Agency Scams 1.1

Recently I was asked to appraise the current market value of a house in Notting Hill.  Luckily (for me) this isn’t too rare an occasion.   However, my agency didn’t win it.   It got me thinking:  How do owners whittle it down to deciding who is going to represent them in what is possibly their most important sale ever?  Now I have had this thought before of course, but it made me think it all over again and this time I set no limits or parameters.

This house in particular was appraised by a number of agents, which of course is not a bad idea in itself.  However these ‘valuations’ presented back to the owners had a variance of 60% between the highest and lowest ‘valuations’.  How is this possible – and what are vendors to make of these huge disparities?  I mean one agent said £8m – which is simply ludicrous – other valuations were in the £5-6m range.

Why did this agent put on a value of £8m? He / she will have known that this was nothing near to reality.  They do it to win instructions.  To appeal to that lowest common denominator – greed!  Many vendors fall for this trick and the damage done in launching a property at an unachievable price can end up being catastrophic.

London property websites are littered with tiers of unsellable property, what is the point?  Greed may be one factor, but there is also the ‘have to be in it to win it’ mentality of so many agents while others seem to cling to the fallible adage “get the instruction to get the reduction” which in a market like today’s are all approaches that simply do not work.

Something really needs to be done to stop unscrupulous agents putting insane prices on people’s properties that in no way can be justified simply to hit valuations and instructions target!

The Magical World of London Property

The phrase “America sneezes and Europe catches a cold” could herald an omen.  Certainly given the utterly mad current state of things…  However as Newton’s third law teaches us; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  For the purpose of trying to remain relevant in my often wandering diatribe, the world works in a mysterious and magical way, there is a balance and it is the Law of Nature that things even out and this applies to property as well!

When the s**t starts hitting the fan, the clever people don’t just duck out of the way. There is too high a ‘moan’ level in London brick at the moment as it continues to be at the mercy of events and circumstances that seem to be out of our control.  In my view estate agency is disintegrating as some of the big names in London go the route of the boiler-room – it doesn’t bode well for service if it just ends up being a numbers game.  If we don’t watch out it won’t be long until the person you that you talk to on the phone, who takes you to the viewings dances you through the entire process and sells you your new pile of bricks – is a robot.

High service (again – in my opinion) is the only way to go.  Being equipped to navigate choppy waters and to think beyond today’s headlines and plot a way to that sandy beach are absolutely necessary skills for the ultra -serious job of buying and selling peoples most valuable assets.

Whinging is not helping – so where are these opportunities?  Well there aren’t many at the moment, especially if you’re expecting that monster call from a head-hunter.  You have to look hard.  The opportunities are there.  It’s like magic!

So – let’s plot the future!  There are serious reasons for people to buy now and not wait for what they perceive is a future low water mark.  Every past cycle teaches the same lessons.  There is no nuclear option – if there was it would make no difference anyway – we would all be dead.  When it’s all gone down the plug hole – you buy!  Prices are down and sellers that are out there who want to sell are (or at least should be) aware of market conditions.  Interest rates are even down beyond the record lows of last year.  All the Europeans here working in finance are not going to be booted out of London.  Tens of thousands of jobs are not going to leave London.  London property is as attractive as it ever was for overseas buyers, what with re-weighted prices and exchange rates advantageous for a large basket of foreign currencies.

Representing clients properties are a privilege.  We are all responsible for our own PR from both company and individual perspectives.  The silver linings are clearly visible and the slide is over.  That’s put it all in the locker and throw away that key.  Just like that!  It’s Magic!!

Let’s Get Together – Right Now!

A long time ago it was the dinosaurs and over the past two hundred years of the new ‘industrial age’, rates of extinction have multiplied as huge numbers of species have disappeared.  These are all manner of animal – and in vast quantities; mammal, fish, insect, bird and reptile which were the product of millions of years of evolution – all to be snuffed out in a relative flash out as their habitats have been poisoned and destroyed.  In the past forty years the earth has lost half of its wildlife.  Alarming!  These species were all part of complex eco-systems and it is fairly clear that in recent times, mankind has been far from behaving as guardians of the planet – on the contrary we are destroying everything around us and ourselves as we continue to poison and wreck the Earth.

In not too dissimilar a way, estate agency seems to be digging its very own hole in the very middle of London when it comes to the property market. Many are still obsessed with the effects of the increases to Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), but on the whole seem completely clueless with how to deal with it. A Willie Whitelaw manifesto-style ‘short sharp shock’ would have been far better than the slow death of property values, which has been foisted on us by an industry too terrified to accept the truth that a large price correction was needed as in instant response – a painful, slow decline is to everyone’s disadvantage.

As an industry group, estate agency is entirely disorganised and unprepared to deal with all aspects of the new paradigm. I am not talking about individual agents – who, as a general rule, are doing their very best to deal with a tricky situation – but their masters and commanders are still setting completely unrealistic prices and seem incapable of giving the right advice to clients. Most have now become so ineffective at providing the most basic services that it’s not surprising many sellers are starting to list their properties on some faceless ‘hybrid’ agent’s website – where no service is paid for and absolutely none guaranteed in return.

Advertisements from some of these hybrid agents discuss savings on fees – so why is our full-service industry not fighting back through the same channels and highlighting the unreported losses that arise from giving your sale to a faceless company with very little experience locally? The combination of all of the above is akin to shooting oneself in the foot and, at the same time, burying one’s head in the sand.

Everyone will lose if the service of traditional estate agency disappears. It’s time to fight as everything is threatened by inaction.

Call to Action

Never has so much been done by so many with so little to show for it. These could be the words of a major statesman after capitulation in battle.

The property sector in central London is at war and the front-line troops need to be properly equipped. These are the people who define the property market and so it is them to whom the public looks to defend our bricks and mortar from attack.

Those in high positions are dealing with issues such as SDLT and post EU referendum uncertainty – both of which we know have led to a very challenging market. However, it is the daily battles being fought at the front line that are the most important.

The conversations at property front doors and on the phones between buyers and agents, and agents and their clients, are the most important, as they happen daily. The troops need to have the answers ready to questions such as, ”Why should I pay the guide price if the market is down?” To which the answer from so many agents is: ”Well, the vendor will consider offers…”

Research has shown me that this is a standard response and this is a monstrous failure on agents’ part. Overvaluations are killing the market and agents need to face up to the stark realities and set realistic prices from the offset. Dreadful pricing is destabilising the market. Secondly, agents need to have confidence in their asking or guide prices; otherwise, we may as well open the door even wider to the no-service brigade who operate so mysteriously online.

At Crayson, we have just accepted a guide price offer on a very nice house, and why shouldn’t we have? We have ceased viewings and I have turned away buyers who simply will not accept that it is under offer at the full price. I told one buyer who simply would not listen to me: ”…if it was for sale for 25p then would you believe me?”

The madly skewed and out-of-shape pricing nonsense is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. Terrified of not winning instructions for various reasons, agents are still falling foul of this basic fax pas. How long is it going to take for people to learn? This is not all agents, of course – it’s a minority – but they are the ones who often win the instruction, as vendors usually can’t help the temptation of giving it a go for that extra few hundred thousand, or whatever the figure might be.

London property needs some vocal leaders to take it out of the bleak landscape and into lush new pastures.

 

 

 

Christmas Orange

WHAT A STRANGE year. I’m  not going to mention all the now heavily clichéd events that have rocked our world, but rather focus on the positives.

Having eaten an unhealthy amount of oranges during this Christmas period, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss all the varieties of our miniature orange friends: tangerines, satsumas, mandarins and clementines. Personally, I get quite confused about what differentiates all the varieties when I’m buying, but I think I have now figures out a way to categorise them.

For instance, a clementine (otherwise known as an Algerian tangerine) is juicy, sweet and with a mid to rich flavour. They are medium-small to medium in size and are usually seedless. The rind is deep orange to orange-red, smooth and glossy and peels easily.

The one thing that clementine oranges should have in common is that their peel or skin easily pulls away from their flesh and their segments are easily separated and, theoretically, they’re seedless – though having just chomped my way through a box of organic clementines from Daylesford I was disappointed to find an average of three seeds per unit.

Then there’s the Dancy tangerine. These are rich and have a more spicy flavour. They are dark orange-red, with a smooth and thin rind. They peel easily and the flesh is deep orange. Smaller than mandarins and seedy.

When considering all these different types of small oranges, I started to notice some similarity between them and the vagaries of our beloved property market. There is pith and there is skin, some are easily separated from the flesh, and then of course, there is the level of seediness.

The property, the client, the buyer, the fee, the offer – each part is directly related to aspects of these delicious – sweet or tart, pithy or otherwise, easily separated or not – objects which are consumed in their thousands at this time of year. No stocking is complete without a pip-less clementine at the toe end – always a bit of disappointment – but refreshing nonetheless.

The potential juxtapositions abound. Can a seller be easily separated from his or her home? What is likely to get in the way – pithily said – is the flesh sweet or bitter? Verdict on the final shape of 2016? It’s all gone orange. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

The Future’s Bright

I am an eternal optimist and am therefore becoming tired of all the negative news in the papers. Despite the ups and downs reported, there is only one direction that we are going in and that is forward. It is mankind’s instinct to iron out the vicissitudes and make this a better world – and I have ever confidence that we will prevail.

Our rate of innovation is faster today that it ever has been. The internet has created a whole new paradigm. Events can no longer be hidden and information can quickly go viral, as seen from recent events in Russia and all over North Africa and the Middle East. This affects us all – the world suddenly becomes smaller and with news constantly being fed to us PDAs, iPADs and computers, we are in a constant state of alert.

In turn, the internet has dramatically changed the face of the property market. Apparently more than 97% of buyers in London use the internet as the primary source in their property search and no longer feel the need to walk into an estate agency parked on the high street, which is taking up valuable retail space. (It has of course also allowed a great deal more transparency in terms of information available to both buyers and sellers alike and this can only be for the good).

In a bid to move away from the high street as well as to improve our service to local residents, I decided to set up shop in Notting Hill’s Lambton Place. It was the perfect time to build a new business and change the habit of 200 years by moving estate agency off the high street.

If you fully embrace the new world as it is, you do not need offices on Singapore, Mumbai and Shanghai – you simply need to invest in a web-based infrastructure to deliver your goods and services to a live and dynamic client base globally. Other than that, the other most important thing is having a team of high-calibre individuals who know all the facts and figures, and can speak to anyone as their peers.

At Crayson we are fully armed with this powerful super-tool and we have a team of people who I believe and the best equipped in the area to sell high value properties to the world. Please do come and pop in o our lovely offices and see what we are doing to change our world.

 

 

 

 

 

The Skewed World of Estate Agency

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme recently banned the malpractice of ‘portal juggling’. For those of you who don’t know, this is the re-leasing of a property listing by an agency on one or more portals, of a property the’re already listing. It’s a way of trying to dupe the public and make a property look like it’s a new instruction.  Zoopla Property Group has also come out and said that they will ban agents who continue to do this on their portals.

Since inception, such portals have been awash with such deceptions an it is about time TPO clamped down on them. It is important that the new shop windows paint an honest and transparent view of the property market, as this information is vital to the consumer. The standard and quality of instructions that are listed are the responsibility of the agencies who are selling those properties.

There is always frustration when a new instruction (if it is new) is listed on a portal and shows a photograph of a street, but none of the exterior or interior of the property. Sometimes not even a floor plan. TPO in essence should go further to prevent listing of properties that sometimes don’t even exist.

Much property research is based on what the listings on the portals say. If the statistics are false the market can become heavily skewed. A particular weakness is the further undermining of statistics due to the constant over-valuation of property by agents for the sole purpose of winning instructions, with the constant subsequent price reductions, often over many months and sometimes years.

