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Agent defends Open House system against critics  16 Apr 14

The Townends agency, which says there are 12 buyers registering for every one new property that comes to the market, has defended the controversial Open House system.  “Open houses are a reaction to the sheer volume of people trying to view a particular property. Organisationally, they are the best way of trying to control and condense a significant amount of viewers, offering an equal chance to everyone” says Douglas Sleaper, Townends’ managing director. At a recent Open House held by the agency, over 70 applicants viewed a home in Streatham, south London, in just one day. It sold for £75,000 over the asking price. “As an agent, we understand buyers’ frustration at this catalyst for competing offers, particularly if they have been unsuccessful at securing several properties previously. From a vendor’s point of view, particularly those with young families, having a two hour window that will enable a high number of applicants to view the property at once, can be much more appealing than preparing for constant viewings over a number of weeks” he says.  Not every agent is as keen. “It looks good for the client but buyers dislike it. Buying is an emotional process and there’s little positive emotion in being herded and pressured” says Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon, another London agent. Some commentators have suggested that the Open House technique, which is now used increasingly often in London where the excess of demand over supply is at its greatest, is contributing to an increase in sale prices as would-be purchasers panic when seeing rival bidders viewing at the same time.  Estate AgentTownendsOpen HouseDouglas & Gordon]]>

Government announces three redress schemes  16 Apr 14

Three compulsory redress schemes have been approved by the government to offer independent investigation of complaints in the lettings sector, bringing it into line with the world of residential sales. The schemes – The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and The Property Redress Scheme – will consider issues of hidden fees and poor service, and as with the sales system now where a complaint is upheld, tenants and leaseholders could receive compensation. The majority of letting agents are already signed up with one of the three organisations but the remaining 3,000 agents - 40 per cent of the entire industry - will now be encouraged to join ahead of membership becoming mandatory later this year. Two of the schemes have commented on the formal approval. “The Property Ombudsman experienced a 34.2 per cent increase in consumer enquiries relating to letting agents not registered with TPO during 2013, which really underlines the importance of mandatory redress” says TPO Ombudsman Christopher Hamer. “Whilst my role as Ombudsman means that I am not a regulator and I can only review complaints after a dispute has occurred, making redress a legal requirement for lettings is a positive move. Clearly it would be better if complaints did not arise in the first place and robust legislation to enforce controls was in place” says Hamer. Ombudsman Services Property is perhaps less well known. Like TPO it operates on a not-for-profit basis; it already provides dispute resolution services for the energy, communications and copyright licensing sectors. It claims that it resolved 19,639 complaints across all of these sectors in 2012-13, with 90 per cent of them being settled within six weeks. The government says the lettings redress schemes must follow the current sales model - it must be free for complainants to use, should be easy to access, and provide full data about complaints in their annual reports.    Estate AgentLetting AgentOmbudsmanregulationRedress]]>

Interest rate rise speculation mounts  16 Apr 14

Economists say that interest rate rises and other tools to deter house price rises are increasingly likely to be used in the short term, possibly as soon as next month. Some 68 percent of respondents to monthly survey of economists by financial wire service Bloomberg have suggested that new so-called ‘macro-prudential tools’ could be used by the Bank of England to stop what it sees as excessive house price rises. This is finance-world jargon for the ability of the BoE to allow its officials to stipulate higher interest rates for lenders to apply in the new Mortgage Market Review affordability tests.  The tests come into effect at the end of April and the BoE’s Financial Policy Committee, which meets in June, could in theory trigger the higher rates specifically for some borrowers. Concern has been fuelled by the latest house price figures from the Office for National Statistics which shows the average cost of a home increased by 9.1 per cent during the year to the end of February. This is the highest year-on-year growth since June 2010, pushing the UK-wide average up to £253,000 – a £20,000 increase compared with the same month of 2013. London hogged the limelight again with prices 17.7 per cent higher than a year earlier. Not every economist is pessimistic, however.  Ernst & Young’s Item Club says it is “sceptical about the likelihood of an unsustainable house-price boom” despite the fact that “market indicators point to further acceleration in activity and prices this year.” Its latest report, out this week, says that caution on the part of lenders, the new MMR rules  and the BoE’s macro-prudential tool “should deter rapid credit growth, the precursor to past episodes of excessive rises in property values.”   Estate AgentInterest RatesBank of England]]>

