Saturday, 15 October 2011

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Friday, 4 February 2011

Grand design runs aground

It looks like the so-called 'curse of Grand Designs' has outdone itself this time.

Usually the curse means the homeowners - who have conveniently forgotten that we all watched the shambles that led to the creation of their masterpiece - finding that their house is worth little more than any similar home that hasn't been sprinkled with the fairy dust of celebrity.

After all, when we've seen the corners that are cut when the budgets run out, the nasty neighbours, and the 'innovative' technology that failed to deliver, why would anyone want to pay over the odds to buy a house, albeit one whose foundations are saturated with the slavering architectural enthusiams of Kevin McCloud, or damned with his faint praise - whichever is worse.

But this week comes news that the barge, featured in 2007, and planned as an environmentally-friendly home for Chris Miller, his wife, and two children, has washed up on an Essex beach - abandoned, vandalised beyond repair and, as the Guardian put it, the ultimate post-modern architectural salute to futility.

So I was wondering if the creators of the Facebook Grand Designs drinking game need to add a new section to their downloadable scorecard in addition to such classics as:

One shot:
Homeowners decide to project manage themselves.
A Kevin-to-camera monologue ends with him pursing his lips or biting lower lip.
Homeowner cries.

Two shots:
Kevin speaks flawless Italian, French, Mandarin or Swahili.
We see footage of pouring rain pooling on a concrete slab.
The homeowners are forced to make an unplanned move into a caravan.

Three shots:
Something collapses.
Kevin has a swim in the homeowners new pool.
Project is left unfinished.

How about...

Four shots:
The house ends up as a giant sandcastle bucket for Essex holiday makers.

Or even...

Five shots:
The house gets finished on time, on budget, no one has a heart attack/serious accident/gets divorced, and, with all the publicity garnered from the show, the deliriously happy couple sell it a year later for a handsome profit.

Now that would be worth seeing.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Smell the coffee

It doesn't take a genius to know that olfactory factor is vital in selling houses. No one wants a house that stinks.
In fact, bad smells top the charts of undesirable features, beating even misted aluminium double glazing, toilet carpets, and, yes, even partially-melted polystyrene ceiling tiles.
At the moment we have a rather unusual zoo fragrance emanating from our living room. Not a big zoo, you understand, not London, or Whipsnade. Perhaps more of a petting zoo, or if you're not downwind, the small animal section of a garden centre.
Because in a box in the corner of the room are nine lovely 11-day-old puppies. And though the box is regularly changed, and pups kept clean, I can see the look on visitors' faces as the doggy smell hits them when they walk into the hall.
It's a perennial problem for estate agents; the house is in a good location, the pics look great, the viewers swarm (well, OK, at the moment a few buzz past). But as they step over the very promising threshold the stench of smoke/cat pee/socks hits them, and they spend more time considering the guttering from the back garden than imagining themselves entertaining the boss in the open-plan kitchen.
There are solutions, apart from the obvious one of cleaning, including special air purifying machines (but not air fresheners - as one agent put it, nothing says, 'my house stinks and I'm trying to hide it' like air fresheners).
But I would love to hear the conversation between embarrassed agent and appalled owner as he tries to broach the problem.
'Lovely house, sir. It would be worth £500,00 if...'
'If my eyes didn't water and my gag reflex weren't activated by the noxious smell coming from years of slovenly living and that box of puppies in the corner.'
The thing with smells is that they can permeate to the extent that new carpets and a complete redecoration are the only answer. So I'm nipping the odour of my lovely puppies in the bud, and have bought a ton of bicarbonate of soda - which, according to Kim and Aggie will clean everything from a blocked drain to a blocked artery.
And when, in the spring I try to sell my house, I hope the only smell will be the sweet fragrance of success.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twelfth night

Twelfth night is here and, though, like the rest of the country, I'm sick to death of picking pine needles out of my socks and wrestling baubles off the cat, the streets around my home look dreary and depressing.

I hadn't really noticed how dowdy my area of Brighton was looking until everyone simultaneously unplugged their fairy lights and threw the Christmas trees, stray strands of tinsel still attached, into their front gardens.

And it made me wonder why we only dress up our homes once a year (or twice, if we're trying to sell). We slouch around like Jack Duckworth for eleven months, then plaster on the slap and the flashing earrings like Bet Lynch just for the last couple of weeks.

Maybe it's because in cities people don't tend to linger on their doorstep, and the only time we look up is to see how bad the leaking gutter has become.

Of course, there are streets nearby which look lovely all year round, and they're not in the millionaire's neighbourhoods. I'm talking about the rows of multi-coloured tiny terraces, where owners not only keep their fronts pristine, but also cultivate award-winning floral displays.