Within the new paradigm of a transparent online marketplace, property appears to be in a constant state of flux, in a general downward pattern of price reduction upon price reduction. These are highlighted on the sites every time it happens to each property. It looks poor and down-values their worth.

I’m not saying that price reductions are avoidable. Of course they’re not. Agents have to respond to the vicissitudes of the market, particularly in recent years where the constant stream of taxes and regulations have thwarted it. What I am talking about is the cynical over-valuation of property by agents to win instructions, which in my view is the worst offence and the largest single contributor to the skewed property market.

In future I hope that TPO looks at this false market and the negative effects it has for both agents and consumers.

 

 

 

Great Expectations

Being a Londoner through and through – I have lived here for some 50 years now – nothing is closer to my heart than the success of our great capital and particularly the highly productive Square Mile at its very heart.

At University, I majored in economic history so I hope that I am qualified to discuss the importance of London’s financial district to the city’s well-being and the importance of London in general to the continued health and success of the UK’s population and its economy.

More than half of the London Stock Exchange’s top 100 companies are headquartered here and 75% of Fortune 500 businesses have offices. According to research by Deloitte, ‘’London has the most internationally diverse executive community in the world, attracting business leaders from 95 nationalities and with alumni working in 134 countries.’’ More dollars are traded here than in New York and more euros than every other European city combined. London is the epicentre for international bank lending, money markets and international debt securities.

London is the most visited city in the world by international tourists – almost 19m in 2015. Last year it was reported to have the highest non-food retail sales of any city in the world.  It generates c.22% of the UK’s GDP and almost 900,000 private sector businesses are based here. It is hard to argue against the fact that the global hegemony of the City of London is the major driver of the UK’s economy. The capital produces a quarter of the country’s wealth and pays a third of its taxes. A July report from the Centre for Cities in 2014-15 found that London generated almost as much tax as the next 37 largest British cities combined, a dominance that has risen five percentage points in the past decade.

Property taxes, and the continued efforts to have them repealed or revisited, are one thing – but let’s not lose focus. If London declines everyone will lose. Like them or loathe them, the banks have made an enormous contribution to London and the UK over the past 200 years. There has been the odd ‘slip-up’ – but that is the result of the global economy failing to adjust to the new modus operandi.

There is a lot wrong with the global economy – but we in the UK have a lot to be proud of. Let’s not be afraid of staying great.

The Future Shape of Property

Since I opened Crayson in 2010 there have been 23 incidents of increased tax and regulations on property.  The press has had countless column inches taken up by commentary and opinions relating to property taxes, increased regulations for non-doms, inheritance tax, and so on.  What to do?  Lobby the government, moan or sit back and roll with the punches?

Let’s not forget that one of the things that made Britain great was its ability to shape itself to an ever changing world.  We were responsible for the Agricultural Revolution and then the Industrial Revolution.  What we are now going through, it would seem, is a Property Revolution.

In feudal times, it was the landlords who owned all the property and it is only relatively recently that there has been this concept of democratic property ownership.  One of the major turning points was when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government opened up property to the masses through the Housing Act of 1980.

So why are we now so hooked on property ownership in the UK, when the rest of Europe is more than happy to rent? Living on an island, we are used to a certain level of isolationism, so the idea of land ownership and a fence to separate may be anathema to the concept of ‘‘no man is an island entire of Itself’’ (John Donne) – but we are used to thriving on our own in adverse conditions.

Indeed, late 19th-century British foreign policy under the then prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and his foreign secretary, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, was characterised by the term ‘splendid isolation’ where we pursued policies independently from our neighbours.

In the current socio-political environment, the UK is clamouring for low-cost housing, but is unable to see that this is mostly provided at the behest of the private sector – especially in London where projects require low-cost elements in order to proceed. Mayor Sadiq Khan can demand what he wants from the builders, but without the right incentives, targets will not be met. The councils and housing associations do not have the funding to build, so it is about time that everyone realised that there is now a heavy reliance on private sector money.

This country needs to take a serious look at housing policy and its relationship with private ownership. The damage caused over the past few years can be undone and we can get back on track.

Into the Light

I don’t want to be political in these deeply divided times, but I will be candid. I voted to Remain and was disappointed by the result, but I am a pragmatist. It is important to look at the bigger picture.

Up until recently, the vicissitudes of the central London market were dominated by the sizes of bankers’ bonuses. The serious redistribution of wealth post financial crisis benefited the super wealthy and the international buyer became prevalent in aiding the post-crisis recovery in London property. “What happens now?” is the question on everyone’s lips.

There are a few possibilities worth considering. Firstly, let’s talk currency. At the time of writing this article, the pound was down against the US dollar by 14%. London property does not need everyone to be benefitting from such moves – after all, it only takes a relatively small number of buyers to move a market.  Many have reaped the rewards from the US dollar’s strength. Look at the FTSE 100 as an example – it has been one of the best performing major stock indices since the referendum result. We have already seen a spike in enquiries from buyers holding foreign currencies. This could be the tip of the iceberg.

Furthermore, FTSE businesses that have already been hit badly by Brexit are mostly within the property and banking sectors. The banks are factoring in reduced income from mortgages, with Mark Carney talking about potential reductions in The Bank of England’s lending rate (possibly to 0%). With roughly £1.3 trillion of outstanding mortgage loans, there is a definite threat to revenues within the banking sector. Conversely, lower mortgage rates will help support and possibly enhance property prices.

The demise of George Osborne seems inevitable following the result. The new SDLT arrangements introduced in the 2014 Autumn Statement have caused severe damage within central London’s property market and the property sector has taken a beating following the referendum. I think it more than likely that at some stage the government will reset the SDLT bandings at more reasonable levels.

Figures released by travel consultancy Forward Keys have shown a 9.4% year-on-year inflation in flights booked in the nine days immediately following Brexit. An increase in the number of visitors to the country will almost certainly lead to a visible rise in those looking to buy property.

The Perfect Storm

There have been several major government policies that have directly impacted the UK property market in the past few years, from mansion tax and stamp duty rises to the most recent EU referendum. All of the different outcomes have had, and will have, direct consequences on society, and whether these are positive or negative depends entirely upon individual circumstances.

The current debate is centred on what effect an EU exit will have on UK property prices. In London, there is a further question as to whether a vote to remain could lead to a resultant ‘bounce’ in what has been a rather subdued market.

It is far easier to analyse the potential effects by taking a more microscopic look. With this in mind, it is obvious to most that a break from Europe would have far greater ramifications for London than the rest of the country (vis-à-vis property prices). This is largely down to the fact that London has large numbers of European nationals living here, and this alone could have a considerable impact on their futures.

We must not forget that the majority of EU residents are here for jobs and this resource has undoubtedly enabled London to maintain its hegemony in the financial world. The investment decisions of major banks and financial institutions will determine whether the capital is able to keep its position in the future.

The financial sector does not like uncertainty and so, in my view, the potential fractures that would result from a split with Europe are a major threat to London and its economy.  This does not put me in either the ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ camp. I simply urge both sides to work hard in painting a picture of  their vision of the future and how it could work. The debate must not centre around reasons to leave or stay, but there must be compelling arguments made and illustrated to show how the future will look depending on whether we are ‘in’ or ‘out’.

The decision that will be made by the UK electorate on June 23 will profoundly influence and shape all of our lives. For property, the various potential consequences are equally monumental – and I do not think that anyone is yet able to predict what will happen if either side win.  And bounce will depend on the wicket – and as all cricketers know: a wicket can be highly unpredictable.

Home Sweet Home

How do you see your home? To many it is just a debt trap that has sucked up too much cash as equity.  Property does not behave like any stock or financial instrument – its unpredictability can create distrust and even fear.

Any local oligarchs buying their £5m mansion will have to cough up £513,000 of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), plus around £20,000 of extra costs.  And if one is having to leverage with a loan-to-value of 75/25, that is almost £1.8m of hard earned wedge that could potentially go up the Swannee.

There are no financial instruments or stocks anywhere in the world with such an onerous buying cost as our new highest band of stamp duty.  There is the buying / selling ‘spread’ however, and maybe we need to take this into consideration.  A yield can be earned through rental, but with capital values where they are in relation to the rents, yields are topping out currently at 3% max.  Unlike other financial investments, you can live within a bricks-and- mortar investment, and this is what sets property apart from anything else.

Owners want to predict the behaviour of the market but the model is now so macro that it is impossible to say. Property ‘experts’ can share their vision of the future, but more often than not they are completely wrong.  It is almost impossible to give an exact picture of where the property market is at any one stage. Local markets invariably differ from the national picture.  The investor market reacts differently to the usual residential market and the various property price bandings all have their own and completely unique behavioural patterns.  Even estate agents giving market appraisals to potential sellers illustrate the lack of clarity, with an often vast and varied spread in pricing.

The Chancellor’s SDLT policy makes the possibility of staying in the same home for longer much more likely.  So my advice would be to get comfortable.

Brexit or Breakfast?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin” (Matthew 6:28).  This excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus told his followers not to worry –  that they would be provided for in abundance.

In the 20th Century, 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus why are we still working out if we are in or we are out – it is one planet – one world – one people.  Needless to say the abundant resources are being both squandered and allocated so badly that they are creating a global crisis with grave social consequences on a global scale.

The world is inexorably linked – its peoples and its nation states – we are all bound together.  One country in Asia can effect another on the other side of the world.  We all feel the pain of refugees and of the bombing of civilian populations.  We all know that in different circumstances – the victims could be me or you.

The Brexit debate is a very large red-herring and it avoids a far bigger question of our citizenship.  We need to stop thinking so locally and look at the bigger picture of world citizenship.  Crimes against humanity: whether it be extremism in the guise of individual or state sponsored acts of terrorism or company sponsored ecological terrorism – are all highly damaging to us all in our quest for harmony and the prolongation of human life on this planet.

Politics asks us to narrow down our perspectives, but then we lose the sight of bigger picture.  For example the ‘European’ refugee crisis of Syrian refugees has been caused by the actions of many countries, some of whom are outside the Eurozone.  It is everyone’s responsibility to find solutions.

Independence is being confused with membership of trading blocks, which in themselves are isolationist. The Brexit debate is a huge muddle of politics, economics and social issues.  No wonder there are so many ‘undecideds’ at the moment.  I doubt that most people who have even made their minds up, even really know what they are voting for.

Listening to all the current debates – whether it be the US General Election or Brexit, what is very evident is that there is a worrying increase in militarization in the world and  it is clear that fear is the new state sponsored terrorism. Who is creating this agenda?  We the people need to demand more and set a far more positive agenda – a truly global agenda which deals with the real issues and sets this planet on the right course with humans in their rightful place as its guardians.

Supply & Demand

China’s economic slowdown in 2015 was the greatest in 25 years.  According to The Wall Street Journal, China’s GDP grew 6.9% last year, with some economists predicting a tougher year in 2016. Having the second largest economy, this is likely to cause concern among investors the world over.

The rouble has weakened significantly against GBP and all other major currencies, largely due to oil prices plummeting. In simple terms, this is a case of supply and demand fuelled in part by the US and UK’s decision to lift sanctions on Iran.

Stamp duty (SDLT) increases on residential ownership and the additional 3% added to second home purchases has reportedly made UK’s property taxes the highest of any country in the world. A worldwide taxation on non-domiciled individuals effective from 2017 is also expected to drive many of London’s wealthiest business owners overseas, taking their beneficial business interests and activities with them, such as employment, training, and so on.

While London property prices have outperformed the FTSE, DOW Jones and UK Gilts over the past 15 years, it has had its fair share of cyclical highs and lows. And although we champion the asset in the long term, it makes sense not to buy blindly. Instead, you should seek professional advice. With London property being a favoured asset class the world over, the internationally-held view is that the UK is a politically and economically-safe environment in which to conduct business.

