Rat and Mouse
Entries in March 2009
Tue
31
Mar

The Candys reveal to the Evening Standard that, this year, among the the super-rich - the kind of clients who shop for £20m apartments in One Hyde Park - discounts are very much in. The Candys, however, say they can afford to dig in their heels, and if that means going through 2009 without a single sale, so be it. They've sales in the bag, and deposits enough, to complete the project. But what about the quote of the day? Here you go...

"Unless it gets a lot worse, in late 2010/2011 the market will be significantly better than it is today."

An invaluable tip.

One Hyde Park... dropping facts [February 18, 2008]
One Hyde Park: Bank of Scotland out, Eurohypo in [October 26, 2007]
One Hyde Park penthouse - SOLD! TO THE OWNERS! [March 29, 2007]

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More in this Category - SW1

HSBC has announced the launch of an independent whole-of-market mortgage brokerage service... which means you might walk into an HSBC and be recommended an HBOS product. It's in association with Charcol, and it's to be trialed 19 branches. The cost of independence will be £150.

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Wait... I know this... is it they both achieved double starred firsts from Cambridge University? No? Is it they both launched estate agencies and sold them for hundreds of millions of pounds? No? Charlie Brooker doesn't like them? That's probably true, but who does he like? The answer is... they're both to blame for the current economic meltdown. The Times's Sathnam Sanghera picks five alternatives to Fred Goodwin if you've got a little spare hate jangling around and you're looking for somewhere to spend it. At Number Three:

In May 2007 the founder of Foxtons banked an estimated £370million when he sold his estate agency to the private equity group BC Partners at the height of the property boom. Nothing wrong with that, of course - a smart entrepreneur with good timing. The objectionable thing is the misery that Hunt caused in the process of making his fortune.

Misery? Really? He frustrated some buyers and made some vendors (the ones paying his wages) wealthier than they might have otherwise been. Yes - like every estate agency - Foxtons contributed to keeping an unsustainable property market unsustainable, and they made life tough for their new recruits. But - come on - greedy vendors and fresh-out-of-school loadsamonies in flash suits. Not what I'd call victim material. More surprising, though, at Number Four:

When people are losing their jobs, struggling with mortgages, swapping Waitrose for Aldi, the last thing they need is someone who has never really had to work (de Botton's late father was a Swiss financier who apparently left him a trust fund of £200million), pretentiously encouraging us to ask such questions as: “What do I get from work apart from money?”; “What makes work pleasurable?”; “Why do we daily exhaust ourselves?”.

Okay, I can see your point. But that's really painting de Botton as an irritation rather than a cause of actual injury. By the way, at Number Five, the writer blames himself... all of us... and although a little harsh (apparently not a homeowner) comes closest to the truth. It's a good read.

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Mon
30
Mar
"If people don't have the money to go out to a fancy dinner or are looking to cut back, Trojan gives them some real affordable ways to stay in and make some great memories together."

Recession digression 9 - Finland sells off Santa [March 25, 2009]

The Rat and Mouse - on the Facebook, on the Twitter

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More in this Category - Recession digression

News is circulating about Michael Jackson's rented base during his UK concert dates:

The eccentric singer is reported to have paid £1 million to rent a large country house near the edge of an ancient 22-mile maze of haunted passageways.

Ah... lovely, romantic, Gothic Bromley.

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More in this Category - Celebrity homes

That's not a third of tenants, note, but a third of landlords, many of whom will have multiple properties. The figure - a snapshot of the market - comes courtesy of the National Landlords Association, and is being quoted widely as a sign of wider current difficulties. It isn't - however - being quoted with any sense of context. I've tried to find an equivalent figure for March 2008, but failed (if someone from the NLA knows what that might be, please do leave a comment). However, I have managed to find an equivalent figure for early December 2008. The March 2009 figures are 37% currently experiencing tenants in arrears. The 8 December 08 figure? Er, 37%.

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More in this Category - Letting

20090330Spyschool2Dowman's Farm, in Coberley, Gloucestershire, is the former home of Frederick Winterbotham, RAF officer and distributer of intelligence gleaned from Bletchley Park's Enigma. In fact, according to this, what is now the breakfast room may have doubled as a spy school. The farm is for sale, in three lots, adding up to just over £5m, and including a selection of farm buildings and several hundred acres. Particulars here.

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More in this Category - Celebrity homes

Your shitty neighbours are costing you money [Metro]
Commies turn estate agents [Reuters]
Kelly Hoppen's seductive living room [FT]
Parents buying London property [MortgageStragegy]

The Rat and Mouse - better than porn on expenses

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More in this Category - Linkage

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Of course, they're both right. According to Hometrack, the annual fall is 10.3%, a record for the Hometrack survey, which launched in 2000. On a monthly basis, however, March's 0.6% was the slowest drop-off since May 2008. Other headlines: vendors achieved 88.8% of their asking price (slightly higher than in February, and the first time this figure has improved in a year); and London showed the month's biggest fall... 0.8%.

