Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The vendors' revolt

It seems an appropriate fate for the much disputed HIP that, according to a report from Spicerhaart, most buyers don't read them, and the majority of vendors are not even bothering to order one.
By the time the Home Information Pack had been thoroughly diluted from the initial idea, which included a potentially useful home condition report, few people, apart from those involved in the business of selling them that is, could really see the point. But, in the political tradition of 'I've started so I'll finish', this turkey of a document, which delays sales and costs us a few hundred quid became fully operational in April.
So now we have to let a stranger into our homes to tell us to get more insulation, a new boiler, some energy-saving lightbulbs, oh, yes, and pull out those rattly original Georgian windows and put in some lovely double glazing that will be in landfil in twenty years.
And we have to pay for searches that will be shredded on arrival at our buyers' solicitors, and duly re-ordered.
So, if only to prevent the futile felling of a few trees, I'm really pleased at this British show of bugger-the-£200-fine bravado. It may not be quite at the level of the Iranian public's recent protests, but if it hurries the demise of this emperor's new clothes of conveyancing, then power to the people!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Pigs, vicars and lunatics

The BBC this week reported that a Dorset family has been banned from selling their house to a Scottish couple because of a covenant preventing a sale to anyone from outside the area.

Apparently they weren't aware of this restriction when they bought the property, and, with all that troublesome small print involved in conveyancing, they would hardly be the first to assume that they were safe to leave it to the solicitors. So, you do have to feel some sympathy for them having found out that their pool of buyers is somewhat reduced.

Covenants are strange things. They range from the relatively benign, such the two that I have had on properties I've owned; the prohibition from keeping pigs in a flat, and the ban on turning your home into a lunatic asylum. To the potentially extremely expensive.

In 2007 I spoke to a couple, Gail and Andrew Wallbank, who had just lost hundreds of thousands of pounds because of a covenant in the deeds of their farmhouse. It states that the owners of the house are responsible for repairs to the chancel (the eastern end of a church, in which the pulpit and choristers' stalls are found) of their local crumbling church. Andrew's father, who originally bought the property, was told at the time that it was an ancient law that would never be enforced. But, unfortunately, the Church of England decided that, with coffers low, it was time to resurrect some historical responsibilities and the decreed the Wallbanks liable.

Which just goes to show that when we're told not to worry about the small print by an estate agent, a solicitor, or even a vicar, we should be very very suspicious.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pack, move, then match

The last time I moved house it took me weeks to get over it. I always use a professional removals company and try not to pack so much as a teaspoon myself. But, despite this, it probably took ten years off my life and I vowed not to do it again - at least not for a while.

So I was astonished to read that the first potential winner we've had for years at Wimbledon is spending the week before the event moving into his very first mansion.

While I would love to imagine Andy Murray serving his balled up socks into a tea chest, and carrying washing machines on that muscular back, I suspect he's being even less hands on than I usually aim to be. But, even so, should he not be at home practising grunting and drinking Lemon Barley Water, or whatever it is tennis pros do?

Far be it for me to tell him how to prepare for Wimbledon, but I would say that even the most 'managed' move requires a lot of overseeing, and that watching boxes marked 'kitchen' being hauled up to the master bedroom, and arguing with BT about the line they were supposed to have put on, is probably not what his coach had planned for this week.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The modern monarch

Was woken early by Prince Charles at the front door. He has, apparently, heard about my plans to replace the Elizabethan-styled-lattice-work double glazing on the front of my late Victorian house with something a little more in period, and he's not happy.
It's not the first time he's intervened in my plans. There was the time he tried to persuade me to turn the top bedroom into a hayloft. Then there was the black mark he daubed on the front door when middle child had chicken pox. But when he tried to enlist my youngest in a new 'club' which espoused traditional values and involved climbing up chimneys (all brushes supplied) I finally lost my rag.
This time I was ready for him. "I've got a note," I told him. "From English Heritage." And he slunk off sulkily, muttering about what he's going to do when he's king.
As if that wasn't enough Richard Rogers has promised to call by. He said he wanted to talk about the windows, and the great idea he has had for something a bit more modern...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Nothing to declare?

When selling our homes, we, naturally, want to emphasise the positives: the new boiler, the great local school, the deceptively spacious shed. And one thing we do not want to discuss is the awful neighbour who has driven us mad moaning about access to his back passage and deliberately, probably, broke our downpipe when he was cleaning out his guttering last autumn.