London property prices have slowed down of late due to multiple factors (some of which have already been listed). However, with runaway prices and a global understanding that wealthy expats and overseas investors should be held accountable for profits earned here is probably not altogether a bad thing. Prices are likely to stagnate at the top end of the market where we believe opportunities for the canny investor still lie.

As we await the referendum on 23 June a ‘wait and see’ attitude has arisen from investors. My personal feeling is that if we  leave Europe, sterling will take a hit, making prices seem even more favourable for anyone buying in euros or US dollars. Arguably, Britain will be more protected and desirable than ever to foreign buyers.

If we were to remain in Europe, the risk and uncertainty that many are experiencing will be removed, allowing them to start making plans again. Either way it just needs to be over with so people can move on. With June 23 fast approaching, we don’t have much longer to wait.

The New Paradigm

There is a giant schism opening up in the property world.  Estate Agency – as we know it, is moribund.

Could it be that I am prone to catchy sound bites or is there a genuine shift in the property marketplace?

I will put forward two very different sides to this, both of which I hope will shed some clarity.

I have ranted on in the past about the new online low service hybrids. They have succeeded by offering very little service for virtually no money, thereby capitalising on the fact that so many agents have given so little for far too long. Anyone within the industry who is intelligent knows what a nonsense it is, but there are still plenty of consumers out there who have been completely misinformed.

The industry needs to address its standards and thereby bear the responsibility for this low-grade hybrid to have developed and grown. How can people really believe that a low-cost, no-service alternative is the best way to reap the most reward from one’s property? Simply put, sellers are not the best people to sell their own properties.

However, what is most frustrating is our industry’s inability to value the service it offers and the difference that can be made to achieving the best prices for clients when experience and hard work are factored into the equation. The rumour mill is flush with stories of top agencies cutting their fees.  It’s almost like it is their only answer to the threat of the hybrid.  There is value in a premium service, particularly when the agency is the one shelling out the hard cash and is only remunerated in the event of a successful sale.

The other side of this new paradigm is the fact that property (as a collective word), is now more about investment funds rather than traditional estate agency.  Property is an asset class, rather than simply bricks and mortar. Therefore, if estate agents are to demonstrate their value, they have to show a deeper understanding of property from an investment perspective and to be able to speak the same as the breed of hedge funds and private equity.

Valuing high, and dropping fees to win instructions and market share, is a sure way to seal the fate of the side of estate agency that is already on the ropes.  Only those who innovate and sophisticate will succeed and flourish. This industry requires an elasticity of mind and purpose to find its future in an intelligent marketplace.

Property & Technology: The birth of the silicon brick?

The amount of column inches taken up by ‘property’ is at an all-time high. In my mind there are two major contributing factors: the importance of property value to those who own property (often their main asset) and the increased transparency and accessibility of rich property data available to the public.

I can’t think of any moment in recent history when the value of one’s home has meant so much – to so many people. With interest rates at a record low and stock markets pedalling backwards, it is increasingly evident that there is nowhere safer than London ‘bricks and mortar’. It is not surprising that ‘property’ is hot news.

Once property information was the domain of the professionals: Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents. With technological advancements, consumers are now empowered with various means to access previously guarded information. The barriers to entry no longer exist. Tools and apps show exact property values in pounds and pennies (e.g. Zoopla), predictive algorithmic programmes compile research results and make predictions on future movements, and consumers can view properties in 3D and take online virtual reality tours.

However this depersonalisation of information lacks the inclusion of nuance and particularity – and also there is no substitute for experience. All of this is necessary to put into the analytical mix. Pure computer analytics gives a very jaundiced and one-dimensional view.

Technological developments and the public’s obsession (or love affair) with property and its value, have led to the birth of the ‘online agent’ – aiming to change the property buying process. But what is this hybrid? The business model is a low-cost but low-service alternative to the traditional ‘high-street’ agency. The main USP is to save property sellers money by charging fixed rates (generally £495-£795 + VAT). A plethora has appeared over the past few years including eMoov, PurpleBricks, Tepilo, Hatched, amongst many others – all acting as the middleman between consumers by taking sales online, but leaving most the onus for the viewing, negotiation and effectively the whole sale to the owner.

In my view a lack of care by many traditional agents and failure to provide a proper service and an inability to innovate has spawned the online agency. The public’s perception of Estate Agency is that the quality of service is inconsistent and that traditional agents are not moving with the times. Innovation and change have come about due to frustration – why wouldn’t the savvy consumer look for a more cost effective alternative?

It does concern me that the perceived saving made from avoiding Estate Agents’ percentage of sales related fees could easily be a very expensive false economy. No stone should be left unturned to get the very best price but how can this possibly be done for £495? What is more – is the seller the best person to show and discuss his or her property? The emotional involvement is too close to home (excuse the pun) in an often-exasperating experience. And despite the screening technologies available they can’t have all the comparable intel, expertise and knowledge of a credible agent.

The online model may work in the lower reaches of the property market (sub £500,000) where the fees are already relatively low and don’t enable the agent to really push the boat out on marketing. But I can’t see it working in the London Prime Central market – as long a good agents continue to provide an exceptional service.

EAT: First appeared in Estate Agents Today, February 2016

Bad language – The (incredibly dull) language of estate agents

I have to start this piece with homage to the very late Roy Brooks whose irreverent and unvarnished property advertisements in the Sunday Times and Observer attracted a cult following in the 1960’s. He took a huge delight in telling the absolute truth in stark contrast to a trade that is well known for its bland euphemisms and vastly over-optimistic clichés.

Modern day property descriptions are mostly a boringly homogenous mush of sycophantic adjectives, using a very limited vocabulary and often elementary grade grammar.  Brooks used to get away with the most outrageous, but poignantly truthful descriptions and they really lit up the industry.  Here is just one excerpt:

“A dreadful working-class terrace house of sinister aspect in one of the meaner streets at the bitter end of Cheyne Walk. Time and decay have not softened the hideous aspect of this type of this typical example of Victorian speculative building. The Master bedroom has its door torn off at the hinges, several windows have been broken, what is left of the paintwork is in a nasty, dirty shade of green and the wallpaper hangs dankly down in shreds – otherwise there’s probably not much wrong.”

What a stark contrast to: “A stunningly fantastic three bedroom penthouse exquisitely refurbished to exacting standards situated on the fifth floor of a masterpiece of a modern apartment building, boasting bright and spacious interiors throughout and a wonderful terrace with amazing views.” I am afraid that the property descriptions of today are littered with this kind of tosh.  With strict legal guidelines on property miss-description, it is quite unbelievable that agents get away with such drivel.

In the day of property portals and their delivery method of a photograph and brief description, there to catch the eye of buyers and entice them to click further – it is amazing how achingly similar most descriptions have become! Not only is there a total lack of imagination, but a huge propensity to over-aggrandise even the smallest detail.

Experience has shown me that people are more than happy to buy something that needs work and describing something as a “Complete Wreck” can reap dividends – as my agency discovered last year!  We were selling a house that most certainly needed a major overhaul and the vendor was happy with our description – we had 120 buyer enquiries in a single day.

Being authentic shows integrity and adds credibility. Buyers appreciate that. It says something about the service they will receive throughout the buying process. I started Crayson with a view to disrupting the industry by being as transparent as possible – and we worked extremely hard from the very start to change the language of estate agency. My aim is still to win the trust of clients to allow me to advertise their properties in a fun and exciting way – not just for my amusement – but because I truly feel that it would help in the sale. In addition, buying and selling should be a fun experience – bland descriptions dull the senses and remove the joy. Words are triggers. Using humour touches and induces emotions.

Agents are too terrified of offending their clients and as a whole grouping there is a need for some extreme ball cultivation. Otherwise the “….décor of the rooms, some of which inelegantly hangs from the walls, is revolting”, becomes “refurbished to exacting standards” and “….the pock-marked basement floor, indicates a thriving community of woodworm”, becomes an “outstanding living and entertaining space.”

My aim is to put some life into this very vacuous aspect of Estate Agency – and I haven’t even got on to the grammar yet. To be continued!

Spears: First appeared in Spears, February 2016

Space Time

Have you ever picked up the phone to call somebody and found that they are already there, having rung you at the exact same moment? Do you ever think about somebody and wonder if they are thinking about you at the same time? Do you ever get the feeling that there is someone or something else in the room after having seen a shape, a shadow, or something indiscernible?
Pure coincidence or are there strange things afoot? I am absolutely convinced that it is the former, but that human brains are not quite evolved enough yet to process such unexplained phenomena. Maybe a shift in consciousness will allow greater use of our brain capacities and one day extra-dimensional activity will become completely apparent. Scientific reports in September 2015 predicted a rise in the Earth’s frequency by between 2-4 Hz. And apparently a 3,400 year ‘Mayan’ cyclical planetary realignment is currently at its apex and this is apparently resulting in reduced gravity and increased brain activity – so one day such strange happenings may finally be explained.
This occurred to me again the other day when I saw my dog walk across the living room. However, it was not my dog as he was asleep on the sofa. This same scenario has been repeating itself for a few years and what I was actually seeing was some sort of moving shadow. But, what has this to do with property?
Most people I have spoken to have seen ghosts, but some have even heard sounds. In Notting Hill we all live in houses that are often 100 to 200 years old. Buildings and their spaces hold memories and in the buildings themselves often have a record of people who had lived there and previous goings on. In some ancient sites, walls have actually recorded sounds possibly down to materials (like quartz) in the stone that record rather like a recording tape.
Some people have hypothesised that the phenomenon is, in fact, a real recording of a past event, somehow imprinted onto the local surroundings. I really like the idea of recording a ghost. Imagine if we could build a machine to replay such ghosts at will? We would have a window into history. We could point the machine all over the place, not just at haunted locations, and maybe watch real historical events being replayed. It would certainly beat television period dramas.
We only really ‘borrow’ the houses we live in and we are all playing our parts in their rich histories – a live yet multidimensional reality show.
Again, not only have I failed to predict exactly where property prices are going and I haven’t even attempted to. There are simply too many ghosts in the predictability machine.

 

Back to the future

It’s another year and the property research teams are predicting the future again. There has been much attention given to the development and future of estate agency, with a host of conjecture focusing on the alleged rise of the online agency model and its threat to traditional high street agency. The most recent news has been the Stock Market flotation of PurpleBricks and the purchase of Hatched by Connells last November.
I do believe that there is a genuine threat, especially for the mass-market, and traditional estate agents mostly have themselves to blame. Very little has been done to change the overall perception of the industry by the public, and the marketing – when one considers the value sizes of property trades – is particularly poor.
Property portals are crammed full of sub-standard photography and descriptions of properties that would not gain a passing grade at elementary level. There is so often such a lack of care and consideration involved, with many of the write-ups either being boring and turgid or completely unrepresentative of the properties they are attempting to describe. I am not surprised potential customers are starting to look for alternatives. This is all fuelling the rise of the online estate agency. The traditional agent needs to wake up to the threat and simply deliver a superior service. I know for sure that the best agents deliver a stellar service and have the best interests of their clients in mind: the ultimate aim is to achieve the very best price for their clients. A budget agency with a fixed fee can never produce the quality of service and the marketing collateral and advertising package of a decent agent. It is all very well thinking that you are saving fees on a sale when paying an online agency £595 (+VAT), but any intelligent person will realise the falseness of this economy if the property is not properly marketed.
In 2015, the press made a big deal of the £19m Phillimore Gardens house being sold untraditionally. It is hard to imagine that the vendor could be the best person to sell his own home if house selling is not his or her area of expertise (the house remains unsold). And getting the very best price for your
very own home is, in my view and from my experience of selling, a job that requires a mixture of skill, experience, patience and acumen.
Therefore, the challenge for all traditional agents is to up the ante and deliver on service. Only then will the online agency model have been proven to be
nothing more than a quirk.

