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%
(http://home2.btconnect.com/eco-refurbishment/) 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?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The £1 house

Lender valuations have always been a mysterious thing. In my experience, as long as they see you as a good bet, valuations usually come in magically at the amount you want to borrow.
My current home was expertly valued, at our agreed price, by a man who drove PAST the house to ensure it exists. No wonder he didn't mention the damp in the bedroom. If I hadn't shelled out hundreds of pounds for him to carry out his 30mph expert estimate, I would have found his technique funny.
But those were the halcyon pre-credit crunch days, and valuers in the current market are an all together more timid bunch. And while I understand that, with fears of a double dip still causing sleepless nights, caution should be king, the valuer sent to put a price on a Victorian end of terrace near Durham may have taken things too far.
Because, according to the Daily Mail, in a move that has to struck fear into the heart of house owners, a Nationwide valuation officer has given the house a valuation of just £1.
And, unlike other newsworthy £1 valuations from the last few years, it's not teetering a couple of inches from the edge of a Norfolk cliff, doesn't need millions spending on it, like Brighton Pier, and is not trailing in the football league tables and up to its eyeballs in debt like Chester City. No, the Durham rental house, which had previously been valued at £120k was deemed worthless because of rising damp and a possible dodgy roof.
Now, unless Poundland is planning to follow Tesco into the querulous mortgage market, such a valuation can only be seen as provocative. Why couldn't the report, which almost certainly cost many hundreds of times as much as the £1 valuation, simply say, 'we are unable to provide a mortgage until x works are carried out.'
Or, alternatively, they could be honest and say, 'Sorry, money lending is so last year. We'll give you a tenner for it though.'

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Other people's builders

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson's recent hissy fit over their neighbour's building work just goes to show that it doesn't matter how loaded you are, other people's whistling builders are enough to make you want to drop a scaffolding pole on their £50k marble tiles.
And it emerged this week that, on top of the scaffolding saga, another neighbour has put in planning permission for a basement which will, according to a DM Eton Square source, take a couple of years to complete.
I re-read this, and it definitely said years, not months. Are they planning to excavate it with teaspoons? Even the 'Great Escape' tunnels from the Stalag camp only took about a year, and the men had to bring the soil up in their socks.
So, Charles and Nigella are packing up their cupcake moulds and looking for a new homes. Which got me thinking; this could be a good strategy for people looking for a house in a popular location. Simply scan your favourite streets for homes with skips in the front, and leaflet the houses on either side.
You may find that the neighbours, rather than being driven to tear down the scaffolding à la Charles themselves (OK, I know he got his builders to do it, but you know what i mean) might agree to sell their home to you.
And, of course, by the time the torturous conveyancing process is completed the renovations will be done.
Unless it's a basement being excavated by teaspoon that is.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dead expensive

It's not just me that's obsessed with property.

Yesterday's Daily Mail featured a very sad story about a woman who was found dead by an estate agent showing potential buyers round her £800,000 Notting Hill home.

As you might expect, the story caused a great number of comments. But, to our shame, readers' thoughts were not with the unfortunately deceased, nor even with the unlucky estate agent.

No, Angry of Tunbridge Wells was on the warpath about the price of the house.

It's enough to make me ashamed to be unhealthily obsessed with the property market...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The time is right

Apparently the time is now right for first time buyers to tear up their tenancy agreements and start to climb the slippery rungs of the housing ladder.

Santander has said that it is now cheaper to buy than rent in every area apart from London. But does that necessarily mean that it's the right time to buy?

No, it actually means that for the next month at least it may cost you marginally less, but once you've subtracted the removals costs, legal bills and the £3,565 that Santander has also told us that people in the South East spend on average kitting out their new London nest, you're unlikely to feel better off. In fact let's hope you really love your new home because it's doubtful you'll be going out much for the next year or so.

So when is the right time to buy? It's obvious really: it's the day the bell rings to indicate the bottom of the market and Santander and co offer a fixed rate at 0.5% for term. Oh, and they throw in free curtains and carpets.

Of course that didn't stop me buying my first home, a top floor flat in a London Victorian terrace, with a crack dealer next door, a prostitute below and an axe-proof front door - all mod cons in fact, and the only thing i could stretch to. Oh, and no curtains because I couldn't afford them.

And did I regret it? Yes, almost immediately, but by then it was too late and it took me six months to sell, at a loss, to someone with more stamina for the late night shinanegans of South London's crackerati.

It was a lesson worth learning - don't buy because the market says you should. You can bet your axe-proof front door that the economists telling you to buy won't be living on your street.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The deserving rich

I've been writing a lot recently about multi-million pound properties, and one thing has struck me: most of them seem to be either empty or in the process of being refurbished.

I heard a story today about a £3 million Mayfair makeover (you will by now have grasped that we're not talking about the sort of owners who pick up a paintbrush, order about someone who picks up a paintbrush, or even pick up the phone to someone who knows someone who picks up paintbrushes). Anyway, the said designer makeover was, allegedly, enjoyed by the house's owners for a couple of weeks over a two year period before the whole interior was removed, lock, stock and probably gold puking swan taps, sold at auction for a million, and replaced with something else that no one will use either.

It's only the hotel-room blandness of the interior design in so many of these 'homes' that prevents me from giving up journalism and spending my time foraging around skips on Billionaire's Row.

Which is why I was so glad today to hear that the wonderful eco-palace created by Paul Lavelle in the Cotswolds has been bought by the £56 million lottery winners (the lucky couple having given their old home to their cleaning lady). Not only are they unlikely to rip out and replace the fittings, but they might even, revolutionary though it may sound, live in it.