 and 2008, house building was at the same levels as today, but nobody was beating their chest urging house builders  to slow down their output in order to either create an increase in prices or at least slow down the price crash.  Yes, property prices can sometimes be linked to the simple dynamic of supply and demand, but it is overly simplistic to say that rising prices are due to a lack of stock, when stock levels are the same as they were at the time of the last collapse.  The main driver (see, there I go again..) is the confidence of and in the UK economy.

What was presented as a novel idea this week was that being pushed by the newest kid on the block, YouSpotThe Property.com  The clue is in the title; get someone else to find a property for you.  In this case, it is Joe Public finding properties for the agent to market.  Whilst walking, jogging, kerb-crawling (that was a joke, Officer), members of the public are encouraged to note any properties that they think are abandoned and report them to the gang at the aforementioned company.  The latter will then attempt to track down the owner, purchase the property, upgrade it and then put it on the market.  A successful sale will deliver 1 per cent of the sale price to the eagle-eyed finder.  According to the website, this sourcing of  deserted dwellings will mean that, “abandoned properties are put back to use, creating homes that contribute to rather than spoil their local community”.  Ah, that’s nice.  They are driven by charitable endeavour rather than hard-nosed commercialism.   Of course they are.  It does seem like a very plausible scheme that should work in the Capital.  I would be less sure of its success in Varteg.  Many properties do indeed look abandoned, but have a couple with 18 offspring living in them.  “We are led to believe that your property is derelict” would be met with the Varteg version of, “Go forth and multiply, you £$%&”.  For comedic value and/or to check one’s fitness levels whilst running for your car it might be of some value.

Lean in and I will let you into a little secret…

…estate agents are not interested in buyers, they are interested in vendors.  Was that the water in the font that I heard bubbling?  If an agent can get the instruction, then the buyers will come, no matter how uninspiring the performance. All the sales/tactics courses run by the large corporate organisations and training companies concentrate on sellers. Go on enough of these and agents become very accomplished at establishing the knowledge or greenness of the prospective buyer.  As a result, many willing participants are led like lambs to the slaughter house by unscrupulous agents.  Take fees: ring any agent, anywhere and ask what their fees are and I would bet the value of Sharon Osbourne’s plastic surgery bill that you won’t get a straight answer.  Answers from, ‘very reasonable’ to, ‘we like to discuss that at the valuation’ will be uttered with sincerity.  Why the inability to give a straight answer?  Because the agent will-having spoken with the prospective client-try and charge as much as he thinks that he can away with.  When an agent asks what other property professionals you have had out to the property, he is not displaying an exemplary bedside manner, but trying to establish what other fees they have been quoted, before they mention their own fee.  If it is established that the sellers are not engaging any other agent, then believe me, the fee quoted goes up.

Snake oil salesmen, politicians, estate agents, we tend to get lumped into the same bracket of moral turpitude. We all want to earn a wage, but sometimes, the behaviour of my fellow industry professionals makes me wince.  This week, I met a couple who have never before been involved in any kind of property transaction and the use of an agent.  Dear oh dear, they were skewered like new born puppies being mowed down from 20 paces with a machine gun. Having asked only one agent to come out to their property, who valued it at considerably, astonishingly more than what it was worth, they signed a sole agency agreement for 6 months at a fee of 3%. The property was not made available for 12 days, then 4 days later the same enthusiastic agent called to tell them that they had, “better reduce as no one wants it at that price”.  11/10 to the agent and I guarantee that he wins Employee of the Month/Decade.

Where in The Property Ombudsman’s code of practice is this type of behaviour covered?  In the merciless world of business, not least the part that covers property sales in Cwmbran, making the fastest, easiest, buck (or pile of them) is something that is rightly, encouraged.  But without wanting to sound too soft, let’s go hug a tree, how do you justify where you find yourself in this cavernous moral black hole? “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool” Stephen King  This could be applied equally to those who campaigned for ‘protection’ of the public by establishing entities such as TPO and making membership a legal requirement.

Before anyone accuses me of disappearing up my own posterior, may I reassure them that I still drink, gamble (both within moderation), have a disproportionate loathing of anyone in a shiny suit and pointy shoes with gelled up hair and lust after a top of the range German manufactured executive saloon preferably with Miss Minogue in the front seat.

Who is actually protecting who?

In September 2014, it was made law that agencies letting properties in England, Scotland or Wales had to become a member of a redress scheme. As of 1 June 2015, agents had to show that they were a member of one of the approved schemes offered by a trade association or guild such as the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and display the appropriate symbol in their office window.  Regular followers of the blog will know that I have an innate mistrust of trade associations and guilds, as they bear all the hallmarks of private clubs.  The only or indeed, ultimate form of punishment is to be excluded from the said club.  Without wishing to sound too agonistic, big deal.  Incidentally, membership invariably comes at a not insignificant financial cost. ‘Industry training’ and the equally enticing, ‘industry recognised qualifications’ are often trotted out as indisputable reasons for putting your name on the dotted line.  Whatever the industry may or may not recognise, these qualifications do not stop anyone breaking the law or the guidelines set out by Trading Standards.  On that basis, how does that protect the client?  But the agents are qualified  I hear you cry.  Well, I believe the Kray twins had two o-levels a piece and Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that education was essential to ensuring that the Third Reich would last 1000 years.  Not that that worked out too well.

At Cheshire & Co we have always advocated that the concern of any agent should be focussed on the people who can really do one damage, by stopping them trading and therefore earning-this would be Trading Standards.  They do have teeth and are not afraid to use them as opposed to a club, I mean guild who when one feels their wrath could liken the experience to being savaged by a broken-mouthed ewe. Well, that’s guaranteed to get me blackballed forever.  In order to meet all legal requirements we have elected to join The Property Ombudsman’s (TPO) scheme which is as close to a government body and as far away from a private club as is possible.  The TPO insist that members must have professional indemnity insurance as well as public liability, so that in the event of TPO upholding a claim against us, it can be paid for by the insurers. So any headline that reads how Robublind Estate Agents have been fined £1million is a little misleading.  Yes, they have been fiend, No they are not finding the money to make the payment, that is the remit of their insurance company.  So who is actually being protected, the agency or the client?  By joining TPO and being subject to their T’s and C’s, they are actually protecting me. This is a good thing; particularly when nefarious individuals conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner, breach the terms as laid down by TPO, are handed a hefty fine, their insurers pay up and the award to the injured party is then split between the client… and the agent.  Cynical, moi?

“Where’s Dr Nookey when you need him?”

Knockers.  The word is used in many forms generating much amusement dependent upon its context. Cue a very young Jim Dale examining a very undressed Barbara Windsor to much oohing, aahing and knowing winks from the gathered Carry On cast.  We all love them. Oeuvres of the Carry On franchise that is…what did you think that I was talking about?  The lexicon of the property world has gained a new addition in recent weeks with the launch of the property app Knocker; that has been referred to in some quarters as “property porn”.  I would love to have been at the marketing meeting when the name was decided upon-and its Hugh Hefner-esque tag-line.  I wonder whether the ‘burn your bra’ brigade were suitably aggrieved, whether they were actually present, or whether-if present-they kept their inner Germaine Greer under wraps so as not to jeopardise their pay cheque?  I digress.  The new app will tell you via your GPS exactly what properties are on the market in the area where you are currently walking/standing/driving and will show you pictures of the interior and a floor plan of the selected properties.  Then, if suitably intrigued, you may walk up to the front door of the property, knock on it (the app doesn’t mention door bells) and be invited in to have a look around.  I have a couple of issues with this.  The app does not use Rightmove or OnTheMarket, its property portal of choice is Zoopla.  Well that is nul points for starters.  As agents across the country have been leaving Zoopla quicker than the surviving Labour MPs went about disassociating themselves from anything Miliband, I would hazard that the selection will be limited. It will also be approximately 6 months out of date; a Zoopla trademark.  In theory, the premise that if you are area specific, have an exact location that you can drive/walk to and can see immediately what houses are available and then quite literally stand outside the property whilst ‘virtually’ having a look around the interior is a good one.  I think.  Alternatively, you could just use a property portal from wherever you have an internet connection and type the postcode of your choice into the search facility.  As people do anyway.  One of the ‘benefits’ of the app is championed as being the ability to stand outside the property and then ring the agent to arrange a viewing.  If the said agent is unavailable or a viewing cannot be arranged, the opportunity is there to channel an Avon Lady tendency and go up to the front door to introduce yourself. Mmm.  There are still a few sellers who would simply open the door and say come on in, but aside from any security issue, they would have no idea whether the interested parties were in a position to buy the property.  The “porn’ analogy is not a bad one actually.  Just as someone watches an ‘art-house’ film because in real life they know they would never get a look-in with the pneumatically enhanced Svetlana-they can only dream-so a prospective purchaser can pretend that they could afford the 6-bedroom house with cinema and tennis court.  Standing outside the front door only adds to the experience.  Meanwhile, back to reality.

Read the small print…

This week seemingly got worse for Foxtons estate agents-or at least their positive publicity machine took a bit of battering.  This followed the previous week’s outraged reporting of how they had charged a landlord £616, “to change a light fitting”, when the actual contractor had ‘only’ charged £412.50-a mark up of 49%.  Personally I would be more outraged that a contractor could charge just short of a monkey for changing a light fitting.  It must be said though, that there was no mention of what the work actually entailed-if the light fitting was the artisan work of maidens gluing pearls to a base hand-crafted by a remote tribe in the Pacific Islands, then maybe it was worth the money. If it was an ubiquitous, off-the-shelf number from a well-known DIY store, then they were having the tenant’s pants down. The standard bearer for the indignant and injured parties was none other than the doyen of television consumer programmes, John Stapleton.  According to his fellow reporters, Mr Stapleton uses Foxtons as his letting agents and when one of his South London properties had a problem with a leaky shower, he requested a fully detailed quote for the work required.  Foxtons obliged and provided a quote that came in in the region of a rather eye-watering £2000.  Mr Stapleton said thank you, but no thank you, found his own plumber and had the work carried out to his satisfaction for a substantially lower price.  Mr Stapleton and his equally aggrieved wife, Lynn Faulds Wood were appalled that the Foxtons had tried to charge them £2000.  The key word here is ‘tried’.  Foxtons chanced it and the odds on certainty got nailed by the handicap hot shot.  £2000 is exorbitant, but the fact that Foxtons tried to charge that amount, would imply that they have been successful in charging similar amounts on previous occasions and people have paid without discussion.  Welcome to the world of market forces.  If I tried that here in the NP44 demographic I would be told where on my person to put my quote.  All good letting agents should have a clause included in their contract that allows the agent to act up to a certain fiscal value without calling the landlord.  At Cheshire & Co it is £70, although some of our landlords have given us written permission for this figure to be raised to £200.  This protects all parties; the landlord, the tenant and the agent.  We do not charge a commission-some agents do-and this is written into the small print of the contract with the landlord.  I would be surprised that a behemoth such as Foxtons that will undoubtedly have its own in-house legal team does not have it written -admittedly well ‘hidden’ at the bottom of the penultimate page when most people have lost the will to live reading through it-that allows them through their terms and conditions an added percentage of fees and/or commission.  As Mr Stapleton and his wife have advised us on innumerable airings of Watchdog and its ilk, read a contract thoroughly-down to the smallest detail.

In a differing area of the press, Foxtons again got a mention when the city analysts opined that the likes of Foxtons and other big agents will start to feel the pressure-in the area where it really hurts-their share price, as the plethora of online, low fee charging agents continues to increase in size.  In another part of the business news, I read how Connells, the recent purchaser of our fellow Welsh estate agents, Peter Alan are now, “ramping up their acquisitions programme” and are buying up medium sized office-based estate agencies all over the UK.  What will be interesting to see is how each strategy performs; whilst we have long stated that the business model for office-based agencies must adapt, we-as clearly the boys with their hands on the piggy bank at Connells agree-are firmly of the opinion that there is still very much a place for them in the property world.

“Can we fix it?…Yes we can!”

So decreed the ever chirpy Bob the Builder and his erstwhile sidekick, Muck The Dumper Truck.  Suspending one’s disbelief for a second-not at the thought of a vehicle that can talk, but at the frankly preposterous suggestion that builders are a equable bunch with a ‘can-do’ attitude…I wondered whether today, Bob would ever get out of the starting gate at a planning meeting for children’s television.  Possibly, but he would now be in a same-sex relationship, with a child (that undoubtedly has attention deficit disorder and is allergic to nuts/milk/fresh air/hard work) and is considering doing a Bruce, I mean Caitlyn Jenner with a subsequent appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair.  What brought to the mind the irritating catchphrase was the news this week that Barack ‘I walk on water’ Obama now has an approval rating that is the lowest for any US president in the last 70 years.  When the 44th president of the United States of America assumed office in January 2009, it was on a tidal wave of great speeches and sound bites, that all followed a similar theme, “Can we fix it? Of course we can!” Or not, as the following five years have proven.  This dawning of a new era leitmotif also featured heavily this week in various articles discussing the triffid-like growth of online estate agents.  At Cheshire and Co we have -for some considerable time-commented that traditional estate agency has to change, just as it had to in the mid-70’s and as all business models have been forced to adapt over the decades.  Currently high street or any street agents are  suffering low approval ratings as their online competitors offer the panacea to all property and conveyancing problems.  But do they?  Of course, the £695 all-in fee is a huge draw, compared to an office-based agent who charges a far higher fee.  If all goes well, there is nothing not to like, but when something does go slightly awry, that call centre in Chelmsford may not be quite so helpful as they were when winning the business.  Not least because there is no office to walk into to discuss whatever the problem is and more importantly, its successful resolution.  I know the buzzwords in the IT world are security and firewalls, but there is no greater protection from an irate customer than only existing in cyber space.  There are four major building developments starting within the next 6 months in the Cwmbran area.  I would wager the price of yesterday’s Oaks winner that none of the developers will select one of these online agencies to facilitate their sales.

The approval of others also came to the fore when in France this week it was not only deemed to be illegal to hire a prostitute but also to dress like one.  Well that’s Newcastle in trouble (other cities are available) and Varteg.  At Cheshire and Co we have had several property dealings with members of the adult entertainment industry.  They are invariably intelligent, hardworking and honourable; if they have said that they are going to buy it, they do.  Approval was never an issue; on either side. As always, the more apt catchphrase, is “Show us the money”.

 

Would you Adam and Eve it…?

A some what rhetorical question, but one that did rather flabber my gast this week. In recent weeks, I have commented on how I still find myself surprised/amused/bemused/entertained at being spun any number of porky pies as to why a home owner has chosen not to list their property with myself.  Following up a valuation done earlier in the week, I was told that Cheshire and Co had received a definite ‘nul points’ and would therefore be receiving a further ‘nul points’ in fees. Asking him as to the reason why, I was told, “Because I didn’t like you”.  Well blow me down with a feather. Not like the Chesh? Pray, how can that be? And ladies of the Chesh Fan Club, please calm yourselves, there is no need to call the Samaritans or call on any of the gods to organise for some hideous fate to befall the gentleman in question.  This was, I have to say, the first time in thirty odd years that a potential client had said this to my face; so ten out of ten for honesty.  It did make me think for a while and reminisce on how all those years ago, the fledging Chesh was given some sage advice by his first boss.  When attempting to gain any instruction, never forget these three things that the owner will be considering:

1.  How do you value, my house/farm/cow/ewe/wife/daughter? (the unspoken words being that it has to reconcile with what I think that it is worth-even though I am asking you as the professional to value it).

2. What is your fee?

3. Do I like you? (at least more than my wife/daughter)

1. and 2. will always trump 3.

Thinking of this, I went back through my notes on the property that I had recently visited.  I lost on all 3 counts:

1. He wanted £30k more than I thought it was worth.  He had come to this conclusion because he had read a report from the National Statistics Office report that stated that house prices are now up 9.6%-some 13% higher-than in 2008.  I complimented him on his research but asked whether he had also read in the same report that house prices in Wales are only up 0.5%-if that-so no change from 2008.

2. He told me that he already been quoted an all in fee of £500 by another agent.

3.  Totally irrelevant.  By this stage I was already in the realms of herding cats or bottling fog.  And it didn’t help that my professional expertise, including knowledge of the aforementioned NSO report, did not reassure him of my capability or specialist knowledge but contradicted what he-the non-estate agency professional-wanted to hear and selected to use in his case for a higher valuation.

In conclusion, I didn’t value it high enough and in using my professional expertise I inadvertently insulted him.  I wouldn’t like to wager what the £500 agent gave as a valuation, but I would hazard that for £500 the agent does not back up their valuation with NSO figures and knowledge of industry reports.  And there you have it; we return to the theme that like of the agent (Number 3.) is determined by the answers given to questions 1. and 2.

That said, here at Cheshire and Co we are continually trying to improves the service that we offer to clients.  With my next valuation, I am planning to offer a free puppy/kitten/signed Ed Miliband T-shirt/ tip on the 3.30 at Windsor.  Any other suggestions, please send on a postcard to the office.

Now, now children…

The jungle drummers of the Cwmbran environ were at it so hard last week that even Roger Taylor might have been pushed to keep up.  Like the characters in a Jane Austen novel, the negotiators (and anyone who had access to any form of telephonic instrument-branch managers were not immune) could barely contain themselves following the publication of a fellow independent estate agent’s article on his website.  In his treatise, he revealed some home truths about other agents; specifically those agents who come under the corporate banner. Whilst the tone of his delivery may not have been to everyone’s taste, the content was indeed very accurate.  So much so, that the points he ‘articulated’ had already been touched upon, conjugated and highlighted in many earlier blogs of Cheshire and Co.  I am not for one moment accusing the gentleman of plagiarism-indeed imitation is the best form of flattery-but it did amuse me that a fellow independent agent should raise the same issues as we have on previous occasions.  The issues raised were characteristics of the species corporatum agens.  Several members of this close band of professionals (Band of Brothers has nothing on them…) were united in their ire at his effrontery.  I understand that the regional director of one such corporate behemoth actually took the time out of his busy diary to write to the agent concerned to complain that this really wasn’t cricket.  The cynical might opine that the notion of fair play rather got knocked into touch with a Kevin Pietersen approach when one of the regional director’s more junior employees knocked on the door of an elderly lady to tell her that they had 40 people wanting to view her property, nay buy it-right now!  One could even say that the karma fairy turned up…wielding a cricket bat.

The squabbling continued throughout the week as the property portals Zoopla and OnTheMarket (OTM) engaged in a ‘handbags at dawn’ scenario.  Despite losing 23% of its agents to OTM, Zoopla claimed to be unconcerned because since January, “The number of enquiries to OnThe Market had dropped considerably” [sic] Well that’s alright then.  OTM then upped the ante in the hissy fit stakes by querying the veracity of the Zoopla analysis, stating that it was, “Simply…another desperate set of unsubstantiated claims geared to stemming the flow of agents away from it as they join OntheMarket” [sic] Ooooh!  I think that this calls for the old refrain of “Fight, fight, fight!”  Meanwhile, outside the kindergarten, the daddy of them all, with the lion’s share, (and that of mummy lion, the baby lions and various estranged lion family members), Rightmove, sat back toting a large cigar, laughing.

Come on boys and girls, at least pretend to be grown ups.

“To be or not to be…”

No, not the words of the Prince of Denmark bemoaning his fate (as was his wont), but what I asked of a landlord this week.  Do you really think that this renting lark is for you, my old china?’  I am still capable of having my flabber gasted by the ridiculous reactions of first time landlords who, whilst reading all the press about how buy-to-let properties are the new Valhalla, simultaneously leave their common sense in the same place that Sally Bercow left her self-respect.  This week we contacted a “new” landlord who had just purchased his “first of many” buy-to-let properties.  We informed him that the locking system on the 40 year old aluminium double glazed front door had seized whilst the door was open!  The reaction of the landlord was, “I knew those tenants would be trouble”.  Tenants, who are retired and are not prone to swinging or crashing through front doors; think the demographic of the Specsavers adverts where the fitness instructor turns up to the local bingo hall.  After explaining the risk to the security of his property I confirmed that our contractor had already visited the house and could fix the problem for £140. I was told that his mate could do it cheaper and that he would get back to me.  True to his word, he did, to tell me that actually his mate couldn’t do it for less than we had quoted and couldn’t actually get there for some time.  Fortunately, history had taught me to already book our contractor to carry out the work. Whilst the mass press reporting on how to be a landlord focuses on  the terrific yields; what it invariably fails to mention is that on order to earn these yields, a landlord has to be prepared to spend at least some money on upkeep. Whilst the property is quite literally the property of the landlord, it is the home of the tenant and they are paying the monthly rental for the privilege.

The advice of my father-who counselled me on my courting technique- came to mind this week.  If you really, really like a member of the fairer sex, try not to appear too desperate.  The same could be applied to vendors who impart at every opportunity that they, “don’t need to sell” and “I won’t take less than …” Cue a viewing of their property. The interested parties have barely left the postcode when a breathless home owner is on the phone, “Well? Did they like it? Have they made an offer? What other properties are they looking at?”  If we rang the people that we had escorted on a viewing within an hour of having bid them farewell, we are straying into territory that is no longer under the banner of ‘Efficient and Professional’ but closer to ‘Fricking Desperate and We Need To Pay The Rent On The Office’.  People continue to think that a property transaction is a cat and mouse game and that they need to play their cards so close to their chest that retrieving them is akin to an SAS mission.  Whilst I appreciate that nobody wants to be caught with their pants down, the too cool for school mentality is wearing, a waste of time and as a result, affects people where they feel it the most, in their pocket.  Potential purchasers are equally culpable.  Having viewed a property with feigned disinterest accompanied by any number of theatrically announced comments on what they really, really don’t like, they ‘nonchalantly’ ask the agent, “What will they take for it?”  Being an independent agent and not having to worry about the behemoth of a PR machine that is part of the corporate structure, I can politely enquire of both parties, “Do you want to buy it? Do you want to sell it?” It is then up me and my years of experience (from about the time that Moses’ mother was putting down a deposit on the basket), to bring both parties together to a mutually agreeable point for exchange.  To all potential landlords, I would urge them-before they spend their recently cashed-in pension fund-to speak to a rental agent who can bring their experience to discuss the great benefits and possible pitfalls of becoming a landlord.