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More in this Category - House prices
Fri
27
Mar

Kudos to our sponsors Primelocation.com for now combining both Microsoft Virtual Earth's "Bird's Eye" and Google's "Street View", to give two different perspectives on a neighbourhood. Click through to a property from your search results, click local information and maps and then choose from Microsoft's view or Google's, to drill down into the neighbourhood. We like... and we thank Primelocation for continuing to help us bring you the daily London property news headlines and more.

If you want to know more about how you can advertise on the Rat and Mouse, and why it's a great idea, email me here for more information.

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More in this Category - Property online

It's a 2% fall in February, leaving house prices down 16.5% on the year... back at September 2004 levels. It's the 18th consecutive monthly fall, following 21 monthly gains, starting in December 2005. London saw a 1.9% monthly fall and is down 15.6% on the year. For a PDF of the actual report, click here.

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More in this Category - House prices

20090327Hippd-1

The company's called Hippd and, despite the typo, this looks like a good deal. How long before it becomes the norm?

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More in this Category - HIPs

Tenants feel effect of repos [BBC]
Buildings that tweet [Curbed]
One and two-bedroom properties best London investments [Residential Landlord]
Houseboats stay afloat [Daily Mail]

The Rat and Mouse - tweets here.

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Thu
26
Mar

Based on last night's fiasco, the penthouse might be the most interesting this about this year's The Apprentice.

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More in this Category - _Other

It was March 20... the deadline for lenders to sign up to a scheme touted as the solution to what may turn out to be a repo-crisis in the UK. The program was announced by Gordon Brown last year, and supposed to become active in January. He claimed that lenders were enthusiastic. But it turned out they weren't so enthusiastic they wanted to actually, you know, sign up, and so the date was put off until April. So - now - with the deadline for sign-up gone - where are we? Officially, we don't know, because the Government refuses to say. But the rumours are that less than 50% of lenders are on side. According to sources, and if anyone wishes to correct us on any of this please drop us a line or leave a comment, the following lenders are not part of the scheme:

  • Abbey
  • Barclays
  • Nationwide
  • Skipton
  • Yorkshire
  • Kensington
  • GMAC

Is this another Government initiative that's announced loudly, swept under the rug quietly?

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His parents had just paid for a new roof on their big Berkshire home when posh son Rory decided to make a Google Earth statement by painting a 60ft penis. Pictures, and full "story", here.

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More in this Category - _Other

She was "live" about a half hour ago, speaking on the subject of second homes, following the Government's rejection of MP Matthew Taylor's recommendation to trial a scheme in which planning laws would stop rural homes being turned into second homes. Now, the Rat and Mouse has never played a part in any of the shrill attacks on Allsopp we see in the property press. In fact, we can't help liking her. It was hard, however, to accept her argument, this morning, that the responsibility for keeping properties within a rural community lies with the individual vendors. If somebody needs to move - especially at a time like this - it seems naive to suggest that they're going to accept a decent offer only if it's from somebody who can guarantee they'll live full-time in the property. It doesn't strike us as constructive, either, to lay the blame for any failure in this regard with the local community. That sounds like a recipe for bullying, conflict, the kind unpleasantness we saw in rural Wales during the 1970s. For an alternative take on the issue, check this out in the Telegraph, which poses the pressing question... who can afford the hassle of a second home anyway?

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More in this Category - _Other
Wed
25
Mar
Hit by the global recession and facing a sharp economic downturn in 2009, Finland has announced that it is selling its stake in Santa Claus's home.

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More in this Category - Recession digression
Debbie - who volunteers at an animal sanctuary in south Wales - says she is hopping mad at the number of enquiries from people looking for pets to fatten up.

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More in this Category - Recession digression

Poor investment returns and a fall in subscription fee renewals are being blamed for a general salary freeze at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Eighteen people are also being made redundant. More here.

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More in this Category - _Other

A confusing picture. Sales volume down 75%, and yet...

"Foxtons is trading very profitably, but not in line with initial expectations," said BC Partners' managing partner Andrew Newington, speaking at the Reuters Hedge Fund and Private Equity Summit.

And yet - again - Newington adds that only a quick recovery in the market will save Foxtons from needing further financial support.

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Tue
24
Mar

The list of local MPs claiming public money to pay for second homes within spitting distance of the family base is growing, including husband-and-wife team Alan and Ann Keen, dubbed Mr & Mrs Expenses, who have taken home more than £87,000 each. More here.

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Figures from the British Bankers' Association show an increase in the number of new home loans in February, up to 28,179 from 24,278 in January, but still 31% lower than in February 2008. Net lending was up, too, but the total of all advanced mortgages fell off a little to £9.2bn, its lowest since June 2001.

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A few thoughts about (Un)Employment Minister Tony McNulty, whose filthy fingers were found fiddling with taxpayers' money over the weekend. There are two issues here... one of legality, the other of ethics. Was taking £60,000 to spend on Mummy and Daddy's house in his Harrow constituency, a few minutes from his own W6 home, legal? Possibly... under self-imposed rules that favour the greedy. (But possibly not... according to Hammersmith MP Greg Hands who has lodged a complaint, pointing out that McNulty didn't regularly stay overnight in the property.) More importantly, though, was it ethical? There are several clues here. One is that McNulty admits to having felt "some discomfort" about claiming the money, although clearly not enough. There's also the fact that he stopped claiming in January, the very month Jacqui Smith was outed as a sleazy hypocrite, for taking £116,000 to pay the mortgage on her family home, while redefining chutzpah by insisting she actually "lived" in a room in her sister's gaff. Clearly... and I mean clearly... his actions have been unethical. If he had any sense of shame, whatsoever, he'd resign. If Brown - son of a preacher man - had any integrity, whatsoever, he'd fire him.

