Rat and Mouse
Entries in October 2007
Wed
31
Oct

A list of the country's identity fraud hotspots reveals that 19 of the UK's most fraudulent 20 postcodes inside the M25. The list was compiled by CIFAS (an organisation so security conscious it doesn't even publish its full name on its own homepage). Apparently CIFAS is particularly concerned with something called "current address fraud", involving one person scamming another at the same address. So don't for a minute think you can trust that person just because you're married to them. Anyway, for those postcodes, go here.

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Which suggests that for some - living in particular high value postcodes - it might be cost effective to consider building your own tube station. But that's just something to think about. The research - by HotProperty - suggests that the crucial crib-to-tube distance is five minutes; but also that more and more cash-pressed Londoners are starting to write-off tube proximity in favour of a bargain. According to MD Shawn Luetchens:

"Walking an hour to get a to a tube station seems an extreme measure, however with mortgage affordability at an all time low and little relief in sight, people are having to make compromises."

[via AboutProperty]

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More in this Category - House prices

Surge in 100% markets spreads negative equity risk wide [Guardian]
Spicer Haart don't like HIPs any more than they did before [The Move Channel]
Johnny Depp property shopping in... Norfolk? [EDP 24]
Clive Owen - happy in London [Earth Times]
MCanns used fund to pay mortgage [BBC]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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According to Nationwide, house prices took an unexpected turn in October, defying predictions, economic forecasts and media sentiment with the biggest monthly rise in four months. The national monthly figure reads... uo, 1.1%, leaving the annual figure at 9.7%. Nationwide's Fionnuala Earley, however, warns against any premature throwing of hats in the air/jumping off bridges (delete as per your own position) by marking the data really as a slowing down in the slowing down, rather than the start of a new upward trend.

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More in this Category - House prices
Tue
30
Oct

Eight out of ten British homeowners happy to share with a ghost [The London News]
Is it time for an interest rate cut? [Reuters]
The scandal of a million empty homes [Times]
"iPod Generation" reamed by Darling [Telegraph]
Why buy-to-letters should think about selling [Money Week]
Repos to rise by 50% in 2008 [Times]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every thee seconds

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They're a property search engine with 450,000 properties in the UK and 700,000 in Spain. That's a lot of data, especially if you factor in historical data. So expect considerable interest now that Nestoria's announced it will make all that data (current, for now, historical to follow) available via its API (application programming interface, the code that allows Nestoria's software work with other developers'). The implications might be significant, not just for existing suppliers of house price data, but other property search engines, too.

[via TechCrunch]

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More in this Category - Property online

A YouGov survey for the New Homes Marketing Board suggests the perennial chatter about young people choosing to rent, for lifestyle reasons (freedom from debt, freedom to move with your job), is all about a very vocal minority. Over 80% surveyed said they'd be unhappy renting permanently; in the under-35 bracket that rose to 90%, presumably because this is the generation that has suffered most from unrealistic demands on the first-time buyer. What's more, according to NHMB's David Pretty:

Even if renting is seen as a worst-case scenario for many people, there seems to be an assumption that renting will still somehow be affordable in the future. But the supply and variety of homes for rent, like homes for sale, is ultimately controlled by land availability and the planning system, and an ongoing serious shortage of supply will simply drive up rents as it has driven up prices.

Yeah, I know... supply-and-demand. If tenants can't actually afford rents, then rents can't keep going up. But I think the point Pretty's making is that they'll be able to afford the rent, but unable to save for a deposit/cost of buying. Rising rents will lock tenants into renting.

[via The Move Channel]

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More in this Category - House prices
Mon
29
Oct

Wandsworth house prices continue steep climb [Wandsworth Guardian]
This year's real estate rich list [The Business]
Cold homes map published [BBC]
Home loans down 20% on 2006 figures [Guardian]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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Hometrack records a loss - its first in two years - of 0.1% for October, with annual growth falling back to 4.4%. And it's the places that have seen the biggest profits that are now experiencing the biggest falls... central London and the City (-0.5%), south west London (-0.4%). Meanwhile, the Council of Mortgage Lenders has revised its 2008 predictions to a rise of just 1%. It expects base rates to end 2007 at 5.5% and 2008 at 5%.