Jeffrey Archer has nothing on this…

The events within the 24 hour period of 7-8 May would have been dismissed as wholly unbelievable if introduced in the last pages of a novel penned by the former Conservative MP. Kane and Abel was given its very own Trotskyite production five years ago as Familias Miliband indulged in fratricide and the cynics amongst us might say that in writing his manifesto, Miliband E. penned the longest suicide note in history.  But who would have given credence to the final act of the party leaders standing before the Cenotaph-only one of whom was still in a job-whilst the others had committed hara kiri shortly before the service to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day?  Old Faithful, The Sun, summed it up yesterday with its headline, “Awkward”. Not half.  One could say that the former Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson in the phrase invariably attributed to him of, “A week is a long time in politics”, got his calculations wrong by about 6 days, 22 hours and 27 minutes;  if, as is alleged, certain former party leaders were-at 0930hrs-writing their victory speech and planning the new carpets at No’s 10 and  11.  When at 10pm the preceding evening, Mr, “that is a fascinating insight” Dimbleby said with a certain incredulity that the exit polls showed that Cameron was going to win, it was revealing to see the reaction of many of the experts.  Not least Paddy, ‘I am now in hospital having my hat removed from my upper colon’ Ashdown or my fellow country man and serial loser Neil ‘The British people are being conned’ Kinnock.  As regards the “Welsh Windbag” I noted that his daughter-in-law, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish Prime Minister was wearing a very smart green dress adorned with a large red rosette as she supported her husband, Stephen in his successful bid to become MP for Aberavon. It brought to mind the colloquial sartorial phrase, “Red and green should never be seen, without a colour in between”.  As many of Kinnock Junior’s party colleagues discovered as the night wore on, that colour was blue.  Oh well.

Enough political comment.  Hang on one moment, did I mention that the other Ed had gone as well?  Shame.  What has been interesting, if not surprising is the clamour from various members of the party (un)faithful  who have desperately tried to absolve themselves of any culpability for it all going horribly wrong.  To give Miliband E. credit, he was gracious and unswerving in accepting responsibility for the cataclysm.  In every walk of life one meets any number of people who say one thing with total conviction and then do the complete opposite.  I often ask a potential vendor what it is that they want or expect from an estate agent. Much well considered, sensible, erudite nonsense comes out.  What they really want is someone who will do it for £500 or less.  Why not say that at the start and save everyone time?  The other classic, is “I won’t take less than £150k, I know what it’s worth…” only to see it on with another agent some months later with an asking price of £120k.  What has happened to the notion of straight talking or at least something approaching the truth?  As has been opined before in this blog, any agent can tell a vendor that their property is worth vastly more than it is in reality-just to get the instruction.  Invariably the home owner believes the agent’s every word, because obviously their home IS worth £30k more than any other property in the street… because the agent said it was. We are all human, and our condition means that we will always be unwavering in our belief that when we are told something that we want to hear it is obviously the truth.  Something with which I am sure Miliband E, would concur as he reads the papers today and puts down his coffee mug on his brand new, avant-garde coffee table from the ‘Tombstone’ range.

The important questions of the week…

The last week, nay the last 48 hours, have thrown up some life-changing questions that demand an attempt at being answered.  To begin:

1. Chantelle, Kimberley, Taylor-May, Shannon, Kylie or perhaps following that other ‘royal’ couple, the Kardashians, could it be one of the points on a compass?  The newest princess on the block is awaiting a name.  I think that ‘South’ Wales has a certain je ne sais quoi, although one of her middle names being Pontnewydd or Pantygasseg might be pushing it and the Royal Mint could throw something of a hissy fit.

2. Was ‘The Fight of the Century’ fixed? Already the t’internet is full of videos claiming to provide irrefutable evidence that the Mexican had to lose.  Pacquiao’s camp are (some may say understandably), calling foul on the points decision.  This one will run for longer than it took to get the fight staged in the first place.

3.  Ed Miliband’s Charlton Heston, tablet of stone.  Words fail me and it has to be said most of the journalists who were there at the unveiling. In crossing the divide of the eons of time-with a biblical theme meeting that most modern of phenomena-text speak, I ask succinctly, WTF?

Further down the list of imponderables and not accruing anywhere near the column inches or pontificating is whether the election has caused  a “slump in the housing market” as was claimed in various media outlets in the past seven days.  According to data collated from the likes of Zoopla, Foxtons and the NAEA, there are on average 23 less people registered as house hunters per branch of estate agent.   This is data taken from the same source that states that on average there are 343 house hunters registered in each of these branches.  Forgive my impertinence, but if an ‘average’  estate agency has 343 individuals registered as ‘looking to buy’ I would opine that they are not doing their job particularly well.  Of this 343, there would be about 50 who are classed as ‘hot’ (stop sniggering at the back), who are ready to go and buy a property.  Without straying too far into corporate territory, the 343 claim is on a par with personnel from market competitors calling vendors and claiming that they have at least 40 people desperate to buy who want to come and view the property on Saturday.  In all such instances, I advise the vendors to politely ask the breathless negotiator to name them.

Yes, things are a little quieter at the moment than perhaps expected or in comparison to 2014.   By this, I mean the number of times that the phone rings during the course of the working day. What differs here at Cheshire & Co is that-unlike Foxtons who reported a drop in the first quarter’s turnover for 2015, compared to 2014-we have seen an increase in turnover. Is this due to more efficient working practices, luck or GC’s new Kier Starmer-esque quiff…?

Finally, a question that will be answered by next weekend and the last frenzied days of political campaigning. Friday is traditionally moving day in the property world; who will be moving house this Friday?

 

Sunday morning apoplexy…

For the second occasion in less time than it takes Katie Price to fall in love, get married, get pregnant and get divorced (not necessarily in that order), I have been compelled to write another blog further to my preceding Friday offering.  Whilst tuning into yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show, I almost choked on my cup of tea when Ed Miliband started trumpeting about rent caps.  It was said many years ago that Britain was a nation of shop keepers  and as Ms Lagarde of the IMF observed last week, we are now a nation that is obsessed with property ownership, in particular, the buy-to-let market.  Honk nose himself whilst looking beseechingly to camera (euggggh..) said that he wanted to help those, “trapped in short term often insecure agreements”.  For anyone who has had any involvement in the rental market, it is the word ‘insecure’ that jumps straight out to smack one about the chops.  I wonder whether Ed has ever tried to remove a tenant from a property for let’s say a minor transgression, such as growing cannabis or assaulting the next door neighbour?  Indeed, forget flagrant breaking of the law, how about when the tenancy has come to an end as per the initial contract and the landlord wants his/her house back? ‘Insecure’ is not a word that springs to mind.

He further stated that he would, on grabbing the keys to Number 10, ban estate agents from requiring fees from tenants before they move in.  Does this mean that having sourced and purchased a property he would be content for a tenant to move in without any background checks? These checks cost money; funding that is taken from the initial fee that the prospective tenant pays because they are wanting to live in the aforementioned property. A professional letting agency who has the interest of their clients at heart-that is the landlord-work hard to get the best tenants, not necessarily the quickest tenants into the property.  This is done through comprehensive background checks, carried out for Cheshire & Co by a professional, fully indemnified outsource company. I assume that EM expects agencies to bear the cost?  Professional referencing costs and someone has to pay for it.

Another part of his arms around the world stance was for tenants to have a legal right to know what the previous tenant paid in rent. FFS! Why? And what exactly doe s he hope to achieve by making this statute?  Just as in real life, I have no idea whether my wife’s first husband was a….wonderful cook. Even if I did, what good would it do me, our relationship, or the next Sunday roast?

His next ‘Earth calling Ed’ moment was that tenants should have 2 months notice to move.  Er, that would be what it is at the moment and of course the landlord should only give notice with “a good reason”. O.K.  So the individual who does not in any way, shape or form have any ownership of the property can hold the legal owner to ransom?  I (not so) respectfully suggest that Ed does not know his Section 8 or Section 21 from his arse.  For those of us who have been to court for a possession hearing on the grounds of the tenants not having paid the rent for three months, trashed the house, terrorised the neighbours or the rather mundane-the legal contract has ended-will know from rueful experience that the listed reasons are often not deemed sufficient by the learned judge.

I accept that letting agents-as in any profession (see, the clue is in the title)-want to earn money from the rental market.  Some of us do a good job, some are utter rogues.  But from his wide-eyed utterance of yesterday, I have to conclude that Ed and his minions have empirical evidence to show that none of the landlords within in the UK vote Labour, so there is absolutely no problem in upsetting them and that the 4.5 million private tenants  must vote Conservative so will automatically jump ship to big-hearted Ed’s team.

Monday morning rant over people.  As you were.

 

 

“Simply the best…”

Not the chart topper by Annie Mae Bullock, but a statement made by those sitting in betting shops across the country, pundits both professional and self-appointed and many of those that regularly frequent racecourses about the-as I type this over an hour after he weighed in for the final time-now retired 20 times champion jockey, AP McCoy. I must modestly claim some part in his emergence to dominate a sport for a quite unbelievable two decades; when starting his career as a spotty faced apprentice, he rode two winners for me. AP, ‘Wee Anthony” or “Champ” (as I am reliably informed by those who have walked around with him at the start of many a handicap hurdle/novice chase), is demonstrably and unequivocally the most successful ever National Hunt jockey thus far and most probably for eternity. But is he the best ever? Good question and on which will be deemed nigh on sacrilegious to those delivering a panegyric to the man. The most driven and determined? The jockey to whom you would entrust the last £20 of your child’s savings? The jockey who will ride as hard in a selling hurdle at Plumpton on a wet Monday as the Champion Hurdle at the Festival? All answered unhesitatingly in the affirmative. The best ever jockey in terms of if you had the choice of any jockey to ride your horse in the Champion Hurdle or any other Premier League race? Maybe not. Top five; yes. Top of the top five for delivering on the biggest of occasions; not always.
What does this have to do with estate agency, (aside from my own crucial role in his embryonic career)? Well if one reads the descriptions of some of my fellow estate agents, “The biggest in Wales”, “First in Wales”, “More offices than any other in Wales”, does it actually make them the best and what exactly are the criteria for qualifying as ‘the best’? It does not make an iota of difference to a vendor that you have 200 houses on your books and your last 20 clients think that the sun shines out of your every orifice. It is how you deal with their property and their experience of your professional conduct that colours their opinion of you. Just as it is how McCoy rode an owner’s horse on a specific day that determines whether they think he is the best. He was great on the two winners that he brought home for me, but so were all the other members of the weighing room who managed to get my pony into the coveted Number 1 spot (having been ahead on Mr McCoy at the only point in a race where it matters: the winning post). I remember once in my corporate days holding court in the pub on a Friday night, recounting to the masses how I had sold ‘x’ number of houses that month, when someone from the other side of the room shouted, “Well you haven’t sold my f”£$*$%”. At that point, the 20 properties that I had sold meant absolutely zero to the pub audience, the vendor and me. They illustrated my productivity and ability to sell a house-to the 20 successful vendors-but not to the gentleman whose house still sported a ‘For Sale’ sign. Hard-working, busy, charming, good-looking, James Bond stunt double; all true. The best? Not quite so easy to define. As Brian Clough once replied if asked if he was the best manager in the league, “No, but I am top of a list of one”…

Bonjour Madame…

In June 2014, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, praised the handling and performance of Britain’s economy. She reiterated the sentiment this week in Washington when she was quoted as saying, ” It’s obvious what’s happening in the UK has worked”. Ten months ago she did though voice concern that the housing market in the UK, in particular the help-to-buy scheme had the potential to derail our economic recovery. This was seized upon with glee by Ed, Ed and Vince. In fact, quite the opposite has happened; so brownie points to George and his nom-dom friend Mark. The acknowledgement from Madame Lagarde and her team was greeted rather sniffily by the Shadow Chancellor who commented, “…it is not the IMF’s job to arbitrate…between a country’s political parties”. I wasn’t aware that anyone had asked for arbitration…
As we have long trumpeted here at Cheshire and Co, nobody wants to go back to the days of 125% loan to value and 18 x income that were the norm pre-crash, (when it must be noted, Ed and Ed had their fingers on the button of the nation’s calculator). I was intrigued by a headline on Friday that proclaimed the “Best Fixed Mortgage Rate Ever” Daily Mail Friday 18 April 2015 As always, the headline is not wholly candid; it is possibly the best fixed rate mortgage rate for those people that meet the qualifying criteria. As I continually remind my adoring fanbase, ‘the large print giveth and the small print taketh away’. If a potential purchaser can afford the 40% deposit and £1500 set-up fee, (both of which are wholly reasonable), then yes, the HSBC mortgage that launched on Monday is a very attractive proposition and will be a superb deal for some people. I would also bet a not insubstantial amount that when someone applies for one of these loans and gets rejected, there will be a host of “not so competitive deals” available, by which stage the prospective borrower will be half committed to that lender away. In conclusion, the article stated that the HSBC rate offer was likely to be on the market for, “at least a week…depending on demand”. Well aint that the truth. If there is a £100 million available to lend, it will be gone when it has gone; I don’t see HSBC refilling the coffers. So a week where optimism is justified but reality should not be kicked out of bed just yet.

Mid-week interruption…

As our regular followers will know, here at Cheshire & Co we usually blog once a week, but this morning, whilst training for the Cwmbran marathon (no, me neither..), a local newsstand caught my attention. Our Prime Minister-not the underling who is very much the lesser party in the bro-mance (remember the puppy dog eyes and man hugs in the garden at 10 Downing Street five years ago?)-has announced that the current Government, if re-elected (it did not state whether it included our saffron-wearing friends), will extend the right to buy scheme to 1.3 million households currently living in housing association properties. This has thrown up some interesting questions:
1. How many housing association tenants will actually qualify for a mortgage? Hence the reason that they are in an association property. The recently introduced mortgage stress tests (designed to give reason as to why no institution has any reason to loan anything to anybody…), will not so much be stressed as have a complete nervous breakdown.
2. Once all the housing association properties have been sold, will all the staff at these non-profit organisations be made redundant? Will they feel so charitable then?
3. As is constantly howled from the ramparts, will the acute housing shortage only increase in size and will more social housing be built, thus knocking thousands off the market value of any property in close proximity? Harsh, but true.
4. How will first time buyers feel, who have recently bought a non-housing association property, having saved hard for a deposit? I would imagine that it rhymes with ‘missed’.
5. Will ardent non-Conservative or anti-Conservative voters take advantage of the scheme if the Conservatives get in?

There are many people all over the country, covering the entire political colour spectrum, who are living in substantial properties, thanks to Mrs Thatcher giving them the opportunity thirty years ago to get a foot on the first rung of the housing ladder. There are also many who would rather have their eyes poked out than give an iota of ‘thanks’ to the aforementioned “witch” as I have had heard her called several times in these parts, who still live in the former council house that they bought thirty years ago when right to buy was in its infancy. I have yet to meet anyone who in an anti-capitalist stance has given back the keys to their property in order to realise some long-held desire to help society. As has often been commented upon,’An Englishman’s home is his castle’. In the interests of fairness and probity, one should replace ‘Englishman’ with Scotsman or Welshman. And in case Clare Balding is reading this, it could/should replace ‘man’ with ‘woman’.
I just wonder whether as integral a part of the manifesto and as headline grabbing as it is, it will get the ‘blue collar’ voters to tick the blue box? If in doubt, the undecided could always pick green as their colour of choice; after all, a key point of their manifesto is to ban the Grand National. Something that immediately springs to mind when one is struggling to pay the mortgage or is praying to every god that exists that having broken your leg, you are close enough to the border to be taken to hospital in England not Wales.
Nick Robinson moment over, continue as you were..

Love thy neighbour…

…or for those practising endogamists, someone whose genetic make up isn’t too dissimilar to your own. Think deepest, darkest Louisiana, remote islands in the Pacific Ocean and Aberbargoed. Ok, ok, before disgruntled from Cwmtillery writes in (using the eight fingers on his one hand), endogamy does not mean that you have to marry your sister. It just means-as all sociologists will tell you-the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such a basis as being unsuitable for marriage or for other close personal relationships; as exemplified by the British (German/Austrian/Greek) Royal Family. This sudden interest in social demographics was sparked this week as I listened to Vanessa Feltz on Radio 2 who was discussing both endogamy and exdogamy (think the headstrong Grantham offspring in Downton Abbey who took off with the Republican supporting Irish chauffeur). The subject of blackbirds flying with blackbirds or estate agents using the same pub on a Friday night to discuss business/wave their genitalia about is particularly apposite as May 7 looms into view and the representatives of the various political parties put on their cabaret act that invariably runs true to their political colour. In a week of sound bites and utterances that left nobody overly surprised; please do not tell me that it never crossed your mind that Barry Manilow might possible be more Liberace than Tom Jones?, the one big reveal that did have me spitting nails was Nick-my-wife-has-me-by-the-castanets-Clegg. Should they be given the opportunity to redecorate No 10, Clegg & Co will lend up to £2000 to anyone wanting to rent a house if they do not have the money for the initial deposit and the first month’s rent. A poor man’s version of Help to Buy? No, because with the Help to Buy scheme, the buyer has to contribute themselves and a charge is taken over the property. In true hand-wringing, corduroy and socks with sandals-wearing fashion, the Lib Dems are proposing to ‘help’ society. Help which part exactly? The part that can’t/won’t get off their backsides to help themselves whilst those who do drag themselves in to the coalface pay for the privilege? Having screamed at the radio and then forced myself to take several deep breaths, I then asked what I would do if someone came into the office looking to rent a property and had the deposit in their hand. Would I-or any agent-query where the money came from and on a political principle-not take their application fee? Of course I wouldn’t. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats-when not hugging trees, mothers who breast feed in public and campaigning for a utopian world could launch a new campaign slogan; “Nick Clegg, the estate agents’ friend”. Fear not, the men in white coats are just arriving…

7-up….

With 28 minutes to go as I write this, I would hazard a guess that the 7-up gang for tonight’s televised debate are starting to feel just a little nervous. Dave, Ed, Nick, Nige, Nicola (she of the helmet hair), Natalie and Leanne, (go on, a fiver if you can give their surname and political party without a second thought… a fiver my money is safe…) all get to prance and do their own version of Britain’s Got (Limited) Talent this evening. I don’t wish to pin my political colours to the mast, but I do predict that all those taking part will try their hardest not to answer a direct question with a direct answer. I predict that the line, “That is indeed a very serious issue, but first, let me say this…” will be used (or a variant of), with such frequency that by the end of the debate viewers will be willing someone to answer with, “Will you just %^&* off”. For those of us who watched the Jeremy Paxman, “I’m still alive, my…is bigger than yours” Show, that was masquerading under the pretence of being a serious question and answer session allowing the public to make an informed decision come 7 May, I don’t think that I was the only person who longed for the Prime Minister to tell Paxo what a stupid question it was to ask him if he could live on a zero hours contract. No sane person, what ever their political pedigree would choose to do so. Interestingly, the same question was not put to the fratricidal-leaning, honk-nosed one. Incidentally, for all our younger readers, zero hours contracts are not an invention of the current millennium, they are what used to be called casual labour. The main contender for the keys to Number 10 seem to run scared of even possibly causing upset to any fraction of the franchised masses.
What has this got to do with estate agency? Well aside from my forthcoming peerage-Lord Cheshire of Cwmbran- The Big C to those who have known me some time, I remember the days when there were only ever two parties that could be named by the man, woman, child or dog in the street. This was about the same time that there were only three estate agents in Cwmbran. Now we have as many parties as Snow White had Dwarves and there are nine estate agents in Cwmbran. All competing for the same public vote, be it to elect them as leader of a G8 country, or to sell their house. I empathise with our political colleagues because in the beauty parade of estate agents that all vendors are entitled to carry out, no agent really wants to tell the home owner that their property is not worth as much as they thought, and if telling the truth, running the very probable risk of not getting the instruction. Fortune does favour the brave, but as the gang who will have the studio lights blazing down on them as I finish typing this, it is one hell of a gamble to take.

“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?

“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”.

Transparent as mud…

If one feels compelled to ring any of my fellow agents in Cwmbran, to ask them what they would charge for selling your house, you will receive an answer comprising some-if not all-of the following statements:
…where do you live?..we need to come out to the property before we can answer that…we do not discuss the fee over the phone (my personal favourite; what is the answer if you counter with ‘Why?’).
Why such a protracted answer? Well speaking as an ex-smoker (read corporate estate agent), I can say with some authority that head office will be cracking that target whip like Zorro on speed. Of course, every agent-be they part of a corporate behemoth or as a standalone sole office agency-wants to make as much money as possible. We all want to meet the potential vendor to give our presentation/cabaret act and to try and elicit what any other agent has said that they will charge so that we can price accordingly. What differs in respect of the corporate beast is that they may well have a minimum fee imposed upon them by head office; which may be wholly acceptable in certain demographics of the country but are pushing it (to put it mildly) in the NP44 postcode. The way round this? Overvalue your property by 20%, so that you will definitely go with them, tie you into a 6 month contract and then 5 months down the line as you put the Samaritans in your ‘Favourites’ part of your contacts book, they rock in with the ‘advice’ that if you want to sell your house you need to drop the price by, let me think, say 20%. The reluctance to quote a fee prior to gracing you with their presence can also fall into the ‘hedge your bets’ school of thought. If an agent doesn’t want the property, quoting a TTP fee (think about it), is a win-win situation. Too big a fee may cause the vendor to run for the hills-or at least another agent-or if they should accept the agent in the role of Dick Turpin, then if the house should be sold, then the fee earned makes the vendor go straight to the top of the agent’s Christmas card list.

At Cheshire and Co we charge 1% plus VAT. That’s it, no gimmicks,(prize draws spring to mind), no negotiation. We will happily disclose what we charge when speaking with any home owner as the fee is wholly transparent. Of course we need to come out to the property prior to being instructed because it may be that we decide that it is not for us and neither party, agent or vendor, is going to enjoy the relationship. If an agent starts offering a free haircut/prize draw entry/kitten/small child in an attempt to buy a home owner’s business, then dear home owner, walk away, or do not be surprised or aggrieved when the wheels fall off spectacularly some way down the line. Similarly, if a vendor only wants to pay a £500 fee for the successful sale of a £350,000 house, then they probably get the agent that they deserve.

Calling all experts…

…I am of course referring to all those who profess to be authorities on any number of varied subjects. This week has seen a plethora of opinions being voiced, from the big, pointy, embroidered hat gang (I admit that I am para-phrasing one of my comedic heroes, Dave Allen), who ‘lead’ the Church of England, postulating and hand-wringing about the state of the nation and how the world would be a better place if we all tick the red box on 7 May ( when it comes to being inspired and following a leader, I wouldn’t follow that lot out of a burning building), to the doyen of the Dog and Duck who offers his knowledge and judgement-at no cost to the recipient-without having even been asked (generous soul that he is).
We completed on a sale on Friday, with the vendors having dropped the keys off at the office the previous evening. We received the release call and our happy purchasers went to their new home only for them to ring us 20 minutes later to tell us that the house was still full of the previous owners’ chattels. Having tracked the sellers down to the local hostelry (ironic it has to be acknowledged), we asked them why they had not emptied the house prior to completion. We were told that after they had finished their round (at 10 o’clock in the morning-I think that they had adopted the Jimmy Buffet line of “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”), they would mosey on down to collect their belongings and anyway, their mate had said that, “There’s nothing the buyer can do anyway”. Really? How about how on legal completion the buyer keeps all the contents of the house that he has bought, which, unless specifically stipulated in the contract are now technically, legally, you can do £&@! all about it, his?
Similar misguided and misplaced prowess was also in evidence when I visited a property that we had recently sold to a couple who were first time buyers. In the course of facilitating their purchase they had asked me what sort of upgrading it required and at at what cost. Interior design is wholly a matter of personal taste (yes, I have seen leopard print velour outside of an establishment where they charge by the hour), but the precept is that if one is spending £100 a metre on ceramic wall tiles for the bathroom, then it is advisable to spend £50 on the tiles and £50 on the tradesman to fit them. Furthermore, the old adage that, “If you can pee, you can paint” is limited in its scope. Yes, we can all paint, but very few of us can paint well. Spending a month’s wages on Farrow and Ball paint to do it yourself invariably results in a blatantly amateur attempt, as opposed to a professional decorator making a great job with the home decor store’s own brand. Back to our FTBs’ abode: I had had detailed reports of the chosen Italian bathroom tiles, (hand carved by Sicilian virgins etc.), only to enter the bathroom to utter OMFG/FFS/WTF (get me with my SMS speak). It appeared that Stevie Wonder had been moonlighting as a trainee tile fitter. When asked who was responsible for the work, I was informed that Uncle Dave had offered his skills. And what does Uncle Dave do for a living? He delivers parcels. Well I hope that he can drive better than he tiles. Apparently the exchange for his labour was “buy him a drink”. I predict that this may be a very expensive round.