And now... introducing Dawn Butler - working hard for all communities in Brent South - and, according to this, claiming almost all her £23,000 annual allowance to help pay for a property there, while at the same time owning a family home a 24 minute Tube ride away in Stratford. Dawn Butler has voted very strongly on a smoking ban and strongly for introducing ID cards. She's never voted on a transparent Parliament. She believes in knowing about us, even if we don't know about her. But she is concerned about first-time buyers in her constituency:

Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in housing and social housing is important to helping people get on to the housing ladder? That is especially important in my constituency, where average earnings are around £20,000.

A little less, then, than the amount she takes from them to pay for an investment property she doesn't need.

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Mon
23
Mar

Peril for Pickfords [Sunday Times]
Is Tony McNulty the final straw? [BBC]
Tony Blair's house removed from Google Street View [Mail on Sunday]
The 1p-a-month mortgage [Metro]
80s pop star nobody's heard of caught up in Tooting Sainsbury's carpark gang war [This Is Local London]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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This was back in 2004. Four men - between the ages of 62 and 71 - proved they still had it in them by selling the Candy Brothers 47 acres in Berkshire that they didn't own. They took £6.5m and ran... well, walked quickly.

The gang's fraud was so well orchestrated that the Land Registry, which protects and registers land rights in Britain, inadvertently , allowed the land sale to go ahead.

The Candys (and HBOS) successfully sued the Land Registry for £8m. Last week, the pensioners were jailed for up to six years.

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Andrew Brown (not his real name) struggled to repay his mortgage but subsequently took his mis-selling case to the Financial Ombudsman Service, and has now won. Despite turning to the FOS late on and being repossessed, he will receive compensation - while other borrowers who begin cases at an earlier stage than he did might well be able to save their homes too.

It's an interesting Observer piece, about a possible precedent set by a mortgagee who failed to make mortgage repayments, unfortunately had his home repossessed, but fought back in court, winning compensation on the basis that he received unsuitable advice and was mis-sold the mortgage. Had he taken action earlier, he might even have avoided repossession. The piece quotes professional negligence lawyers, who see an increase in this kind of activity in the future. More good news for lenders. Click through to the Observer page to read a checklist of possible bases for complaint.

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Fri
20
Mar

Before we go and start ushering in the weekend with the help of a couple of daiquiris and some dips, there's just about time to once again express our gratitude to our sponsor. Primelocation offers buyers and sellers an international reach, and its portal is a mine of useful information, including useful guides for homeowners, landlords and movers. It also, of course, features property from 4,000 leading estate agency firms. The Rat and Mouse needs the support of forward-looking organisations like Primelocation if it's to continue bringing you your daily dish of property news and gossip, so we hope you'll support them in return, by using the search box in the top right hand corner.

If your firm is interested in advertising on the Rat and Mouse, or if you've creative ideas about how we might work together, contact me here.

In the meantime, remember... the economic news might be bad, but it's never the wrong time to slip into something white, and dance with the ladies. Love to love you baby. See you Monday.

Rat and Mouse in the times' top twenty personal finance blogs [January 23, 2009]

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Heathwood, 8 Wildwood Road, Hampstead is where Elizabeth Taylor was born and lived until the age of 7, in April 1939. Before that, it was home to painter Augustus John. Three-storeys, double-fronted, in two-thirds of an acre and overlooking the Heath, it's very nice. It's with Glentree Estates, guide price £5.5m. Particulars here. More about the Taylor connection, here.

If these walls could talk... Mrs Hugh Hefner edition, the house next-door [March 12, 2009]

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More in this Category - Celebrity homes

Figures from Primelocation.com show Prime London asking prices up a whisker off a per cent in February, the fourth successive monthly rise. In west/south west London, the figure was an extraordinarily bullish 2.84%. Remarkable, in central London, there's still positive annual growth (3.24%). Obviously, there are asking prices and their are achieved prices, and they're two different things. But the accompanying comment is clearly written from the perspective that one is a reflection of the other, and looks to low interest rates and the (connected) weak pound to suggest foreign money is helping prop up the specialist London market. Things look quite different in the lettings sector, with an eleventh monthly fall in rental rates in prime London, leaving rates 13.72% down on this time last year. Read the report here.

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A Financial Services Authority report has examined the likely state of homeownership should prices fall 30% from their peak, and revealed that such a scenario will leave two million in negative equity. Unless you're forced to move house, does it matter? The report suggests that households in negative equity are likely to reduce consumption, and thus further harm the economy. Of course, this is an endless chicken/egg debate, but the Rat and Mouse believes it's far more likely that the state of the economy, and particularly employment, has more of an affect on house prices (and thus bricks-and-mortar equity) than vice versa. Homeowners who stay in work can pretty much weather most problems... especially with interest rates so historically low.

