Friday, October 16

On agents and houses..

Buying a house is as nerve wracking an affair as is selling one. We have seen a great deal of houses this year and dealt with a lot of estate agents and it struck me that here you have a substrata of humanity that has carved out an existence between two groups of potentially permanently stressed people. One would think that it takes a very special kind of person and indeed as one of them put it 'You can't help but it (your buisness - ed.) rubbing off on you..'

So here we have someone stuck between people wanting to make money and people wanting to make a bargain, someone who puts himself professionally between a rock and a hard place trying to convince the rock that the place is actually just hard enough and trying to convince the place of the rock's malleability.

 This refers to personal dealings with the agents, looking at property advertizing we have a completely different picture, suddenly this professional tightrope walker with well honed negotiating skills (well the better ones anyway..) turns into a clumsy daydreaming simpleton, forgetting to mention things like road proximity, cutting off the attached neighbours house (complete with car wrecks and caravan in the front yard) on the photo, accidentally taking a picture of the council lawn abutting the garden and getting utterly perplexed by the digital camera's image settings and ending up with pictures grossly stretched out of proportion. I can only imagine that the initial visit of a property puts our agent in a sort of rabbit in the headlights stupor, making him (or her) completely unable to complete even the most basic of tasks. We can see this by the verbal descriptions subsequently put together when the poor soul gets back to the office, here the council estate becomes a 'sought after area', the main road two steps from the front door becomes 'good access' and the DIY hell becomes 'benefitting from considerable updating by previous owner', any room 1,90m by 1,40m becomes a double bedroom, every broom cupboard a pantry and every garden shed a workshop/office. Then of course there is the delirious visions of extensions, conversions and great potential (subject to planning of course) so that by the end of it all most of the agents must find it hard to recall anything accurate about a property at all.

This does not bode well for our buyer or seller, it is in fact a bit like going sledging, blindfolded, at night, down a wooded mountainside, in the middle of an avalanche, with all your money tied to the back with a old bit of string.. Ok so that might be exaggerating a bit but I was quite enjoying that metaphor but the sweat soaked moments where you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether you are doing the right thing might well make you feel like you are on that sledge.

So getting back to our agents, it is no small wonder then that the profession is filled with a right motley crew of characters. Ranging from the guy that only takes on properties he knows will sell at the asking price or above, so cocksure of himself he doesn't mind telling you that the original owners committed sucide there.. Then there is the agent complete with office junior prancing about like the wreck he is showing off will sell by itself or the agent discovering the house with you 'Oh, I've never been here before so I don't know what to expect' followed by hugely exaggerated wide eyed oohs and aahs as they make their way around the house.

Some are very quiet, too quiet so that when one subjects them to careful questioning suddenly they remember the problem with the drains, the right of way across the back lawn, the footpath on the migration route from the school to the local shops or half the garden being rented of the local council not to forget he total chauvinist, gold ringed, tanned, arrogant and racist to boot, an office staffed by blondes young enough to be his daughter that he slobberingly leeres at and behaving as though being careful with your money and trying to get the best deal possible is a personal insult. Best avoid him.

It must indeed be a very hard profession to be in, some of these agents, started in the glory days where the world was full of fast bucks and the buildings from the housing boom were not yet falling apart, seem to spend quite some time over lunch trying to forget the harsher times they have arrived in, so preoccupied and sometimes inibriated are they that they completely forget their lines and statements like 'We have had quite a few offers' and 'It's been on the market for a while but I have/had 2 more showings this week' then slip out randomly and completely out of context.

How to conclude this rant (as that is what this seems the little post about stress involved in buying a house has turned into..)?

  • There are a few pointers I would give to anyone finding themselves at this juncture, if you think you might want to buy, you should have started looking and going to look at houses yesterday. Go and see as many as you can that way you get a feel for properties and the market as well as getting used to estate agents and their ways. 

  • Seeing houses with the owners is a tough one, always compliment them on how nice they have the place, never commit to anything, don't get their hopes up in vain and never ever discuss changes or building work you might have in mind with them (they might not want to sell to someone that is going to 'tear apart' their home). 

  • Take along a friend or colleague (don't go to see properties on your own) and make sure they chat to the agent while you have a good look around (an overly chatty agent might well be trying to distract you attention from details that would make the property unsuitable for you). 

  • Try your best to avoid group showings, ask if there will be other people seeing the property before or after you and be late or leave early accordingly as agents try to group viewings like that to make it seem like there is greater interest than there really is. 

  • If the agent does not accompany you into the house then it most likely is as good as sold already and seeing it will be a waste of time (apart from practice). 

  • Don't ever let the agent know how much (or little) money you have be vague about the price range you want to look at (they will always try and get you to spend more otherwise). 