Investment Focus

In October Crayson opened a new ‘Investment’ division which is headed up by Peter Jenkins who was recruited from the financial sector in Hong Kong.  As the London market and goal posts change we are being innovative at the way we look at our involvement in London property and are expanding in a non-traditional way.

In the past year George Osborne has continued to target and undermine the Central London property market with the levying of the highest property taxes in the world. However, some opportunities have sprung up.  This in not to say that we think that the residential buy to occupy market is dead.  Far from it!  The last quarter has been very positive at Crayson – we are starting to benefit from giving robust advice to clients – particularly regarding price.  It has taken many time to adjust to the 2015 market – especially since there is still a plethora of agents overvaluing property – which both skews the market and gives the wrong message to prospective buyers.

There have been various factors effecting the London property ‘investor’ market this year:  From the stock market crash in China – to the weakening of emerging markets currencies against Sterling and the US Dollar, particularly the Rouble.  Overall investor demand has weakened in London – however there is also an increased case for investing in London as the UK is seen as being economically and politically stable and hence a safe haven.

However whilst Central London is still adjusting to the increased SDLT top band rate of 12% – we are finding that there is an increased demand from investors looking buy new-build flats in bulk.  The number of new-build developments coming available over the next 18 months is set to outstrip supply and this is mirrored by the number of profit warnings coming out of some developers with big exposure to the London market.  In 2016 and 2017 there are set to be over 7,500 unit completions in each year (properties expected to sell at or above £1,000 per sq. ft.).  This is almost double the completions for the previous two years.  It is likely that there will be some great deals for investors looking to buy at deep discounts.  It looks like Osborne’s announcement in his recent Autumn Statement of an increase of 3% on the SDLT levy for people buying buy-to-let and second homes will not affect those buying in bulk (15 units or more) or those buying through companies.

There are quite a few advantages to buying £1m flats in bulk.  Firstly and most importantly; the purchase of 6 units or more in the same building one can apply for commercial rates of SDLT – which has a ceiling of 4%.

In the 2 months that Crayson Investments have been in business we have had had over £100m of offers for investment properties.  This section of the market is far from dead!  I am predicting a very active 2016 and an expansion of our investment side.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

 

Cross the line

With the vast improvement in transport links to and from London and the constant rise in property prices, is the capital at risk of becoming an elitist destination? Nick Crayson, founder of Crayson, considers.

WHY DO PEOPLE live in London? I love the countryside, but I think that I would go insane if I had to spend all my time there. As Samuel Johnson famously said in 1777, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Imagine what he would think of the capital’s offering almost 240 years later.

However, I sense a danger. Why do people pay vast premiums to live in London other than for the convenience of being here and having almost immediate access to all that it has to offer? Well, most are happy to because they want to live in London. However, many do so because they work here and it is purely for convenience.

Currently, there are some serious engineering projects in progress and others being mooted that will surely, at some stage, become a reality: I am, of course, talking about Crossrail and the potential Crossrail 2 and even 3. These projects, combined with the HS1 line and the mooted HS2, all in all are going to lead to easier access to London from areas that, until now, have not been considered commutable. It therefore may not be long before there is a serious exit. And with rising property prices, along with the SDLT burden, it may simply become too much for many.

Everyone can accept that London property is more expensive than that of the country or regions; however, there has to be commercial logic to moving and if the moving costs (yes SDLT!) are too inhibitive, people will opt for other options that will mean moving less often and many will migrate to accessible locations near these new transportation links.

It’s not long to George Osborne’s next Autumn Statement (being delivered on 25 November), so if you have any suggestions do write in #SaveLondon – otherwise it will eventually turn into another elitist destination, rather than a cultural place to live.

Social Immobility

Most industrial nations can attribute much of their economic success to their abilities to mobilise a work force and move them to where they are most needed. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ of the UK was down to our ability to mechanise agriculture and release vast numbers of workers to train in burgeoning industries. In order for that to happen vast numbers had to be transplanted in new ‘industrial’ areas, they had to be transported and housed.

In recent times, Europe has become a single market and again vast numbers of workers have migrated and emigrated, matching their skills to opportunities in the jobs market. London can attribute its enviable rise in the financial sector to its ability to attract the very best workers from Europe and around the world. However, workers do not just relocate willy-nilly. London attracts a more sophisticated type of worker and their needs are social as well as economic. The standard of living is very much a part of their decision to work in London – and a very large part of that is their home.

If you have the right work ethic you can do well in London as many have found, whether they be from the UK or from overseas, there are opportunities to better yourself and the situation of your family, children and all. However, if you put a break on their ability to move around the capital or hinder their progress up the property ladder, they may start to reconsider whether London is the place to be for them.

I would argue, from my experience at the property ‘coal-face’, that the high SDLT rates are now effecting people’s decision making and that the high moving costs are putting a break on the ambitions of London as a whole. There are many bands of wealth in London, but realistically in the market for £3m – £7m homes we are not dealing with UHNW or even HNW buyers. These buyers are both often working, paying for child-care and helping take the strain off the public educational system by opting for the private sector. They are also often using private health services – thus in effect also relieving the National Health Service. Their income taxes and National Insurance contributions are a very important income funding these very important public services.

There is a huge risk of squeezing this very important ‘middle-class’ sector too hard. I sense this immensely with the costs involved in moving home. Finding the odd £400,000 for a £4m purchase of a standard house is not an easy task for most people – and it is stopping people moving when they really need to.

I sense a danger that quality people will be put off coming to London due to what amounts to a crisis in London. London will lose out and the country as a whole as it is starved of its most valuable resource – people!

A Letter to Mr Osborne

For once, buyers, sellers and estate agents and most people in property are aligned. Everyone is suffering with the 70% increase in the highest band of Stamp Duty Land Tax. However – more significantly for the country as a whole – it is Her Majesty’s Treasury which is really feeling the sting. I am accounted for 48% of SDLT receipts. The Chancellor’s giveaways to buyers sub £1 million are now costing an arm and a leg as the planned increase in revenues from the capital has not only failed to materialise, but has dried up as sales volumes have failed to materialise, but has tried up as sales volumes have fallen significantly. The Nationwide building society has recently estimated that the SDLT receipts for the first six months of 2015 are down £275 million on the previous year’s figures. The full year figures are going to be an embarrassment to Mr Osborne.

There is also a trickle-down effect that could be catastrophic for London as property becomes simply too expensive to buy, with casual effects on social mobility and the international jobs market-place that London has become. It has not gone unnoticed by our media and press corps that the super-rich are not even concerned with the 12% rate – they are happy to hide their identities by paying the 15% rate through offshore vehicles and the like (as it happens this now under examination as well). A serious look needs to be taken at the SDLT structure. Osborne needs to conjure up some new ideas that sensibly tackle this immensely important topic in a financially responsible fashion.

The Psychology of Property

Trying to work out still what moves the property market?  Upwards or downwards – it has been landmark events that have played on the London property market for the past number of years.  From the excesses of the bankers bonuses in the noughties, to the ensuing stock-market melt-down, the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Euro-Crisis.  Domestically the past year has seen threats of a ‘Mansion Tax’, the abolition of the ‘Non-Dom’ tax status as well as the imposition of a higher banding of SDLT at 12%.  You have to have a PHD is psychology and economics to work out what is going on and a sage with supernatural powers to predict the future.

A word that weighs heavily is ‘expectation’.  The London property market can be all about expectation:  One just hopes that expectations meet at some stage and that buyers are willing to pay the amounts that sellers expect.  Running a business based on hope is not ideal and I think that those involved in this business have to do more to fill the gaps to make trading in property an overall better experience.  Huge swings and fluctuations do not make for a solid market and much of this is due to an industry-wide malaise – overvaluing.

Working out at which price is not always an easy task and often agents fall-foul of a simple ‘overvaluation’ technique in order to win an instruction.  The problem is that in the new market-place, this can be extremely destabilising.  Now not everyone always gets the price right and sellers often would love to believe that the highest valuation is the most accurate – but the market has become far more sophisticated and transparent.  There are so many tools available online for comparing prices, seeing how long a property has been on and whether there have been any price reductions.

Price reductions are in my view one of the most damaging aspects of the London property market.  Certainly there are many bona fide cases where sometimes the agent has simply got it wrong unintentionally or where market conditions have significantly shifted.  A property might be so unique it would be hard to put the right price on it, or cases where very little has sold in the area and comparable sales are very thin or non-existent.  However you don’t see nearly as many increases as you do reductions – so it looks to me like the industry is one of overvaluation.  To most buyers the property market must seem to be in a constant stage of discounting and this is evident daily by the number of reduced properties flashing up with ‘price reduction’ in red on the property portals.  Is there any other market that sees such a level of constant discounting?  One dealing in such a high value item such as property needs much better care by those responsible for setting prices.  I am hopeful that sellers will continue to be more discerning and ask the agents who are pitching for business to demonstrate the value.  In my view this alone would make a huge difference in creating a more solid and more professional market place.

Market Intelligence

There is certainly more buyer activity than we have seen for over a year and this only really showed itself from 1 June, right after the half-term break. We are seeing a surge in viewings and buyer registrations and an increase in offers at more sensible ad less speculative levels. In the house market we forecast that there will be more transactions in the June/July period, than in the entire year to date. However, I would urge caution regarding prices.

The market is still absorbing the rise of the highest band of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) from 7% to 12%. What many have not factored in is that the increased stamp duty has not only reduced buyers buying power – in terms of the difference between the old and new SDLT rate – but the effect of reducing buyers cash distribution has also meant that buyers have less money to leverage mortgage borrowing. So, for example, if a buyer now has £200,000 less cash available as a deposit, that has also taken away their ability to leverage almost £470,000 of mortgage borrowing on a 70% loan – to-value mortgage. At Crayson our average selling price is £4.5m ad at that level SDLT has increased from £315,000 to £453,000. Therefore buyers have £138,000 less cash than they would have and £322,000 less of leverage-able mortgage at a 70% loan-to-value ratio. That is effectively, in this case £460,000 of buying power removed.

I think that overall we have not seen the full effects of the SDLT rise and the overall long-term ramifications, which must include the fact that people are not going to move as often as they have in the past with these levels of buying costs. I think that this factor will affect HMRC’s SDLT revenues and I am hopeful that the Chancellor will look more carefully at this in the near future.

The Hummus Trail

I am just back from travelling in The Holy Land and entrusted myself with the propitious task of finding the best hummus money can buy.  Sometimes spelt houmous, hummous, hoummos, humos hommus and hommos… not to be confused with….. the dish has been around for millennia.

But why does hummus matter?  It’s just a blend of chickpeas and sesame, lemon and garlic – often garnished with any of these: ful (fava beans), parsley, cumin, paprika, hot pepper sauce, eggs, pickles and usually with a big glug of olive oil. It matters because it is a huge common denominator in a region that desperately needs common denominators!

Hummus is a dish that is eaten by all literally, throughout the troubled region – known as the Middle East.  Everyone seems to love hummus.  I queued with Jews and Muslims alike to get into Abu Hassan – a famous hummus eatery in Jaffa.  This eponymous hummus destination has been around for almost 60 years and was bustling with all sorts and showed how when eating hummus – everyone can get on just fine, it’s just when they stop and get up you get the problems……..