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More in this Category - House prices

The Sunday Times congratulates Labour minister Barbara Follett on her good fortune... a millionaire novelist husband, £120,000 in public money to keep an essential London home and a nice little buy-to-let London earner, a stone's throw from the Commons.

20071028Socialism

The Folletts' property is equitably distributed between London, Hertfordshire, Cape Town and Antigua. More here.

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"If there is documentation about a haunting there's no point in hiding it. Although I wouldn't put it in the particulars, I'd have a word with the potential purchaser - with the vendor's agreement."

Yeah... fair's fair. Peter Bolton King, Chief Executive of the National Association of Estate Agents.

[via the Sunday Telegraph]

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Fri
26
Oct
In this context my Board and I welcome the Government’s new target for the delivery of 240,000 net additional homes a year by 2016. If met we believe this will represent important movement towards stabilising affordability over the next decade. In the long run the country will need to deliver even more homes if we are to stabilise housing affordability. NHPAU estimates that about 270,000 new homes a year by 2016 will be required to achieve this.

The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit's response to the Government's green paper (Homes For The Future: More Affordable, More Sustainable) is published today, and emphasises not just the number of homes that need to be built, but the type and location. Common sense? You'd think so, wouldn't you? But when it comes to development in the UK, money talks and common sense walks. If we don't do anything, homes will average out at nine-and-a-half times salary by 2026. You can see the actual paper by clicking here.

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More in this Category - House prices

September's annual inflation figure is down to 8.7% from 9.4%. Prices rose 0.4% in the month, but that's skewed by London figures which, once again, led the market, with a monthly rise of 1.3% (leaving London's annual house price inflation at 16.5%). The overall picture? The market's slowing.

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A phone-in discussion, starting at 1pm, on Radio 2. If you're "abroad", you can listen online, via the BBC website, here.

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The difference between now and then is that, now you can market your property if you've applied for a HIP, but after January 1 you'll need the HIP completed to stay inside the law. Knight Frank point to the length of time it's taking for local authority searches to come back (a month or more) and predict frustrated vendors... at best.

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More in this Category - HIPs

Remember One Hyde Park... Sheik Hamad and Candy & Candy's über-luxury Knightsbridge development? It's had a bit of a financing history, with some confusing stories relating to where the money's coming from and where it's going. The latest - according to this - is a significant £1bn refinancing courtesy of Eurohypo, the giant European real estate bank, replacing the Bank of Scotland's stake in the business. The project is due to be completed in 2010.

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More in this Category - SW1
Thu
25
Oct

New apartment prices go under the microscope in tonight's The Truth About Property.

In one apartment block called Aspect 14, on the edge of Leeds city centre, one owner has lost as much as £85,000 on a flat in 18 months.

Last week's programme was excellent. Catch tonight's at 8pm on BBC 2. In the meantime, for more, read this.

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More in this Category - Property TV

It's so new it's not actually there yet:

20071025Globrix-1

Interestingly, News International already has a 50% stake in PropertyFinder, which charges agents to list on its site. Globrix will do things differently, using spiders to crawl agents' sites to produce a search database. It's not a new technique, and it's one that's rumoured to have previously got other property search start-ups in hot water with market leader Rightmove. According to this in the FT, Globrix will offer estate agents the opportunity to opt out. Revenue will come - instead - from an advertising model.

With News International cash behind it, it's likely to become a force to be reckoned with. As we all know, it's a competitive market, and - ultimately - success is all about innovation and implementation. The Rat and Mouse watches developments with interest.