I seem to recall…

…that over the past two years I have on several occasions-from my command bunker at Cheshire Towers and posted in this medium-opined on the sooth-saying of many ‘city experts’. These modern day Tiresias’ have repeatedly, determinedly and latterly rather desperately commented that interest rates would/will/should/must rise. Equally forcibly, I have begged to differ. Even allowing for my Clark Gable-esque rapport with the fairer sex, (cue much harrumphing from those members of the sisterhood who only shave their legs when Harriet Harman says that it is permissible), I don’t actually have the old lady of Threadneedle Street on speed dial. Let us think about this: Mark Carney, the first non-British individual to sit in the big chair at the BOE was appointed by George Osborne. Any rise in interest rates before a general election would be political self-immolation. Yes, I know that the BOE is championed for its independence, but the old pals act of looking after each other is alive and kicking down the the door of No 11 Downing Street. Even though the experts (who are paid significantly more than an estate agent in the NP44 postcode), missed this, in my opinion Professor Thick of the Thick University, Thicksville should have seen this coming over the horizon.
Speaking of ‘The Smoke’, I was once told by that peon of sporting athleticism, Eric Bristow, to, “look where you are throwing and throw where you are looking”. What in the name of all things holy has that got to do with the property market, I hear you importune? Thirty years of filling my dance card in the crowded ballroom of the property market has taught me that home buyers and sellers react to their own personal circumstances; their actions are not predicated by the BOE interest rate. I have yet to have either a vendor or a potential purchaser inform me that a movement in the interest rate will influence their decision making in whether or not they choose to buy or sell. A seller’s principal interest is what their house is worth-now-and a buyer’s interest is in how much they can borrow and how much it will cost them-now. I have to point out that an expert’s opinion in a daily broadsheet has little bearing on the couple who have their heart set on that house in Varteg.

AP McCoy 20 yrs ago

AP McCoy my part in his success

Maxwellisation…

Yes, the man who fell off his boat makes another ‘appearance’ from beyond the grave. The governance procedure that bears his name is that whereby individuals who are due to be publicly criticised in an official report are sent details of the criticism in advance and are permitted to respond prior to publication. It originated from the Mirror Group oligarch being publicly criticised in 1969 in a report by the DTI that saw him take them to court. The DTI were deemed by the judge to have “virtually committed the business murder” of Maxwell ( as opposed to those mentioned in scurrilous rumour mongering who allegedly ‘took him for a swim’ that night in the Atlantic…) How this piqued my interest was in this week’s reporting of the Chilcot Enquiry, which thus far has enquired yet has after 6 years has singularly failed to report on any of the said enquiries. One of the reasons? Maxwellisation. I am sure that much of the correspondence between a certain foreign head of state and his own British poodle, A Blair do follow a particular theme, “Tone, let’s bomb the bastards”, but due to the machinations of the most senior civil servant in the land, the Chilcot Enquiry will not reveal and we, the public, will never know. Such Maxwellisation would be a useful tool in business, not least estate agency and the completion of a sale. A prospective buyer commissions a home buyer’s survey which if fully disclosed would reveal a damp problem; but due to Maxwellisation, the surveyor does not disclose the issue for fear of upsetting the contractor who installed the damp course. I tell you, if estate agents could invoke the premise of Maxwellisation, it would cut the ‘buttering up the surveyor’ budget by half…

Speaking of upsetting the delicate sensibilities of various parties I refer you to last  week’s blog on the playground battles of property portals. You will be pleased to know that the petty squabbling continues. In November, Cheshire&Co withdrew from using Zoopla as the service was appalling and the data was invariably out of date. Zoopla have drawn their handbags with a flourish, writing to, (what they believe to be) all our landlords (I refer you to my earlier point about out of date data). They have assumed the role of ‘custodian of landlord welfare’, by informing the said landlords that their chosen agent (moi) is not a subscriber to Zoopla and as a result their property is not getting the best coverage to instigate a rental/sale. The landlord is implored to change to an agent that is on Zoopla. Ok, that would be an agent who is on Zoopla and Rightmove, as I have yet to find an agent in our area who is not on Rightmove. After my initial apoplexy, I did laugh. The letters sent to empty rental properties were addressed to “The Landlord”. Mmmm. Dear Zoopla, as they are empty rental properties and you have discovered their existence through looking at the Cheshire&Co website, who did you expect to find the letters? The owner of the property-the landlord- or a representative from Cheshire&Co who manages the property on behalf of the landlord and as part of the management process inspects an empty property on a fortnightly basis? This was a shining example of why we left Zoopla in the first instance. Perhaps I should instigate the Cheshire Enquiry into why so many agents have dropped Zoopla and wonder what steps they would take to invoke Maxwellisation?

Reinvention of the wheel?

This week the world was agog with…… the launch of a new property portal. I know, you can hardly contain your excitement and this dazzling piece of news only escaped your attention because you were negotiating Greece’s debt obligation to the Eurozone/watching Celebrity Big Brother/regrouting the downstairs loo. Admittedly, the launch of  www.OnTheMarket.com has possibly only energised/intrigued/bemused the property industry poobahs and us mere mortals further down the food chain, whilst leaving the general public blissfully ignorant. The seismic change in the world of property portals (and yes, I did write that with a straight face), is the big (read ‘only’) two portals of Rightmove (the leviathan) and Zoopla (would like to be Rightmove, but isn’t) being challenged by the aforementioned young pretender. As per the arrival of any new contender with their eye on the throne this has caused varying amounts of interest, concern, ennui and “bring it on” utterances, dependent upon who sits where in the housing portal hierarchy. What has caused much chatter is OnTheMarket stating that an agent can be with them and/or one of the other two, but not both. Also, online agents are not permitted to join, so that tells them, those pesky miscreants giving estate agents a bad name…

No agents relish the fees that Rightmove ( forget Zoopla, it is a definite second, in this case the first-and only-loser), bleeds from us, but like car insurance you have to have it to exist. Just as those-disguising their wares behind meerkats with dodgy foreign accents appreciate whilst counting the contents of their ever expanding piggy bank- the big boys at Rightmove know that they have us by the short and curlies.

Forget the claim of the new kid on the block that it was launched to “break the duopoly” of Right move and Zoopla. No, it was a calculated move to try and break the monopoly of Rightmove by forcing them to reduce their fees as agents leave the portal in their droves to join the Zoopla/OnTheMarket charabanc. Mmm. 11 out of 10 for a ballsy move boys. Having checked yesterday, 6 agents in the Cwmbran and Newport area are now with OnTheMarket; with a grand total of 6 having left Zoopla and a whopping 0 having left Rightmove. Unlucky Zoopla; as we used to say in the Army, ‘Close, but no cigar’.

The Reasonable Man

Throughout my long and illustrious career at the bar, (a free packet of pork scratchings with a bottle of Stella…), I have triumphed on many an occasion by using the reasonable man defence in cases of negligence.  I refer of course to Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co (1856) 11 Exch 781  To refresh the memory of my fellow Rumpolds: Facts: The defendant had installed water mains in the street with fire plugs at various points.  During a severe frost the plug near the plaintiff’s house ruptured and a large quantity of water escaped and entered the plaintiff’s house.  The water mains had been installed 25 years ago with no problems to date. Issue: Whether the defendants were negligent when they installed the water mains 25 years ago. Procedure: Trial court jury decided in favour of the plaintiff, the defendant appealed.  The decision was reversed. Rule: Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

How does this relate to rental properties? Let me explain:

As we were locking up the office one evening earlier in the week, we received a telephone call from a tenant’s relative (note; not the tenant). It could be surmised as, “The boiler has broken down and she has eighteen kids and she has had no heating all day. What are you going to do about it?”  Firstly, with more offspring than the local rabbit population, she had to be from Varteg and secondly, why , if she had been freezing since the break of day, had it been left to call the office at closing time?  As a reasonable and considerate individual, I said that we would have a plumber there first thing the following day. “Not good enough my dear chap” came the answer.  This is a translation from the local dialect which in its original form read, “You are a bunch of “£$%s and I will set fire to the house”. Very reasonable.

The plumber did visit the property at 0900hrs the following day to discover that the tenant had let the pressure bar run down to zero, resulting in the safety feature of the boiler kicking in, whereby the boiler automatically switches itself off.  Otherwise, it would have eventually exploded, with the potential of injuring one or all of the eighteen children.  When we asked the tenant as to whom the cost of the call out charge should be billed, you can imagine the response.

Similar interaction with a tenant took place when another urgent call came in, “The strong wind has blown the lock off the door, it is now totally unprotected and we will get burgled and my granny’s Ming vase will end up in Cash Converters” (I admit, I made the last bit up, she actually said Sotheby’s).  A contractor was dispatched with immediate effect who established that the adverse meteorological conditions was actually a husband with a temper and the only ‘wind’ was the one that he was three sheets to.

Ninety-five percent of the time, leasing properties and the whole rental process goes smoothly.  As responsible and reasonable agents we have to act in a professional manner, with if necessary, some compromise from the various parties.  If in the case of the boiler we had said that a plumber would be making an appearance sometime in the next week, that would have been wholly unreasonable and unprofessional and the tenant would have substantial and reasonable grounds for complaint.  I am somewhat puzzled and bemused when paid up members of adult society are so convinced that they have been wronged feel it necessary, even reasonable for a member of their extended family to make a call into their (the tenant’s) landlord/the agency handling their tenancy, demanding immediate action.  The same demographic are wholly unprepared to accept that action may not be so urgently required that it must be undertaken in the middle of the night, but instead in a reasonable time.  I am similarly annoyed with those ‘professional’ landlords who when assuming their own legal stance at the bar state with authority that, they told the tenant “Where they could %^&*7$ go” or “I’ll smash their £^&*% face in”.  Such landlords do tend to get the tenants that their attitude and behaviour deserve.  I often quote Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co to such individuals, which tends to result in my being offered to have my “£^&*% face” smashed in.  Reasonable chaps.

My goat has been got…

…or indeed my Camembert is past its sell by date… I am reversing back down by the wall that I was driven up…by an article in The Mail on Sunday, January 11 2015.  Never did I think that I would be sharing emotions with the Guardianista fraternity/sorority (so as not to elicit the harpy-like wrath of Ms Toynbee), but Toby Walne (TW) has, I admit, irritated me greatly.  The article focused on the administrative costs involved in tenancies and how these are frequently “hidden” from tenants.  Let us be very clear.  As an agency that specialises in residential lettings, we do charge an administration fee.  This is disclosed on the property description details so cannot be tagged under “hidden”.  TW rather sniffly states that agents “justify” their fee for services including drawing up tenancy agreements and credit checking prospective tenants.  Correct.  We charge a fee for the service that we provide that includes: sitting with the applicants in the office to correctly complete the forms-as mistakes cannot be rectified, collating the necessary information before passing it to an outside referencing company, discussing feedback from the said company with the applicants – particularly if they failed to pay a mobile ‘phone bill three years ago that sent their credit score through the floor-but seeing if we can still (with the agreement of the landlord) fulfil their wish to rent. If we proceed, we then prepare 4 individual contracts and an inventory before again meeting with the applicants to fully explain their obligations under the contract, before they sign it.  By the time that we move in the tenants we have spent some considerable time in their company.  That is our job.  But it is a job, it is not volunteer work for a charity.

Our erstwhile journalistic friend then makes a big deal about how on top of their fees, tenants must “typically” pay a month’s rent up front.  There is nothing “typical” about it, it is fact and established practice.  Just as any of us with a mortgage have to pay at the start of the month before we may have ever lived in the property.  Welcome to the real world TW.

Examples are cited of tenants who when questioning the fees charged by an agency were told in no uncertain terms, that if they didn’t pay, the agency would have no problem in finding someone who would.  Clearly someone who dipped out of the “Customer Relations/Dealing with Customer Queries” seminar; naughty naughty, HR will be after you.  But as the area where the rental property was located was South West London, whilst the brusque manner of the agent was not to be condoned, they were right when they said that they would have any number of (desperate) prospective tenants willing to pay, no questions asked.

The bit that did make me chuckle was the bald statement that tenants are “unfairly treated” because they are “forced” to go through an agency rather than directly to the landlord.  Er, one thing TW.  How do you think the agents come to have the properties on their books?  By some stealth operation of nefarious behaviour involving secret agents, honey traps and unfortunate videos that would have them choking on their G&T at the golf club?  Or because a homeowner wishing to put their property on the rental market chooses someone who is a professional in their field (ergo knows what they are doing) and chooses to avail themselves of this expertise in order to facilitate a rental income?  The crux being that they do not want-to paraphrase TW-deal directly with the tenant.

Having rectified several wrongs -although I can do nothing about Toby Walne’s inherent dislike of estate agents-I am now off to enjoy the last days of a glorious but vanishing dynasty.  The girls of Page Three are from next week to be sporting slightly more garments than the tradition of their proud heritage.  It clearly is a day of firsts: not only do I find myself sharing sentiments with Polly Toynbee but I now find myself empathising with Jodie Marsh.

What constitutes sport…

A mixed bag of curiosities to pique the interest of  @Twitter ‘#andanotheronegone’, otherwise known as Cheshire & Co.  I was intrigued to learn that some people are calling for ‘gaming’ to be considered an Olympic sport.  In my opinion (and I am level pegging with Solomon on most things, although I might just edge him on Tottenham Hotspur, the back catalogue of Cliff Richard, the exact script of The Godfather and the best way to artex a ceiling), but sport is an activity that requires specialist footwear and an increase in one’s heart rate; hence why lap dancing makes it onto the list.  What might lessen the argument for those looking to see avatars fighting it out alongside Greco-Roman wrestling, the decathlon and er, rhythmic gymnastics is the tragic tale of the Taiwanese gamer who was found dead in a gaming café just outside Beijing having hardly slept or eaten in a ’40 hour session’.  I can empathise…after a session lasting that long I would need a lie down in a darkened room with a week’s supply of tea and jam tarts having given Tatiana strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed.  The information superhighway has a lot to answer for; from the skewing of the Olympic ideal to house buying.  This week we received a call from a gentleman citing himself as a potential buyer who had taken, “a very close look” at one of our properties listed on Rightmove.  This forensic examination had taken place using the formidable tool that is the internet and he now wished to view the property for real.  He then launched into a plethora of reasons as to why he didn’t like the property, including the colour of the kitchen, “that will have to change” and “who put the patio doors in? They will have to go”.  As well they might-when he has bought the property.  One of our team suggested that there was little point in him viewing the house as he obviously didn’t like it.  Oh no, he countered, “I won’t pay anything close to the asking price, but I might as well have a look”.  Strange, we get paid for selling properties, not offering guided tours of them.

Pointing out the obvious was the characteristic of an article in Friday’s Daily Mail by Graham Norwood, imploring potential purchasers to get, “sales savvy”.  Apparently-and I am staggered by the revelation-“dirty net curtains…run-down communal areas…mould or damaged or rotting windows are the most common tell-tale signs of a poorly kept property”. Well knock me down with a Quaver (other brands of crisp are available and may be more effective as a battering tool).  Further sage advice was offered by Linda Jeffcoat of Stacks Property Search, who opined that, “external factors such as noisy neighbours, all night traffic…nearby late night food joints are valid negotiating tools”.  Actually, I would say that these were factors that may well cause you to walk quickly in the opposite direction.  A professional estate agent would have allowed for all these things when valuing the property at the outset.

Out with the old, in with the new-ish…

In keeping with my Scottish and Northern friends, (trust me, I was up there during the festive season and it is b^&*dy freezing), I introduced the first-footing tradition (or a variant of) to many households in balmier climes i.e. Cwmbran.  Gaelic tradition has it that the first footer should be male (that’s me), tall (that’s also me) and dark-haired (that was sort of me in the last century). The first person to set foot across the door after the stroke of midnight in the first hour of the new year is the bringer of good fortune to the household for the following twelve months.  Whilst at Cheshire and Co we are always keen to accommodate clients’ needs and the public are invariably dazzled by my debonair charm, I don’t think that many would have been enthused with good will to see the Chesh prancing across their doorstep in the wee small hours of the 1 January waving the latest Rightmove report.  However, a willingness to meet with them in the subsequent days and discuss their options and plans as regards their property or their next (or possibly first) step in the property market, has already been productive for all parties as 2015 remains in its infancy.

Resolutions made and vowed to be kept with the earnestness that only ever evolves from the haze of too much alcohol have I note already been shattered spectacularly by many with some involvement in the housing market.  Journalistic hysteria on one of two themes, ‘boom’ or ‘doom’, made an early appearance as the Halifax produced a report that states that first time buyers are back with a vengeance-not dissimilar to another New Year list that said that flares would again be all the rage this summer with the fashionistas.  This obviously chose to ignore the last-but-one media utterance that said that any first time buyer who happened to be under 49 or over 51 and needed a mortgage (as is the wont of most first time buyers), had about as much chance as my sporting a Kevin Keegan perm circa 1979 by mid-April.

My fellow agents are not exempt from a refusal to break long-established bad habits.  Telling prospective vendors that they have to employ a town centre agent-because (think of some reason other than that they are beside McDonalds/Ladbrokes/Ann Summers) and that they need to sign up with ‘Give us your money and we’ll stripe you & Co’ because they have thirty people ready to view the property that very afternoon, have already had a strong showing in the first week of the new year.  Call me old-fashioned (I know, most of you do), but old fashioned service and professionalism will beat gimmicks any day.

But one should always remember that when one thinks that they have seen it all, they haven’t.  In my thirty year career involving property, armed conflict, select but notable TV appearances and the role as stunt double for James Bond in his budgie smugglers, I thought that there was little-if anything-that would surprise me. “The fool does think he is wise” William Shakespeare As You Like It  Well said, Bill.  This week we had a young lady booked in for a rental viewing who said that she would bring her mother. Very sensible looking for sage advice we thought.  At the viewing, the daughter, who was about 20, turned up with her mother, who was about 35 and her grandmother who was about 50.  They clearly got lucky in the genetic lottery.  What rather floored me, was that both daughter and mother were pregnant.  Speaking of genes, I rather struggled not to ask if it was the same father and whether the child(ren) would have twelve fingers.  Only up the valleys, or if you are Jade Jagger.

 

“The Times They Are a-Changin'”

One would doubt that when Robert Allen Zimmerman released this album on 13 January 1964, he had any notion of how often the title would be used and misappropriated over the subsequent decades.  Allowing for the rather poor use of syntax and grammar (perhaps the correct use of the latter would have persuaded that English teacher in Wisconsin/Princes Risborough to buy the album thus shifting it higher on the billboard charts than its final resting place of #20 in the US and #4 in the UK), Bob does make one wonder whether things do ever really change or is it merely adaptation to current circumstances?  As befits the passing of another year, the human race subjects itself to introspection, navel-gazing, maudlin thoughts of how better things were in times past and resignation to a depressed acceptance that we are all doomed.  Yesterday, whilst beetling about doing viewings I heard on the radio that Twix bars are now smaller than of yesteryear and a well-known bakery has cut an inch off their filled baguettes.  Gentleman, you will all appreciate that losing an inch is no laughing matter; ladies depending on whose inch and from where it is lost is either a cause for jubilation and celebration or commiseration and no man buys the ‘it isn’t the size, it’s what you do with it’ line… The arguments in support of Mr Dylan’s title track would state that there have been some seismic changes, not least that solicitors have been working throughout the Christmas period and have even emailed me this week-pass the smelling salts Petunia, I feel rather faint.  Conversely, some things don’t change;  I still get bookings in my second career as George Clooney’s looky likey, Miss Minogue still harasses me for a date and somewhat disappointingly, despite scouring the post-box in recent weeks  and today’s publication in the national press, I don’t seem to be able to locate myself anywhere on the New Years’ Honours List.  Most notable of all, the emotional roller coaster of reporting movement in the property market continues at a speed a great deal faster than the spectacular fail of the Sky Swing at Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland. I wonder what the price is being offered on whoever was in charge of the not so wondrous wonderland being without portfolio in 2015?  Earlier this week the Daily Mail stated that house prices will drop by 0.6% next year.  This was a figure put forward by a “leading expert”-so ahead of his or her field and confident in their prediction that they went unnamed…Yesterday, the Daily Express was adamant that the cost of buying  property will “soar” next year due to changes in pension legislation, with those of pensionable age spending £5 billion on property in 2015. Really?  Try ringing any pension provider (I have) and asking them about the legislation that is coming in in April 2015 and they cannot tell you what, how, or when as they are still waiting on Government guidelines.  So in many areas times definitely aren’t changing.  I leave you in 2014 with the musings of two gentleman who are and will be viewed as two of history’s most powerful, successful, divisive, unifying and disappointing figures, it is at your discretion as to which individual you attribute the characteristic. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” Winston Churchill  “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” Barack Obama  Personally, I think that we are still waiting.  Happy New Year.

What goes up, must come down…

..apart from the length of Ms Flack’s ( otherwise referred to as the next Mrs Cheshire’s) dresses on Strictly Come Prancing, or for that matter Kristina’s… and most definitely Darcey’s.  Anyway, back to more mundane matters.  This week, the report of the ex-Treasury minister Paul Myners on the sale of the Royal Mail by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable concluded that the latter had made, “the right decisions”. Indeed, one could conclude that Baron Myners himself had made the ‘right’ decision’ by not castigating the man described as a “raving Marxist”, by Nigel-la Farage on LBC this week, who had himself commissioned the enquiry.  The ennobled gentleman said that Vince had got it just about right in the sale because the dramatic rise in the share price  was not his fault and furthermore, if the share price had dropped after issue, then that also could not have been attributed to Vince and his gang mishandling the first real, proper job that they had to do in their department. The prancing minister does seem to have got away with it and in fairness, he was only ever going to please one half of the political classes.