I met a ‘Political Adviser’ from the US State Department who was attached to the US Consulate in Jerusalem.  The peace process he was out there to broker had fallen as flat as a pitta bread.  He was not sure when both sides were going to get back around the table.  He was not eating hummus at the time, but he should have been.  I mentioned that the peace process needed to focus on things we all had in common, not on the things that separate us – no wonder the prospect of peace in the Middle East currently looks like a pipe dream.

Of course the other issue that was bothering me and took my time as I used pre-historic bandwidth to try to download my daily and ritualised dosages of media was the UK General Election.  Our problems here in the UK look insignificant to those in the Middle East.  It certainly looks like politicians from all sides are going to be doing a lot of sitting together amongst the new landscape of British politics.  Then it struck me!  In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared that “Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.”  It did not get lost on me that given the ever-changing tapestry of the UK population it will not be long before hummus becomes our national dish – but please can whoever serves it up remember – it is a dish best served warm!

The Election Oracle

I am in search of a crystal ball – if anyone has one!  So many people want to know the outcome of this May’s General Election. I mean if I knew, what wisdom I could impart to my current and future clients… I really could be the Sage of Notting Hill.

Why are people so concerned about this election? Well, I think that this election, more than any recent elections is being measured as a vital one for overall confidence in the London property market.  Despite the marked increase in the higher bands of SDLT introduced by George Osborne on December 3rd 2014, London is still a relatively safe bet for property investment.

Everyone is talking about the possible ‘Mansion Tax’ – a spectre that has been haunting us for well over a year now.  However, I think that most people are expecting something in the future most likely in the shape of increased bands of Council Tax – a far more sensible option (in my opinion).  To a large extent I think that the introduction of some sort of tax along these lines has already been factored into the market.

What is far more important – again, in my opinion – is the overall attraction of London to foreign investors and I mean not just those looking to park money, but even more importantly, those who are looking to actually live and work in London.  The current Government has made London extremely attractive to those people seeking to relocate here from all over the world, but particularly in this area, to Europeans who have moved families here as London simply has better opportunities than the countries that they are coming from.

This could all easily unravel if a new Government kowtows to populist public opinion and bashes all the spirit and entrepreneurialism out of this country’s engine of growth – London.

Meanwhile – it’s all guesswork really.  The polls are up and down, a recent surge has put the Conservatives on 36%, and two points higher than Labour.  But the real variable is going to depend on what way the current populous who are indicating that they will vote for the minority parties, particularly UKIP, The Liberal Democrats and The Green Party, who between them are currently polling with the support of around 28% of the electorate.  The potential effects of a swing, to or away from these parties, are going to create our future political landscape.

One thing is for certain – it’s going to be exciting!

 

A Win for the Bricks

I am sitting at my desk at Crayson at 8am on the 8th May having been up all night watching the results of the UK General Election unfurl. I felt that this election was fundamental; not just for the future growth and development of my company, but for its very survival. The conservatives have won an overall majority and the news has also hit that Ed Balls has lost his seat. These results are quite unexpected as nearly everyone was predicting a hung parliament and various coalition/minority government combinations with the odds on Labour to win.

This could not be a more profound result for the London property market. Uncertainty is the biggest enemy to transaction levels, which have been suffering. Prime Central London house transactions over £2 million have been down to unprecedented low levels as buyers have shown concern about a number of Labour policies. These include ‘Mansion Tax’, the removal of the non-domicile tax status, and further rises in the higher bands of income tax. All these policies have been suppressed with the return of the Conservatives for at least another five years. It is likely that the party will be proactive with the ‘Mansion Tax’ issue by looking at the option of raising higher bands of Council Tax, in order to address the more glaring inequalities that have surfaced within the debate.

The Conservatives are set to continue with rebuilding the economy, attracting investment in industry and job creation. Over the past five years, the UK has become a stable safe-haven and has successfully attracted wealth from all over the world; there is no denying the trickle-down effect this has brought to the capital. The country was in danger of following other European countries, which have witnessed a huge drain of entrepreneurial-ism. As a result, their economies are shrinking and they have insufficient funds to pay for vital public services.

The next challenge for the Conservative party is to represent the entire population in an inclusive mission to improve living standards for all. Housing is a crucial part of this and the government has a role to provide support to the sector whilst allowing the free-market economy to continue to flourish.

 

Inside Property’s Mind

In a recent study scientists have looked into the machinations and behavioural patterns of property prices and have come to the stark conclusion that property has a mind of its own. What a revelation!

An ability to stare into the ‘property crystal-ball’ and gain a clear insight into the vicissitudes of the London market would be an extremely valuable asset. Pricing property in ‘current market conditions’ is as much an art as a science – let alone predicting its future price movements.

The majority of property clients are looking for an analysis to explain property values. Many of them work within the financial services sector and are used to receiving exhaustive research within their own industries. Everyone wants to understand property and are incredulous at the abstract nature of pricing: property moves in a mysterious way.

The column inches relating to property prices seem to increase annually and the recent politicisation of property is only part of a trend that has been developing for a number of years. Popular press-enhanced property-bashing for political purposes has results in vast Stamp Duty Land Tax increases and talk of a ‘Mansion Tax’. So much seems to be riding on the ‘property bandwagon’ – its a right old roller-coaster ride. It is almost impossible to predict future movements of prices and, despite the authoritative tones of some research with extensively-published predictions, most of them are rarely right.

However, one thing is certain, Newton’s Law does not apply to property prices in the long term (unless you are talking physically and in the really long term – no building lasts forever!) How the mind of property functions is something that is going to continue to vex and puzzle us for a very long time.

 

London Bashing

Since I started Crayson I have seen the top rate of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) rise from 4% to 12%. That’s a stunning 300% increase in just four years. But am I moaning? I am  not against the principle of paying tax when it is spent wisely for the greater good. But I think that there is something larger going on and what I am talking about is London.

In 2013 London generated 22% of the UK’s GDP, with only 13% of the UK’s population – evidentially this 13% are better at making money than the remaining 87%. However, of course, there is a price to pay. Lengthy commutes in crammed transportation, pollution and stress are just some of the added extras that come with working in London. Also everything costs so much more; restaurants, cinemas, food and drink. So it seems that Londoners are just used to paying more for everything, therefore it is no surprise that the 2% of home-buyers who lost out in the SDLT hike are mostly London-based.

The Scottish referendum showed the strength of feeling that many Scots have for either independence or at least some further devolution. It also served to highlight the strength of various nationalistic feelings within the UK – for example, many English MPs calling for English votes on English issues. Is it therefore a natural evolution that regions and cities should have more control over their tax revenues? How much further do things have to go with London subsidising the rest of the country?

Many people have chosen London to live in as it is the best place to work to progress their careers – not necessarily because it is the best place to live. Likewise many people have chosen other places to live – not necessarily because it is the best place to further their careers. Everyone has different priorities and values. If you work in London, you can choose to commute vast distances or you can live in London. You most certainly will have to pay far more than our out-of-London cousins and for something far smaller, and now if you want to move because you have got married or had a child its going to cost you even more.

‘God, Queen and country’ has a modern equivalent: London, England and then the United Kingdom. Mind-sets are becoming more regionalised and I think that a time is coming when London will fight back. I hope that it is able to argue its corner more effectively than it has recently. London is an international powerhouse – not just a capital city. I hope that this country sees the bigger picture of how much London contributes and stops bashing Londoners as they did the bankers.

A Fresh Start

Many of us use the Christmas and New Year break to re-evaluate things, take stock and make plans for the year ahead. It is a great time to see how we feel about the previous year and what changes we can make to advance further towards our goals.

I am not going to use this column to eulogise on the good and the great more to expand on what I think is an important trend. It has been developing more and more in recent times, which touches me and which I feel could be influencing you: a heartfelt desire to improve our work/life balance and a growing feeling that work needs to represent our core values.

If work represented our core values entirely then there would be no need to foster some work/life balance as work would be ‘life’. Humans are becoming more conscious about how we spend time on this planet and with that time being finite this surely an important objective.

The need to feel authentic is to me the most important driver. If I can inject my core values into what I do in life, then surely the outcome will be completely authentic. This is really what we are doing at Crayson. Having studied the business of trading London’s brick ad mortar for some time, I felt that this was a business that could benefit from creativity and authenticity – two of my core values. Furthermore, if all the company’s team are doing the same then the results are truly exceptional. We have spent the past four years honing things and 2015 will be our time do demonstrate our strengths to the full.

We really do deliver something different and you can see this easily from the testimonials on our website, which are verbatim quotes from named clients and buyers with a dated reference fro the property they have sold or bought.

I hope that you or one of your family or friends find the opportunity this year to come and chat to us and maybe even let us show you what we can do?

I think that you will really enjoy the experience.

Happy Thoughts

This morning was the first day that Jack Frost has appeared this year.  I walked through Kensington Gardens with my dachshund this morning on the way to work and everything was covered with a beautiful thin white sheen.  On the streets, mothers getting ready for the school run were scraping windscreens, whilst their progeny shivered in back seats.  I am ready to embrace the chilly and crispy tidings of winter.

It’s the beginning of November and here in Notting Hill, shops are already receiving deliveries of fir and holly. The more daring ones are already playing Christmas songs as assistants pin tinsel to points-of-sale.  By the time you read this magazine it will be mid-November or beyond and you will be getting into the Christmas swing.   In my view Christmas cannot come early enough this year – it has been more challenging in the property sector than we would have guessed – but I really do predict that there will be a silver lining.

Rumour has it that it is going to be arctic this winter – so some weathermen are saying..  El Nino (the South American weather system which recurs every number of years) affects sea temperatures and in no time – apparently- we will have penguins and polar bears on these shores.

What has this got to do with property?  Not much really – other than that a lovely London house has to be the best place to snuggle up in with all the family, around a well-lit hearth and with a large glass of egg-nog to warm the cockles. In this state we should reflect on how lucky we are.  We live in the finest City in the World which has become a thriving cultural capital – we can all be very proud of that.

I really appreciate the privilege of working in the area that I was brought up in and love – and thanks to everyone who has had faith in us.  A very Merry Christmas to you and all.

Mansion Makes Smash

If I had £1 for every time somebody asked me about ‘Mansion Tax’ ………

Surely everyone must be getting bored rigid with all the speculation about what a possible future government might or might not do when it comes to property taxes.

I have been doing dome research of my own – asking local residents what they would like to see done – when it comes to property.  So it is with this research in mind that I put forward the Crayson Election Manifesto.

  • Nosey Neighbours: We promise absolutely no more nosey neighbours.  Their curiosity will not be piqued by anything that you do – no matter how outlandish – up to and including naked frolics in your garden.
  • Noise – what’s that? Neighbours will be completely oblivious to any noise that you generate no matter how loud it might be.  Vice-versa – you can’t hear anything that they get up to at all – including all sorts of banging and of course loud music.
  • Property Taxes – completely abolished including SDLT (Stamp Duty) and all talk of progressive property taxes. Council Tax can stay – as long as they collect the trash every day!
  • Planning Permission – you can do what you want as long as you have planning permission.
  • Basement digs – one floor only unless you have cousins in Australia.
  • Property Prices – when selling, you get exactly what you wanted for your house or flat and there is something for you to buy onwards that seems to be an incredible deal – even possibly a bargain. The people you are buying from seem incredibly happy with the price you are paying – everyone is incredibly happy.
  • Local Shops – offer incredibly fresh and organic food for what appears to be Lidl’esqe prices. A pricing error – or maybe just a wealthy shop owner looking to make a loss to offset against other business surpluses!
  • A magical Newsagent – open 24 hours a day – selling all alcohol at wholesale prices
  • Schools – the best and most highly rated grammar school near enough to be in the catchment area but far away enough to be not seen and not heard.

No sleeping with politicians!  Go to bed with your house – wake up in your house!  What more do we need?