FSBO group boss says business is booming  16 Apr 14

The head of a new organisation called the National Private House Sales Association - also the owner of a For Sale By Owner website - claims business is booming for home owners trying to sell their properties themselves. “Buyers are experiencing a lack of choice between the major portals. Buyers are increasingly aware that to see the whole market they need to see homes listed directly for sale by owner. This is helping the entire FSBO sector in the UK grow” claims Nick Marr, founder of the NPHSA. In a press release that is conspicuously short on data, Marr says that his own FSBO firm - The Little House Company - has seen a 34 per cent increase in buyer enquiries compared to March 2013. However, it does not give any idea what the base or increased figures were, nor does the release state any figures about the size of the FSBO sector overall.  “Owners that are considering the sale of a home need to try a private sale. The risk is low and the likelihood of a private sale by owner is increasing as demand from property buyers goes up” Marr claims.  It has proven difficult to contact the group for further information as the press release concludes: “For more information, please contact Nick Marr on [insert number] or at [insert email].”  ]]>

Magic £1,000 figure moves out of London  16 Apr 14

For the first time since the downturn began seven years ago some new homes outside of London are selling for £1,000 per square foot according to estate agent Savills. So far only a handful of schemes have breached the magic barrier but more are likely to do so as the surge in prices, and higher demand for new-build homes via the Help To Buy scheme, continue apace. In Devon the Estura scheme of 14 villas and apartments at Salcombe, marketed by Marchand Petit and Savills, has achieved the £1,000 psf level. This is mainly because it is the first waterfront new-build scheme there for 25 years. Individual homes have been marketed at up to £1.9m and several sold so far have exceeded £1,000 psf.  The same applies to Eton Riverside, marketed by Savills, where the scheme has averaged £1,000 a foot but some units have sold at up to £1,300. And at Somerset Place in Bath ‘shell-and-core’ new builds within a restored grade II listed Georgian crescent have been selling at almost exactly £1,000 psf.  The price benchmark is familiar within London where agents have routinely been selling new-build homes for that price and above for several years. Research by CBRE show that in the early 200s the £1,000 psf mark was breached at Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia. Nowadays new homes in much humbler parts of the capital - Wandsworth, Battersea, Shepherd’s Bush, Shoreditch and Camden Town - go for that price.  Estate AgentSavillsNewBuild]]>

Scottish market boom heralds agency expansion  16 Apr 14

The boom in transactions as well as prices north of the border may be one of the hidden stories of the housing market recovery with the latest evidence being the expansion of one of the country’s leading property consultancies. GKD Galbraith is opening a new office in Aberdeen to “focus on high-quality residential sales and well as farm and estate management and valuation” and is expanding its presence in Argyll and Isles, with a revamped resi sales team.  There have also been a range of promotions and team enlargements according to Simon Brown, a partner and head of CKD Galbraith’s residential division.  “We witnessed a growth in business across all our offices in Scotland in 2013 and experienced an increase in property sales, up 34 per cent on previous year’s figures” he says. The company now employs more than 225 people in 14 offices across Scotland, making it one of the largest residential players.  Meanwhile new figures confirm the Scottish market’s rude health. Average prices there climbed £5,584 in last 12 months with Aberdeen shooting ahead by 13 per cent in a year according to a survey by LSL Property Services. Total house sales in Scotland rose by 12 per cent between January and February this year alone;  Inverclyde topped the sales table, with transactions in the three months to February climbing by 56 per cent compared to a year ago.  “Help to Buy has been the spark driving recovery for the Scottish housing market. Since launching, the scheme has helped thousands get a foot on the ladder. With sustained growth taking hold, there are now signs that the independence debate is less likely to rock the housing recovery boat” says LSL spokesman Gordon Fowlis.  Estate AgentGKD GalbraithscotlandLSL]]>

Buy To Let guru guilty of hitting estate agent  14 Apr 14

One of Britain’s best known landlords with millions of pounds worth of properties has been found guilty of hitting an estate agent. Fergus Wilson, 65 - who earlier this year allegedly suggested he was going to get rid of 200 families on benefits from his properties to replace them with east European migrants - has been ordered to pay £1,650 including £150 compensation to Daniel Wells, 31, an agent in the Folkestone office of PLS (Property Lettings and Sales). Former school teacher and boxer Wilson, of Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone, admitted calling Mr Wells “a little shit” but denied hitting him, and says the agent accidentally fell off his swivel chair. "I didn't bundle him out of his chair at all. I went round, probably quite quickly, and he fell out of his chair. He grabbed at my arm. I didn't object because I went forward so he could grab it. I then helped him up. I've fallen out of swivel chairs in that office twice” Wilson told Folkestone Magistrates Court at the end of last week. "If I had intended doing him an injury I probably would have kicked him a few times while he was on the floor and I don't think he's suggesting I did” said Wilson, who represented himself in court. Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith are reported to have a property portfolio worth up to £200m, mostly achieved through shrewd buy-to-let investments. Some 280 of those properties were managed by PLS until late in 2012 and during 2013, when the professional relationship ended.  Mr Wilson told the court the story of the attack had been concocted as revenge for moving business from the firm. This is not the Wilson family’s first brush with the law. In 2008 Fergus was found guilty of using a mobile phone while driving; he had pleaded not guilty, claiming he had been singing into a drinks carton. The following year, Judith had a court case thrown out after demanding £3,000 from a tenant to replace a damaged cistern lid.  Estate AgentFergus WilsonCrimeProperty Lettings and Sales]]>