The report deduced that the undervaluation at the point of sale was £180 million-a not insubstantial amount – although considerably less than the National Audit Office who stated that it was actually undervalued by £750 million.  Now that is a substantial difference of opinion. The share price today is around 400p.  Market forces took over at the time of the sale and the price rose from 330p to 600p.  I am willing to bet that if they had launched at 600p then no one would have bought them and Vince and Danny (they sound like a 70’s long-haired, beatnik pop duo), would have been regarded as blustering fools. (In many quarters this is the accepted opinion of them, but for a variety of different reasons).  So what goes up must come down and so on. I do wonder whether the critics of the sale include those people who bought houses in 2006 in the belief that one could not fail to make money on property, and in 2014 are still not back to where they started.  Market forces my friend.

 

 

Cruel intentions or just business?

There has been much press coverage in recent months about wicked landlords, avaricious agents and bullied tenants. The latter’s very existence and emotional and financial well-being is wholly dependent upon the capricious nature of the former named parties. Some of the reporting does have merit; some of it is about as accurate and credible as Brother Miliband (the one who got shafted by his sibling), claiming that the Government that he was a member of at the time knew nothing and in no way condoned/connived/turned a blind eye to the torture of terrorist suspects.  Hey-ho.  Tis the season to be jolly.  Or not, if you are the tenants that featured in an article by Kate Palmer in the Daily Telegraph Daily Telegraph 27 November 2014  Her piece revealed the case of a property concerning four tenants who asked the London letting agency who handled their rental why they had been issued with a bill for £1260 for changing two names on a tenancy agreement.  According to Ms Palmer, the tenants, both old and new were told to pay up or face eviction.  They contested the sum and were “evicted” from the property by the agency.  May I firstly ask that it be noted for the record that £1260 is exceedingly steep regardless of the circumstances or the geographical location.  Looking into the matter in a little more detail:

  • The existing tenants wanted to change the terms of the agreement that they had signed with the agency by removing two tenants and adding two new individuals.  This constitutes a new tenancy and therefore a new agreement.  You cannot simply replace one tenant’s name with that of another individual.  It is not like car insurance where another named driver can be added to the policy, but the policy itself remains extant.
  • The landlord is not obliged to agree to this request.  He may not like the cut of the new tenant’s jib/hair colour/footwear/annoying smirk.  Here at Cheshire & Co we lease our vehicles over a set period of time.  If we want to change the terms of the leasing agreement we must ask the leasing company who are in no way morally or legally obliged to consent to our request. If they do accede, they will without doubt charge us a fee.  When the lease is up the company can say that they want the car back-simple as that.
  • The use of the word ‘eviction’ is a little out of context if not wholly misleading, as the article states further on that the dispute over the bill began after two of the tenants had moved out to get married.  The betrothed had found two individuals to step in and take their place on the agreement.  Putting romantic endeavour to one side, this is an obvious breach of contract and one where a Section 8 Notice would be successful.  If I rang the car leasing company this evening and told them that I no longer wanted the vehicle but Bill from the pub was taking over the lease and could they just alter the agreement, can you imagine their response?
  • A landlord can issue a Section 21 Notice at any time, just as a tenant can give notice. Neither party is duty bound to continue the relationship for ever.  A Section 21 is not an eviction notice-however much journalists try to imply otherwise-it is simply the notice by which the landlord tells you that he wants his house back at a particular time (allowing for the time period stipulated in the tenancy agreement).
  • The erroneous Ms Palmer then claims that under a Section 21 Notice a landlord has the right to ‘evict’ a tenant who speaks out about a faulty maintenance issue with the property that they are renting.  Bollocks.  A Section 21 can only be issued to come into being at the end of a contract and no reason has to be given.  It just states that the landlord wants the house back.  Perhaps Ms Palmer has got her notices mixed up; a Section 8 Notice can be issued at any time, but must state the exact grounds for its issuance.

As a general observation with the aim of protecting both tenants and landlords, stick to the contract.  If as a tenant you choose to move out before the end of your contract and move someone in in your place, do not be surprised if the landlord is a little unhappy.  Headlines that proclaim how tenants have been told to pay up or get out are attention grabbing but misleading.  Russell Brand and Shelter, you can sit down for the moment.

 

 

Tis the season to be jolly…

In readiness for the big day, the herald angels harked this week, not about the new born king, but about Gideon, I mean George’s new stamp duty threshold. Alongside the heavenly hosts, the not so celestial Fourth Estate -dependent upon the colour of their political ichor-proclaimed, “the new boom is here” or for the more melodramatic, “we are all doomed”.  Step forward Vince and Ed.

It is terrific news for those buying up to £1million and not so palatable for those over the £1 million barrier. I think that I can confidently say there is nothing to worry about in Cwmbran or even Fochrhiw where you could buy the whole town for less than a marigold. (Q. Why was marigold adopted as slang for a million? Answers on a postcode to the office; the winner gets a signed picture of GC). Looking at some real life examples, we were due to exchange contracts last Friday on a property selling for £160,000.  “We are all ready” was the familiar solicitor’s cry.  Stamp duty would have been £1600 – a not inconsiderable sum.  We did not exchange until yesterday when stamp duty was a much more palatable £700.  A terrific result for the young couple buying the house and a chance for the solicitor to claim supreme prescience in that looking after his clients he chose to wait for the outcome of the Autumn statement.  A great bit of self promotion until his legal assistant rather let the side down when she informed us that, “we weren’t ready Friday because we still hadn’t got all our enquiries back”.  Ah well.

We have also sold a property for £400,000, with exchange set for 16 January.  The old stamp duty would have been £12,000.  The new threshold reduces it to £10,000 , prompting the vendor to ring up and tell us to put up the price by £2000, as the people buying it (under the historic threshold), “were going to be spending that anyway”…

According to the all-seeing, all-knowing entity that is Rightmove, yesterday there were a total of 350 properties, up to the value of £1million on the market in Cwmbran.  345 of these are priced under £500,00 and 251 under £200,000.  I think that it is quite clear where the market base lies.  Will the new stamp duty levels cause an explosion in prices in NP44? I don’t think so.  What will change is that buyers looking to purchase around the £125,000 to £135,000 mark will no longer have the old stamp-duty threshold as a bargaining tool to to get a price reduction. Similarly, agents marketing properties in that bracket will no longer be able to use, ‘Stamp Duty Paid’ on a set of details or as an extra incentive to have reason to replace the ‘For Sale’ sign with a ‘Sold’.

It will be a very different matter in London, the Home Counties or whatever postcode where properties exchange for considerable sums of money.  An article in the Sunday Times last weekend featured 9 houses that, “had to be sold” by Christmas  Ruth Bloomfield Sunday Times 30 November 2014.  One of them, on the market for £2.35 million was offered with stamp duty-a whopping £160,000-paid by the  vendor.  Since Tuesday’s announcement, the stamp duty moved to an even more eye-watering £282,000.  I checked both Rightmove and the agent’s website this morning and the vendors are still offering to pay the stamp duty, on the proviso that exchange must take place before Christmas. Good luck to them, particularly in finding a solicitor’s office that is functioning after 12 December.

You’re how old..?

In our age-obsessed society where life expectancy is ever increasing and there is a multi billion industry whose sole purpose is to ensure that that we look and live longer than any previous generation, there was an irony this week as it was announced that mortgage lenders are now actively discriminating against the over 45’s by making it very difficult for us silver/devotees of Grecian 2000/bald individuals to obtain a mortgage that extends past the normal retirement age. Those seeking a mortgage who fall into the ’empty nester’ bracket are to be limited to 10 and 15 year mortgages, even though they may well have excellent long-term pension provision up to their eight decade. Part of the juxtaposition is Gorgeous George (did you know that his first name that he loathes, is actually Gideon?) Osborne’s announcement in October of, “The Pension Freedom Revolution” Simon Lambert, This Is Money, 14 October 2014  where many of the restrictive rules dictating how and when holders can use their pension are to be lifted.  Significantly, individuals will be able to dip into their pension pots, drawing on it when needed.  Hence much nervousness in the ranks of mortgage lenders when contemplating an application from anyone who was in their infancy when man first landed on the moon and Sesame Street was launched (quite a year 1969; forget Neil Armstrong, Big Bird made the cover of Time magazine). The justification for such disquietude is that if people dip into their pensions for any number of reasons, then they may not be able to make mortgage repayments in the long term as the piggy bank will be empty. Cue collective sucking of teeth and, “the computer says no” utterances.  All mortgage underwriting is done on a computer with the software having been written and uploaded by that quaint notion-a human being. It is only tacitly acknowledged that the said individuals may well have adjusted the software following direction from on high whereby at the most recent board meeting the executives decree that the company is to reduce its lending this quarter/half year/year. I do believe that everyone is rather missing the point. Regardless of how much income someone plans to earn over the next 25 years, it is how they decide to spend it that matters. If a 47 year old goes in to the Halifax with maximum pension provision up to the age of 70 at £50k per annum, what guarantee does the lender have that the individual sitting in front of them (who is probably old enough to be their father), is going to spend it wisely? Mid-life crises involving pneumatic Russians, sports cars, expensive bikes (Bradley Wiggins, you have a lot to answer for) and a desire to attend Glastonbury can all knock sensible saving plans into a cocked hat. Common sense has to prevail with mortgages underwritten on all available information coupled with a judicious appraisal by someone with common sense. Traditionally this is what bank and building society managers were actually rather good at, rather than trying to flog PPI, additional credit cards and dog biscuits.

 

“That all you’ve got George?”

For all sports aficionados, 2014 was the 40th anniversary of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ when George Forman and Muhammad Ali gave the world what has been described as, “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”.  Not only did it produce a gladiatorial contest of skill and fortitude, but in the course of 8 rounds (referee Zack Clayton stopping the fight two seconds from the bell in the 8th), it also gave the world some classic one-liners, including Ali pulling an exhausted Foreman off the ropes to inform him that, “This is the wrong place to get tired George”.

Some may be wondering how, (aside from slightly nerdish hero-worshipping), this has any relevance to the noble art of being an estate agent? (Yes, I do know the meaning of irony).  To answer the incredulity; I was this week called out by two previous clients who wanted me to take on their property to market.  Both parties had looked at properties via other agents and quite rightly, the said agents had tried to obtain the instruction to sell the properties of the potential purchasers.  When asked why the parent agency of the individual showing them round the property should be used (instead of Cheshire & Co), they were told amongst other reasons, that their agency was open on Saturday afternoons, would produce a sparkly brochure to out-sparkle all other brochures, and more pertinently, “Whatever Chesh says that he will charge, we will beat it”.  Without wishing to align myself with a sporting god (although I must say that I look mighty fine in a pair of budgie smugglers and if I hadn’t had a nasty cough, I would have won Wimbledon/scored the wining try in the Six Nations/England wouldn’t have gone out on penalties again), it does fall upon me to ask, “That all you’ve got insert name as appropriate?”

Testosterone-fuelled chest-beating aside (and indeed the waving of other parts of the anatomy), there are-when choosing an estate agent-certain requirements that should be satisfied before any potential vendor enters into any kind of agreement for their property to be marketed.

  • The ability to meet your actual requirements (not impose their own).
  • A clear interest in meeting your needs-the client.
  • Positive word of mouth and testimonials from previous clients.
  • Knowledge of the area in which the property that you are hoping to sell is located.
  • Knowledge of the price bracket that your property is likely to sell in.
  • Commitment to frank, realistic dialogue about the market and your situation.

In meeting the above criteria, an agent may not be the cheapest in the area, but there is more than a modicum of truth in the maxim that you get what you pay for.

Abercwmboi via Marbs…

Amidst my hectic schedule of bronzing myself, watching various female forms bronzing themselves, signing autographs and entertaining Tatiana and her friends to tea and a jam tart, I ‘occasionally’ logged into that pesky social media site known as Facebook, (honestly who has the time, or the inclination to tell the rest of the world what they are doing…)?  One of the more amusing posts (amongst the zillions of pictures of babies and small humans of varying degrees of cuteness posted by besotted parents and grandmothers), was that of “10 Freakiest Villages in Wales”.  Incidentally, some of the aforementioned, less cute offspring did come from some specific postcodes.

For those interested, Abercwmboi means ‘Mouth of the Boi Valley’ and Yns Y Bwl has no literal translation but does produce some good rugby players.  A notable omission from the list was Garndiffaith, a hamlet just a few minutes from Cwmbran (South Wales’ answer to Marbs).  The literal translation is ‘Desolation’ and if you have ever had the misfortune to be there in the months September through to August, then you would appreciate the accuracy of the title.  If you ever hear the words (warning) that someone is from, “Up the Garn”, then you tread very carefully whilst looking for their twelve fingers and third eye. In these PC times, it is good to have a laugh about/with my fellow proud Welshmen. I would chuckle just as much about a list of villages that included Chipping Camden, East Ilsley and Yarm.  The latter are all-and I speak from personal experience-very lovely places and I am sure that according to the local inhabitants there are many three-legged children a couple of miles down the road.

In these times, PC is a way of life; and I don’t mean those individuals following Sir Robert Peel into Crown Service.  As in any area of longitude or latitude, people here in Wales, actively and vocally discriminate against people from the next village or conurbation, with vendors, buyers and landlords stating emphatically that they don’t want someone as he (or she) is from somewhere that didn’t make it onto the “Freakiest Village” top ten.  As I discovered when listening to Radio 5 Live, this mentality is not restricted to this side of the Severn Bridge.  According to the report, people on zero hours contracts-some 1.4 million in the UK-are being discriminated against by landlords in the South East who do not want them as tenants.  When letting a property, one cannot discriminate against a potential tenant on the well-trodden grounds of race, sexuality, disability, gender etc.  Nor can one positively discriminate in favour of a tenant because they have a fantastic pair of…legs or some other Tatiana-esque attribute.  What one can do and indeed should do, as a professional agent, is say to a prospective tenant that neither you nor the outsourced referencing company think that the individual can afford the rent, whether they be a zero hours worker, self-employed, or in full time employment.

Are landlords in the South East discriminating against a large tranche of prospective tenants? No, they are making a business decision. It may, at first glance seem somewhat short-sighted but think about the contributory factors.  The rental market is still on fire in the South East of the country and there are vast numbers of very well paid individuals looking to rent.  Is choosing a tenant on a guaranteed £100k a year as opposed to an equally hard-working but zero hours contract worker being discriminatory?  No, it is called market forces.  Welcome to the real world.

If we took this approach to the area where we operate there would be alot of empty houses.  An agent has to adopt a balanced view, appreciating local market forces.  A zero hours worker who has always paid their rent on the nail for the past few years will not qualify for the landlord to buy a rent guarantee policy (in the event of non-payment of the rent, the policy would pay the landlord up to twelve months equivalent monetary value to the rent), but would seem like a good bet to me.  Whether a potential tenant is from Fochrhiw, Aberbargoed or the moon and has eight fingers on each hand, the agent having received the referencing should discuss it (and any other associated factors), with the landlord before coming to a final decision that may or may not allow the ‘prospective’ part to be dropped and replaced with ‘current’ or ‘new’.

And finally, politically incorrect question of the day (if not the decade): ‘What is the definition of a virgin from…(insert village/locality of choice)?’

Answer: Someone who can outrun her brother.

Doctor knows best…

Yesterday, whilst swinging my man-bag and strolling through the playboy centre of Puerto Banus, I walked straight into my doctor of thirty years.  Having chatted genially for some time and established that we were both on holiday with the named individual on our respective marriage certificates (it has been known… “Darling, work are sending me away on a b%^&dy course for a week…”), I was also able to determine exactly who from the pantheon of movers and shakers in the NP44 postcode owned palatial properties in the den of iniquity that is Marbella.  What it did highlight was that even in the age of the information super highway where any amount of intelligence, wisdom or data is merely a mouse click or a tap on a small screen away, local knowledge and expertise still has the ability to reign supreme.  Knowledge of one’s chosen subject matter should never be underestimated but is increasingly discarded as not wholly necessary. Last week (prior to my waxing and spray tan), I went to a valuation where the vendor informed me that  his property was definitely worth £130,000 as the property over the road had sold for £125,000 and his was in far better condition.  No, it didn’t I told him, I sold it for £118,000 – whatever your former neighbour may have smugly announced.  I was also informed that a full rewriting had been carried out on his property, to which I responded with a request for the installation certificate.  “I don’t need one”, I was told. Yes, you most certainly do.  It may be possible that that the local, independent estate agent knows more about the selling of properties in the area, for no reason other than that is their job.

Which rather neatly segues with Ms Sarah Beeny and her latest televisual programme, “Selling Houses”, that goes under the working title, “Tell estate agents to f%^* off”.  For the benefit of the court, may I state that it is a good programme with mass appeal that conveniently promotes Ms Beeny’s online, pay-up-front estate agency; for which there is a place, as there is for all things.  I do feel however that – unsurprisingly – it is edited to heavily favour the ideals espoused by Ms Beeny’s latest venture. In all previous incarnations on the small screen, Ms Beeny has always advocated vendors asking at least three estate agents to come and value their property.  Now, to highlight how there is no longer any need for a living, breathing person to have any physical role in the selling process, one misguided agent is called out and Ms B then queries the validity of their appraisal.  At no point are we told what the brief was to the agent nor the parameters (if any) that they were required to work within when offering a professional opinion. Cut to the final few minutes of the programme and we learn that after seven months the property has been sold for £10,000 more than the estate agent valued.  The thirteen unqualified viewings and delayed completion date, (by 4 months) because of “complications with the buyer”, are nonchalantly brushed over.  The owners, rather than looking rested and luxuriating in the comforting glow of Beeny-land look in desperate need of a stiff drink and a week spent lying pool-side in 30 degrees.  Which reminds me…

Greedy landlords? Surely not.

All of us can as individuals be guilty of avarice, even me; and I am as close to perfection as anyone…stop sniggering at the back.  I am still (having been around almost as long as Terry Wogan’s toupee), somewhat surprised, nay, shocked at how seemingly sensible, reasonable, sapient landlords who when the tenant moves in are happy for the letting agent to prepare a full inventory with pictures and then carry out regular inspections, but on the tenant moving out, wish to inspect the property themselves using their memory of several years ago as to how the property ‘should look’ and then quibble over returning the tenant’s deposit.  In fact, the landlord’s inspection is often accompanied by the comment, “I don’t need your inventory, I know what it looks like”.  Correct, sir/madam, you do know what it looks like from the regular inspection reports and accompanying photographic evidence that we provide you with, which you have happily accepted. These may well note some minor ‘wear and tear’ (as expected from any abode actually being occupied by living, breathing people), but these should not now be discarded or ignored because you have a photographic memory of the property from four years ago and have an unrealistic belief that the house should be pristine with no evidence whatsoever of human occupation.

Let me present the incontrovertible facts:

  • The tenant has paid £500 pcm for four years, so that is now £24,000 that the landlord has earned from the property.
  • The tenant has kept the property safe and watertight, whilst it increases in value.  Thus income and capital growth for the landlord have been paid for by the tenant.
  • The tenant has never once missed the payment date for the rent.
  • In order to retain the deposit, the landlord will have to make the case that the damage is wilful and not ‘wear and tear’.

I know Gordon Gekko proclaimed that ‘greed is good’, but for £500?  Incidentally, for all those trivia nerds; Gekko never actually uttered the exact words ‘Greed is good’ in the original film; the trailers for Wall Street featured a montage of edited scenes that resulted in the phrase being heard as such. That’s one to throw water on the bonfire of the next smart a£$& who thinks that he is being the sharpest, smoothest dude in town.

 

 

 

“Bring it All Back”

My week took a sudden upturn when I heard that S Club 7 are getting back together for Children In Need (as opposed to “Former Bubblegum Popstars in Need… of a  few quid”-not quite as catchy nor politically correct).  I challenge anyone not to bop along to “Don’t Stop Movin'” although  few could match me on throwing a few shapes on the dance floor akin to Bradley and the gang.  The breaking news on the pop front generated a wave of nostalgia and took me back to my stellar career in the music business.  Way back in 1980 – when I had hair – I was working on the rebuild of the famous Enfield Rolling Mills and living in Palmers Green.  Every Sunday after work we would go to the local café on the Hereford Road owned by Mr Panayiotou.  The food was great and we were frequently served by Mr P’ son, Georgio Kyriacos.  Nice lad, something of a spotty chubster and frankly, a crap waiter.  One particular day I offered him the benefit of my worldly experience and said, “George, you need to find something that you are good at, because waiting tables is not for you”.  I rather fancied myself as a prototype Alan Sugar.  I am glad that he heeded my sage advice as otherwise the music world would never have witnessed George and Andrew in their tight white shorts, nor would Georgio have made the Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists List.  During the same period, having embraced the local community (and one female in particular), I went to a local hostelry where bands were being given the chance to showcase their ‘talents’.  One of them was pretty good, but offering my talisman-like advice I told the lead singer that they weren’t bad at all, but would never get anywhere if they kept the stupendously naff name, “Curiosity Killed the Cat”… Simon Cowell, your job is safe.

Why such reminiscing?  Well a recent survey commissioned by the online estate agency, eMoov.co.uk reports that since 1974 house prices have risen 1,879%. Goodness gracious me. And houses are only the 5th biggest riser on the list. No 1: cigarettes, up by 4,370% and a first class stamp has risen by 2,067%.  Incidentally, the chance of your letter arriving on time has fallen in similar dramatic fashion, but that is for another blog.  What does it all mean?  Well nothing but the blindingly obvious; we are 40 years down the line and the world continues to turn with all the associated inflationary risks and returns.  As has always been the case since homo sapiens first inhabited this earth in a ‘compact one bedroom ground floor flat with many original features’, the drivers in the property business are:

  • Marriage/falling in love
  • Divorce/falling out of love
  • Death (all those millennia ago being eaten by a woolly mammoth)

All these drivers are still doing fine and will continue to do so as long as the human race continues to exist.  The property cruise liner sales along  – sometimes with a following wind, sometimes relatively becalmed – and we embark and disembark at various ports.  Is it genuinely life changing that the Halifax price index shows that over the past 12 months, prices have risen 9.5%, and over three years it is a not insubstantial 16.1%?  One has to observe that these figures don’t quite justify the wretchedness of the Greek chorus led by Vince, Ed and Ed (different one – hates the first one and wants his job).

As Socrates (the philosopher, not the all-time great Brazilian defender who was blessed with more attributes than any man has a right to be), said, “Life is to be lived looking forward but is spent looking back”.  Heeding his school of epistemology, I am off to tune into Capital Gold/Absolute 80’s and to look at photos of a time when I genuinely needed the services of a barber.

 

Now come now Ms B…

The wrath of the Chesh (sequel to ‘Revenge of the Sith’ – you know where to find me George), was incurred by none other this week than the fragrant Sarah Beeny.  Let me say that I have met Ms B and am the first in the queue to appreciate her astute business sense, perspicacity and substantial portfolio (she has some great houses as well….).  She has made a very successful career from applying and utilising all the skills and attributes available to her, including those of the countless estate agents whom she has worked with over the years.  It would seem that she now wishes to discard the aforementioned agents and is encouraging everyone looking to sell their property to go on line as she opined on various media outlets this week that, “traditional estate agents can work really well but they are expensive”.  As Ms B would concur from the property TV show that rivalled her own, it is all about location; so was her comment pitched at the London market where to sell a £2 million property will cost £40k or the less affluent localities where to sell a £150k house will cost £1000?  Do not listen to any of the sharp-suited agents from the NP44 postcodes who on a Friday night in their local hostelry claim that they won’t get out of bed for less than 1.5% or a minimum £1500 fee. They would run over their grandmother’s dog  – and probably their grandmother as well – for a bag of sand.