 

The Here & Now

This country is still ruled by a military junta, effectively the same junta that was responsible for the mass slaughter of protestors rallying against the brutal rule of U Ne Win in 1988, when men, women, children and monks were slaughtered indiscriminately. A change of clothes allows Thein Sein, an ex-general, to be President. The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) is the world-renowned and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Despite winning past elections and more than 80% of the seats in parliament the NLD still has limited influence; next year’s elections will be a defining moment as the future of true democracy in Myanmar hinges on them.

Despite low incomes and often very squalid living conditions (the Myanmar GNP is around the £500 per person, per annum mark) all around the country, smiles and good greetings were universal and genuine. My 15-year-old daughter Alice often commented that the people appeared a lot happier than the people in the UK. With the GDP per head in the UK about 40 times higher that of Myanmar, there is some evidence here that money does not buy you happiness.

Being a London estate agent I, unsurprisingly maybe, found myself keen to do some price comparisons on property. The military still owns and controls the best areas and properties, and prices in down-town areas are distorted. I eventually found my quest to be rather pointless as the Myanmar property market is very much a domestic one whereas London is truly international. However on visiting some homes, I found that all necessities were provided for; even if not up to Western standards the homes were still clean and hygienic. Perhaps I have a rather distorted and myopic view of Myanmar life, but I can’t stop thinking that despite our multi-million pound properties, private schools and expensive material trinkets we are perhaps missing something. Maybe its because of their Buddhism which looks at teachings of love and compassion for each other; it is a country of such horrible transgressions but where the people are able to genuinely forgive and live their lives in the here and now.

If only we could inject some form of true and universal appreciation at what we have here in London then maybe we would live in a more stable environment, where the vicissitudes of the ‘Market’ would just be offset by a less jaundiced view about our wealth and where we find ourselves on this planet.

Home and Away

Is anyone there? I love being in London in August. Locally I can get an instant table at Granger & Co. and in some of the stuffier places in London they even seem happy to tell you that they do have a table available for that evening and I don’t even have to pretend to be Michael Caine, Sean Connery or Her Majesty. The journey into work is a dream and when the sun is shining (may it please continue) people are happy and pleasant and this area looks beautiful.

Being in the agency business I often wonder wonder about holiday strategy. Not wanting to lose out to other agents due to absence it’s tempting to be available even when away – however, the risk of too much rosé or raki can make a lack of WiFi rather more tempting. Luckily, I have a very capable co-director to keep the consistency. I did consider doing what most of the southern European countries do – just shut up shop for August entirely; but then just look at the Italian and Spanish economies.

I think that I have come up with the perfect solution; stay around for the first two weeks in August to make sure that absolutely nothing is going on and then simply disappear on the pretence that you are off to do something useful. August us the perfect month for this and even the name implies some grand plan consecrated by augurs, with favourable auguries. A time to think about who we are, what we are doing and why. I certainly will be using the time to think how we can further improve Crayson. I am uncomfortable with being static and am always looking at innovating and changing if that is what is best.

On that note I bid you farewell, adieu or in my case “di lupasanakong shin meh”.

Price Pressures

As spring turns to summer, the market in our area of prime London remains relatively buoyant. Average values achieved so far this year are almost 13% higher than they were a year ago, with the number of properties sold up 17%. Despite the strong market conditions and vendors continuing to benefit from the number of potential buyers outpacing new instructions, it is vital that both vendors and agents are realistic about the value their properties can achieve. As competition for new instructions has intensified, some agents are overvaluing in a bid to secure instructions; a practice that is not recommend.

Put simply, vendors who achieve the best price for their property do so by bringing their home to market at the right price, creating early interest amongst buyers. Properties that are launched at an unrealistically high price are missing out on crucial selling opportunities in the early stages of marketing. The average amount of time before a property is first reduced is currently 70 days.

Unrealistic expectations of values alongside competition for new instructions means properties are still reaching the market at values that are not attracting buyers. Within the Royal Borough, 24% of properties currently on the market have been reduced in price since they were first marketed. The highest proportion of price reductions is seen in the price bracket over £10 million (31% now reduced); this compares with just 21% of properties priced at £2-5 million.

Within our area, 25% of the most prolific agents (with more than five properties listed for sale) have reduced the prices of more than a third of their available stock. Comparing properties sold this year at different price bands shows that the market of over £5 million saw the highest levels of price reductions, with 36% of properties having their asking-price reduced before finding a buyer. This compares to just 15% of properties over £5 million sold in 2013. For properties under £5 million, 22% had seen their asking prices reduced before finding a buyer.

Source: Lonres – Crayson market area

Is the market as hot as the weather?

The summer Market Intelligence from Crayson tracks property values and trends, and gives in-depth, incisive facts and figures on the property market in the Notting Hill, Holland Park and Kensington areas.

Highlights include:

Demand remains strong:

  • Despite mixed messages on the health of the housing market, demand for property in our area remains strong. Over the last three months the number of properties sold in our area increased by 17% over the same period a year ago.
  • The amount spent on property in prime central London has risen significantly this year. Buyers have spent an average of £157.5 million per month in our area, 27% higher than at the same point a year ago.

Apartments outperform houses:

  • Sales of apartments have dominated the market so far this year, with the number sold rising 32% compared with the figure at this point a year ago. The opposite is true for houses, with sales so far this year down 21%.
  • Flats have also outperformed houses in terms of price growth. Flats sold in our area over the last three months achieved prices per square foot that were 13.6% higher than the same period in 2013. Houses saw average prices increase at a still respectable 10.6%.

£5m+ market

  • Prices per square foot for homes selling in excess of £5 million have plateaued this year. However, they are still achieving values which are 28% higher than they were three years ago.
  • The strongest growth in values continues to be for homes at the lower end of the market (under £1 million) and those priced between £2 million and £5 million, with average values within these price bands having risen by 12.7% and 12.9% respectively.

Overvaluing prevalent:

  • Within the Royal Borough, 24% of properties currently on the market have been reduced in price since they were first marketed.
  • The highest proportion of price reductions is seen in the price bracket over £10 million (31% now reduced); this compares with just 21% of properties priced at £2 – 5 million.
  • Twenty-five per cent of the most prolific agents within our area (with more than five properties listed for sale) have reduced the prices of more than a third of their available stock.

Nick Crayson says, “Put simply, vendors who achieve the best price for their property do so by bringing their home to market at the right price, creating early interest amongst buyers. Properties that are launched at an unrealistically high price are missing out on crucial selling opportunities in the early stages of marketing. The average amount of time before a property is first reduced is currently 70 days.”

Chart: Percentage of properties being marketed at reduced prices

Market_Intelligence_June_2014_FINAL7

The full report can be seen on the Crayson website here  Hard copies are available on request 020 7221 1117

 

Buy a house – and invite the nation in to look around

Whoever buys the Brick House,  a high profile one-off project by the acclaimed architects Caruso St John that was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, will have a big decision to make come the autumn.  Will they open their door on 20/21 September and welcome upwards of 100 strangers to their home?

Each year since it was completed in 2005, the Brick House has been part of Open House London, the capital’s largest annual festival of architecture and design that opens 800 buildings of architectural interest to the public.

There is of course prestige and kudos in abundance, but there are also, no doubt, practical issues to overcome. The buyers will have to weigh up the pros and cons, and maybe take a lead from David Cameron who, last year, became the first prime minister to open up the famous black door for Open House London.

Continue reading

Bubble – or recovery?

If you choose the right statistics, it’s easy to make a case for a housing bubble. Prices nationally are 5.3% higher than a year ago, the highest since July 2008; London prices up 13.8% on last year; and there are forecasts of national prices rises of 35% by 2020. These figures certainly suggest a rapidly growing market; but is it a bubble or a recovery?

Average values nationally are only now returning to their 2007 levels (and are still lower in real terms). Although the market in London has fared better, prices still remain just 30% higher than they were seven years ago. Even growth in Kensington & Chelsea of 74% in the last seven years (2007 to 2014) is below the previous seven year price increase (2000 to 2007) of 96%.

As buyers return to the market, stock levels have not risen to meet demand, and this is driving price growth, as it has in London. But as the supply / demand ratio evens out, price rises will inevitably moderate. Prices are of course affected by supply, and while the UK’s massive undersupply of housing continues, prices will continue to rise. London is no exception.

Since 2008 the population of London has increased by 600,000 and is expected to hit 9m by 2020. Volumes of new housing development in London has, for the last 30 years, been significantly below the levels needed to satisfy the demand of a growing population.

The latest Strategic Housing Market Assessment shows a need for over 23,000 new homes for private sale to be built per annum between 2014 and 2035. The Mayor’s target is currently set at 25,000 per annum. This represents a significant increase on recent construction figures, with government data showing just over 11,500 homes completed for private sale in 2013.

Market_Intelligence_April_2014_WEB GRAPHS11

The prime boroughs have seen some of the lowest levels of new development. In this context, growth in prices in London, based on basic supply and demand dynamics, are unsurprising, and could be argued to be a greater cause than speculative behaviour.

Transaction figures have risen across the country, but remain below their 2007 peak by 36% nationally, and by 22% in Kensington & Chelsea.

Gross mortgage lending, which has risen in the last 12 months, remains 43% down on 2007 levels.

The threat of interest rate rises is a constant presence. As is that of a Mansion Tax. So as the turnaround in the fortunes of the UK economy continue, and the housing market starts its recovery, we are, in my opinion, not experiencing a housing bubble.

Finally it’s arguable that the Royal Borough and Westminster areas are relatively undervalued when compared to other world cities.  Our population density is relatively low and development per square foot is low as we have lower build property  – therefore property square footage per square foot of plot is lower than comparable capitals.

For greater insight, and to help separate the fact from the fiction, we have just released our newest research which can be seen here, or if you would like a hard copy posted to you please email Emily Ingles:  emily@crayson.com

Nick Crayson

 

 

Building concern: talk of a ‘Mansion Tax’ has not gone away, but details remain vague

Holland Park Mews_with graphic

There’s much uncertainty around how a new Mansion Tax would be imposed, but what does seem certain is that a Labour or Liberal Democrat win in the election will be swiftly followed by the introduction of such a tax.

Understandably, this is causing some concern in the property market, especially in prime central London where property prices are so high. Most two bedroom flats in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea sell for more than £2m. And there are some areas where a price tag under £2m is nothing but a distant memory.

The most worried property owners are domestic residents.  We have had numerous enquires over the last couple of weeks from property owners who would struggle to pay a substantial new tax. Last year the Treasury estimated that the average Mansion Tax would amount to around £36,000 per year. Many of these property owners are considering selling up while the going’s good.

Particularly concerned are retired residents who have lived in their properties for decades. Their liquid wealth tends not to match the value of their property as these homes were purchased when London prices were more in keeping with the rest of the country; and when areas such as Notting Hill and Holland Park were considered far from ‘prime’.

“For high net worth overseas buyer, and investment purchasers, the Mansion Tax will cause less distress. The tax may dent their income, and they will simply factor the tax into their calculations. Investors will of course have the option of splitting their investment into several properties so they remain under the threshold.

It’s not the international bankers and wealthy foreign investors who will be hit by this tax; it’s the remaining domestic home owners who live in and love London, and who make it a living breathing community.

The outcome will of course be that owner occupiers are driven further away from central London. Many parts of the capital are already sadly unoccupied with countless overseas owners using their properties for only a few weeks of the year. Increasingly, investors are seeing such enormous capital growth that they choose not to rent their properties out. The Mansion Tax, if or when it is born, will have the sad effect of turning central London into a ghost city.

Nick Crayson

House doctoring – the naked truth

As a seller, you need to know you’ve done everything in your power to get the best price for your property; if you don’t, you’ll kick yourself. So stand back, take a look at your property as though you’re seeing it for the first time, and invest some time and money in polishing it up.