And I suspect that the effort put in pays dividends, not only in terms of community pride and cohesion, but also in the value and saleability of their properties.

So perhaps, instead of settling down to another year of grumbling about falling house prices, and ignoring the guttering, I should set a good example by making my house look as nice for the other eleven months of this year as it did at Christmas.

Now all I need to do is tidy up the back garden so I can find the ladder.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Cold comfort

I've just remembered why people like modern houses.

It's a revelation that usually occurs in mid January, but this year the reality of living in a house with the insulating properties of a paper bag has come early. And, although you can't actually see your breath in the morning (the norm during the winter months of my childhood), shuffling around on chilblained feet, wrapped in blankets like Apache Indians, to the constant refrain of 'shut that door!' is becoming tiresome.

Incredibly, we have actually carried out tons of work to raise the temperature of our house to slightly above freezing. I have the regulation depth of rockwool in the loft, polystyrene stuff between the roof joists, a load of double glazing, and I've even just paid for someone to line the sloping attic ceiling with insulated plaster board. Despite all this I think I've just spotted a polar bear on the landing muttering about the draught.

It is, of course, possible to bring a period property up to modern insulation standards. There is a wonderful end terrace Victorian home nearby which has had its emissions reduced by around 80%
( but it doesn't come cheap. Not as cheap as jumpers, hot water bottles and sausage-dog draught excluders anyway.

But, though my fingers are stiff with cold typing this, would I really like to live in a modern house? No, well, not one that I could afford anyway. The lunch-box quality of the air in the average new build has never appealed, but a Huf Haus would do nicely. Though even Hufs have their drawbacks.

When I interviewed the lovely couple who built their Huff on Grand Designs the only complaint the lady had was that, as there are no draughts, the mobile which her artist husband had made for her didn't move. So, I suppose the polar bears and I should consider ourselves lucky. And, in the spirit of the saying, 'if life gives you lemons', I am off to buy a mobile. Let's hope the shop is nice and warm.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Poetic licence

Poets can sleep at night since news leaked that Bonnett's Estate Agent in Brighton is writing its property details in the form of a haiku. This isn't, apparently, something the agents are doing to keep themselves busy until the next boom. The company have employed a real live poet to encapsulate their properties in three lines.

So, the description of a 3 bed newbuild in a development near the station is given as:

"Views! 'Up on the roof...'
With the City all around,
Walk to the station"

And how's this for a one-bed flat on the city's hilly Elm Grove?

"Autumn golden grove
Shading tidy City pad
Walk into Brighton"

All good fun, and it keeps poets off the streets. But I'm not sure they've taken it far enough. I'd like to challenge one of their rivals to start advertising their properties in the style of, say, Wordsworth, or John Hegley. Or, what about in the form of a limerick?

I'll get them started:

A beautiful flat in Hackney
This is one you really must see
Two beds, separate loo
And an obscure park view
Don't delay, view ASAP.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Are you lonesome tonight?

I'd love to say that Presley is alive and has been spotted just outside Tunbridge Wells, but, since her recent decampment to the Kent countryside Lisa Marie and family have, apparently, been immune to the delights of the local facilities.

Not for her a movie and popcorn at the TW Odeon, a bit of culture at the Assembly Halls Theatre, or even last weekend's fireworks extravaganza at Dunorian Park.

Since, allegedly, trying to make her staff sign a confidentiality agreement that makes the highest teachings of Scientology look like a press release, word is that she has not been seen out and about once. Her 11 bed, £8 million home is a bit like Willy Wonka's Chocolate factor: No one goes in, and no one comes out.

If we rule out the use of oompa loompas for entertainment, we must deduce that Ms Presley, who has twin toddlers, is going stir crazy. And she has, apparently, decided that the fault lies with Tunbridge Wells, if not Kent and the UK too, and she's heading back to LA.

Relocating is hard. Expat websites suggest that as many as 50% of people may give up and go home within the first five years, when the novelty wears off and they realise that their friends, and decent coffee, are a long way away. But Lisa Marie has hardly given it a chance.

Maybe, if she would just go out for a nice pub lunch, have a game of Pooh Sticks in nearby Ashdown Forest, or even introduce herself to the neighbours, she may just find that there's more to this country than just the lovely rain (yes, she apparently moved here for the rain.)

Meanwhile, there is no house big or beautiful enough that it won't feel like a prison if you are stuck in it 24/7 with young kids. As her dear old dad would have said:

Is your heart filled with pain? Shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?