Let me be frank; selling a house is like flying a jumbo jet on auto pilot; you do not need the living, breathing version until something goes wrong  and then he or she is embraced with open arms.  Every estate agent has a wall crammed with thank you cards for doing a job that Ms B says can now be done quite easily on line.  Her new company, Tepilo offers three options for facilitating the sale of  your property.  I looked at the ‘bundle’ package that costs £795 for 6 months.  The company will send an agent to ‘verify’ you and the property to ensure that it complies with the Property Misdiscriptions Act and that all anti-money laundering requirements have been satisfied.  They do not value the property or offer any advice as to how best to present it, but they do put up a board, load the property onto Rightmove and offer the services of a ‘professional photographer’.  This is all inclusive in the £795 fee.  After that, you are on your own.  This year, we have listed 120 properties and I worked out that if I could get the home owners of Torfaen to buy into a similar scheme, then I would gross £95,400 with no premises or office staff…I am with Ms B all the way in that an agent does not have to be based right in the middle of the town centre, but they need to be based some where in the locality to be able and willing to deal with any of the myriad  problems that rear their ugly heads throughout the process of selling a property.  When it all goes smoothly, our job is easy and a trained monkey could do it (something that I am sure Ms B has capitalised on in the past), but when a vendor encounters a problem (gas safety certificates, irascible purchasers, Japanese knot weed, solicitors who disappear to play golf by 10am on a Friday morning when you are due to exchange, to name but a few), you need a good estate agent-not a verification agent- who is doing their best to work for their client, the vendor.

“All sentiment is right…

…because sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself…” David Hume; Of The Standard of Taste and other Essays Eruditely expressed by the 18th century Scottish philosopher, essayist and economist.  Before the woes (dependent upon your political blood type), of Clacton and Manchester triumphed in forcing Ebola, ISIS and other matters of genuine world-changing import off the front pages, the lot at George’s mate Mark’s bank produced another survey relating to the property market.  The central bank’s Credit Conditions Survey reported the biggest fall in the amount of credit that lenders felt able to suppll since those naughty boys the Lehman Brothers made off for the hills with everyone’s’ money in 2008.   This  glossy survey – complete with several very pretty graphs – showed that the ‘sentiment’ for lending had plummeted on a par with Labour’s majority in the safe seat of Heywood and Middleton.  The report did conclude that the sentiment for lending would improve within the next three months.  One does have to ask what thought process was behind commissioning such a survey, why and what did it cost?  Continuing the sentimental theme, is it now policy that when earnest first time buyers are looking for approval for a mortgage in principle, instead of a letter declining their request they are handed a packet of love heart sweets emblazoned with amongst other messages, “Bye Bye”, “Grow Up” and “Dream On”?

Speaking of Scottish sages with their finger on the political pulse of the nation, (or in this particular case, the jugular), I note that oil prices are this week down to $90.00 a barrel, their lowest in 2 years and 20% lower than at their peak.  You had a lucky escape there, Alex.

I also this week received another reminder that it is all about location, location, location.  Having to deal with a fellow estate agent in North Yorkshire – genuinely God’s Own Country (only just beating Varteg.) I was informed that unfortunately he could not speak with me as he had gone fishing to try and catch some of the first salmon making their way back up stream to Scotland.  In Cwmbran, the only salmon I get to see is courtesy of Mr John West and my time relaxing away from the office is the burger van at B&Q where in the past 6 months, I have met 3 estate agents, 2 mortgage brokers and various members of the legal profession.  There is a story there…

I’ll have a P (for price) please Bob…

Whilst waiting last Sunday for the Ryder Cup to begin its final exertions and to unbeknownst to us all (not least the PGA in America), for Phil Mickelson to be the living embodiment of “There is no ‘I’ in team ,but there is a ‘Me'”, I read an article in The Sunday Times, ‘Home Section’ penned by Graham Norwood, entitled, “The Hard Sell”. The article highlighted 6 different ways to find a buyer for a property. It opened with the statement that Rightmove (what did the property world do before the launch of such property portals and the myriad of data available to quote ad nauseum?) had admitted that, “120,000 of its 800,000 homes have been on the market for at least 6 months” and in some cases, “much longer”.  I have never had the physical or mental acumen to enrol on the NASA astronaut programme, but any knowledge of rocket science here is wasted; reduce the f”£$*&ng price then.  In the same article, Howard Elston, associate director at Aylesford and Quay, a Chelsea based agency, says,” The claptrap about the smell of coffee, first impressions and great presentation is window dressing.  If you want to sell by half term, you probably need to discount” [sic] No probable about it Howard, but elegantly put.

I was rather shocked to read the advice of Andrew Phillips, Head of London Sales at Hamptons International who opined, “Remove your home from all websites and relaunch it as, ‘property of the week’ on Rightmove and Zoopla” [sic]  This will apparently increase enquiries twofold and indicate to the market that you are serious about selling. Clearly, you were not that fussed beforehand; putting your property on the market was merely the behaviour of a bored dilettante… Any new potential purchasers will automatically assume that your house is a new addition to the site and thereby a new instruction.  Wrong.  Firstly, only agents can list on these sites, so the implication from the article that an individual vendor would be able to do this was disingenuous and factually and legally inaccurate.  Allowing for journalistic ambiguity, more importantly, these portals have automated compliance software and relisting the same property three times will initiate the flagging system, and the agent will receive a three strikes and you are out warning.  Admittedly, the ferocity of the reprimand is akin to being savaged by a broken mouthed ewe, but wilfully and consciously breaking the site rules is not to be advocated.

An agent earning their fee should keep their vendors informed at all times as to what is being done to try and sell the latter’s property.  If all other plans of action have been tried with no movement (i.e. someone walking through the door to sign a contract of sale), then it is the agent’s responsibility to advise the vendor – their client – that a price reduction is advisable. This should not come as a shock to the vendor as the agent should have had a constant dialogue with the home owner.  If an agent is happy for the property-that all the indications show is over priced- to sit on their books, price unchanged, and they are not willing to lower the price, then the vendor should change their agent.  I accept that some agencies tie a vendor into a lifetime contract that requires giving up their first born in order to be released; but they should still change their agent.

The final point from Mr Norwood’s article was the discussion of marketing tricks including the one much favoured and indeed the norm in the USA, Australia and Canada, the open viewing. Jo Charlton, a negotiator at Strutt and Parker is quoted, “Sellers have nothing to lose and everything to gain” [sic]  Not quite Joseph.  Sellers do have lots of things to lose, namely jewellery, precious items, the gerbil, the kids.  The concept of a block or open viewing developed in this country following the example of our cousins across the pond, when a house was that popular, due to price, location and demand in that area, that everyone and his dog was desperate to see it.  In America, the realtor (who for those vendors bemoaning a 1% fee takes between 7-10% of the sale price-don’t choke on that coffee), will take as many staff as possible to occupy the house to ensure a constant supply of bagels, coffee and most importantly, security.  Taking priority on the nominal roll is a conveyancing lawyer who will be responsible for the contract and the deal will usually get done there and then.  It is exceedingly efficient, but the hybrid form in England does not reach the same level of efficiency and certainty and only then in specific geographical areas.  An article earlier this year in the London Evening Standard, (I do believe that the clue is in the title), heralded that “Mass house viewings are the only way to buy and sell in London” Emily Jupp, London Evening Standard, 8 April 2014   Possibly, but as her article detailed, the process is not without its pitfalls.  The London postcodes are seeing a huge increase in the number of open or block viewings where demand for property is off the scale in comparison to the rest of the country.  In such areas, open viewings further fuel the sense of demand by the “sheer number of people piling into the property” [sic] The example is cited of a £4 million Chelsea property that saw 40 people through the door in one afternoon and the property exceeding its asking price by some way in a sealed bid scenario.  Firstly a house in that location in the top bracket of stamp duty always would be attractive to a certain demographic and would invariably reach, if not exceed its asking price.  Ms Jupp quotes Jo Eccles, managing director of the house finding company, Sourcing Property who acknowledges that many open house viewings generate excessive interest by putting forward a very low asking price in order to create, “a frenzy of interest and an almost sealed bid situation” [sic]  Whereas the practice in the states involves a lawyer being in situ and a binding agreement there and then, the scenario on this side of the water has a high drop out ratio.  Panic- driven potential buyers often put down sealed bids for enormous sums of money having only seen the property for fifteen minutes.  A few days later, having given it more measured consideration, they realise what they have done and withdraw the bid.  Closed viewings have a place, but it is more suited to the capital than Trevethin.

Today, we shall reinvent the wheel…

According to reports in last week’s press, first time buyers are, “boxed in by rising prices” Anna Mihkailova, Sunday Times 22 September 2014  A suitably attention grabbing headline, but what exactly does it mean?  The usual it transpires; people need to earn enough to be able to afford a mortgage.  A revolutionary idea indeed.  What did draw my attention, was a quote attributed to Matthew Pointon of the consultancy firm, Capital Economics who said, “The cooling for housing demand is particularly evident in the capital.  We expect prices to have grown 18% this year and to rise 6% in 2015 – in line with growth in the UK as a whole” [sic]  Fantastic news I thought, book me a one way ticket to Paddington; in fact, with 6% growth as the prize, I’ll start walking now.  Let me break his despondent comment down:

1. His figures determine house price inflation over two years of 24% Fan-bloody-tastic.  That averages out at 12% per annum.  Fan-bloody-tastic x 2.

2.  We have not seen a 12% annual rise in house prices in Wales since Take That were the original 5 piece outfit. (Jason, you traitor).

3.  What figure would be indicative of the property market heating up, not cooling down?

On Wednesday, I was at a property that the owners had purchased exactly 50 years ago for the costly sum of £2000.  It is being marketed half a century later for £200,000.  Well done to them, but we are talking 12 Olympiads, 9 Prime Ministers, 13 World Cups and god knows how many farewell tours, comebacks and the definitive final gig (at The Pearly Gates) of Frank Sinatra, later. Of greater relevance than the abysmal record of our football team at international level, is that 50 years ago, house prices in London were about 3 times that of those in Wales.  Back to Ms Mikhailova’s article, that states that in 2014 the average house price in Wales is £171,000 compared to the average house price in London of £514,000. That equates to, you’ve got it, the London Price is about three times the Welsh figure.  For those fans of Tiger Bay’s finest, Shirl was right when she said, “History Repeating”.

What intrigues and irritates me in equal measure is why the hysteria?  The sun will continue to rise in the east and set in the west, Alex Salmond will continue to pop up to grab his time in the glare of the media bulbs (whatever he stated last week about handing over the leadership of the SNP), I will continue to have to disappoint Miss Minogue that I am betrothed to another and the housing market will repeat the same trends over and over again.

A simple request, but can we not just get on with it, rather like the 91 year old gentleman who stole the show at this week’s Labour Party Conference? Admittedly the competition was more Conference than Premier League, but having seen it all before, before the era of social media and its insatiable need to have something to say (preferably overwrought and anguished), the war veteran said it as he saw it, without hysteria and grandstanding. His generation had to be the type that just got on with it, regardless of their political hue.

Home rule for Cwmbran…

…with me as Commander in Chief/La Grande Fromage/King.  Don’t laugh people, it could happen.  My role as the supreme being goes without saying, the extent of my realm is still open to discussion; as it would seem is most of the United Kingdom.  Now did ‘Call me Dave’ get lucky, or did he (and his strategists) play an absolute blinder?  Many a bar room discussion will differ, but tactical nous or Lady Luck (for the trivia fans amongst you, the title of a song by the Scottish group, The Proclaimers), has now driven the other Dave  (of the Ed variety) up a dark alley with no battery life left in his phone.   No wonder the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service and now wannabee Labour MP, Sir Kier ‘like your quiff’ Starmer, who was named after the North Lanarkshire bred founder of the modern Labour Party and the first independent Labour Member of Parliament, wants a nice easy seat in the leafy suburbs of London, not in Govan.

As may not have escaped your attention, there was this week the small issue of a vote of independence taking place somewhere north of Hadrian’s Wall.  To add to the litany of comments, perorations and asseverations made:

  • Will Andy Murray send back his OBE?
  • Will Murray Mound at Wimbledon be renamed/reclaimed by the English/handed over to the SNP who will then be responsible for paying the rates and council tax?
  • Will Judy Murray be the first to be told to hoof it stage left on Strictly Come Prancing? (And Anton thought that he had his work cut out with Anne Widdecombe).
  • Why could Gordon Brown not be such an orator when he was Prime Minister?
  • Who thought that Gordon Brown would play such a blinder (clearly none of his own party).
  • The democratic process does work; a near 90% turnout of the electorate is almost unheard of and cannot be argued as anything other than a true representation of the people.  America take note.
  • Why did Alex Salmond choose to liken himself to William Wallace when the latter was sent to meet his maker by King Edward I who had him hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians.  Then again…
  • Will some generous spirited hair dresser please offer their services to the Deputy SNP leader?

Elsewhere this week, the headlines in one tabloid led with the death of a racehorse called Wigmore Hall.  Unfortunately the said horse broke a leg racing last weekend at the St Leger meeting at Doncaster and was swiftly and humanely destroyed.  Some charming individual took photos showing the moments pre and post mortem and the Daily Mirror saw fit to make it their lead story.  What it highlighted – other than the efficiency and professionalism of the team at Doncaster – was that if I had a choice I would choose to be a racehorse; well certainly if it was a choice between being a racehorse with a broken leg or someone who needed to be admitted to a hospital in Wales.  The story of the elderly lady from Swansea who died in the back of an ambulance outside Morriston Hospital whilst it waited for 45 minutes to get to the front of the queue of waiting ambulances was truly horrendous and leaves one despairing that it could ever happen.  This is no reflection on the skill or commitment of those directly involved in treating the lady, but a damning indictment of the shambolic administration of Welsh hospitals.  The Welsh hospitals run by the Welsh Assembly.  Do you still want to go it alone?

Here we go again…

This week, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and George Osborne’s best mate addressed the annual conference of the TUC. Confirming what we have said in many a previous blog, interest rates will not rise this autumn, but should increase in Spring 2015. Note the use of ‘should’, not, ‘will definitely’. Is that a General Election that I see looming on the horizon?  Amongst much banking gobble di gook and use of ‘data’,  Mr Carney praised the UK’s workers, who he said, “had not given up” during the recession, accepting pay cuts or shorter hours.  Indeed, well done them.  The more cynical may point out that of course he did the right thing, congratulating them on their earnest endeavour, but if they hadn’t accepted the shorter hours and wage cuts, somebody else would gladly have accepted them. As it should be; market forces and economies of scale.  I was drawn to his comment that, “There is a clear danger of a misplaced if not lost generation of workers in the euro area and in the UK.  Britain’s labour force and trade unions deserve great credit for ensuring the risk is much lower in the UK”.  Obviously the definition of the UK may well have changed by next week; best of luck with that one, Alex. Now forgive me, but was it not a union-backed Labour government that cajoled, dragged and led us with an appointed Messiah to the edge of the bottomless pit with the sign, (in both English and Welsh) proclaiming, ‘Recession this way’?

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey said, “Mark Carney’s speech to the TUC was a missed opportunity to give hope to millions of working people…Mark Carney should have made a strong call to business and the corporate sector to take more responsibility for  providing greater employment opportunities, boosting pay levels…Britain needs a pay rise.” Just as Mr McCluskey got a pay-rise last year so that his salary now reads a penny either side of £140,281.  I’m with you all the way brother workers…

The media’s preoccupation with house prices continues unabated.  RICS published the results of a survey on Thursday that wailed in anguished tones that house prices in August had risen at the slowest pace in a year. 1.  They are still rising. 2. In August, a considerable chunk of the population are enjoying their summer break and historically the housing market in August has seen as much activity as Jabba the Hutt’s gym membership card.

The housing market continues to benefit many, including Richard Starkey – that’s Ringo Starr to the masses – who has decided to go and live in the USA with his former Bond girl wife (nice work if you can get it), having sold his Surrey mansion for a tidy profit.  For those of you bemoaning that a lack of skill is preventing your rise to a place on the Forbes Rich List, ponder this; on the Beatles first single ‘Love Me Do’, Ringo was demoted by the Beatles’ producer, George Martin to playing the tambourine as he wasn’t thought to be a good enough drummer. At a later date John Lennon was asked whether Ringo was the best drummer in the world, to which he offered in reply, “He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.” Five decades, millions in the bank, mansions across the world and a former Bond girl as a wife later…

‘Bore Da’, or even ‘Magandang umaga’

Now don’t go and get your Welsh mixed up with your Filipino (or any other Austronesian language).  Not that you thought that you would be discussing language acquisition in a property blog.  Neither did I, until I found myself embroiled in a total fiasco over a phone line courtesy of that “British multinational telecommunications services company” [sic], British Telecom (the clue is in the title, beginning with ‘B’). Having yet another issue with our means of communicating with the outside world, I rang the number on the bill and got through to Anna, in the …Philippines. Together, we, (me as the customer, she as the customer service agent – an oxymoron if ever there was one), established that she could not help me so gave me the number of my ‘account team’ in Cardiff.  I rang the number, with a genuine Cardiff dialling code and was told to press 1 for English and 2 for Welsh.  I pressed 1 and got put through to- you’ve guessed it -the Philippines; who still could not provide any assistance or a solution to my problem.  So I rang the Cardiff number again and pressed 2 for Welsh and managed to speak with a living, breathing individual who would only speak Welsh and only broke with the mother tongue to tell me that he would only speak Welsh, not English. Duw fy bleeding helpu (translate that).

All the international conversing ironically meant that I could not make my ‘date’ with the Big O (of the Obama variety) at the Shobaraj last night.  I was going to pick him up in the car, as all the roads are empty and Newport is the town the world forgot (not for the first time).  At the roundabout at Junction 26, there were 30 police officers all stood around.  There are 5000 in town and tanks are parked on the fairways of the Celtic Manor. So much for my short game.  At least it will all be worthwhile, as the centre of Newport is regenerated thanks to the influx of foreign money.  Just like the benefits that are still resonating as a result of hosting the Ryder Cup…  When are they going to get rid of the “Host for the Ryder Cup 2010” off the road signs?

Continuing the international theme, Frankie Dettori has made it from the back pages to the front pages (and not for indulging in illegal substances).  Strictly speaking, it was the front page of the property section in last Saturday’s Torygraph, as he is selling his very lovely house for £2.45 million.  What I was drawn to was not the property specifications, but the standard of reporting by Max Davidson, who stated that “if you want a tip for the 4.20 at Uttoxeter you need to hang about the local pub” [sic]. Possible, but unlikely.  Frankie lives in Newmarket, the world-renowned centre and birthplace of flat-racing and Uttoxeter is a jumps only track in Staffordshire. I would wager that Frankie (and most of Newmarket) have never had any reason to go there or any interest in ever doing such.  Furthermore, Max comments how punters from “Ayr to Market Rasen” have backed a horse purely because the diminutive Italian was doing the steering. Ayr maybe, Market Rasen, definitely not.  Jumps only again, attention to detail Max.

This week’s competition prize to win a framed picture of me (second prize is two copies).

1. For what is Uttoxeter famous?

2. At which track DID Frankie ride in a hurdle race?

Has the world gone mad?

In a week where a brouhaha over a baked Alaska made headline news (whilst the horrors of the Middle East continued, the staggering incompetence and negligence of various authorities in South Yorkshire was laid bare and various EU leaders scrambled about trying to look decisive in preventing the onward march of a megalomaniacal Russian), it would be a fair observation that the world is slightly screwed on its axis. Never was this more apparent than when I visited the local tip – or household waste site or whatever the hell is this week’s nomenclature.  In trying to exercise my civic responsibility I drove a box van to the site full of the detritus of clearing a house. My first error: thinking that I could drive in slowly to unload the rubbish into the appropriate receptacle.  As I passed through the gates of the establishment I was apprehended with that universal greeting of “Oi, you!”  Straight out of central casting for “The Office” a young lady informed me that I could not come in driving a van without a permit. “It’s all on the website” she said.  Indeed, she said this approximately 20 times in a two minute conversation. Firstly may I say that the lady in question was polite and must have gained a high score and a gold badge on the training day that her employers must have sent her on to deal with members of the public who have the temerity to not have the waste website on their “favourites” list.  Incidentally, if a household waste recycling site is on your “favourites ” list, you need help; quickly.  Her answer to every query or comment that I made was “It’s on the website”.  At this point you (as did I) can picture the scene of some shiny-suited, David Brent-esque character who illustrates every point that he makes with his hands and tries to be overly-friendly with everyone, coaching the aforementioned young lady to be firm with them and tell them, “It’s all on the website”.  Honestly, with such people in the demographic of society, how did we ever lose the Empire? I digress.  Having asked where I could get the permit that had now taken on an importance on a par with the Dayton Accords I was redirected to the council office 50 yards away. “They will get you a permit” I was informed.  Great. “But you can’t come in here with that van, even with a permit”. What? Apparently, the van that I was driving, hired with my normal car-driver’s licence was too big and would never ever be allowed through the portals of the establishment.  When asked what my council tax contributed towards, I was told that the waste recycling centre was actually privately owned and the council did not pay for it or contribute to any of its costs.  But you have to get your permit – for the van that will never be allowed in-from the council offices.  Got it?

I decided to look at the Torfaen Council website (ten minutes of my life lost forever).  For those of you who may be thinking of  getting rid of some rubbish: you cannot take a box van into the site.  You cannot take any type of DIY/renovation waste to the site in any type of vehicle.  Loading it onto a bicycle or pack mule was not covered, so may be worth chancing…You can however take in waste paper, cans, timber, trees, white goods, fridges, large domestic appliances, light fittings and pieces of furniture.  So all “Banned Items” from a DIY project can actually be taken in under “Permitted Items”.  Just not in a box van.  Or any other type of van if the contents are deemed to have come from a DIY project. Got it?

Several articles in the local press have featured residents of the area and therefore Torfaen Council Tax payers who have all spoken of the “unreasonable” rules being implemented.  Mr Mike Green of Croesyceiliog said, “I am an honest, law abiding, fair person.  I am also concerned about the environment and a man of conscience.  Had I been an unscrupulous man many of the items would have ended up on the side of the road and nearby fields”.   Very true.  These items could have been dumped illegally to sit alongside all the other illegally dumped items that are still sitting in fields and at the side of the roads in the Torfaen borough.  I am sure that if I queried as to why they are still sitting there the answer would have been something involving ‘budget cuts’ and the council are ‘working hard for the community’.  Perhaps if I may be so bold, my – and every other council tax payer’s money- could be directed towards providing a recycling site that actually allows someone to deposit items to be recycled, as opposed to the all-singing, all-dancing website that-whilst there is a need for a website- should not be the sole means of communication with the public, nor its content used as an excuse as to why responsible citizens cannot rid themselves of rubbish items that will not fit inside a household bin. The likelihood of that happening is possibly even money on going out to dinner with Miss Minogue.