New paintwork and carpets sound like a big investment, but if either are looking tired, they should make a significant difference to the price you achieve. Arguments about buyers being able to see past these elements don’t wash – the overall impression is what counts, and the impact you can make with a relatively conservative outlay is enormous.

Suspend some elements of your own lifestyle if necessary. If you’ve crammed a double bed into a single bedroom, then dress the room properly as a single. Overcrowded rooms, furniture that’s too big, and too much furniture make your property look small and don’t show off its best features. Hire a storage unit if necessary. Lay the property out like someone would like to see it rather than how you need it.

Dress your bookshelves. Cull, tidy, and arrange obsessively.

Flowers sound like a cliché, but they really do make a difference. Short stem roses in small vases last for ages; and lilies have the added benefit of a beautiful smell. Take out the stamens though so potential buyers don’t get pollen all over their immaculate white shirts.

Make sure that every single light bulb in the house is working. Ignore eco for the time it takes to sell, and opt for the maximum recommended wattage for the fitting.

If you have a good view, or windows that let in light, then allow them to work their own magic. Keep window dressing to a minimum, don’t let curtains or blinds block out any available light, and keep the glass scrupulously clean, inside and out. And don’t clutter window ledges – let every available inch of glass do what it’s meant to do; let the outside in.

Dress the garden. Take out the trampoline, mend fences, jet wash the patio, put cushions on the chairs, put up an umbrella, and make the garden look like it’s ready for its sundowners.

If your child’s buggy lives in the hall, banish it to the car for every viewing. The presence of any large piece of essential kit simply draws attention to the fact that there’s nowhere in the property to put it!

Regrout your bathroom and kitchen tiles. Remove all clutter and replace with aspirational bathroom products.

Take everything off the kitchen work tops and surfaces and find a home for it, whether that’s the bin or a cupboard. If you must, you can put the kettle, toaster and coffee machine back. You will be astounded at the improvement it makes.

Invest in beautiful bedspreads, cushions and new lampshades. Take inspiration from interiors magazines for an instant bedroom facelift.

Bella Tellwright, resident House Doctor

 

Forecasting Growth – nuts and bolts!

Every year economists, think-tanks, research teams forecast growth.  With the prime central London market increasingly tied to the fortunes of the global economy, forecasting how our market will perform has become increasingly difficult.

crayson blog chart

Forecasters have often based their predictions on performance over previous economic cycles but are now having to contend with global, as well as local factors, to determine the rate of house price growth. Unsurprisingly, this means that unexpected global events have an increasing impact on the fortunes of our market.

2013 was a year that exceeded expectations in a number of ways.  Both the UK economy and housing market recorded growth that was much higher than expected (1.9% and 4.4% respectively) and FTSE had its best year since 2009 with growth of 14.4% against a forecast of 9%.

At the start of 2013 consensus forecasts for UK property as a whole suggested growth of 0.2% over the course of the year.  However, with sentiment turning increasingly positive as the year progressed, year-end figures recorded by various indices ranged from 4.4% (Land Registry) to as high as 8.4% (Halifax).

The prime central London market was even more extreme.  At the start of 2013, many forecasters were forecasting little or no growth across prime central London.  However, the year ended with values 10 percentage points higher.

So what is going to happen this year?  A recent report by EY Item Club suggests another housing bubble in London – however averaged out forecasts suggest growth of around 5% for prime London property.  One thing is for sure, we will know this time next year!

Nick Crayson

 

Future-proofed

Happy new year – Crayson’s fourth! What started as an experiment in 2010, an unconventional agency, with absolutely no high-street presence, has turned out to be something of a triumph.

Many said we were completely bonkers and that it would never work. We did not, and still don’t, get involved in the sale of properties listed with multiple agencies – only opting for sole and joint-sole agency instructions – agency purists saw this as commercial suicide.  It was admittedly extremely risky as it severely limited the number of properties we could have on our books.  However it did ensure that we could dedicate all our resources to our direct instructions and the gamble has worked.

The last three years have seen an incredible metamorphosis – and we feel very fortunate that locals have embraced our philosophy.  We have grown from having one house for sale in 2010 to selling in 2012 and 2103 24.1% of all houses in W11 valued between £2m and £5m (source: Zoopla 15/01/2014).

Needless to say – we are pretty chuffed with that!

The fact that we don’t have high street offices is not enough of a USP in my view to warrant the opening of a new Estate Agency – but we did it as the market has changed and well over 90% of buyers are now using the internet as the first port of call when searching for property.

In short, buyers of luxury property do not wander up the high street to gaze into estate agents windows any more.  Certainly, international buyers don’t either; neither do they walk into the offices of an overseas office or affiliate.  They or their representatives search the web or come to the UK.  Every one of Crayson’s clients’ properties that are on the market is listed on the entire major UK property portals as well as 40 foreign luxury property portals covering the major foreign markets that provide buyers into the Prime Central London market.  In 2013 38% of our buyers came from overseas.

We are extremely excited going into 2014. We are always aiming at improving and upping the ante.  Please do pop in to our lovely offices in Lambton Place for a cup of tea and let’s discuss what we can do for you.

Nick Crayson

Diamonds in the sky

For weeks this autumn, every clear evening has been graced with a bright and beautiful Jupiter, rising in the eastern sky. Apparently conditions on this gaseous planet are just right for crushing carbon in such a way as to produce diamonds – and plenty of them. Scientists are speculating that Jupiter, and another gaseous planet Saturn, have innumerable diamonds floating around them. The New Scientist suggests that all gas giants in our solar system could be ‘littered with bling’. Tiffany – eat your heart out.

For great gems a little closer to home, pop in to see us for a browse and a chat. Despite the end-of-term feeling, we’ve got some hot new properties coming on, and there’s mince pies, mulled wine and a lucky dip on tap throughout the month of December. Happy Christmas from the Crayson team.

 

Autumn property facts, figures and statistics

Leaves turning colour, socks and boots, fur-lined jackets……and the Autumn Market Intelligence from Crayson. In-depth incisive information on what is going on in our delightful part of London (W14, W11, W10, W8 and W2). The report tracks property values and trends in the area and also picks up on hot topics such as Mansion Tax.

Some of the highlights are reproduced here; the full report is attached, and can be seen here

Or if you’re short of time, these are the highlights:

  • Prices per square foot are now, on average, 33% higher than in the previous peak in 2007. Greater London prices are 13% higher than in 2007.
  • New instructions have increased in the last three months by 9.3% on the previous three months.
  • Sales have increased by 22% over the same period.
  • The number of properties sold between June and August in our area was 22% higher than in the previous three months, and 78% higher than the same period last year.
  • Average £ per square foot values for properties sold between June and August were 9.9% higher than the same period a year ago, and 6.3% higher than in the first three months of the year.
  • The upper end  of the market has seen the most significant rise in new instructions. Between June and August, 32% of all properties listed in our area were advertised at £2m and above, compared with 24% over the same three month period in 2012.

Nick Crayson says, “To avoid the potential cost of purchasing and owning an investment property at above £2m, many are instead choosing to make multiple investments at below the £2m stamp duty threshold.

“With agents keen to get stock onto their books, over-valuing of properties continues to be a problem. 29% of properties currently for sale in our area have been reduced in price since initial marketing.

“At Crayson we have reduced the price on only two of the properties we have sold so far this year. The vast majority of properties sold by us have been agreed at or above the original guide price.

“Ongoing tax investigations abroad, along with the increased taxation of properties over £2m owned by companies, could be encouraging funds to be repatriated back onshore. The security of central London real estate remains a very attractive investment opportunity.”

If you’d like a shiny hard copy of the report, contact us on 020 7221 1117, or drop in and pick one up.

 

 

Home to roost

cockeral

This is not just a picture of a giant blue cockerel in Trafalgar square – for me this fertile beast and its placement in the heart of our Capital epitomises the fact that London is an extremely good place to roost.

We have some eggcellent new nests and perches for sale, so if you’re hatching a plan to move up the pecking order, our website is a good starting place. Have a good scratch around and you’ll find some roosts that are really worth crossing the road for.

While London property is never chicken-feed, it’s still possible to find an apartment that you’d be cock-a-hoop to be cooped up in for under £1m in this part of leafy London. And that’s without a hint of fowl play.

The sky’s the limit at the other end of the market with some seriously cocky properties at around £5m, and a few feathery nests where most would be happy to lay their heads at upwards of £10m.

Come and have a chat, between us we can crack it.

Nick Crayson

One size doesn’t fit all

‘Discreet marketing’ is an unlikely phrase that has become part of the estate agents’ vocabulary in recent times. It refers to the quiet marketing of a property – no advertising, no presence on the website, no for sale board, no PR; but the property is very much for sale. The only buyers who know about it are those that are registered with the agent, (or a buying agent who has been quietly informed), and who has been qualified by that agent as a serious prospect.

Whatever the reason for preferring to keep the fact that they are selling beneath the radar, more and more vendors are coming to us and asking about discreet marketing. About 25% of the properties we’ve sold in the last six months have been by this method. For many, the idea is attractive, but the reality of a considerably slower process is a concern. So we’ve recently been adopting a range of low-key marketing strategies that fall somewhere between a shout and a silence. Continue reading

Top end of the prime London market performs best

Across the Kensington, Notting Hill and Holland Park areas (W2, W8, W10, W11 and W14) prices and transactions have been rising steadily over the last 12 months.

Prices have risen 7.9% in the last 12 months across our area, with homes in Kensington, Westbourne Grove and Bayswater performing particularly well. Here prices per square foot are now over 30% higher than in 2010.

Across our market in the first half of 2013, there were 229 properties launched per month, a 127% rise on the 101 properties per month launched in the first half of 2012.

The rise has been greater for more expensive properties, with a 290% rise in the number of properties reaching the market between £2m and £5m; and a rise of over 300% for properties priced over £5m.

Larger properties are also demanding higher £ per square foot. For example, properties under 2,000 sq. ft. in W14 command an average of c. £921 per square foot; while properties over 2,000 sq. ft command an average of c. £1,517 per square foot. In W10 the differential is £789 per square foot for properties under 2,000 sq. ft and £1,075 for properties over 2,000 sq. ft.

Across our market in the second quarter of 2013, the average sold price per sq. ft. for properties under £2m was £1,076; for properties priced between £2m and £5m the average sold price per sq. ft. was £1,510; and for those over £5m, £2,145 per sq. ft. (Lonres)

The main driver of demand at these top levels of the market continues to be overseas buyers. The days of banker bonuses driving the central London market are gone. The global economy has a much greater influence on the prime London market than the UK economy, and London is home to more residents worth over $30m than any other city in the world and has the third highest number of billionaires, behind New York and Moscow. (Wealth Insight)

Many of these ‘overseas’ buyers are of course already living in the UK. Others travel to the UK to buy, or use a representative who is based in the UK. Over the past 12 months, over 70% of Crayson properties have sold to foreign buyers. We approach this growing market by offering a truly bespoke service, catering for an ever widening buyer demographic, understanding the different ways overseas buyers operate, and ensuring that their varying needs are met. One size fits all is not an option in this market and we believe that the fact that, this year, every house we have sold has been at our original guide price or above, bears testament to this philosophy.

The full Summer ’13 Market Intelligence can be seen here or get in touch and we’ll be happy to send you a real copy. www.crayson.com  t. +44 (0) 20 7221 1117

Nick Crayson

 

The Baguette Index

In a very recent survey the distribution of baguettes was found to vastly outstrip the supply of the traditional English sliced loaf – in certain parts of London.