Another report, by Which?, suggests that 35% of mortgagees are worried about losing their property. Interestingly... that's compared to 60% who are concerned about a job loss.

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So the news this morning is that for six months after its multi-billion pound taxpayer rescue, Northern Rock continued to loan £800m in high-risk mortgages. The findings are from a National Audit Office report, which directly blames the Treasury for failing to carry out due diligence. Have these high-risk mortgages been significant for the lender? When examining the bigger picture, are they in the foreground? The Northern Rock 125% "Together" mortgage is apparently responsible for 50% of its arrears and 75% of its repossessions. And so... we're left to wonder what "due diligence" isn't being carried out right now, and we continue to sleep walk from crisis to crisis, with an unelected PM hopelessly out of his depth.

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Thu
19
Mar

I know... to a lot of people, this is going to sound a bit like one of those "who lands first?" jokes. Or the discovery that traffic wardens really loathe tax inspectors. Nevertheless, according to the Times' legal editor:

Solicitors have declared war on estate agents. They are calling for a licensing system to bring them under strict regulation and for greater transparency over what they call excessive fees.

Their complaint - which, let's face it, comes at a great time for estate agents - is that estate agents' fees "dwarf" solicitors' fees during a property transaction, and are out of proportion with what they actually achieve. The Law Society is taking the complaint to the Office of Fair Trading. Now, far be it for me to wade in here in defence of the Devil, but... lawyers get their fees in any circumstance. Estate agents ask more money when a sale is achieved, because largely they're working for free. No sale, no commission. And while the Law Society campaigns for greater transparency, I hope that includes a close look at exactly what the conveyancing process involves. You won't find it hard to find a a commercial lawyer who, after a few drinks, will explain to you where conveyancing rests in the professional hierarchy. I don't want to be rude or anything, but you don't need to be Petrocelli to perform a search. Are our conveyancers really worth what they're paid? Furthermore, recent customer satisfaction surveys conducted after property exchanges suggest we've an issue with the speed and competence of our solicitors, who regularly rank below agents.

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Hats off to FindaProperty for being one step ahead of the game, and integrating Google Street View from the start. It's nicely integrated, too. Simply click on a London property shown up in your search results and check the list of icons on the right hand side for this:

20090319Findaproperty

Click the Show Street View button and you get an integrated Street View image of the property, from where you can explore the neighbourhood and look for acts of random violence and naked people in windows.

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More in this Category - Property online

20090319Ken

It's been a while coming but it's here. If you don't know what it is... a quick rundown. Google dispatched cars to photograph every part of every street from every direction in London. The result? A drag-able 360 degree view of London life. Go to address on Google Maps, click "Street View", then click the little white arrows to find your way around, and drag the screen for different viewing angles. It's addictive, fascinating, possibly a privacy threat, definitely useful for house buyers. Lift the postcode from the online particulars, plug them into Google Maps and then take a virtual tour of the neighbourhood.

20090319Foxtonscoffee

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According to research by Lloyds TSB, falling house prices are likely to fuel a long term trend toward single living, with two million more single households by 2019. The trend began in the 1970s, but suffered a temporary 21st Century stall when house prices and rents made it practically difficult.

In the City of London and Westminister, more than half of homes have just one resident. By 2019, it is predicted that two in every three homes in the City will be single dwellings.

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Wed
18
Mar

Please don't turn my garden into a quarry [Telegraph]
Chester Square, Belgravia... crunch-proof [BBC]
The new Candys... the Finchattons, in love with their suits [This Is London]
Heathrow runway plan... and house prices [This Is London]

The Rat and Mouse - London's property blog, since 2005

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Hurray. The Apprentice candidates have been named... and, this year, there's an estate agent:

Phillip Taylor - A 29-year-old from Country Durham, who claims to be "confident and charming". He works as an estate agent and confesses to being a "control freak". He says, "Business is the new rock 'n' roll and I'm Elvis Presley."

Great. A cock, too.

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The Telegraph takes a look at SW18's most expensive home, ever. The former Gabonese Embassy, in Parkside, Wimbledon, has been redeveloped by re-developer Bob Camping, and has apparently had interest from Andy Murray (who knew he was so loaded?) and Russell Crowe, despite a record-breaking £18m price tag. Wimbledon, you see, has unique appeal:

"People want to live in Wimbledon," says Camping. "You are close to village life without moving out of London. Women don't want to be stuffed away while their husbands are at work."

Hear that? Husbands... don't stuff your women away while you're at work.

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More in this Category - SW18

We recently highlighted the Matthew Wright's subterranean woes, as the baggy-eyed presenter gets little help sleeping from a Camden neighbour's basement extension work. Now there's news that Camden Council - smarting at being forced to give way to refused planning applications at appeal - is considering tightening up the rules after a significant increase in interest in extending underground.

It suggests that all subterranean extensions should be of "modest" size and descend no deeper than three metres. That policy will be tested later this month when the council rules on plans for a 35ft double-height project in King's Street, Primrose Hill. The local conservation area advisory group "objects strongly" to the plans, citing fears about the risk of subsidence to neighbouring properties.

