Downing Street
Summer is coming, so it’s time to head to the polling station: hurrah! It’s our third opportunity in three years to have a real say in the future of our nation – how lucky we are.

This time, though, it’s different. While it’ll doubtless be as exciting as every other election campaign with all the political parties offering us free cake if we vote for them, there is one issue that 2017’s election will most certainly not be about: property.

Normal procedure upon the calling of a General Election is for instant panic to set in around the property market, driven by newspaper scaremongering and the uncertainty of who may come to power. Well, whether or not you’re a fan of the current Government, there seems to be little doubt over who’ll be first past the post on June 8th.

In theory, that would signal a gold rush. For as long as we can remember, the story around property and politics has effectively been Conservative good, Labour bad. If you’re at all commercially minded or have aspirations in the property area – whether as landlord or homeowner – then the Conservative party will look after you and Labour will not.

Today, that story looks somewhat different.

Thousands of landlords have been thrust into a higher tax bracket this month by no longer being allowed to claim mortgage interest payments as an expense. That has shed doubt on whether many may continue as landlords, shedding further doubt on whether their tenants will keep their homes.

Homeowners, too, have felt the impact of considerable changes to the Stamp Duty system which have slaughtered the top end of the market: many people have chosen to stay put, heavily reducing the number of transactions (along with the income to the Treasury) and further restricting the supply chain causing yet more affordability problems. If you do move, spending £2million in London – not a lot these days – means getting a Stamp Duty bill not far off the cost of buying a one bedroom flat.

So the old accepted tale of Blue vs Red is, for this General Election as least, obsolete: if you want to buy a home or be a landlord, politics is no longer a factor. And perhaps, as a general state of affairs, that’s a good thing. Why take a deep intake of breath and wait it out, when the supposed benefit of one party over the other has disappeared?

So while we can look forward to a campaign centred on Brexit, nuclear button pushing and media headlines of “Who do you want? Countess Dracula, or Chairman Mau?”, we can at least rest easy in the knowledge that nobody is going to do anything for the property market.

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Carefree-drive-low-res
Although there are very few property sales that go through with absolutely no issues at all, and only a small minority that turn into mini-nightmares, in almost every instance the problems that arise are ones that could have been dealt with long before a sale had even been agreed.

The majority of problems that do arise fall into three main categories: legal, structural, and value. So here’s a list of checkpoints that you can undertake to pre-empt the vast majority of problems that could arise.

Get your house in order
First things first: if there are any obvious minor repairs that need doing, do them. Don’t leave it to your buyer’s surveyor to encounter them and then either down-value your property or request further reports from building specialists over the seriousness and cost. It all wastes valuable time and some sellers have lost their buyer over trifling issues that needn’t have come up in the first place, and where the buyer hears alarm bells and doesn’t want to investigate further. Don’t leave anything to chance. And once your property is on the market, make sure it always looks perfect for viewings

Shore up your defences
Having your own structural survey and professional valuation carried out to highlight any potential problem areas that may not be visible to you is well worth considering. As agents, we are here to get you the highest possible price and, particularly for unique properties, often think it’s worth pushing the price a little to see what interest can arise. But we think it would be extremely useful for you to seek a point of view that comes from the “devil’s advocate” side of things, and to see if there is too high a discrepancy between the figures you are quoted from agents, and the figure a chartered surveyor comes up with. You can also use this report to immediately challenge any issues raised by your buyer after their survey. Knowledge and information is power.

Sort out your paperwork
Title deeds and property information forms. You can save precious weeks by getting these in order when you first put your property on the market. Instruct a solicitor or conveyancer and get them to send you the forms you need to fill out that declare, among other things, what fixtures and fittings you are including with your property sale. If you have your property deeds yourself, give them to your solicitor. And if you have a mortgage, get your solicitor to request the deeds from your mortgage company; normally they take a few weeks, so it’s very wise to get onto this as early as you can. And finally, if you live in a leasehold property, inform your managing agent or freeholder that you are selling and find out if they require a fee to answer management enquiries. And ask them to respond promptly to any questions raised and provide buildings insurance and confirmation of accounts.

Of course there are things outside your control that may go wrong, perhaps up or down the chain if there is one. But most issues we encounter are not chain-related and are eminently sortable long before they arise.

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maldives-1532020_1280-LOW-RES
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, people hunted for a home very differently. While their choice would certainly centre around their core criteria (number of rooms, overall size, access to work or schools, etc), the final decision would ultimately come down to a single defining question: do I like it?

Yes, we know it sounds crazy, but it really used to happen. People would actually base their decision to buy a property on whether or not they got a good feeling from it, and whether they thought they’d like to live there. At dinner parties everywhere, people would say: “It just felt right” and “We knew we wanted it the moment we walked in the door”. Madness.

Today, the picture is very different. Today it’s all about future market value, realising untapped potential and locating the next area to go big. It’s an interesting sign of the times that, when showing someone around a property, we rarely hear anyone exclaim the immortal words: “Oh my god, I love it.”

Perhaps it’s fear of being drawn into the evil estate agent’s web of skilled negotiation tactics and devilish mind control: keep your emotions hidden and you’ll be safe from their charms; avoid enthusiasm at all costs, or it’ll cost you; and don’t be fooled by their smiles and pleasantries… once they’ve got you in their claws, there’ll be no escape and you’ll end up – oh horror of horrors! – in a home you adore.

So what’s going on?