 

To operate system: 1. Engage brain…

…2. Then open mouth.  Or in today’s technology-saturated world: 2. Turn on phone/computer, compose text/email, (offensive and abusive about several people, not least the one who pays your salary) and press ‘send’. 3. Prepare yourself for the opprobrium of the masses who are unimpressed with your-now public- misogynistic, racist and puerile missives. 4. Engage a good, (make that ‘no miracle, no fee’) legal team. 4. Issue grovelling apology. 5. Look for a new job. Oh dear me, clearly no one at Cardiff City had listened to Horace Rumpole when he offered the sagacious advice to, “never commit anything to writing that you would not be happy to put before a judge”.  This week, Messrs Mackay and Moody, (sounds like a firm of undertakers), must be rueing how they committed the ultimate faux pas of the 21st century; that is committing contentious and objectionable thoughts to the modern equivalent of paper – the medium of the electronic word.  Because as sure as the sun rises in the morning, it will come back to bite you in your nether regions.  A slander case has always been more difficult to make stick than one for libel, for very obvious reasons; but what cannot speak cannot lie and incriminating communications recorded for perpetuity do tend to hoist an individual by their own petard.

I suppose the most egregious mistake Malky and Ian, (now that makes them sound like children’s’ TV presenters) made, was to treat a self-made billionaire – not even just a millionaire – as a complete f£$*7g moron. The Malaysian gentleman may be eccentric in his ways, but as the person who owns the entire MacDonald’s franchise for Malaysia, you can be sure that he knows exactly how many chips are in a Happy Meal.  The LMA or managers’ trade union may be desperately trying to pass off as ‘friendly banter’ Malky’s reference to “the chink” and his description of a Korean midfielder and his representatives as “fkn chinkys”, but I think that it falls into the same category as Big Ron Atkinson when he called the Chelsea player a “big lazy N…”.

You may well be questioning what this unseemly affair has to do with my honourable profession (stop rolling your eyes).  Well it appears that there are plans for several websites to be launched, akin to Trip Advisor and the like, that allow tenants to rate landlords and agents, commenting on their performance and rating them out of ten.  Firstly, I immediately wondered whether the sister website was being launched to allow landlords to rate tenants… The concern that I have is that if these ideas to ‘benefit the rental industry’ come to fruition, the ‘wrong’ entry, (however accurate and beneficial to any future landlord or agent) about a tenant could result in a brick through the office window or any other associated building and the ‘wrong’ entry about a landlord or agent could possibly result in the tenant finding it very difficult to rent a new property.  No one benefits.

The art of stating the blindingly obvious…

…..representing a spectacularly small demographic.  Such was my conclusion when reading the results of a report that featured in many of the national papers.  According to a survey of potential purchasers by Savills, the thing that people most want is a great view.  May I just qualify that this was a survey of 400, (yes, a whole 400!) people who were looking to buy a country house.  Aha.  Methinks the clue may just be in the title. They are looking to buy a ‘country house’.  Does it not follow that a fundamental requirement of the purchase would be a view-of the countryside?  Martin Lamb of Savills, commented, “Views are so important that discerning buyers will often visit a property at different times.. they want to make sure that they will be enjoying clear country skies, and not hideous orange glows from town lights.”  Understood.  But would the same people searching for the ideal country house be so affronted by the “hideous” lights if they were being viewed from One Hyde Park (and the glow of the lights illuminating the Harrods sign?)  The list of key features that buyers apparently seek when searching for a property included; land surrounding the property, internal period features, a swimming pool and a cinema.  If you have millions to spend, all of the aforementioned could be expected for the price, which incidentally is usually ‘on application’. ‘POA’ is the greatest combat indicator there is that you will be paying the highest level of stamp duty. Would this conclusion hold true for Cwmbran, Pontypool or any conurbation not the location of choice for the affiliates of The Sunday Times Rich List ?  The practicalities of life including proximity to the local school, hospital or nearest bus stop may take precedence.

On a not wholly unconnected topic, I was bemused by the reports of the young lady who was caught at Heathrow trying to smuggle 16k inside her Alan Whickers.  As someone who is not entirely unfamiliar with lingerie departments and the interior décor of Ann Summers, I have to admit that having purchased various female undergarments over the years, there isn’t enough room in them for the bus fare home.  Now if it fell upon me to transfer the monies, there would be enough room for the entire haul from the Brinks Allied heist.  That’s got you thinking hasn’t it…

“Have we met before…”

I mused to myself whilst standing in the queue for the self-checkout at a well-known supermarket.  Incidentally, if ever there was a misnomer is it not ‘self-checkout’, as the only part of the self involved is self-control as you restrain yourself from hurling a packet of crisps and a bottle of Bacardi (note my healthy eating habits), half way across the neighbouring aisle as the screen apprises you to, “call an assistant”. The reason why I pondered if I had rudely ignored somebody was the result of one of the aforementioned customer assistants yelling “Oi, mate, one’s free over there” as I waited my turn to wrestle with modern technology. Mate? Did the callow youth attracting my attention go to school with me? Possibly his mother?  Call me old-fashioned (and yes, I am aware that most of you do; no drain pipe legged, shiny material, slim-fit suits for me, thank you very much), but I have always been of the opinion that one should address any one that you do not know, as Mr or Mrs/Miss /Ms (for the burn-your-bra sorority) until told otherwise by the person whom you are addressing.  ‘My dear chap’ may be a little excessive, but ‘Oi mate’ does take the proverbial.

According to the editor of Tatler, good manners as are important as GCSE and A-level grades when it comes to forging a successful career.  Admittedly, the readership of the glossy is targeted at a demographic where the wealth that the readers are enjoying now was accrued sometime after William hopped off the boat at Hastings, but Kate Reardon made a valid point when stating that people should focus on being “polite and respectful” as well as gaining qualifications and not resorting to hiding behind a phone or computer screen when communicating with another human being. Bennett Cerf, the American founder of the behemoth publishing firm, Random House  commented, “Good manners. The noise you don’t make when eating soup”. Good manners are not solely about eating asparagus with your left hand (followers of Debrett’s will know why this is), or using the correct spoon, but being polite and respectful to people so that they feel valued.  Transposing this to the property market, certain agents ‘accompanying’ potential purchasers to properties, opening the door with a nonchalant, ‘there you go’ before obsessing over their phone/tablet does not make somebody feel valued, be it the potential buyer or the vendor who is entrusting their property (and ultimately their money) into the agent’s tender care.

The theme of standards again came to my attention whilst I was reading The Daily Telegraph earlier in the week. The pottery industry in its heartland of Stoke-on-Trent is booming.  Not because of its prodigal son, Robbie Williams decorating his Hollywood home with whimsical china figurines, but because French gypsies are turning up by the caravan-load to buy Royal Albert and Royal Doulton china, as they will only eat or drink from these types of crockery.  The fact that it can be flogged for double or treble the amount back in France has, of course, no relevance.  The article led with the searching question of who today actually drinks tea from a china cup and saucer?  Well actually, I do; as countless beleaguered negotiators in various estate agencies across South Wales will testify, (not forgetting the current and previous Mrs Cheshire).  I must ask my mother whether she ever went on a caravan holiday to Normandy.

He-aart breaking tales of ghostly goings-on…

According  to various sources this week, the latest flagitious activity to afflict the housing market is that of ‘ghost gazumping’.  This doesn’t mean Banquo’s ghost showing you around a 3-bedroomed semi in Croesyceiliog, but-in a phrase first coined by the Financial Times- when the seller asks the buyer for more money just days before exchange.  As expected, such nefarious behaviour is making an appearance in the London postcodes that have constantly been responsible for the hysterical headlines of recent weeks.  It is, to put it mildly, cheeky; but due to the desperation for houses in certain areas, vendors do it quite simply because they can and agents are equally complicit.  Think about the figures and put yourself in the shoes of the house owner; you are able to boost the amount for which you can sell your property for an extra £40,000 (having already agreed at a lower figure) and the purchasers still want to go ahead with the sale. Equally, the agent stands to increase their fee with no further legwork required.  As the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm said, “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses”.  Quite.  Very few of us have a freehold on the moral high ground.  Admittedly the vendors demanding more may well find themselves on the receiving end of some equally unscrupulous behaviour when trying to complete on their new property.  Sin an saol agat.

Such shameless and fraudulent behaviour is though not limited to within the M25.  In the last year, Cheshire and Co (and we are not alone) have lost a couple of properties to certain corporate agents telling vendors that they have “20 people who will view the property on Saturday” and “we have people wanting to buy in this street, now, this minute, in fact five minutes ago, last week/year/millennium”.  Of course, it is the vendor’s decision.  When checking several months later (remember, what cannot speak, cannot lie), ascertaining that the property remains unsold and then asking the vendors how the plethora of viewings went, the response has been some variation of, “ummm, well, it never happened…. but the agents have told us to drop the price…” He-aart less behaviour indeed.

More hysterical headline grabbing…

As readers of Friday’s blog will testify, my irritation levels are about on a level with the English football team’s world ranking, or Alastair Cook’s batting average. I could continue with the hammering of the English until I realised that the captain of the Welsh Commonwealth Games team has been given the heave- ho for failing a drug test (well done son, the home country is proud of you, you £$^* ), so I thought it best to adopt the motto of Queen Elizabeth I of “video and taceo”.  Come on all you Latin scholars; those who know me, will appreciate how I find it a struggle.  Having returned yesterday from my usual 5am, 10km run (not the usual 20km that is reserved for weekdays), I was recovering with a cup of tea watching the morning news when I nearly choked on my jammy dodger. “Housing shortage sees more tenants evicted” Sky News Saturday 26 July 2015 0547hrs was flashing up on the screen.  Well, that got my attention.  The Citizens’ Advice Bureau has seen a 38% rise in the number of people needing help with “eviction” notices being served upon them, despite their being up to date with the rent. One hapless soul was given the floor to tell the viewing public and the earnest looking reporter how he had been served with a “Section 21 order”.  He was in state of shock as, “I’ve always been a good tenant and always paid my rent and never engaged in anti-social behaviour”.  Well done son.  You have stuck to the terms of your contract that you signed five years ago.  More importantly, you are not being evicted nor have you been served an ‘order’.

What the above gentleman had been served, was a Section 21 Notice (not an order with its draconian connotations). Under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 – amended- by the Housing Act 1996, a landlord has a legal right to get his property back at the end of an assured shortly tenancy.  In order to invoke this right, the landlord must follow the correct legal procedure that involves serving a Section 21 Notice to quit on his tenant(s).  Most noteworthy is the fact that a Section 21 Notice to quit can be issued at any time during the fixed or periodic tenancy.  This means that as the new tenant, you could be handed a Section 21 Notice alongside the keys to your new home. A tenant is not being evicted, they are just being made aware under the guidance of the law as to when the landlord wants their property back – i.e. the end of the agreed tenancy period.  If a landlord wishes to regain possession before the end of the agreed term, this may be possible if he can show that certain conditions have been met.  A valid Section 8 Notice to quit must first be issued and to misquote our Sky News star, being a bad tenant, who hasn’t paid the rent and frequently has the local constabulary calling round (wearing riot gear) would qualify for such a notice being served. Any subsequent eviction notice has to be signed by a judge who has to have been convinced by the landlord that a. the correct legal procedure has been followed and b. the tenant is in breach of the contract. Under a Section 21 Notice, a landlord does not have to give a reason as to why he wants his property back; why should he? He is merely exercising his legal right.

To further fuel my ire, our friend from Shelter, the housing charity, hoved into view in a suitably hand-wringing, open-toed sandal, knit-your-own-underwear-from-hemp fashion. “Sadly landlords can evict…for no reason, even if you have been keeping up with the rent…” Lord in Heaven, (other deities are available), check your facts my friend, before spouting misinformation on national news.  The report concluded  with our Pulitzer prize wannabee breathlessly telling us the that the Government is in the process of introducing new legislation that it hopes will strengthen the rights of private tenants and help protect them from exploitation or unjustified eviction. Tenants and landlords both need protection from the nefarious and immoral behaviour of the other party. But eviction is justified by the gentleman (or lady), who is in their position because of their intellect/legal prowess/professional acievement and has been convinced by the evidence placed in front of them that the tenant needs to find alternative accommodation.  Over to you Shelter.

Reading behind the headlines…

I admit that in these warmer climes my irritation with the human race does increase on a par with the mercury.  There is a lot to be said for the winter; am I alone in thinking it a little uncouth to be wandering along the pavement shirtless? (I’m specifically talking about the male of the species; ladies, if you would like to form an orderly queue outside 10 Chapel Street….). Back to matters property-orientated.   Headlines on Rightmove this week proclaimed, “House Prices fall for the first time in 2014”.  Further investigation revealed that what was actually being reported was the fact that asking prices have dropped by 0.8% in July.  This is the first monthly fall since December 2013. What everyone – not least the vendor – is interested in, is as always, the completed sale price.  We could all buck the trend by asking a million pounds for every property that we are asked to market; how many sales will that bring about?  The square root of naff all.  Mr Rightmove himself, Miles Shipside then poured further water on the bonfire of his headline writer’s hysteria by commenting that July has seen a fall in asking prices six times out of the last ten years; including pre the 2007 crash.

Even if one does use the highly erratic benchmark of asking prices, they are still 6.5% higher than those of July 2013.  This last statistic could have been used by the journalist Becky Barrow in Tuesday’s Daily Mail.  “Young priced out of a home” Daily Mail Tuesday 22 July 2014  was the suitably restrained lead on her article.  Apparently, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) tracked purchases in June of this year, (a whole 30 days… Clearly they felt that it would have been imprudent to use a month with 31 days) and announced that only 3% of buyers fell into the age range of 18-30.  This could possibly be attributable to a number of people in that demographic having spent much of the past few weeks in Shagaluf and other places of culture.  See, I told you that the hot weather made me irritable..  The point that I am trying to make is that it would be far more sensible to judge things over a lengthier period of time that reflects far more accurately the machinations of who is buying what and where.  Snapshots are not truly representative and can be wholly misleading.  England played well for certain periods, (admittedly the time taken to go and put the kettle on), in the recent World Cup, but come accounting time, i.e. the end of qualifying, they were still on the plane back home.

 

As I was saying to Carlos…

…Slim (Hula – to give him his full title, no relation to Fat Boy).  The aforementioned gentleman was and has just returned to being the richest man in the world. He first held the title in 2010 and only relinquished his crown to a certain Mr Bill Gates when the value of his stock in his primary companies, Telmex and America Movil, dropped as a result of the Mexican government announcing new anti-trust telecom regulations.  Having made a surprise decision, (a ‘surprise’ to those who have not from modest beginnings made themselves numero uno in the rich list) to divest himself of many of his assets in order to comply with the regulations, Mr Slim saw the stock value of this company rise by 1.09% on Monday evening; a move that saw his own value rise to $78.5 billion, a mere $0.4 billion behind Bill.  That was Monday, the asset value has kept on rising throughout the week and if various publications are to be believed, he is now back on pole position.  The reason why he has come to prominence to a wider audience, (admit it, did you know who he was?) is that at a conference this week in Paraguay, he advocated a “radical overhaul” of peoples’ working lives. As the Financial Times reported, “With three days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life.”  Well said Carlos, I’m glad that you listened to what I advocated…. There is however a catch; in exchange for working fewer days a week, we should work longer hours (possibly 11) and instead of retiring at 50 or 60, workers should still be clocking in until the age of 70 or 75.  This has, as expected generated a furore of people squealing about it being easy for him to come up with something like that because as a billionaire he has any number of minions scrabbling in the dirt to carry out his bidding, (cue the theme tune to Citizen Smith).  People do though forget, that in order to qualify as a billionaire, you have to have acquired the billions in the first place.  In Carlos’s case this was through some enlightened and quite frankly, ballsy decisions over the preceding decades.  Jealousy is a terrible thing.  As regular readers of this blog will acknowledge, I am an enlightened soul…I have been clocking 11 hour days for some time, (continuing the musical theme, is that a tiny violin that I see you playing?); unfortunately I haven’t yet mastered the three day week and am not prepared to find out the effect on the company if I only put the welcome mat out less than 50% of the time.  Next time I’m speaking with him, I’ll suggest that he may have to do a rethink on the theory that whilst easily employed in a manufacturing behemoth, would send small, independent companies within the service industries to their grave.

The large print giveth…

… the small print taketh away.  This was one of several hackneyed phrases that sprung to mind (see, there’s another), when I was reading the Money section in last week’s Sunday Times Sunday 6 July 2014.  The headline, “New Websites open Door to Wealth of Property Data” revealed how Adrian Black-former head of technology at Goldman Sachs, (that well known estate agent..) has joined forces and intellect with Jeremy Priestly, previously with Knight Frank and Hamptons. Their combined acumen and wisdom has led to the launch of you-home-co.uk, which willassisted by enough data to choke a decent sized donkey-enable you to sell your home.  Well done lads.  Mr Black opines that, ” the current residential property model does not work.”[sic] Right. What level of business model are we talking about here; the macro that replicates the housing market as a whole, or the micro whereby what is happening in Knightsbridge has £$& all to do with the goings on in the metropolis of Varteg?  Let’s put aside the geography for one moment and think about what he was opining.  He continued; “Technology and public data is rapidly changing and many traditional methods of business simply no longer apply.” [sic]  That would include that old-fashioned and outdated method of two human beings actually talking to each other, I presume?  His sentiments apply totally to buying a book from Amazon, but I am slightly more dubious about their transference to the property market. As I have commented on before, there is no need for an agent to retain an office in a town centre and when the first big corporate player leaves Cwmbran or Newport town centre, the rest will follow like lemmings over a cliff.  But an agent must have somewhere for vendors (and purchasers) to come and discuss their needs and any problems, however exiguous.  Priestly added, “More than 90% of buyers make their first move by visiting websites”.  Thank you for the revelation but I return to my comment about agents and office premises; after the initial enquiry, humans need to take over – and not just at the end of a telephone line or Wifi connection.  Mr Priestly also queried the “exorbitant fees” charged in certain London postcodes that can range from 2%-3%.  Those would be the same fees that you charged at Hamptons then Mr P?  I cannot disagree that 2%-3% (think about that added on to the stamp duty), is on the steep side of vertical, but I was bemused to read that you-home.co.uk would only be charging 1%-1.25% to sell a propertyBasic rate.   No accompanied viewings, qualifying of applicants or dealing with the myriad queries that will arise. Dig through the small(ish) print and the added extras mean that that 1% is a distant aspiration, waving you goodbye as it prances off into the distance carrying the very glossy brochure of your house.  It does lead one to question an ‘exorbitant fee’ merely for hosting pictures.  Even as a self-certified technophobe, I cannot dismiss the wonders of technology, but consider the analogy of the supermarket checkout.  Which is easiest, more efficient and less stressful to use; the fully automated ones that invariably lead to a request to ‘”Call an assistant”, or the checkout with a human being who does that so last century thing of actually ringing the goods up on a till?

Jumping the gun?

The jury is still out (unlike those in the William Roche, Rolf Harris and Rebekah Brooks court cases: how much have they cost us dear public?), as to whether Mark Carney is the smoothest of smooth operators or more akin in characteristics to an “unreliable boyfriend”.  The latter was levelled at him last week by parliamentarians who were unimpressed with his seemingly faltering attitude towards interest rates.  One could not accuse him though of lacking in self belief, as in response to the taunts over his monetary policy bouncing about like a pin ball he took personal credit for the recovery of the UK’s economy.  Yes, he is the Governor of the Bank of England so any plaudits-and brickbats -will land at his door, (in a similar fashion to all those whose hard work over the years has led to their principal being awarded an O.B.E.-it isn’t referred to as ‘Other Buggers’ Efforts’ for nothing), but it is an opinion held by many that as monetary policy normally works with a lag of about a year, the policies were already in place before the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street clasped him to her bosom.  He has been in a position to oversee the benefits and rewards of such policies, but crucially he did not make them.  Recent statements about guidance on interest rate rises have dented his credibility, having said only in August that they were unlikely to rise before 2016; but then, playing devil’s advocate, ‘unlikely’ is still some way from ‘definitely’.  His statements and the rush to qualify them have created much uncertainty over future monetary policy, not least what many believe to be his ‘dovish’ views in comparison to many of the more ‘hawkish’ members of the Monetary Policy Committee.  Last week’s historic intervention by the BOE (not seen since the 70’s when people such as my father, when recruiting a new PA would start each interview by asking the lady in question to make a pot of tea and the resulting offering went a long way to determining whether she got the job – ladies, this way to burn your bras), by imposing a 15% cap on the number of mortgages at 4.5 times income, may have been premature and overly cautious.  Official figures show that mortgage applications dropped by 10% in May and are 19% below January’s peak.  The number of mortgages approved is about 25% below the average of the past 20 years (figures taken from The Sunday Times Business Section Sunday 29 June 2014) and this is despite the gradual -with the emphasis on gradual for most areas outside London-in house prices.

It would be interesting to see a report on the London housing market showing funding by cash purchases as opposed to mortgages.  One day in Claridges, (Me? A name dropper..?), I tried to discuss mortgage rates with a gentleman also enjoying the finer things of life. “What’s a mortgage?” he said.  Well that put me firmly back in my box. In Merthyr, where house prices are still somewhere below the bottom of the barrel, the comment would be more likely to be, “What’s a job?”.

“Delightful three bedroom detached… ideal for amorous trysts on company time..”

As someone who favours the tag line, “Further benefits from…” I am not adverse to the use of descriptors to enhance the selling potential of property; but even I think that the above is a little TOO descriptive.   In this week’s MoneyMail (Daily Mail Wednesday 25 June 2014), there was an article that listed several instances of members of the public taking complaints to the independent property ombudsman.  In fairness to the author, the article included some of the more outrageous complaints where the agent was not deemed to be at fault and the complaint was not upheld. Such corkers as hating the town to which they had chosen to live and thereby wanting a refund and demands for the return of a deposit because the property was obviously haunted and the agents had neglected to inform the prospective vendors of the supernatural activity, were two of the quite laughable claims that were rightly kicked into touch by the ombudsman. Not dismissed though, was the complaint against an agency whose agents used the unoccupied flat that they had been instructed to sell for a romantic liaison.  Unfortunately for them, a family member of the vendor came to check on the property and interrupted a full dress rehearsal for Readers’ Wives (or as is often the case, an illicit encounter with somebody elses’ wife). Wholly unprofessional but not wholly uncommon.  I can name  several individuals who have indulged in pleasures of the flesh whilst supposedly ‘measuring up a property’.  A euphemistic term if ever there was one.  You know who you are fellow agents.