Celebrity burrowers mentioned in the piece include Ricky Gervais (underground pool in Hampstead), David Cameron (digging down in North Kensington) and hedge fund manager Chris Rokos (counting room, Kensington Square).

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More in this Category - NW1
Tue
17
Mar

I hope.

Let's spare a thought for the landlord.

[via PropertyHawk]

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More in this Category - Letting

The number of mortgages in arrears by around three months (or 1.5% of the loan value) rose in 2008 by 31%, according to the Financial Services Authority. Astonishingly, in the last three months of 2008, 16.5% of all new mortgages were self-certified. Surely there's a happy medium between this madness, and an incompetent unelected government deciding to hammer the final nail in the residential property market by forcing unrealistic loan limits on the industry? Apparently not. There are new repo figures, too, and they're not any prettier. Repossessions rose by 68% last year, to 46, 750.

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What does it take to convince a vendor that not everything's hunky-dory? It seems not even a silent phone, a skinny estate agent with holes in his soles and six months on the market without a sniff of a viewing can dent a vendor's confidence. Asking prices were up in March, according Rightmove, by 0.9%. Okay... that's not as much of a rise as is usual while Spring is sprung, but it's still a rise. Annually, they're down by 9%, considerable less than actual sale prices.

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The middle-classes are downsizing [Telegraph]
Nationwide is upsizing [This Is Money]
Carol Vorderman's property company: er, down-winding? [Daily Mail]
Downtrodden vandalise upmarket homes [Telegraph]
Bank of England talks down economy [Telegraph]

The Rat and Mouse - London's property blog, since 2005

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Mon
16
Mar

Your super sexy Sunday guide to buy-to-let [Sunday Express]
The US repo-disaster [PropertyWire]
Mortgage brokers fall by the wayside [Sunday Times]
In negative equity? Keep calm and carry on [Sunday Mirror]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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The extraordinary story in the Mail on Sunday of TV and radio presenter Matthew Wright's Camden nightmare, as his neighbours embark on a basement extension, and he's forced to give up a radio show because he can't get enough sleep to function, and face repairs to his own property.

The excavations have also caused damage to my property, which I believe will cost thousands of pounds to put right. The wooden floor in my living room has come an inch away from the wall it once abutted. Chunks of plaster have fallen off my walls.

So what's this... just another celebrity abusing his position to moan in a paper? No. Actually, the thrust is about the downside of the Government's new, short-red-tape, fast-track approach to planning, in a market that favours improvement over sale. It's an interesting read.

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And stop smoking. And stop buying expensive coffees. And get used to tap water. And stop buying takeaways. And cancel their gym membership. And sell the car. And switch energy suppliers. And search online for discount vouchers. And then... then... they might be able to meet the new, tougher deposit criteria on that property which will be worth 10% less by this time next year. More here.

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Fri
13
Mar

Now, you can pick from more than a hundred.

Historically, a larger number of old rectories appear on the market when the economy is weak. "In a strong market they're sold over the dinner party table, or by someone dropping a letter though the door," says [Hamptons agent, Andrew] Marshall.

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More in this Category - For sale

Land Securities will build 39 flats in a nine-storey block, overlooking Selfridges. It's a Hamiltons-designed building... it looks pretty... and it will also contain shopping and offices. There'll be a delay, while the developers deal with any appeals against the hotly-contested building decision, and then - according to this - they'll be pressing on with the first major Oxford Street development in 40 years just as soon as they can pin down the contractors. Flats are expected to cost from £2m. The building replaces Park House. Go here for some great pictures.

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More in this Category - W1

According to this, "a girl can dream" and Julia Roberts is dreaming about moving to London so she can have a proper crack at West End theatre. What's she waiting for? Her kids to grow up.

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Remember this, a 2008 casualty of the property slump... when a tasty £35m deal on Khan's Chelsea Square property renovation fell through, costing her £15m? There's apparently not been much action since, either, and the latest is that she's given up, removed the property from Aylesford's listings, and moved in.

Was Jemima Khan really "robbed"? [September 15, 2008]
Whoops - just bought another house... [May 3, 2006]

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Thu
12
Mar

20090312Parklet-1

Find out using this handy widget from Park Let. We like it.

[via Winging It]

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20090312Hefner

A whisker under $28m buys the seven-bedroom mansion next to the Playboy Mansion, and - presumably - at least the possibility of a party invite. The house has been occupied by Mrs Hefner, who moved in there after separating from Hugh. We can't imagine what her grounds for separation might have been. More here.

