Saturday, 17 November 2007

Property in the UK 6a: My Final Chapter?

Well, the challenges of trying to sell a flat (apartment) and buy a house seem to be continuing right down to the wire. This week, over 3 months since I accepted the offer on my flat it was finally sold. If you are ever going to get involved in property in East London you have to realise that things happen differently to anywhere else in the UK that I have experienced (it may be the same in other rough parts of major UK cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, etc., but someone will have to let me know, I do not intend to try to buy a house in those places). The key problem is that having made an offer the buyers (and I had two, I switched from the first when he could not get sufficient funds together) push for what used to be termed 'squeeze', i.e. little extra bonuses. The first buyer, despite getting the flat at a very good price (more on that in a minute) insisted that I put in a whole new bathroom before he would buy it. The second buyer, well in fact the man representing the woman who was buying it, right at the last moment insisted that the furniture which was being sold with the flat (and had been listed with it from the start) be removed before he would exchange contracts, and he demanded £545 (€779; US$1100) from me to do it. I got it done for £100. He then claimed there were cockroaches in the flat. Cockroaches are not common in the UK especially in places which have not been deserted for a long time (and the flat had only been empty four weeks). He was permitted to go in and out of the flat by the estate agents. I went to the flat and whilst it was musty there was no sign of cockroaches. I refused his demand for the money and told him to sign or back off. On the day before the contracts were about to be exchanged removal men employed by the estate agents were in the flat taking out the unwanted furniture and miraculously the front door lock got broken. The estate agent's man supposed to organise fixing it went off sick and so it was up to me to get the lock entirely replaced at my expense before the solicitors would exchange contracts, at the cost of another £150, which really I had no choice but to pay or face the sale dragging on for more weeks. I am so glad to be rid of the flat, it turned out to be a burden on me rather than the money spinner people predicted when I moved out and put it up for rent. My message is: do not buy property in Newham.

Now I turn to the estate agents. I think it is time to name names. If you are in East London looking to sell a property do not use David Daniels Professional Property Services. My 2-bedroomed flat was finally sold for £26,000 (€37,180; US$52,520) less than any other 2-bedroomed flat they had for sale and that is despite mine going on the market 2 months before the slow down in house prices we have seen in the past 3 months. I accept that I might not have got something in the high £150,000s but I certainly would have expected a price closer to that. They entirely exploited me because I was calling them from outside London; clearly local influence has a big impact. This was despite the fact that I had earned them hundreds of pounds over the years as the letting agent for my flat on my behalf. Throughout it seems that they were working in the interests of someone else; though I was paying them a decent fee they seemed to not be benefiting me.

They initially encouraged me to take an offer of £115,000 for the flat despite that being £15,000 less than 1-bedroomed flats in the same street. When I refused this they said I was pricing myself out of the market. As it turns out everyone I met in the district, taxi drivers, the locksmith, shopkeepers said I had under-priced it. I was at a disadvantage dealing with them from scores of miles away but there is only so much pressure you can bring on a company. I clearly should have switched estate agent much sooner. Clearly it is not always possible to avoid selling a property at a distance especially when you have to move for work, but I would certainly recommend avoiding it or at least enlist a number of estate agents rather than rely on one even if you have worked with them before or they have been recommended. I might be naive when it comes to property and I might be insufficiently cunning or aggressive to cope with the modern property market, but when I pay people a couple of thousand pounds I expect better service than I received. It is the typical powerlessness, we can do nothing in the face of 'skilled' workers, they set the agenda not us even when they are spotty wide boys just out of their adolescence throwing their weight around.

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