First, the rise and continued popularity of TV interiors programmes has heightened people’s awareness of design and had them realise that, in some instances, a property can be transformed with not a lot of work and lifted from a bit depressing, to really rather nice. That’s a good thing, particularly where busy people are concerned. The word “potential” used to be lost on city types because they were simply too busy to think about the idea of living in a building site and coming home to dust central after a very long day at work. So to demonstrate how a reasonably small effort can transform a property that is otherwise a perfect match is a wholly positive thing.

But it’s the change in affordability that’s had the most dramatic effect on the way people relate to property. Particularly in London, where really the only people who can afford to get themselves onto the property ladder are those earning good money in the city (whether legal, financial or otherwise), perhaps it’s no wonder that hardcore rational analysis has replaced feelings and emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

And we are in a time of mass information, and of mass information being the order of the day. Everyone is armed to the teeth with mass information. New train lines, future regeneration, infrastructure improvements, historic house prices and projected growth areas – often delivered with dramatic headlines and anxiety inducing predictions – all form part of a decision that, let’s be honest, is a really big deal.

None of this is wrong, and we’ve absolutely no objection to people getting maximum financial benefit from their property making decision. But we hope it’s not at the expense of one of the best feelings there is: the joy of moving in to a home you truly love.

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Bolton-Road
Sometimes, even Christmas has to wait.

The sale of this property in Willesden Green had been agreed some time before the festive period, but it was over this usually joyous time of year that problems arose on the sale.

A summary of the story is the vendor was advised by other agents to ask £2.1million for their property. After a while having no luck we were asked for our advice and it was our suggestion to get the price below £2million and go to market at £1.9million. Within a short space of time we found an interested party, but they were unwilling to go any higher than £1.75million. The owners already had a property in mind that had, for them, fortunately not sold during their unsuccessful period on the market. And when someone has their heart really set on their next home, they do become more flexible on the price of their existing one.

And so a sale was agreed and everything advanced in somewhat hunky-dory fashion, until the full structural was carried out. Although it didn’t reveal anything majorly wrong with the property, it did highlight a number of repair issues resulting in the buyers seeking a further reduction of £50,000.

Now, it doesn’t really matter what you say about a property having been overpriced in the beginning. When someone has had their property on the market at £2.1m (through being advised to do so and having their hopes unnecessarily raised), then reduced their asking price to £1.9m, then accepted an offer of £1.75m in order to secure their next home, and then been asked to reduce by another £50,000, there is no way on earth they’ll avoid the sense of money haemorrhaging away, even if it was never actually in their hands.

So there was a sensitivity to be dealt with and it is to the sellers’ credit how they kept their cool and responded rationally and constructively. It would be totally understandable for someone to seriously throw their toys out of their pram at this point, perhaps feeling cornered with the threat of losing the house they are buying and at a point so close to exchanging contracts. But they didn’t do that. They never lost sight of the main objective: to move home. A lot of people lose their sale at this point because they can’t see past the money, so a good lesson here.

The buyers were holding fairly firm on the amount of their reduction but we did manage to negotiate it down to £45,000, agreeing a final sale price of £1,705,000. There was quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and I think the only day when there was no communication over the sale was Christmas Day itself, with the new price being agreed on New Year’s Eve. Even by our standards, we worked damned hard on this one!

Contracts were exchanged on Friday 13th January – lucky for some! – with completion set for late February. The sale has actually given us inspiration for another article about how to manage the pitfalls of price reductions and other problems – and indeed how to pre-empt them – so do check back here soon for our next piece.

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union-jack
Having agreed two sales outside of London last month – one not so far away in Faversham in Kent, the other somewhat further afield in Matlock, Lancashire – our experiment with selling unusual living spaces in other UK locations appears to have worked. And so from 2017 we’ll be making a thing of spreading the word about Unique Property Company to other UK locations.

Both sales were agreed to people who currently live in London and who simply don’t want or need to be in the city all the time anymore. What become clear during the marketing process is that people living in London who are looking to buy a property elsewhere in the UK would much rather deal with an agent in London if at all possible. But when it comes to alternative living spaces, that option hasn’t really been available.

There is something of a shared mentality with people who work and live in the capital. Perhaps it’s to do with similar interests or a similar working environment, but there is clearly an understanding of the lifestyle that Londoners lead. And that common experience can help to inform the sort of domestic or cultural requirements someone might have when buying a property in another UK city or indeed rural location.

As we’ve discovered with lofts and alternative living spaces in London, people tend to search outside the parameters of Rightmove, Zoopla and Primelocation. Instead, they look for a specific type of space, or an agent that deals with it, rather than having to select “2 bed flat” in the hope of locating a loft, converted church, former foundry or other weird and wonderful space. They tend to like a chat, or at least a lengthy email correspondence, because their search is far more personal and particular than a regular buyer looking for a regular property.

Britain is full of unique homes. In fact, most of them exist outside of London and in some incredible buildings that reflect the agricultural, industrial, educational and religious heritage of the nation. London has certainly led the way in converting them into extraordinary houses, apartments and indefinable living spaces, but the rest of the country has caught on through television shows like Grand Designs, property supplements in national newspapers and of course the creative folk who turn up somewhere and create an interesting something-or-other from a former something else.

The distinctive profile of the Unique Property Company audience and the particular profile of our company give us access to people who don’t turn to property portals as their first action in searching for a new home. So if you or someone you know has a unique, unusual or alternative living space anywhere in the UK, let’s talk!

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