If these walls could talk... Anthony Hopkins edition [February 24, 2009]
If these walls could talk... Enoch Powell edition [February 16, 2009]

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The 298-page report to clients by investment bank Numis Securities was written in February, but it's creating some eye-popping newspaper headlines in March. The key points appear to be... house prices remain 17% to 39% overvalued but (because of the nature of property bubbles) could drop a further 55% in an over-correction cause by buy-to-let panic selling... the Government monkeyed up the VAT drop and continues to monkey up the economy with an ill-advised policy of pushing banks toward inappropriate lending... and the clincher:

The bankruptcy of the UK is a very real probability as the UK Government is trying to stimulate a greater debt burden in a grossly indebted economy. We believe the scale of the macro imbalances in the UK means there is no prospect of a recovery in 2009 and we expect the UK to be mired in a deep recession through all of 2010

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In Love With Hampstead [The Greene Blog]
Village for sale [Primelocation Blog]
Those Savills Losses [Independent]
Michael Jackson to stay at Rod Stewarts mansion during 02 shows [Hello Magazine]
Buckingham Palace - poor EPC expected [Express]

The Rat and Mouse - London's property blog

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Wed
11
Mar

Over at Money Week, home to bear pits too deep even for HousePriceCrash, there are some interesting charts. Dominic Frisby looks at historic house price data, the shape of a bear trap and what it would cost to buy houses with silver. It's interesting... and scary. It's here. Meanwhile, over at the BBC, they asking homeowners - Are you scared? - and plotting responses on a map. It's a fascinating snapshop... but don't visit it using Safari (there's some kind of JavaScript issue); choose Firefox.

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More in this Category - House prices
In the US, the residential property foreclosure crisis is reaching a point at which the final vestiges of common sense, let alone morality or social justice, are breaking down. Half a decade after the real estate boom, there are places in America where you can’t – you literally can’t – give a house away.

Our publisher tackles the US foreclosure game, in his guest column for Citywire.

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According to Primelocation figures - hold on to your hats - central London vendors have increased asking prices in February (by just less than a per cent), leaving asking prices up 3.24% on the year. More here.

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More in this Category - House prices
Tue
10
Mar

Signs of the time: the recession in photographs [Reuters]
Mortgage fraud arrests [BBC]
Brentford tops London's burglary hotspots [Times]
When renting beats buying [Yahoo!]
The Russians are coming [back] [PropertyWire]
FTBs discover auctions [Daily Mail]
London's buyers' market [this Is London]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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Mortgage brokers... they've almost less to keep them busy than estate agents. And so they're closing. We heard yesterday from a Rat and Mouse tipster about lay-offs over at Foxtons-linked mortgage brokers Alexander Hall, and a plan to move out of its posh Lombard Street head office. Now, there's news that Chase De Vere Mortgage Management and Cobalt Capital are shutting up shop altogether. That leaves just Alexander Hall and Savills Private Finance of the original five brokers in the once-powerful Concordia consortium. The news continues to beg the question, is there currently a role for the mortgage intermediary?

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Enquiries are on the rise, that's been shown statistically and there's anecdotal evidence from just about every estate agent I talk to. The problem is... they're not buying. According to this morning's Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors data, while enquiries rose in February at their fastest since the frenzy of August 2006, sales volume has hit a new record low... each agent agreeing 9.5 sales in the three months to the end of February. In London, the figure was worse... less than an exchange a fortnight. But is this the low point... after which those enquiries will start converting into sales? Does that depend on the lenders? Partly. It also depends on the jobs market. Watch this space.

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Mon
09
Mar

And that somebody is Stephen Lakey, an IT manager who, until now, has been living in a council flat supporting his unemployed parents, but now holds the keys to a one-bedroom Whitechapel party palace with Jacuzzi and steam room. Goodbye oldies, hello dancing girls. He paid £50 for a ticket, attracted by the fact that money was being donated to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity. These property raffles have something of a checkered history. The usual scam involves some small print stating that if the value of the property isn't made up in ticket sales, a cash prize minus expenses is awarded instead. Recently, there's been some question about the legality of the process, since non-charity private lotteries are forbidden. In this case, it appears the question was hard enough to make the prize draw qualify as a game of skill. If you like the sound of this, there are nine further apartments up for grabs.

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Over at PropertyHawk's Landlord and BTL Blog, there's plenty. It's earned by the story of a 25-year-old landlord with a 12-month community order, 150 hours of community service and court costs after changing the locks on a tenant who had failed to pay any rent for four months, while his own mortgage repayments piled up.

"There is something wrong with the law when someone can stay in my house for free and get away with it – landlords need more legal protection. I'm not a horrible person, I would have loved him to stay at the house if he paid his rent."

There's a little more to this than meets the eye. The landlord did have some legal recourse, but failed to fill out the right forms to force possession. Still, interesting case.

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The Sunday Times goes modern and semi in Dulwhch [Sunday Times]
The Telegraph goes boho in Chelsea [Telegraph]
American goes nuts at foreclosure sale [New York Times]
Kirstie Allsopp for PM? [Primelocation blog]
Anthea and Grant sell off ski chalet [Mail on Sunday]
What does the bottom of the market look like? [Sunday Times]

The Rat and Mouse - London's property blog, since 2005

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Here's an interesting new franchise launch. The Homebuyers Agency is based on the belief that a purchase is far riskier than a sale, and yet buyers operate in the market without experts on their side. (I'm not sure I buy this, personally. Sure, the vendor gets the estate agent. But the buyer gets the surveyor and the solicitor.) It's also based on the belief that a buyer registered with an estate agent has access only to a small proportion of the homes on the market, whereas a professional homefinder can access the entire spread. (Again, apart from non-advertised properties - which are unlikely to be the type you can pick up at a discount - aren't most properties somewhere on the web?) What the professional homebuyer can do, though, is hold your hand throughout the process and help you negotiate the best possible discount. The other interesting USP is this:

Should you require a mortgage, life insurance, home/contents insurance, conveyancing services, utilities, etc, your Homebuyers’ Agent will rebate 100% of any commissions received from the sale of these services directly to you, for life! This often amounts to thousands of pounds credited back to you.