But what about truly apalling, psycho neighbours who actually drive you from your home? There is a form in the HIP bundle to cover disputes with neighbours and, theoretically at least, we have a legal duty to warn buyers that Fred next door plays thrash metal from six til six and, when remonstrated with, has threatened to cook and eat the livers of our children.

I've been in this situation once, when living in a flat in Clapham North. The terribly helpful (read desperate to sell to anyone at any price) vendor assured us that the neighbours were a very nice young couple. Well, I have to admit that they were relatively young, sometimes a couple, and I didn't really get to know them well enough to appraise their characters. However, the report she gave didn't really prepare me for living next to a prostitute and her crack dealing pimp. We lasted about a year, then moved out, and we didn't, I will admit, tell the people we sold to anything about the neighbours.

But a recent court case would suggest that the law in this regard is completely toothless anyway.

Poor Sophie Duffy, from Amersham, was assured that the nextdoor neighbour, a Mr Mack, was 'quiet as a mouse'. The owner even filled in an official form saying she did not know of any dispute with neighbours. Which was a strange oversight as the owner had, in fact, been to the police several times saying that she was 'concerned for her safety' after her neighbour had thrown stones and her window, kicked the fence separating their gardens, and threatened to kill her.

However, Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled that the disturbances caused by Mr Mack were not 'ongoing', and so the vendor did not have to mention them on the form. Which left Miss Duffy with a legal bill of £29,000.

One positive, however, was that the said noisy and agressive neighbour decided to go home and live with his mum, who, one hopes, can put up with his youthful high spirits, and will not be forced to sell her own home to get away from him. However, if you're thinking of buying and the neighbour is a Mrs Mack, don't necessarily believe what it says on the form.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Revenge on property flirts

It's official. New research shows that many more of us than might want to admit it, are obsessed with property. This is hardly surprising, as the hits on property portals show when compared with the number of visitors to your average mobile library.

But what is perhaps shocking is the 20% of people who admitted they had been to look around a property they could never afford when they were not looking to buy a home.

Having been the one selling for more times than I dare to count, the one hardly daring to make toast because of crumbs, the one hugely relieved when youngest child developed a high temperature on a viewing day because he couldn't make a mess while in bed (though boy did he wrinkle that duvet), the one draining the national grid by leaving strategically placed ambient lights on all day for weeks, just in case the estate agent popped in, I'm disappointed that pepople admit to viewing properties for the fun of it.

I've viewed a great many properties in my time, but never without genuinely believing that I might buy them. So I think it's time we honest property addicts take a stand against the nosy brick-tease.

What I propose is that all estate agents should produce a list of such people (and I'm sure they know who they are already), and when, and if, such property flirts sell their own homes, we'll all be invited along to view.

We'll insist on appointments at antisocial times, we'll look in the cupboards where they've hidden all their detritis and remark loudly on the contents, we'll repeatedly flush the toilet, just to test the plumbing, and we'll let our children play with their kids' toys, and lose the bits down gaps in the floor boards. Then, after overstaying our appointment, we'll announce in an offended tone that we weren't really looking for a house/flat/lighthouse, or whatever type of property we're viewing.

And, as for those pitiful creatures who admitted in the survey that they view properties to get design ideas for their own homes, we'll sign them up for a course of therapy on the NHS and a lifetime subscription to Elle Deco. If you'd witnessed the crimes against taste in some of the homes I've viewed, the stone-clad home cocktail bar, the Moorish domed artex ceiling, the Tudor-style double glazing on a Victorian semi, you'd agree it's the least we can do.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Interiors by Big Brother

Undoubtedly the most sought-after address this month is at a secret location in Hertfordshire. Sadly, for the tens of thousands of would-be inhabitants, the the deal has been sealed and tenants will be moving into the Big Brother House later on this evening.

Stepping into the hermetically-sealed hell of the Big Brother house from the balmy warmth of the outside world where headlines are muttering, rather bashfully, about green shoots, rising consumer confidence and stabilising, even, rising prices, the contestants are in for a shock.

The house has been designed to mirror the woes of a nation in recession mode, and, so as not to upset us all by wasting money on the comfort of the inhabitants, the producers decided to shrink it and take away the furniture. Well, not all of it. They do have three wooden crates and a bus stop in the garden.