  • Don't be afraid to make offers, in fact I would go as far as recommending you to practice making offers (in the UK if you make a formal offer the agent has to put it to the seller) and it takes the stress out of it, we had great fun making very cheeky offers on overpriced properties we liked and wanted (try some between 30% and 50% off the asking price) When it came to the crunch we had an offer of 20% below asking accepted, if we hadn't practiced we would have never dared making that offer. 

  • Read up on your rights, the sellers rights and the agents obligations, that way you know exactly where you stand and no agent can bully you into offering more or moving faster than caution dictates. 

  • Don't fall in love with places this only leads to stress and heartache. Always tell yourself that if you don't get the property you want at that moment, another one will show up, also remember that if it seems too good to be true it probably is. 

All this will make sense if you practice looking and dealing with agents, looking at properties and making offers for slightly less than the asking price not what the agent/owner thinks it is worth or might be worth. After all a house for £200k that would be worth £250k with a new kitchen/bathroom etc is still only a house worth £200k needing a lot of work and the hassle of that has to be factored into the price, a house that would be worth £ Xk if it where somewhere else is not somewhere else.. So many things and factors go into doing this that a complete guide as to how would be futile but practice will train your instinct and help you make the right choices so last of all remember that you always have a choice!

PS: One tip I almost forgot was don't buy anything you would not be able to sell again, this one helps keeping an objective head when trying to come to a dcecision.

Wednesday, October 14

Corduroy Day

Today hangs grey and colourless in muted tones, people quietly rushing, trying to get the day over and done with, commuters walking, phones to their heads, all buisness like no ambling glance to spare. A mother and child shout across the street and the old lady with a perm like the tower of Babel scraping at the grey sky waves back can't stop she says, gotta go.

Today is too bland to hang about anywhere but in your own head, people walk oblivious like ghosts or zombies.The council has removed the last flowers from the flowerbeds and the barren brown earth echoes the celestial monotony.

A new traffic warden, pale skinned and fresh faced, red faced in his blue uniform, still getting used to his kit, adjusting straps and hanging ticket dispenser, keen and eager he circles the block, checking the same cars he checked a couple of hours ago, trying to keep himself busy on this uninspiring day with gulls wheeling off into colourless distance overhead, quietly as if muffled by the lack of contrast and sunshine.

A chap from the waterboard, his luminous vest in stark contrast with the world walks up to the first house across the way and lifts an inspection cover. He is carrying his kit, a pipe extension, and a long tap wrench. He sets to with well practiced moves, the water gushing brown first then clear from the pipe extension as he leans over for the briefest of instants to read the note stuck to the door of the house alerting any delivery persons to try the pub rather than the old lady next door. Then the tap is off, the cover back on and with his kit in hand the lad is striding on not the time or the weather to hang about today, and he too is gone, moved on.

Sunday, October 11

The autumn walk

We took a nice autumnal walk to the shops yesterday, the sun was out, the leaves are turning and children are running around either vastly underdressed or crazily overdressed for the season. The ducks are hanging out together in the sunshine now that the fighting for space and mating partners has stopped and some guy was sitting dipping the end of his fishing rod in the pond while having a loud phone conversation with the phone wedged between the ear and shoulder. People were walking their dogs, getting their children out of the house, squirrels busy collecting all the food they can get their little paws on.

Down by the river a group of middle to old age men are busying themselves pulling rubbish and scrap out from under the bridge. On the opposite verge is a skip overflowing with mudcaked dripping shopping trolleys and old bicycles, there is a little makeshift table and people are standing around coordinating having cups of tea and generally keeping their spirits up in the unshakeable belief that they are doing a good thing. Three blokes on the bridge with a hook and a rope are heaving at yet another trolley slowly rising from the Ouse, the water dripping from it forming a glittering chain of droplets like a sparkling diamond necklace.

A tween is walking across the bridge, head sunken deep into his hoodie with the knowledge that he too contributed to that pile of trolleys, some dark nearly forgotten night with his mates thinking that throwing the trolly from the bridge was the best this town had to offer at that precise moment and the fact is it probably was.. just like today standing there and watching the old best come back up and become the new best the town had to offer again.

Fifteen years from now that same tween might be standing on this bridge, holding the end of the rope and taking his turn in the great shopping trolley migration again, having a cup of tea and a triangular sandwich, not a beer and a spliff. Or maybe he'll be the guy up to his armpits in the Ouse, fishing about in the murky waters for the next bit of scrap to hang on the hook, having long since given up the hope that the waders would stop him from getting wet, or maybe he'llbe the guy on the riverbank, dripping in his muddy trousers and asking around for a hanky to dry off his mobile phone...

The shops were busy, much busier than any of this activity that all seemed to be going down in a quiet muffled contemplative way but then capitalism always was more slash and burn, more swashbuckling than environmentalism. However, we all slow down eventually, it's just that some of us manage to do it early enough to enjoy this life, in all it's wonderous complexity.

Photo by plurabella © 2009