London is home now to over 400,000 French nationals and it is now the fifth largest French city in the world and this is the reason behind the baguette invasion.  Reason to complain – je ne crois pas!  We all love to crack a crunchy French loaf, slaver it in butter or dripping overripe brie – so much so that even the traditional great British sandwich is now under threat.  Out with the old – in with the nouveau!  Holland Park Avenue now boasts 5 shops selling Patisserie and Baguette.  There are 7 on Notting Hill Gate alone and at least 6 just on Kensington Church Street and they are spreading like a crusty wildfire all over London.  The French are slim, but I have a feeling we are going to suffer without an adequate regime to cope with the millefeuille and tarte aux pommes.

As a result we at Crayson are starting the ‘Baguette Index’ where we will be tracking the rise of the baguette in London.  For comparison I will be running statistics on sliced bread as well as pitta bread, Bagels and focaccia – this should represent a fairly good spread and give a reasonable sample size from which to spot the trend.  I am also considering a similar index of other baked goods:  Donuts, Patisserie, Muffins and English Muffins.  Suggestions are all welcome at baguette@crayson.com – please do get involved.

Nick Crayson

Foot in mouth

With news that a London flat’s being sold in cubic feet, it’s time to run for the hills, argues guest blogger Cheryl Markosky

Okay. The world’s gone completely mad. Apparently it’s now commonplace (well, as common as it can be at the luxury end of the market) to tot up and charge for the cubic footage in your home.

In my view, this smacks of the Emperor’s new clothes. It takes  me back a few years when I toured a Kensington apartment then on the market at an eye-watering £30 million. The justification for the price tag was that this rare five-bedroom duplex apartment measuring nearly 6,000-square feet was made up of four joined-up units.

When I got home and hit the calculator, the £5,000 a square foot figure quoted somehow didn’t add up (especially when the norm in the area then was about £2,000 a square foot).

When I rang the agent, he explained that a chunk of the cost was additional cubic square footage, because a floor had been taken out of the flat to create majestic double-height ceiling space.

A bit like eating candy-floss, I thought, but without the sugar rush. The rationale behind this state of nothingness is that you could squeeze a mezzanine into your airy home at a later date if you want. And if there’s a trendy void space there already, then naturally, you should pay for all that trendy volume. Even though you can’t use it.

But you can look at it. So, the logic follows you should pay for these ‘unusable’ spaces in a look, but don’t touch kind of way.

I’m told measuring in cubic metres is all the rage in Paris. So, in a tale of two cities, some Londoners are following their Gallic cousins and running the tape measure up those high ceilings and along imaginary lines where a mezzanine might one day sit.

So, we’re into an Alice in Wonderland hinterland of falling down rabbit holes, mad March hares and a caucus race with no clear winner. The King and Queen scolded Alice for growing at a rapid pace and taking up all the air. But Rule 42 cited that all persons more than a mile high had to leave the court. Maybe justice will be done (off with their heads?) and we won’t be expected to pay for thin air that’s neither a fixture or fitting.

Cheryl Markosky

 

Market intelligence highlights

Our in depth summer Market Intelligence can be seen here, but for those who prefer their data summarised, here are the highlights:

Key statistics for this area for the first half of 2013:

–          27% of sales over £2m

–          22% increase in £ per sq. ft. since 2010

–          229 new instructions per month

–          £1,126 average £ per sq. ft. – flats

–          £1,481 average £ per sq. ft. – houses

–          £1,227 average £ per sq. ft. – all

Market activity:

The market’s been almost as hot as the temperature with transactions rising steadily this year. And whilst overseas buyers have continued to invest in London, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in UK buyers, helped by improved confidence in the mainstream market.

Across our area, prices have risen 7.9% in the last 12 months. Homes in Kensington, Westbourne Grove and Bayswater have performed particularly well with prices per square foot now over 30% higher than in 2010.

Transactions taking longer:

However, transactions are taking longer to complete with three to four months between exchange and completion now a realistic timescale. One of the major stumbling blocks has been sellers struggling to find a suitable property to move to.

New instructions:

“Across our market so far this year there have been 229 properties launched per month, a 127% rise on the 101 properties per month reaching the market in the first half of 2012.

“The number of properties reaching the market this year in our area priced between £2m and £5m rose from 124 in the first half of 2012 to 364 in 2013, with homes over £5m listed on Lonres up from 49 to 149.

Domestic buyers:

Overseas buyer activity in London continues to make headlines, but 2013 has heralded a rise in the number of UK buyers in prime London. Government support for increased mortgage lending has had an effect on the mainstream market which in turn is leading to an increase in activity across the whole UK residential sector, including the traditionally less mortgage-reliant prime markets.

Crayson:

We’re happy to say that we’re going from strength to strength at Crayson with £200m worth of stock on our books, three times the amount listed by us at the same point last year. This year, every house we have sold has been at our original guide price or more – with no price reductions at all.

Nick Crayson

 

 

Rock dust, light star: a date for your diaries

11th August promises a natural light show for anyone lucky enough to find themselves under dark cloudless skies, and in a good position to have a wide view of the heavens.

At its peak, The Perseids meteor shower reliably produces up to 100 ‘shooting stars’ per hour, caused by the Earth passing through the dust particles of the comet Swift-Tuttle. These particles, known as meteoroids, burn up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere at something around 132,000 miles per second and produce the brilliant spectacle.

Some people might choose to read meaning into such displays, as much as they do into the movement and position of stars and the planets. But shooting stars aren’t, of course stars at all, and can tell us more about what happened in the past than what’s destined for the future.

For more reliable prophecies about the imminent future of the earthly property market, you may prefer to look at our summer Market Intelligence. But while we like to think it makes a good read,  it barely holds a dwindling candle to the aching magnificence of a good meteor shower.

Nick Crayson

 

 

Save the bees

The bees are dying. In the 1950’s there were 50 native species of bee in the UK, today there are just over 25.

Honey bees are the number one insect pollinator on the planet, responsible for the production of more than 90 crops. The British Beekeepers Association’s (bbka.org.uk) June report highlights that more than a third of hives did not survive the cold, wet conditions. Every region across England saw dramatic declines, with the numbers lost more than double the previous 12 months. This year’s poor winter, following on from a disastrous summer, is said to be the main reason for the losses.

British beekeepers have been surveyed at the end of March for the last six years. With overall losses at 33.8 per cent, this year’s figures are the worst yet recorded. The hardest hit region was the south west, where over half of the hives were lost. The matter has caused beekeepers to march on Parliament to call on the Government to fund research into what they say is potentially a bigger threat to humanity than the current financial crisis.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon first noticed in the USA, whereby entire colonies of bees simply died out thanks to hitherto unexplained circumstances. One theory that does hold some weight is the growth in genetically modified crops; bees, of course, love pollen and the theory is that modified pollens may be detrimental to the creatures. Some of the other possible reasons for the declining numbers could be down to a bee plague, pesticides or even malnutrition brought about by changes in global climates and the effects this is possibly having on the seasons and therefore the supply of pollen-bearing flowers.

By planting the flowers bees love, and by raising awareness of their plight, you can help save one of the most vital, and endangered creatures in the UK.

Nick Crayson

 

 

The light fantastic; letting the sunshine work its magic

We know people make up their minds about a property within a few seconds of walking in, and much of this perception is subconscious. The feel of a property is all to do with proportions, space, light and aspect. People don’t think, ‘I love this room because it’s got a triple aspect with big windows facing south, east and west, a lovely view over trees, and filtered light falling into the room from roof lights’. They think, ‘What a lovely light room’.

If you have a good view, or windows that let in light, then allow them to work their own magic. Keep window dressing to a minimum, don’t let curtains or blinds block out any available light, and keep the glass scrupulously clean. Declutter window ledges – let every available inch of glass do what it’s meant to do; let the outside in.

Nick Crayson

What makes prime property prime?

Prime central London property’ is the buzzword amongst buyers – many of them increasingly from overseas. Amid economic Armageddon, increased stamp duty, and property prices falling in numerous areas and sectors, ‘prime central London property’ has continued to perform in a way that bears little or no relation to the rest of the property market. Recent research indicates that prime Central London prices have risen more than 15% since the 2008 high.

So what makes prime Central London prime? And what protects it from normal market forces?

Continue reading

The truth about international buyers

It’s a common misconception that overseas buyers are purchasing in London remotely, using overseas offshoots of UK property companies to source and buy properties. Whilst this may be the case with new schemes launched overseas, in our experience the vast majority of prospective buyers are coming to us directly, either in person or through a representative, often a London-based buying agent.

Falls in the value of sterling mean that London is an attractive prospect for international investors; but as well as those looking for an investment outside their home country, many are choosing London as a place to relocate to. It’s easy to think of London property as a commodity, one that is traded on the basis of location and square footage, with faceless overseas investors buying and selling for profit. But the reality is very different. Selling property at all price levels is a specialist business; and we believe that property owners should be offered  a tailor-made service. We offer informed market appraisals, carefully targeted marketing, and a service that’s customised to each client.

In addition, we advertise all our clients properties on luxury property portals in 30 overseas countries, capturing all the major locations where our international buyers are coming from.

A global market is as deserving of a bespoke service as a local one.

Nick Crayson

 

The devil is in the detail

What makes a property stand out in a city and a property market where so many flats and houses are refurbished to a stratospheric standard?

Expectations have become so high that impressing a well-versed and sophisticated buyer can be beyond challenging. But unexpected details make all the difference.

So it is in this immaculate refurbishment of an elegant Victorian terraced house in Chepstow Road W2, with a guide price of £2.9m. The three bedroom house presses all the right buttons for those who mind about well-equipped bathrooms and kitchens, proper heating, and decent storage.

There has been much buyer happiness about the under-floor heating which reigns supreme, the high spec kitchen with masses of space, and the concertina doors that pleasingly link the dining area with decked garden which gets the sun for most of the day. The plentiful storage has been noted with joy; the bathroom with shower/steam room combo has also produced some smiles.

But the detail that has led to the most buyer excitement is the multi-fuel burning stove in the ground floor reception room, an excellent diversion for the frustrated countryman or woman who finds themself tied to London. In cold snaps, there are hours of fun to be had with logs and coal and other bits of kit. You can read all about it here.

One of the fascinating aspects of this job is spotting the treasures that kindle a buyer’s interest!

Nick Crayson

Spring property report

The magnolias and the sun (now and then) are out, and so is our quarterly property report, providing a detailed overview of the property market in W14, W11, W10, and W2. It’s online here, or in print from our office in Lambton Place. You can give us a call on 020 7221 1117, or drop us a line at nick@crayson.com,  and we’ll send you one, or even better, pop in and pick one up, we’d love to see you.

Here are some of the highlights:

The general picture is pretty bright. Sales, prices and new instructions have all increased; and in contrast to the slow start in 2012, sales activity in prime postcodes has been brisk, with 36% more properties sold than at this point a year ago.

We have seen an increase in new instructions so far this year, with significant pent up demand meaning our outlook for 2013 remains very positive indeed.

Market activity

“So far this year buyers in Notting Hill, Holland Park and Kensington have spent an average of £126 million per month, 17% more than at this point in 2012.

 

“In the last three months total sales have risen by 22% compared with the same period a year ago. The number of apartments sold increased by 25%.

“Demand for houses over £2 million has been particularly noticeable this year and transactions have increased by 24% in the last three months.

New instructions

“ In the first quarter of 2013 the number of new property instructions in our area were 65% higher than 2012 averages.

“ The most significant increases in new stock being listed have been within W11 (Notting Hill) and the Kensington & Chelsea postcodes of W14, where properties listed for sale rose by 101% and 86% respectively.

“The number of properties released onto the market at between £2 million and £5 million has increased by 84%.

“For properties over £10 million,  the number was 101% higher than in the first quarter of 2012

Nick Crayson

10.5.13