Agent hits out at online 'call centre culture'  14 Apr 14

A prominent estate agent has hit back at online rivals who claim that they will handle as much as 70 per cent of house sales in future, by warning them of the fate of others who have tried and failed to dislodge the traditional agency model. Cheshire agent Maurice Kilbride told EAT: “Over the last 20 years I’ve seen any number of entrepreneurs claiming to revolutionise the industry come and go, ranging from petrol stations offering do it yourself packs to Asda, Tesco and even solicitors. So this is nothing new.” He says the statistics show at least 93 per cent of sellers choose a high street agent despite a wide array on internet low-cost or no-cost websites being available even before new entrants move in, proving “people are not impressed with faceless online agents”. Kilbride takes up the theme in his latest blog where he writes that while good estate agents will embrace technology and change - “my own business is constantly evolving to embrace the very latest online marketing including the use of social media” - there may be a backlash from the public about the so-called call centre mentality. “People want to feel valued and important, not just be a number holding at ‘queue position seven’ waiting to speak with someone who doesn’t know or has never met them or have any real interest in them, but merely read out scripted replies in a monotone manner” writes Kilbride. He concludes by saying: “High street agents, fear not. As long as you embrace change and competition, there is actually enough business for both to thrive side by side without the need for ridiculous claims on either side.  Let the consumer choose. They are actually intelligent enough to make up their own minds.”  Estate AgentMaurice KilbrideOnline AgentsTraditional Estate Agency]]>

Price surge now moving out to the regions  14 Apr 14

The latest Rightmove price index confirms the trend that London’s buoyant market is now rippling out to the regions. The data, based on asking prices by agents and vendors for homes advertised on the portal, shows a 7.3 per cent annual rate of increase. This is the highest since October 2007 and takes the market back to pre-credit-crunch levels. New ‘record’ asking prices across southern England as a whole have taken the average in that half of the country to £262,594 – that’s up 2.6 per cent in just one month. By contrast, northern regions are still an average of six per cent behind October 2007 levels.  Meanwhile the number of properties coming to market so far in 2014 is up 13 per cent on last year but supply shortages are still fuelling price rises in many areas in the south.  Rightmove housing market analyst Miles Shipside says: “The ripple effect from the capital means other southern regions are starting to play catch-up. While London’s new sellers are asking an eye-watering £168,711 more than six and a half years ago, the northern regions are actually down by an average of £10,653, with the north west specifically still £16,049 adrift.” But like many analysts he is wary of how the mortgage market review, which will create tougher lending conditions imposed on borrowers from the end of this month, may knock back the market as spring continues. “If this hits a substantial number of potential purchasers then it could drive buyers out and force sellers to moderate prices. While some prospective buyers will fail the more stringent checks, we suspect the drop off in approvals is more to do with slower processing by lenders as new systems are introduced to comply with the MMR requirements, and volumes will recover” he says.  rightmoveHouse PricesEstate Agent]]>

Windfarm reports blow hot and cold on prices  14 Apr 14

Where there’s a research document saying one thing, there’s usually another saying the opposite - and so it is now over the alleged effect of windfarms on house prices. A report by the London School of Economics last week suggested that large windfarms can lead to a fall in prices of up to 12 per cent for properties within a two kilometre radius. Smaller effects on prices could be felt even up to as much as 14 kilometres away from a windfarm, the report alleged. However, a separate report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests something rather different - that there was no negative impact on house prices even within a five kilometre radius of a windfarm or an individual wind turbine. The LSE survey, called ‘Gone with the wind: valuing the visual impacts of wind turbines through house prices’, concluded that "windfarm developments reduce prices in locations where the turbines are visible, relative to where they are not visible, and that the effects are causal". The CEBR report - which perhaps reached an inevitable conclusion given that it was conducted on behalf of the windfarm trade association RenewableUK - looked at seven sites across England and Wales. It said that many turbines were concealed by nearby buildings, trees and the natural landscape so had no or little effect on house values.  So now we know - or don’t.  Estate AgentWindfarmsHouse PricesLSECEBR]]>

 
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