That's nice. This is fairly radical, too:

Fees are charged as a proportion of the amount saved off the asking price, with a minimum 1.5% fee.

Homebuyers is looking for experienced estate agents in 400 areas to take on the business on a franchise basis, with franchisees getting 50% of commission. According to this, four have gone in a month. Presumably, the agents behind the Homebuyers Agency are using the downturn to recruit and get in on the ground, so that they'll be well-positioned when the market turns, and will be there to hold buyers hands as/if the sector heats up and the threat of gazumping returns.

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Fri
06
Mar

Before we go and start ushering in the weekend with the help of dry martini and queen olives, there's just about time to once again express our gratitude to our sponsor. Primelocation offers buyers and sellers an international reach, and its portal is a mine of useful information, including useful guides for homeowners, landlords and movers. It also, of course, features property from 4,000 leading estate agency firms. The Rat and Mouse needs the support of forward-looking organisations like Primelocation if it's to continue bringing you your daily dish of property news and gossip, so we hope you'll support them in return, by using the search box in the top right hand corner.

If your firm is interested in advertising on the Rat and Mouse (stop press: 200,000 page impressions in January), or if you've creative ideas about how we might work together, contact me here.

In the meantime, remember... the financial infrastructure might be collapsing, but it's never the wrong time for a party. See you Monday.

Rat and Mouse in the times' top twenty personal finance blogs [January 23, 2009]

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20090306Maidahill

Where? Never heard of it.

Well you'd better get used to it, because...

A new weekend market which is planned to open on the junction will be called Maida Hill Market, and a new community magazine is to be launched, entitled Maida Hill Life.

And, according to a local:

"The Harrow Road post office is officially called the Maida Hill post office, and on the front of buses, it says they are going to Maida Hill."

But you can't just decide you're going to call a place something, and then stick it on buses. Can you? Apparently the area has been called Maida Hill before, back in the early 19th Century, when the British and French were fighting. It was named after a skirmish.

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More in this Category - W9

Feather & Black offer a divan complete with hidden safe, for cash and valuables. More here.

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More in this Category - Recession digression

Some interesting information about Lakshmi Mittal's Kensington Park Gardens, here in a must-read Daily Telegraph piece, and an explanation for what was happening during the empty years, between Bernie Ecclestone and its current ownership. Ecclestone is said to have fallen in love with the property, and paid £50m for it. There was a lot to fall in love with. The developer - David Khalili - had spared no expense.

Mr Khalili spent £84m buying and refurbishing the house in Kensington Palace Gardens, which previously housed the Russian and Egyptian embassies. The project, which employed up to 400 craftsmen every day, was said at the time to have been second only in cost to the refurbishment of Windsor Castle after the fire of 1992. Mr Khalili imported marble from the same quarry in Agra that provided the material for the Taj Mahal, and flew in stonemasons who were normally employed to maintain the Indian monument. The marble was used to build pillars surrounding a swimming pool, which were then inlaid with precious stones. An underground car park for 20 vehicles was also built.

Four hundred craftsman worked, daily, on the house, and it cost more than any other refurb project except Windsor Castle after the fire. Not bad. I reckon if you'd then just paid £50m for this, you'd be pretty excited about showing it to the wife. That's where it apparently went wrong.

But his formidable Croatian wife, Slavica, was apparently underwhelmed by the property and Mr Ecclestone, 78, sold it three years later without ever moving in.

Yeah, well? Taj Mahal, Taj Shmahal.

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It's perhaps not the response we were expecting to yesterday's rate cut. The agents aren't happy. In fact, according to Estate Agent Today, they feel cheapened:

Yesterdays’s rate cut to 0.5% has failed to excite estate agents, who say that the latest reduction cheapens Britain to foreigners, whilst acting as a deterrent to savers and making it harder for lenders to lend.

So which bit of that don't we agree with? We agree with all of it. We're just impressed that such long-term common sense is coming from a profession so squeezed by a lack of volume. Click the link for plenty of comments.

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Thu
05
Mar

It's a 2.3% fall in February - a big monthly movement - leaving the annual figure down 17.8%, and 19.7% off their 2007 peak. Remember, though, that this time last month, we were looking at a rise of 2%. Interestingly, the average-price-to-income ratio is down to 4.4... not too far off the long term average of 4.

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Here's a good one. James Harvard and Janice Gledhill own a caravan park in Essex. One of their tenants - Robert Taylor - had a dispute with them about the rent, so he did what any reasonable tenant would do under the circumstances, he destroyed their house and two cars with a 14-tonne JCB. Now, from prison, he's suing them for selling his caravan.

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Base rates are now at a record-breaking 0.5%, and the bank will be printing an extra £75bn. The message? Borrow now; fail to pay back later. More here.