In yet another instance of bureaucracy at its most efficient, I received a letter this week from Torfaen Planning informing me that the box sign above our door (actually its sits several feet above the door), was in breach of planning and the matter needs resolving.  It must be moved down a foot and cannot, must not, will cause the end of the world as we know it, if it remains illuminated.  I contacted the council and spoke with a very pleasant lady to whom I pointed out that the sign had been there advertising whatever business had been occupying the property for the past fifteen years; why was it only now that it was an issue? Because they had only just noticed it and realised that it was in breach.  Ok.  As a diligent, responsible citizen I will of course address the situation and rectify the problem.  In a particularly generous move, I am considering offering it to my fellow property professionals who often have the need to, ‘measure up a property’.  They could perhaps adopt it as some sort of estate agent equivalent of the red lights of the oldest profession whereby they attach it to the property that they have selected for their rendezvous but only switch it on when the coast is clear, thus alerting their paramour from afar and preventing any awkward situations such as that listed above.  I would offer it free to whoever feels that they might have a use for it; they would have to pay for it to be rebranded in the company colours…Fellow agents, you know where to find me; illuminated sign or not.

The road much travelled…

Having returned from my foreign sojourn a more relaxed, sagacious and- admittedly- sunburnt man, I would like to think that my time spent admiring the nubile physique of  various ladies poolside has imbued me with an ability to make sense of the world.  As alluded to in my previous sentence, any travelogue would bear more of a resemblance to Alex Garland in The Beach as opposed to Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises but it is early days.   Reading an article in The Guardian business blog, (I know, me reading the ultimate left-leaning, pinky toed paper of the self-appointed, intellectually superior race), I came across an article about the two property portal behemoths, Zoopla and Rightmove.  The latter is currently valued at £2.15 billion with a share price listed at £22.00 as opposed to £2.00 in 2008.  Zoopla this week floated at a value of £919 million; nice work for Alex Chesterman whose worries about Nicholas Anelka at West Brom will I am sure now be viewed with a more sanguine eye.  The thick end of a billion in the bank is a panacea for many ills. Is this though another sign of the booming property market or, although, an indication that more people are actively looking for properties, further evidence that the long sought after footfall through an estate agent’s door is a thing of the past?

The idea behind the daddy of them all, Rightmove, was quite obviously, genius.  What is less obvious to the seeing/buying public is the cost to an agent to use these sites. As a general rule, we all perceive the internet to be ‘free’.  Far from it. As stated in the article, on average, to use Rightmove costs an agent £607 per branch, per month, per discipline.  That means £607 for sales, with an additional £607 for lettings. I’m not knocking it; my hat is doffed to my former fellow Halifax colleague and founder of Rightmove, Miles Shipside.  What is highlighted though, as the hysteria of people not being able to buy a property makes its way back onto the front pages (it had been relegated or even left on the bench in the past fortnight, but thanks to Suarez the papers and the nation need something else to get worked up over), is that buoyancy in the housing market benefits an awful lot of people.  This can be removal men, tradesman, cleaners, solicitors and not forgetting the funders and shareholders of the property portals.

Just as I was about to adopt a more measured view of Edward Snowden’s paper of choice (keep up all you conspiracy theorists), I read a line that did make me laugh, “…one of these years somebody will find a popular and efficient way to remove estate agents from the business of buying and selling houses…” [sic]  That should arrive about the same time as men being able to breathe unaided on the moon or if you really want to go to extremes, England progressing beyond the group stage at a World Cup.

On a final, wholly unconnected point, who at Channel 4 had the bright idea to improve their already desultory viewing figures by hiring Gok Wan for their Royal Ascot coverage?  Someone should tell the fashion guru that he will be shortly be dumped on a hostile planet like his brother Obi.  There’s a prize for the first person to contact the office and name which particular Star Wars film and the name of the planet…

We can’t have it all…

In yesterday evening’s annual speech delivered to the great and good at Mansion House, George Osborne caused many people to ponder and ruminate.  Firstly, I thought it rather ironic that in what may well be deemed to be a seismic moment of the coalition government, the (Conservative) Chancellor of the Exchequer was addressing a gathering of the wealth makers  and generators of the nation at a building that sits grandly under the moniker, ‘Mansion House’ whilst over the past few days, the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition have been getting all agitated over their plan to bring in a mansion tax on anyone who has the temerity to choose to live in a large house that has more bedrooms than is absolutely necessary.  How dare they.  Clegg and Co, (I admit that the ‘and Co’ part is diminishing by the day), have this week relaunched their party manifesto that will, as a priority post the next general election, introduce the levy on homes valued at more than £2 million.  Whether this will still seem such a good idea when, post election various former MPs are sitting in the kitchens of their (at least) £2 million homes wondering what they are going to do with their day, remains to be seen. Back though to yesterday. As had been trailed continually in the media, Mr Osborne announced that new powers would be granted to the Bank of England to cap mortgages; either by limiting the amount of money that potential buyers can borrow, or by restricting the proportion of the purchase price of a property that can be covered by a mortgage. All very sensible and to be applauded. 2007 and 95% mortgages still appear as spectral visions in many a nightmare of borrowers and lenders.  Mr Osborne also announced further plans to redevelop brownfield sites with new incentives for local authorities. Therein lies the ever present challenge of the housing market in the United Kingdom; we live on a crowded island where space is at a premium, particularly in areas where employment and economic activity are at their busiest. As always, there aren’t enough houses where there is employment and where there are any number of houses to choose from, there are insufficient numbers of jobs. As George surmised, “..the British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us” [sic]

It could be argued though, that the show stealer was the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who announced that interest rates could go up sooner than the expected 2015 rise. Such an intimation would invariably be met with nervous displeasure by any Chancellor about to embark on an election campaign.  On the contrary, Mr Osborne and his team seem intent on portraying this (with justification) as a portent of the success of the Government’s austerity measures and hard evidence that the economy is recovering and will continue to do so.  Raised interest rates effect everything; credit card bills, investment and mortgage repayments. To return (painfully), to 2007 and the heady days, weeks and months prior to the economy careering with its foot flat to the accelerator off the edge of the cliff; far too much (make that almost everything), was on the ‘never never’ and we had cultivated a society that never really believed that they would actually have to produce cold hard cash to pay for something.  I think it is a fair observation that we were all recipients in some way or another of the hard lesson that eventually, some one has to pay. To return to the road analogy; the speed limits are there for a reason, as are the penalties incurred if they are broken.

Lest we forget…

May I first accompany this week’s blog with the caveat that my ire has been stirred and I have to say, that for this I make no apology.  I am writing this whilst listening to the coverage of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the jaw-dropping stories of those survivors of the first day of Operation Overlord. By the close of 6 June 1944, the Allied forces had taken the first step of establishing a foothold in Europe, eventually helping to bring the war to an end.  Amongst those being interviewed was an American soldier who reminisced that after he had been hit for the fifth time in the space of approximately 100 yards, he was evacuated as, “I wasn’t much use anymore because I had been hit in both legs…” Also recalling the day was a Royal Engineer corporal who was responsible for driving a bulldozer that pushed the bodies of fallen Allied soldiers into a huge crater on the beach caused by the German bombardment.  It really made me think; as it should.  It contrasted sharply with another conversation to which I was privy earlier this week.  Having shown a perfectly well-presented, first time buyer property to a first time buying couple, I was told that they didn’t like it as they wouldn’t be able to fit their television, (with proportions akin to those required to park a tank) on the wall.  I was also asked, “If there was sky”.  I resisted the urge to reply, “Yes, it is the blue thing above us”.  As I left the couple to contemplate what else they didn’t like about the property that was admittedly smaller than Buckingham Place and no, didn’t have an en suite to the master bedroom – all points very clearly articulated in the property details – I wandered a short distance along the street.  There I met an elderly lady who was actually washing the pathway in front of all the houses in the street, (yes, you did read that correctly).  In reply to my somewhat dumbfounded query of what she was doing, she answered, “well, you have to keep the place clean, in case there are any visitors.”  Having asked her when the she last had any visitors and being told, “two years ago”, I had to take a deep breath and have several words with my inner genie to stop myself marching back up the street to the aforementioned first time buyers and telling them exactly where they could place their monster television.  I know, wholly unprofessional and the sort of behaviour that will be the equivalent of Banquo’s ghost on the internet and twitter sphere.

Speaking of contrasts, this week’s headlines again shrieked how as house prices ‘rocket’ (incidentally, can they find no other verb; do they not know how to use a thesaurus?), we are all doomed.  This is obviously a different kind of doom from that of two years ago, when as house prices ‘plummeted’ (ditto my first comment), we were also drop kicked into the abyss of despair.

Before I implode and go and have the first of many Bacardis, may I leave you with the words of our nation’s leader 70 years ago, “Attitude is a little thing, that makes a big difference“.  You said it, Winston.

I think that you will find that we have said this all along…

Many of our blogs over the passing months have commented on the ever increasing histrionics surrounding good ole George and his ‘Help to Buy’ scheme (Edition 1 and 2). Those members of the 21st century Greek chorus deplored the irresponsibility of the scheme and howled how the end of the world was not so much nigh as having already begun, with the housing market heating up at a speed and temperature akin to some volcanic inferno.  One of the high priests of this doom was none other than arch knife-in-the-back man Vince ‘call me Iago’ Cable. He could be heard on every media outlet, urging the residents of No’s 10 and 11 to, ‘stop it now’.  On one point of clarification he was referring to the HTB scheme, not the sharpening of the knife that he was planning to stick (using someone else’s paw) in the back of his party leader.  I digress.  According to reports this week, the Treasury have released, “the first comprehensive measure of the scheme”, which provides an unfettered view of the damage that Help to Buy is callously and immorally foisting upon the nation.  In Wales, HTB has accounted for a massive 5% of all completions in the period October 2013 to March 2014.  Pass me the smelling salts Petunia, I’m coming over all light-headed…LMAO, LOL and other acronyms that are slightly less sanitised.  Now various pundits who were being smothered to prevent them offering a divisive opinion are being dragged out of the undergrowth to opine that actually, the government subsidies are having a far lesser effect than was predicted in many quarters in creating the current rapid rise in house prices (in certain geographical areas).

In the UK, a total of 27,861 homes have ben sold under the two phases of the scheme.  Between October 2013 and March 2014 approximately 500,000 homes were sold in the UK.  Again, that pesky 5% keeps making an appearance. Of this half million. only 7,313 were bought using the mortgage guarantee scheme; a figure that correlates to an even more under-whelming figure of 1.2% of house sales.

Returning to the Hellenic theme: the chorus in any play spoke in unison, commenting on what was happening, creating a sense of unity and uniformity.  Something that Vince and his cronies would do well to heed.  Incidentally, the chorus originally numbered fifty, but Sophocles drastically cut the number to 12.  A  somewhat topical parallel perhaps with Nigel Farage and the Liberal Democrats’ seats in the European Parliament….?

It seemed like a good idea…

I accept that occasionally people do things and undertake crusades for the right reasons: the greater good, the benefit of the put upon, the downtrodden and all those who would qualify for a minor role in a Charles Dickens novel (adapted for the prime Sunday night TV audience), but more often than not I do have to ask whether they have really thought it through. This week brought more than one example of such zealous pursuit, perpetrated by our political friends (no surprise there, did someone mention the phrase ‘general election’?) The Government have announced that “at some point” in the indeterminate future, lettings agents will be forced to join a redress scheme to allow tenants and landlords to complain about shoddy service. Seems like a fair suggestion, I’m all for it. As with all such grandiose ideas, it rather unsurprisingly didn’t go into the detail. I do wonder if this scheme will run alongside that that protects landlords against having their property wrecked, a cannabis farm cultivated in their loft and old faithful, the tenant not paying the rent? I won’t hold my breath. One should never forget that a court process for rent arrears cannot even be started until the arrears are standing at 8 weeks; at which time one has to give 14 day’s notice of action, then apply to the court to receive a date usually 6 weeks later. The time between the hearing, being granted the possession order and actually taking possession of the property is usually 28 days. So, in total, it is nigh on 20-22 weeks with no rent. I have yet to see a scheme to protect landlords launched with the same fanfare; in fact I have yet to see the launch of any such scheme, on any level. Perhaps someone should give Mr Farage a call?
Not to be outdone, Ed Miliband leapt upon the lettings market charabanc with an alacrity akin to his elbowing his brother into the political wilderness. In a reprisal of his role as agitator-in-chief whilst at Oxford University, (where he organised a series of ‘militant’ actions against the college authorities who were introducing rent rises; incidentally these actions included boycotting the college’s dinner. Wow, Fidel Castro must have called to offer his congratulations at such hard core activity), Red-ish Ed pledged to the sound of angels bugling in the heavens that he would cap rent rises in the private sector. Under his governance, landlords would have to offer three-year tenancy agreements with only modest rent increases permitted. This was backed he intimated by no-less an august body than the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Fast forward 24 hours (who was it that said that a week was a “long time in politics”?), and RICS are most definitely not waving a Team Miliband banner. “RICS is not developing proposals on rent benchmarks, and we don’t recommend that a government introduce a ceiling on rent rises”[sic] Daily Mail, The Sun Friday 2 May 2014  Has anyone mentioned this to Ed? Such controls would have a pronounced effect on the rental market: reducing investment in the buy-to-let market, reducing the quantity of good quality rental properties, increasing the number of really grotty rental properties, to name but a few. One other small problem that might raise its less than pulchritudinous head will be that of rewriting mortgage terms and conditions. The vast majority of buy- to-let mortgages specify maximum tenancy agreements of one year. Labour acknowledge that those individuals (i.e. most of them), would be permitted to offer short tenancies if contractually obliged.
But the week was not one that held wholly depressing announcements of tedium. Cameron Diaz was asked by Jimmy Fallon on The Late Show whether she had ever taken a dip in the lady pool to which she answered in the affirmative. Wow zah, that’s my type of girl! I could make some very uncouth comment about Japanese knotweed, but I wouldn’t want to be accused of being a misogynist, and trust me, I’m anything but, especially if there are two of them…

The alleged housing bubble gets a prick…

“The Mortgage Inquisition” Daily Mail Tuesday 22April 2014  This was the headline screaming from the pages of every newspaper, of every political hue alongside the world shattering news that David Moyes had been given the heave-ho.  (I don’t think that with a £10 million pound payoff the ‘mortgage inquisition’ is going to have much effect on his house-buying ability). For weeks, if not months, we have been assaulted on a daily basis by the tidings of woe and despair that the United Kingdom is being engulfed by a housing bubble that is akin in size and effect to the smog in China.  That’s all changed now.  Overnight, the woe and despair has been transposed to those trying to buy a house.  According to the media, we are as a nation facing a rapid slowdown in the growth of house prices.  Is that such a bad thing? Last week, the bubble growth was seemingly out of control and was going to push the property market off the edge of the cliff.  This week, the rapid growth now faces the likelihood of being under control.  I ask again, is this a bad thing?  Apparently, families could miss out on buying the house of their dreams as they wait for an interview with their lender.  To whom are they going to lose out? Another family who themselves are waiting for a mortgage interview?  Let us take a deep breath, calm down and look at the facts.  The so-called ‘stress test’ interview is there to determine whether if in the instance of an increase in mortgage rates, the borrower will still be able to afford their mortgage. So, when the family with high childcare costs, a 5-year car loan, a high council tax band, rates, gas and electric and no added fripperies apply for a mortgage, they need to be aware that if interest rates go up, there is no wriggle room.  When the next family comes in with all the same costs, plus three holidays a year to Dubai, a premium Sky package, a top of the range Mercedes, premium gym membership and a wife with great teeth and other assets who spends £300 a month at the salon, they do in the instance of an interest rate rise have the ability to find the increased mortgage payments.

I would suggest that it is far more preferable to endure the probing stress of the interview (that you may fail), as opposed to the abject misery of having one’s house repossessed having been unable to maintain the monthly mortgage payments.

How the other half live…

and think.  Today, which is for many the most holy of holy days – celebrating the resurrection of Jesus who gave his life for us – a parable may be drawn with life in general.  Whilst millions the world over celebrate the very essence of their faith, that of God sending a saviour to redeem mankind from Satan’s grip, many others see Easter merely as an extra few days off work; a pagan orgy of chocolate consumption and getting a great deal at the local DIY store before making a complete balls up of relaying the patio/refitting the downstairs loo/painting the garden furniture. Trust me; been there, done that, got the t-shirt, the bollocking from my wife and the exorbitant bill from the workman who came to salvage my DIY disaster.

This week rather fittingly gave two examples of mankind’s need to procreate. Firstly, the young lady who was actively encouraged by her mother to be with child in order to get a council flat and secondly the even younger, young lady (actually, make that child), who gave birth at the age of fourteen thereby making her twenty nine year old father the proud holder of the title, “UK’s youngest grandparent”.  Ye Gods  –  and any other deities that may be twiddling their thumbs today – what in the name of… is happening?  Just to add further fuel to my ire, the Jeremy Kyle’s sofa-destined family come from Wales.  Terrific.  How proud as a nation we all should be and a massive well done to the Welsh Assembly as their education system is obviously working to such great effect.

Speaking of cause and effect, this week saw two of Britain’s listed builders reporting huge increases in demand for new homes.  The FTSE 100 behemoth, Persimmon, the UK’s biggest housebuilder reported that sales per site in the first fifteen weeks of the year were up 25% from the same period in 2013.  A number of sales have resulted from the Coalition’s Help To Buy scheme.  That’s right, the same scheme that was being condemned last week for aiding and abetting the “housing bubble”.  Chief Executive Jeff Fairburn welcomed the Government’s decision to extend the scheme to 2020. “The lenders are supportive of it and it really does deliver affordability to the buyer” [sic] Daily Mail Thursday April 17, 2014  This was echoed by his counterpart at Telford Homes, Jon Di-Stefano who expects his company’s profits to double again by 2018. “Telford Homes is operating where customers both want to live and can afford to live”. ibid  There we have it folks; the most pertinent part of his comment is the last part about people living where they can actually afford to buy a property.  Many of us aspire to the Pimms and croquet abode or crenelated stately pile as pursued with a vengeance by Team Middleton, but ultimately we live where we can afford to keep the roof over our heads.

“Achmet, our janissary, calculating from the decay of their empire…

…have come to a conclusion that the end of the world is nigh at hand.” James Emerson Tennent’s Letters from the Aegean, 1829.  The Celtic theme is rather timely as this week we see Alex Salmond a hopping and a trotting at the SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen.  Closer to home (for Mr Salmond at least), would be Private Frazer of Dad’s Army fame, whose line, “We’re all doomed, doomed I tell ye” had a particular relevance last week.  Not just in London, but throughout the country, house prices were reported last week to be on a stratospheric trajectory.  Just to confirm, this is throughout the country, with the exception of areas including parts of the North East, the North West, Wales and the outer suburbs of some of the largest cities in the country,  So, nationally. Sort of.  This is good news people.  Sort of.  If the media are to be believed, then some people will benefit dramatically and many will suffer because they will never, ever be able to afford their own property. Well we don’t need a journalist to tell us this.  It is called market forces, or more literally, life.  There are winners and there are losers.  Isn’t that right all you Arsenal supporters?  Glibness aside, it irks me immeasurably that the press can create such a maelstrom of emotional turmoil.  Always remember that the headlines of today are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper; just like the headlines of three years ago stating that we were faced with Armageddon as house prices were going to crash by 25-50% in the following months.  I may well be wrong (I often am, just ask Mrs Cheshire), but I would wager that the same soothsayers now are the same ones of yester year and if they really do have oracle-esque proclivities, why are they still journalists?

Amidst all the hype, one key fact stood out to me. Hometrack reported that typically owners now moved every 22 years as opposed to the 1980’s when they moved on average every 8 years.  If this is correct, what does it matter that prices are soaring, as you aren’t planning to move for a considerable part of  your lifetime?  As with every generation in the annals of time, the first time home buyers need help in getting on the property ladder.  Hence the launch of Help to Buy.  Incidentally, the latter is now being blamed as contributing to the soaring prices.  As always it appears that Sir James and Private Frazer were right: it is angst-ridden headlines for all, whether prices go up or go down.

One of the questions that I invariably ask potential purchasers is what type of property they are looking for.  Buy-to-let is a clear indicator.  When they reply that they want somewhere for the children (they are planning to have more), the pet alligator, herd of wildebeest etc. I always try and determine what is the main thing that they have to have in their prospective home.  Note the use of the word, ‘home’.  That’s  right, the place where one lives permanently, usually as part of a house hold (unless one is a total misanthrope).  Even if you proclaim to be the misanthrope to beat all misanthropes you would still want somewhere to call your home.  We all our inundated with the adverts beseeching us to ‘buy this dream home’ or ‘come home to this’, never ‘buy your dream investment property’.  Fact; we all need somewhere to live.  In days of yore, people would buy a house and make it into a home, not the other way round, with the aim of getting out of it as soon as possible.  Just in case the world is about to end,  I shall now retire to a darkened room in my penthouse with Tatiana, Flavia and a Bacardi….

 

Panda watch, House of Fraser and bulk-buying in London…

Those of you who have followed the blog for a length of time will know that here at Cheshire and Co we have an avid interest in the possible pitter pattering of tiny panda feet.  If you are raising an eyebrow, look at some of last year’s blog posts. Giant panda Tian Tian, who resides at Edinburgh Zoo, would seem – according to the experts –  to be ready to get romantic with the zoo’s male panda, Yang Guang.  Fellow followers of  Ailuropoda melanoleuca will know that last year Yuang Guang just did not do it for her (I know how you feel big lad) and IVF was also unsuccessful.  This year, it is all systems go.  Well I have just looked at the ‘Panda Cam’ at Edinburgh Zoo – in between compiling Rightmove reports – and although I am no panda expert, I wouldn’t want to be wagering Mrs Cheshire’s collection of Louis Vuitton handbags on there being a need to buy a panda-sized babygro.

On matters more property minded, but still Chinese, there was yet another feverish report published at the weekend that the descendants of the Yan and Huang Emperors are contributing to the deepening UK housing shortage and bullying domestic homebuyers out of the market.  In the major cities, primarily the capital, developers are apparently increasingly selling direct to buyers in China at inflated prices, cutting out domestic purchasers altogether.  Michael Sacks of property development firm Sequre said, “New-build apartment blocks in Britain’s city centre are being bought en masse and then re-sold oversees, mostly to the Chinese, for significantly more than they are already worth.” Daily Mail Saturday 5 April 2014.  This then forces up the value of second-hand stock and according to Mr Sacks, “This is reminiscent of 2007…when people were buying property without doing their due diligence and simply believing the sales hype that the market is booming”.  Ok, let us look at this concern in its component parts.  Firstly, we are talking primarily about the capital city, one of the leading financial and cultural centres of the world.  We are not talking about Abertillery or a former pit village in County Durham. By definition of what it is, with the craving for international business that bolsters the economy as a whole, there is going to be a huge number of foreign investors.  Secondly, alluding to the first point about the economy, I can guarantee that the vendors of the said apartment blocks aren’t complaining.  If a phenomenally wealthy Chinese gentleman or woman, (for the ardent Germaine Greer supporters amongst you), wanted to buy a house or houses in Cwmbran, Ebbw Vale or anywhere this side of the bridge; if they could prove that they had the money and were prepared to pay what was being asked, then I don’t think that I, or any other estate agent  and certainly not our clients, the vendors would be wringing our hands about the possible housing shortage for domestic buyers.  We would be deciding what colour to have for our new Mercedes S-Class.  Thirdly, the value of something is determined not by what experts such as myself think, but what ultimately people are prepared to pay.  Simple.  Any professional in any market plae, housing or otherwise, should be able to give a true and accurate valuation of something.  This is based on comparable evidence, market changes et al.   Any agent should be trying to get the best possible price for a property within a realistic time frame and should advise their clients accordingly.  The due diligence of those buying should be met in equal measure by any agent who advises their client, the vendor that they should not always believe what they read in the papers.