The lack of furniture is obviously seen as a great, not to mention cost-effective, device to liven up the show. And no doubt they will be hoping for a Lord of the Flies moment where the emergent leader gangs up on the weaker members of the group and persuades everyone to use them as sofas.

But before we feel too sorry for the house's willing victims, just think about what they'll be leaving behind. As the majority will be in their twenties, or younger, and born after those halcyon days when young people with reasonable jobs could afford to buy a home, the house probably won't look that bad.

OK, there's no furniture, but, having endured a lot of rented-home furniture myself, and still having the back pain to prove it, this could be a welcome break.

And, as for the bus stop in the garden, at least they can congregate for a fag knowing that the police won't appear with a dispersal order and move them on. Well, probably not anyway. I'd better stop before I give them ideas....

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

My new neighbour Peter

The Katie Price and Peter Andre travelling circus has entertained us for years now, raising many issues of common interest; love, marriage, nudity and plastic surgery, being most, well, actually all of them.

But the latest chapter, in which newly single Peter is allowed out by himself to choose a home is the most intriguing to me. And this is only partly because the house he has picked is very close to chez moi.

What really struck me was the rapidity with which he picked this 1.5 million det des rez. Unless he's been sneaking around in disguise, he was only in the area for about half an hour before slacking off to the beach. He says he's found his dream home, but how many houses do the rest of us mortals have to trudge through before we know we've found 'the one'? How many avocado suites do we have to pretend to appreciate, or napkin sized gardens do we have to 'walk around' before we find somewhere that we can both afford and like?

Maybe it's different for the super rich. Maybe they actually can't see anything with all those flash guns going off. But Peter Andre, with so much else to worry about, reminds me of Lou in Little Britain saying, 'I ont that one' while looking in the opposite direction. Someone needs to tell him, a house is not just for Christmas (or Junior's birthday in this case), it can take ages to buy, ages to sell, and if it doesn't fit, knocking it down and building another one can really upset the neighbours.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Handbag or house?

A very glamorous friend of mine once asked me why I moved house so much, and suggested that I should save my money to buy shoes and handbags. Shoes and handbags aren't an investment, I said, and she gave me that look I've seen a few times before.

But at that time, with prices rising inexorably, it did appear to make financial sense, and I persuaded myself that I was investing in our future. From the two-bed flat in a never-quite-gentrified location in South London, to the derelict Georgian town house in Cheltenham, that we lost a fortune renovating, I believed that they were all sensible moves. And, some of them were, but that's not what drove me. If I'm honest it was the thrill of the hunt.

The credit crunch, or the Prohibition, as I think of it, has proved to me that the investment argument was self-delusional. Being mortgaged the max, moving now would be foolhardy, as the only way anyone can benefit is by moving upwards. Undeterred I've been considering downsizing, although my mortgage is half of what it was a year ago.

I have to admit that my lifestyle doesn't help. Firstly, I work from home, so I'm free to check the latest properties twenty times a day. And, secondly, I write regular features for FindaProperty. Frankly it's like giving an alcoholic a job in a brewery.

Except that it's not like an addiction to drink or drugs, where the aim is to maintain a state of constant intoxication. An alcoholic can pretty much predict what will happen at the bottom of the bottle of vodka, but a property addict never quite knows what's round the corner, down the street or in the estate agent's window. It probably has more in common with a gambling addiction; the guilt, fear and exhilaration as you bet your wages, your coat, or, in my case, your home, blood pressure, and costs of up to £30K on a new future; a bricks-and-mortar, gas-fired-centrally-heated nirvana, where there's never any washing up waiting to be done or underpants on the floor, and where you'll live happily ever after. Til next time.

Because, of course, the desire to move is insatiable, and, usually, around a year later, I'm sneaking a look at the property portals again like a gambler checking the odds of the 2.30 at Haydock.

I do need to take control of the addiction, if not for myself, then because of the effect it's having on my children. My eldest likes to tell people, by way of proving my poor parenting, that she had had six homes already, and, not only does my ten-year-old have his own files of property on the computer, but his favourite reads are Living Etc and the Ikea catalogue.

But do I dream of a future where there is a branch of the AA (not the vehicle rescue one) for people like me, perhaps sponsored by Pickfords? And where I can walk past a For Sale sign without even checking out the state of the roof (I try to avoid buying dodgy roofs). God forbid. I love my little habit, and so does the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there are most definitely worse things I could do.

And, as for my friend with the shoes and handbags, well, let's just say she needs to move more.