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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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Green-shoots-of-social-media-success
So… we’ve really been going at our social media in the second half of 2016 to see how far we could get. And we are beginning to see some real signs of quality and positive engagement along with an ever-increasing number of followers.

As we write this piece, we have just passed 3,600 followers on our Instagram account and 2,500 likes on our Facebook page. It’s a particularly incredible and somewhat unbelievable result for us; until June we’d been lingering around 200 followers on our Instagram account for some time, but putting in the effort has brought in the rewards and people are clearly enjoying it.

And, of course, that is the key. Is our page providing enjoyment? As sales people, our natural instinct is to sell, but people who want to buy a property would probably already be registered with us. Realising that social media is entirely about being social (duh!) has been a real breakthrough for us and demonstrates that our business has another side to it.

One of the things about being an estate agent is that, at its core, it’s a really enjoyable job. It’s a privilege when someone chooses you to act for him or her in the sale or letting of their property: the buzz you get when they tell you is a really wonderful feeling. It’s not about beating other estate agents; it’s about the show of faith and trust that is being displayed.

It is extremely easy to look at every expense of time or money as needing to have a specific measurable return on investment. The whole “show me the money” thing is, we think, what presents the main obstacle to estate agents with their social media activity. Their view is that if it can’t be shown to have a specific monetary return, then it’s an unnecessary expense. While that does somewhat miss the point of being social, we suspect their struggle with social media may also come from feeling they have nothing to say that anyone would be interested in.

The thing is, if there is any country in the world where property is a nationwide discussion, it’s the UK. They say “an Englishman’s home is his castle” and that is very true. We love our homes; we love making them great; we love talking about them. And we are unmatched in Europe over how much we aspire to own a property. It’s a subject that couldn’t be more social if it tried.

So our view is that estate agents are genuinely missing a trick if they are not engaging heavily with social media. It is a completely and radically different model of communication with which to engage with your audience in a way never before possible. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show the world exactly what we do, why we do it and why we love it so much.

For an industry that struggles so much with its public image, it’s a total no-brainer.

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Fickle beasts that we are, our list of most-wanted living rooms changes almost with the wind – and certainly with our latest listings – but here’s a selection of our current favourites, two of which are available and two of which have gone. We’ve gone for variety, with lofts converted from a former library, college, workshop and factory. Read on, and enjoy!

 

Bolton Road, Willesden NW10
Bolton-Road
There’s something almost Parisian about this huge living room in Willesden. Converted from a Victorian warehouse behind a very unassuming façade, there really is little clue from the street elevation as to what lies beyond the front door. Normally with a warehouse or a factory you kinda know what you’re going to get, but this place is different. Triple width French doors lead out to the roof terrace and are accompanied by two sets of large casement windows and those double doors over in the corner leading to the rest of the accommodation add yet more to the European air. The rest of the accommodation includes 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 additional WCs, a kitchen/breakfast room, sauna and garage. £1,895,000

More details at: http://uniquepropertycompany.co.uk/property/end-of-terrace-house-3060690/

 

Cormont Road, Camberwell SE5
Cormont-Road
It’s that aged, rustic feeling that we love about this loft that reaches up into the eaves of a converted teaching college. “Timber festooned” is how we described it and we weren’t joking: not only are there chunky beams arching overhead, but the underside of the pitched roof has also been exposed adding a rarely seen quality. Obviously anything double height always feels at least a little bit special but this room does have a certain something that makes you want to spend time here. Metal trusses are strung between the walls and a high level bank of windows across an entire wall encourages light into the room from above. There’s also acres of brickwork, three double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a mezzanine. £825,000

More details at: http://uniquepropertycompany.co.uk/property/flat-3575461/

 

Battersea High Street SW11
Battersea-High-Street
This one kinda screams ‘rockstar’! Three sets of floor-to-ceiling French windows accentuate the loftiness and lead out to a large patio and lawned rear garden. But it’s the pure whiteness of the space – not just walls and ceiling but also the white porcelain floor tiles – that delivers the almost heavenly atmosphere, while an extraordinary bespoke staircase by the designer Philip Watts evokes the lengthy backbone of a dinosaur:  timber open treads supported on a sculpted metal spine lead up to the mezzanine which holds a master bedroom that is nothing short of swanky, with an entire wall of mirrors behind the bed and an entire wall of concealed wardrobe space. There are plenty of curves too, softening the edges and lending a certain fluidity when moving from one zone to the next. GONE.

More details at: http://uniquepropertycompany.co.uk/property/apartment-240225/

 

New Inn Yard Shoreditch EC2
New-Inn-Yard
A pitched bank of slender panes forms a full width bank of glass across the entire north-facing wall, allowing extra light in from above and changing the fortunes of what is normally a dark and moody direction. In fact the whole feel of this open plan live/work Shoreditch penthouse is of light coming in from all angles, with big industrial windows running down the west and southern sides. This apartment harks back to before lofts hit the mainstream, with zero partitions between living area, kitchen/dining area and bedroom, merely simple zoning and a bit of hiding around corners. Challenging for some, perhaps, but a testament to how life doesn’t have to be a series of compartments and, with clever use of space, can offer a perfectly private environment. Absolutely lovely. But GONE.

More details at: http://uniquepropertycompany.co.uk/property/flat-238485/

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