Speaking of economies, the Chinese economy is under pressure and one of the only ways of getting money out of the country is to invest in foreign property.  Is this genuinely to be viewed here in the UK as a negative development?  Similarly, one of the UK’s High Street stalwarts, House of Fraser has been bought by a Chinese conglomerate who plan to spend around £80 million revamping the stores  throughout the country.  Is this perceived to be bad for British business?  Pull the other one.

 

Unidos na diversidade….Forenet i mangfoldighed…

…Jednota v rozmanitosti… Not quite up to speed on your Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch?  Perhaps if I quote the motto of the European Union in English, it may help; “United in diversity” or if you have a particular affinity for the Indo-European mother language, ” In varietate Concordia“.  Rather like naming the Blue Peter dog/cat/tortoise/presenter to replace the one who was caught in an opiate induced state, the motto was determined by a contest involving 80,000 students from the countries of the European Union. Particularly prescient, as this week we were besieged on all sides by matters foreign, brought to our very doorstep by the Nige v Nick debate that raised the most pertinent question, “Who’d choose one of these jabbering maniacs to rule us?” [sic] Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, Thursday March 27 2014.  Ye Gods, give me strength.  It has often been asked whether Nick (Dutch mother, half Russian father, Spanish wife and a career Eurocrat, Europhile who has never worked outside the embrace of its bosom) has the stars of the European Union tattooed on his posterior.  What odds would I get at Ladbrokes? Although this one is more Paddy Power’s politically incorrect cup of tea. Nige isn’t that far behind on the inter-European marital stakes with a German second wife, but enough, this was serious stuff about our future as a nation.  As I said, give me strength.  My ire (and my blood pressure), had already been raised with an article in last weekend’s Daily Mail that wrote of the “People’s Republic of Wales” Robert Hardman , Daily Mail Saturday 22 March 2014.  What pained me as a proud Welshman -“Gymraeg ac yn filch”-(that will test who actually went to or learnt anything from the enforced Welsh language lessons at school), was that Mr Hardman was absolutely on the money.  Let us not forget that devolution came in as a result of a 25%  turnout and a 51% majority for the ‘yes’ vote.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for self-government; the same self-government that has allowed the Welsh Assembly to $&$£ everything up.  One only has to spend a Friday evening in the car park that passes for the M4 at the Bryn Glas Tunnels to see the efficacy of such self-government and those in power looking after their own people (sorry, they are looking after something beginning with ‘p’…).   On the subject of devolution and self-government, you are either in, or you are out.  Look at Scotland; Alex and his mates will keep North Sea Oil , the pound and the Armed Forces -just in case – but south of the border can keep RBS, the deficit and anything else that those the other side of Hadrian’s Wall don’t want.  It don’t work that way jockey.  It rather reminds me of Saddam Hussein who when found guilty and sentenced to death was thereby being granted a fast track ticket, access all areas pass to the 40 virgins he had proclaimed would always be waiting for him on his ceasing to wander the planet, but… he immediately launched an appeal of his sentence – just in case there was TB/syphilis/bird flu in the harem? 

Continuing our Jules Verne tour of the globe; the former subcontinent got a mention in dispatches as regards the property market.  Or more specifically, the housing market in London.  Oliver Atkinson of the online estate agents urbansalesandletings.co.uk was quoted in various media outlets as saying that prices in London “are bordering on the doolally”[sic].  For the anoraks amongst you, this phrase originated from WW2 and the British army transit camp based at Deolali, India. Those who succumbed to fever or mental illness- borne from the conditions- who shook uncontrollably were deemed to have the ‘Doolally (Deolali) Tap’.  (For a fixed fee I can not only measure up and market your property but I can also appear in your pub quiz team).  Anyone with a modicum of intelligence must accept that what happens in the London postcodes is very different to what is happening in the rest of the country.  Yes, there  may be a ripple effect, housing market activity is increasing and consumer confidence is gradually improving, but the overall figures for property transactions are and will continue to be distorted by what is happening within the confines of the M25.  This is best illustrated by returning to the land of Hadrian and his wall; the Land Registry reports that house prices in the North East fell by a further 1.3% in the 12 months up to February 2014.   Hysteria is indeed gripping certain parts of the South East property market, just as it is gripping certain parts of the media who report on the property market. Robert Chote of the Office for Budget Responsibility was quoted on Wednesday as having concerns about the “bubbly activity” in some areas.  This is resulting in sealed bids, open days where the overhead motorway signs are warning of ‘Congestion on Slip Road’ due to the slew of people pulling off to visit a particular semi and people being moved to murder to ensure that their offer is accepted (ok, I made the last one up).  Through all this reportage, there is an underlying theme, a muted whisper that behind all this high octane activity, there is some form of skulduggery or praxis being carried out by estate agents.  Just one question, is it always the case of nasty, nefarious estates agents and never greedy, avaricious vendors?

 

What’s it all about…..

…Alfie? (Give me the Dionne Warwick version any day over Cilla ‘I’m a professional Scouser’ Black).  Actually, with this week’s Budget having come to pass, the question should really be being asked of George Osborne; or in the interest of Coalition politics, the ultimate dog-in-a-manger, meddlesome old woman Vince Cable should perhaps be being courted for his Solomitic prophesies. In reference to the property market, the 2014 Budget contained no absolute howitzers unless you belong to that bracket that wants to buy a property in London (primarily) where the average asking price is just over £552,000. (Yes, you did read that correctly).  As of midnight on Budget day, the stamp duty for residential properties held in corporate portfolios worth over £500,00 increased to 15%, whereas prior to the hour of Cinderella, pumpkins and glass slippers it had only covered properties worth £2million or over.  Will this have any impact?  Well I suppose it might possibly deter a buyer from Europe from purchasing a pied a terre in the middle of London via a corporate envelope; whether it puts off the Qatari Royals from mass buying flats in Battersea Power Station (the cheapest retailing at £650,000), is anyone’s guess. Miles Shipside, Rightmove’s director was quoted in many publications, “Some deals may fall out of bed as corporate buyers try and renegotiate, and may give a knock down price opportunity to those Londoners looking in the half-million to £2million bracket…” [sic].  Meanwhile, back in the property world of NP44… I nearly crashed my car whilst driving up Avondale Road.  Eight boards in a twenty foot stretch of railing?  This raises a myriad of questions: not least what is so awry with the development that so many properties are available? Devil-worshipping?  Cannibalistic tendencies? The neighbours from hell -I refer you to my first point?  As the boards are equally split between sales and lettings, a potential investor may well be put off by what appears to be a very high turnover of tenants and the competitiveness of the market of actually moving the property on. Of course a more cynical individual may take the view that some agents may have a put a board up without actually having a property to sell, but due to the proliferation of their competitors they feel that they are missing out..

“A man is his own easiest dupe…

…for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.” Demosthenes.  Now I would like to think that I share many characteristics with the 4th century BC Greek statesman and orator; a patrician air, an ability to express contemporary society’s political and cultural proclivities, (ok, Pontnewyyd Social Club may not have absolute parity with the Senate in Athens, but you get the picture) and the prowess to wear a toga and not look like Frankie Howerd (titter ye not). Much of last week’s media reporting of the workings of my fellow property professionals did have me agreeing with The Big D having asked (and had it answered unequivocally), “Are people really that stupid?”  Firstly, I will acknowledge that estate agents and those who brand themselves as property or land agents (don’t think that the difference in title and the tweed suit raises you to a moral high ground), are placed by society as a whole somewhere between journalists, (step forward Ms R Brooks) and politicians, (that would be you, Mr A Blair). Wait a minute, don’t they know each other and didn’t we as a nation elect one of them to lead our beleaguered isle…? I digress.  Being employed by someone to market and hopefully sell their property is a job description akin to murdering their first born son.  Just call me Herod.  I wholly concur that there are some very dubious characters peddling their wares as estate agents, just as there are some very dubious characters peddling their wares as doctors, bankers, politicians and members of the clergy.  We do as a profession generate a quite unique level of opprobrium.  Some of which is deserved.  I do though have to ask who is gullible/desperate/sufficiently intellectually challenged to fall for some of the behaviour? Secondly, is some of this “shocking” behaviour as dastardly as is portrayed? In no particular order, examples cited in last week’s papers:

  •  Staging a two hour open viewing with the aim of pushing buyers into making higher offers.  What a load of bollocks and a minute’s consideration of the rationale involved clearly determines this.  Open house viewings are invariably held at empty properties and in my experience, 85% of the viewers are there because they have nothing better to do, fancied a nose around and are a TWOFT.   Open viewings are legitimate and have their place, but time restrictions do not push people into increasing their offer.  It isn’t a game show where you have to answered the question before the commercial break.
  • Non refundable deposits to filter out those potential buyers who are not serious.  This is genuinely appalling. Ballsy of the agent but you really would have to have been short-changed on the grey cells to agree to this.
  • Introductory fees forced on potential buyers.  Again, appalling, but who in the name of the good Lord, (other deities are available) would allow themselves to be “forced” into doing this?
  • An agent stating that a property is only available to cash buyers – and demanding proof.  A cash-only policy is a definite no-no, but any professional agent who is working for the best interests of their client – the vendor- should be requiring proof of funds before wasting everyone’s time and depleting the emotional bank of hope and enthusiasm.  There is a world of difference between an agent congratulating themselves and crowing to their client about the huge number of viewings booked for their property when none of those viewing have the funds even for the deposit, and a select, smaller number of viewings by those whom the agent knows have the financial means to make the purchase.
  • Getting unnecessary planning consent for extensions in order to boost asking prices.  Why shouldn’t a vendor do this?  Who is that deems the consent to be, ‘unnecessary’?  People viewing a property that they think may in its current condition be slightly small for their planned expanding family may make the purchase if they know that planning has been granted for an additional bedroom and bathroom.  Planning consent merely broadens a vendor’s potential market.  What isn’t there to be commended in such a move?

If a potential vendor or purchaser believes that an estate agent is trying to mug them off, then they should walk away.  No one could campaign on the ticket that there is a shortage of estate agents. “Caveat emptor” is applicable to all parties; and to paraphrase The Big D, those who get mugged off have usually allowed themselves to be treated as such with a certain word tattooed across their forehead.

“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ Keep them dogies movin…”

The reason for channelling my inner Rowdy Yates ( the real star over his boss Gil Favor), is that yesterday on Radio 4’s You and Yours, the world of selling houses and estate agency in general was likened to the ‘Wild West’. Now I would like to think that I can work a pair of buffalo-hide chaps better than most (without looking like the really camp, hirsute one from The Village People), but I prefer to meet the general public wearing a suit.  Each to their own though.  The comparison was made by a an American lady who holds the position of chief executive of The Homeowners’ Alliance (HA).  This is an organisation that has self-styled itself as, “the voice of the homeowner”[sic] that aims to support and serve Britain’s 17 million homeowners and 5 million prospective homeowners.  At a cost, incidentally, of £29.  Now this is not a huge outlay nor am I knocking the formation of a support group. ‘Hello, I’m Gareth and I’m an estate agent”. (Apologies to anyone who has been offended – have a drink on me).  The reason for their presence on prime time radio was the publication of a report compiled by them that focussed primarily on the secretive nature of estate agents in revealing to prospective vendors the actual cost of selling their property.  Hidden fees, additional clauses and the demand for additional marketing payments were amongst the examples of unprofessional behaviour.  According to the septic (tank – for those of you who aren’t au fait with rhyming slang), the HA visited 169 websites and  rang 41 agents to try and establish the cost of selling a property and the vast majority of the agents were less than forthcoming about the fees that they would charge.  On the subject of roguish behaviour, articles in yesterday’s written press commented on the “return of rogue agents”  [sic] Daily Mail , Friday 7 March 2014, in tandem with soaring house prices.  Again, the subject of agents signing people up to 6 month contracts without there being any interest in their property was the main thrust of the article.  I will let you into a little secret; this has been going on for years and I could name half a dozen agents, (invariably part of large, target-driven national chains) who operate in the NP44 postcode who have always done this and will continue to do so.  It is not condonable in any way; and at Cheshire and Co – as a small independent – we never ask a prospective vendor to sign such a contract.  But one thing should be pointed out, nobody has to sign the contract and if you are asked to do so, don’t.  The wonders of modern technology mean that if considering selling your house, you are able to research agents from wherever you may be based.  Also on Radio 4 was a lady from the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), who advised that when choosing an estate agent one should always choose an NAEA member.  Why?  Firstly, her fellow guest said that most of those whom they had identified from their survey who were purveyors of dodgy practices were actually NAEA members and secondly, what can the NAEA actually do for you the vendor (or as an agent)?  To quote from the NAEA’s website, “every year, unlicensed agents cause Britain’s homebuyers and sellers unnecessary stress and hassle” [sic] and they as a body aim to, “reduce this through self-regulation” [sic].  Very commendable, but I refer you to my earlier question. And I must point out a couple of issues that are raised from the NAEA blurb.  “Unlicensed agents”, implies that to operate as an estate agent one has to hold some form of licence akin to the legally binding document required to drive a car or watch a television.  No such license exists. The “unlicensed” bit refers to not being a member of the NAEA that as our American friend reports has dubious quality control measures.  This segues neatly with my next comment.  Membership of the NAEA is voluntary and the organisation itself is self-regulating. Having reported agents  who proudly proclaimed that they were NAEA members, but whose business practices were spectacularly in breach of the NAEA voluntary code of practice, I awaited definitive self-regulatory action to be taken. I am still waiting.  As always, the body that everyone who operates a business should be hugely respectful of, is Trading Standards. They don’t charge you a £1500 fee plus VAT to list their acronym on your website, they just shut you down.  Self-regulation my £$%&, they regulate through the law of the land and if you don’t play by the rules, you aren’t allowed to play.

As they said when setting out on the Sedalia Trail, “Head ’em up! Move ’em out! Saddle up! Ride around!”  I’m not sure how well that will go down as I bellow it out of the car window on Cwmbran Drive…

Professional professionals or make a quick buck profiteers?

Monday’s Daily Mail headline about an estate agent attempting to fleece a dying gentleman out of  the thick end of a million pounds did nothing to enhance the professional reputation of our industry.  London-based Bargets had written to Mr Owen Hill who owned a property in St John’s Wood, claiming that their agency had a ‘genuine buyer’ interested in buying his home.  Under the erroneous impression that the letter had been written to him personally, he contacted Bargets who dispatched Mr Malcolm Collins to visit Mr Hill in person.  According to court documents, Mr Hill was in a ‘fragile and vulnerable physical and mental condition’, [sic] and was deliberately misled and exploited by Mr Collins, who failed to carry out a valuation merely asking the gentleman how much he wanted for the property and failing to point out that the answer he recieved was substantially lower than its market value.  Further more, he then contacted his brother-in-law to buy the property at the reduced rate.  Following a year long legal wrangle orchestrated by a number of concerned neighbours, the matter was  settled out of court, with the agency’s insurers meeting the costs of the case. Initially, Mr Collins was allowed back into the Barget’s fold, but this was rescinded when his boss/the owner of the agency was door stepped by  a national newspaper with one of the largest readerships. Profuse apologies were offered coupled with a fervent claim that no such nefarious behaviour would ever happen again. Uh-huh.  Mr Collin’s and his behaviour were only denounced when he and more appositely his employer, were publicly outed. Firstly, none of us have squatting rights on the moral high ground, but such shenanigans are indefensible.  This behaviour rightly gives our industry a bad name.  A poll released last year showed that estate agents rank fifth on a series of professions the public doesn’t trust – just below bankers, politicians, journalists and car salesmen.  Illustrious company indeed.  Why do people regard us with such distaste? Stories such as the one above are evidence enough, but in our time-poor, property obsessed society, we are a necessary evil.  Of course anyone can sell their house themselves, saving a considerable amount in fees, but this is time-consuming and requires a certain amount of savvy.  We are professional salespeople who serve a useful function; of course we are there to  make money for ourselves but also to get the best price for somebody’s property.  Like any good deal, a house sale should benefit all parties.  The story mentioned above raises some pertinent pointers for those venturing into the shark infested waters of property selling:

  •  Any letter claiming that an agency has someone who wants to buy your house-yes, your particular house- not anyone else’s, is to put it politely, propaganda.  Interest in the area is one thing, a list of ten proceedable people who want your house and only your house is akin to my claiming that I had to get out a restraining order against Miss Minogue.
  •  Unless you as the vendor have to sell your house by a week on Friday, always be conscious that an agent who comes in quickly with a low, but very proceedable offer that they are pushing you to accept may have some ulterior motive or connection lurking in the background.  Always remember that your agent should, (having discussed the parameters of the sale) be working to get you the best price, not necessarily the quickest sale.
  • An agent must always declare an interest if a property is bring purchased by them or a family member.
  • The world is full of shysters, regardless of the profession.  Various world religions are evidence of this.

 

 

“I sometimes think that God in creating man…

…somewhat overestimated His ability.” Oscar Wilde  After events of the past week, I have to admit that I am with the fop-haired, syphilitic aesthete.  To celebrate Valentine’s Day last week, I extended Mrs Cheshire’s contract and as a reward for her endeavours bought her a brand new 2004 Mondeo diesel, (well she believes the descriptor…).  Yesterday, some ne’er-do-well keyed the entire side of her car whilst she was at work. On most occasions of her returning with a vehicle covered in scratches I have learnt to accept the tale of woe of the bollard/tree/old lady on a mobility scooter that deliberately leapt into her path just as she was coming down the road (admittedly on the wrong side).  However, on this occasion, a coterie of vagrants had been seen loitering in the area of her vehicle and if she had flattened someone on a mobility scooter (and neglected to tell me), the amount of damage to the car would have meant she might be facing a small sojourn courtesy of HMP.   The guilty party was undoubtedly the type to feature in a typical hysteria-driven Daily Mail headline or a Channel 5 documentary; on the dole, father/mother of 12 kids, waistband of their trousers sitting approximately half way down their thigh, you get the less than salubrious picture.  But to qualify people’s behaviour by their employment, dress sense and use of contraception is a foolish one; as the behaviour of a professional gentleman -who works hard, drives an executive car, and wears the waistband of his trousers in the area from which it take its name -and who has employed us as the agents to market and sell his property, this week exemplified.  Having willingly signed a contract, that was discussed with him at length, at an agreed rate plus VAT, he has now chosen to renege on the contract in an attempt to gain a reduced fee. This was accompanied by the classic line of, “If you don’t reduce your fee, I’m pulling out”. Ok.  So he is choosing to forsake the sale of his property, (that incidentally has been on the market for an eon, with a number of our competitors, with no hint of a sale), for the sake of £400 VAT.  He clearly believes that he could coerce us into doing his bidding. Wrong answer.  May I take this opportunity to remind one of the legal definition of a contract: “An agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration” [sic] Law.com 2009, New York  We undertook the task of selling his property for the best possible price that could be achieved, and if successful in doing so, he would owe us a specified fee. Yes, he says, but now I don’t want to pay what I agreed to (by signing the contract). Again, Ok.  That is why we have £5million worth of legal expenses’ insurance. 

When not studying the form of the 17.20 at Wolverhampton I have been known to dip into the works of the Confucian philosophers… stop laughing at the back.  In the words of Xunzi, “Mencius said that human nature is good.  I disagree with that”.  So do I.  You should have been in Cwmbran last week Mencius.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….

… the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Reinhold Niebuhr.  I don’t think that the eminent American theologian, ethicist and public intellectual was possibly contemplating the whims of a capricious tenant when he said this; but I have on occasion recently had to find the mental fortitude not to either a. allow my blood pressure to ricochet off the scale or b. put myself in the frame for an attempted murder charge as I bash someone over the head with a bundle containing the latest figures from Rightmove, a Section 21 notice, an EPC and a FENSA certificate (there’s a prize if you can identify the acronym).   For whatever reason, tenants do, having just moved into a rented property, (that they have viewed seventeen times; with mum/partner/aunt/nail technician/probation officer to name just a few), decide that they can’t/won’t live there and they want to move now (or yesterday, if it could be arranged).  All parties have signed a six month contract in, “upmost good faith”, but that has absolutely no relevance or import in the mind or thought process of the tenant.  Okey dokey, the landlord/agent says through gritted teeth; here’s what we will do.

Option 1.  Nothing.  As a tenant, the individual has signed an agreement for 6 months and that is what they will pay for.  Whether they choose to actually live there is wholly irrelevant as long as the money keeps coming in.  This is totally within a landlord’s legal rights. Nasty landlord.

Option 2. The landlord states that they will put the property back on the rental market and as soon as a new tenant is found, the current tenant will be released from the contract.  Nice landlord.

Option 3.  The landlords states that they will take one month’s notice from the day the tenant moved in (all of a day ago).  Because the landlord has turned away other tenants and has incurred expenses, they do not wish to be out of pocket if they release the tenant from the contract straight away.  Again, nice landlord.

As an agent who has heard all manner of reasons as to why a tenant cannot possible stay in a chosen location one minute longer, “Oh, you don’t like the tree? What that f+&^ off big thing that was standing there on all the occasions that you came to view the house…?”, I always tell tenants that they are not in a position to negotiate.  It rests wholly with the benign and accommodating nature of the landlord/agent.  And if the latter has just had his car pinched, Wales got hammered in the Six Nations or his wife has been withholding all favours because he forgot her birthday, then unlucky, learn to live with the tree.  As always, the advice that I offer before any contract is proffered, is to make sure that it is the property that you really, really want before you sign the tenancy agreement.  After all, if you had just bought the property, would you stomp indignantly back to the Halifax and say that you don’t like it, can we cancel the mortgage?

Speaking of change, my mate Mark (Carney), head honcho at The Bank of England, this morning stated that The BOE was powerless to stop the soaring prices of the prime property market in London.  Firstly, note the use of the word, “prime”.  This is the market that only the uber wealthy can afford and the majority of those wielding the chequebook are foreign investors who have the cash ready, burning a hole in their Dior.  As Mr Carney said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, “We as the central bank can’t influence that.  We change underwriting standards – it doesn’t matter. there’s not a mortgage” [sic]  A point that many of the more wild-eyed commentators forget to acknowledge; Mr Niebuhr obviously don’t feature on their bedtime reading list. 

The demand for housing, a kichen that isn’t flooded and a man with a good pair of legs…

It is on occasion difficult not to roll a jaundiced eye at the selective editing and manner in which events are presented to us, the great unwashed, general public.  Last Thursday saw the announcement, with much feverish emotion , that UK house prices showed their biggest rise in three months in January 2014.  The data supplied by the Halifax (part of Lloyds Banking Group – that bastion of bu