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The buy-to-let sector faces its own conundrum. Prospective landlords have been decimated by the lending freeze, too often caught with their pants down when a tenant suffers a sudden loss of income (there’s insurance available to deal with this) and unexpectedly found themselves competing with reluctant landlords who’d really prefer to sell. And yet, the imploding residential market has meant that yields – for the cash-rich professional investor who knows how to find and bag and bargain, and who can afford to stay with this for the long term – are something to be excited about at the moment.

Our publisher looks at buy-to-rent, in his guest column for Citywire.

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Wed
04
Mar

While the Mail on Sunday apologises, after a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, to Daniel Craig for publishing a photograph of his new house and rough details of its location, Marie Claire doesn't seem too concerned about devoting a page to Amy Winehouse moving into her new home, complete with long distance photographs of Winehouse wandering around dressed solely in a pair of pants. Can that be right?

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Polish shanty town in Lincolnshire [Daily Mail]
Oink, oink [This Is London]
Shrinking skyscrapers [This Is London]
Hunt's great escape [Management Today]
Sean Connery learns that diamonds aren't forever [Daily Record]
How toxic is your home? [Primelocation.com]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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John "my behaviour was at times inappropriate" Leslie turned to property development after his TV career was cut short by some of that inappropriateness. Now, he's apparently attempting to double his money during a slump by spinning the wheel of fortune on an Edinburgh ex-nursing home he bought for £1.25m two years ago. Will he get £2.5m? Some local market experts believe so.

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It's what hard-working US real estate agents buy you if they don't return your call within 60 minutes. Go Troy!

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20090303Redc

They're called Real Estate Disposition Corporation, they're an auction house specialising in repos and they're coming to the UK. They're also, apparently, noisy:

By all accounts REDC's auctions are raucous affairs, with shouting and rapid-faire sales. Whistles are blown as sales move around the auction room. Some Brits may well be overwhelmed by the event.

I'm sure we'll be okay. We've all seen THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

REDC also has a reputation for stacking high and selling fast, and has contributed to recent rises in volume in the US market. The HotProperty piece (linked above) makes the fair point that - with a good proportion purchases coming from professional buyers looking to flip for a profit - the danger is that these properties might turn into an untouchable tier, constantly being thrown back onto the market and hampering any real recovery.

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More in this Category - _Other
Tue
03
Mar

I like the Marsh&Parsons web design. I like the way the area guides respond to a click. I like the red/brown colours. Now, they're offering video particulars, too. Here's the first; what do you think? I say... top marks for simplicity, and thank God... no Alan Partridge voiceover.

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More in this Category - Estate agents

Three thousand homes, made available at subsidised rental rates... with the opportunity to buy, for a price minus-rental paid so far, later on. More here.

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The Centre for Policy Studies has looked at how the Government treated Stamp Duty during the 1991 recession.

In the early 1990s, the CPS points out, Stamp Duty thresholds were increased eightfold, which meant that 99 per cent of the country was exempt from the tax. A comparable rise today would see the threshold raised to £1 million.

That's compared to a current £175,000 threshold... a so-called radical move designed to kick-start the property market.

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‘She found a Regency-style four-bedroom townhouse in a middle-class, suburban area in Barnet. At around £1.4million it wasn’t cheap but Amy can afford it. Janis wants Amy close to her, so she can keep a strict eye on her daughter.’

At least that's what a "source" tells Now Magazine. (I don't actually read Now Magazine. Honestly... my robe was open and I just fell over and somebody happened to have left it lying there... )

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More in this Category - Celebrity homes
Mon
02
Mar

Blairs investigated for running business from residential let [Mail on Sunday]
You can take Clive Owen out of London... actually you can't [Press Association]
Mail on Sunday apologises to Daniel Craig for identifying his London home [Guardian]
NY Times "cheap skanks" sell photos of Lily Allen's London home to OK! [Independent]

The Rat and Mouse - twittering here

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More in this Category - Linkage

Harrow and Islington councils will issue "retail Asbos" to estate agents who throw up for sale boards outside random homes. Apparently:

A slump in housing sales is not a licence for dodgy estate agents to take a hammer and nails to any piece of the street they like for free advertising.

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Find out here. (Hint: this just about escapes the Rat and Mouse pejorative language ban by defining "gay" as interior designed... I think.)

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Estate agents killing time this morning might want to avoid flicking on BBC1 for much of the morning. Although they might be heartened to hear the case of the Barnsley homeseller featured on a later episode who, despite claiming to be acting as his own agent, managed to get his property listed on Rightmove. (As you may know, Rightmove is an agents-only listings service... no rep, no listing.) The listing appears to be here... with a modern online agency acting for the vendor. Still, technically, an estate agency.

[via EstateAgentToday]

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It's a fall of 0.8% in February, leaving house prices 10% down on the year, Hometrack's biggest annual fall since 2000. Sales agreed... 60% down on a year ago.

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Foreign readers, if you've found this message, please help me. I'm trapped on a small island just off the European mainland, with an unelected Prime Minister and an economy that's heading down the toilet. Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister is hinting at a future in which the Government will pass laws that have the sole purpose of punishing individual citizens, in order to curry favour with the tabloid-reading masses. Please, have a heart... send help, invade, anything... SOS, SOS, SOS...

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