[Thanks - twice - Ed]

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More in this Category - Property online

Declining yields continue to hit buy-to-let [The Business]
Brits don't understand their mortgages [CityWire]
Buyers couldn't give a HIP for poor energy efficiency ratings [HotProperty]
London to Brighton migration continues [Mortgage Strategy]
The High Life - penthouse living [Telegraph]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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From the Channel 4 4homes forum:

I am a very naive first time buyer who put an offer on a flat about a month ago. Asking price was 289k. I offered 280 and it was accepted. I loved the place and went in with a high offer, even though I was told it was a short lease and needed renewing at the cost of a few grand, and there were impending refurbs to communal areas averaged at 8k. After learning a bit more about the flat buying process I found out this vendor bought this flat in March 07 at 185k. They have put in a new bathroom and kitchen, and replastered and painted throughout. They have repainted the floorboards which were in poor condition. I mentioned this to my mortgage broker, asking her if she thought 100k in 6months was a reasonable appreciation. She told me it was possible and advised me to snap it up, saying that the bank's free valuation would be an honest valuation. The bank duly valued it at 280k and agreed to give me a mortgage for 200k. (I have a large deposit ready).

Ouch. Lesson 1. Lenders can't even spell "responsible"... don't expect them to have your best interests at heart. Lesson 2. The estate agent represents the vendor. Don't expect them to tell you what a fair price is or isn't... do your research before making an offer.

Read the full thread here.

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Wed
24
Oct

20071024Foxtons-1

  1. Foxtons founder and former owner Jon Hunt has never counted his money. He counts everybody else's and pays someone to do the maths.
  2. Foxtrels aren't made, they're born. They're all distantly related, and share a distinct genetic heritage.
  3. Every year, Foxtons' worst peformers drive their Minis to a disused airfield in Luton, where they're forced to recreate scenes from The Italian Job for the top-earners' amusement.
  4. Foxtons for sale boards are actually holograms. Every house in London has one, and it can be turned on and off remotely, from Foxtons Chiswick HQ.
  5. Five out of every nine people secretly fantasise about being a Foxtons estate agent.

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More in this Category - Estate agents

20071024Grammar

Scary Spice tells husband what she wants, what she really really wants [London News]
Malibu Castle - familiar to fans of Rockford Files everywhere - casualty of California fires [Luxist]
Kelsey Grammar's Bridgehampton home - "epitome of traditional luxury" - epitome of $16.1m [illustrated above, link to Sotheby's listing]
Lost's Terry O'Quinn's "impreccable celebrity retreat" - yours for $2.75m [link to particulars]
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Trump Tower apartment, listed at $22.5m [Berg's Big Time Listings]
Noah Whylie pays $1.8m for four-bedroom house in Solvang, California [Berg's Big Time Listings]
What kind of two-bedroom home costs $6.35m? The kind Leonardo DiCaprio buys [Radar Online]
"African fantasy penthouse meets a Las Vegas high roller suite"... Lenny Kravitz tries to squeeze $19.5m out of Crosby St. condo [the Real Estalker]
If these walls could talk... Marilyn Manson's "suburban dreamhouse"... for sale, yours for $1.1m [illustrated below, the Real Estalker]

20071024Manson

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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Tue
23
Oct

It's vanished, gone from Knight Frank's listings, with just this ghostly hint at what was, on Nestoria:

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But when you click it, you get nowhere...

Lucky the RealEstalker got the scoop here.

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More in this Category - Celebrity homes

Ms Barker can talk it up all she wants, Ray Boulger's having none of it:

He believes that even if the Bank of England cuts the 5.75 per cent base rate in the next few months, this will be too late to stem the tide of homelessness.

Tide of homelessness? Tsunami of misery sweeping hard-working families from their front rooms and depositing on the curb, tatty fake LV suitcase in one hand, eviction notice in the other? Too right. Boulger believes 2008 will see as many as 70,000 homes repossessed, and house prices fall 10%.

But isn't it interesting how the Bank of England blames the mortgage brokers for stupid lending, and the mortgage brokers blame the Bank for stupid interest rates? More here.

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Meanwhile, as things don't go their way, Kate Barker of the monetary policy committee (the Bank of England committee who vote on interest rates)...

... said it was "not immediately obvious" why recent developments in the markets should provide a "trigger which significantly alters previous expectations of continued robust house price growth".

Is she bovvered? Does she sound bovvered?

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HousingPANIC asks a bunch of them, what are their long-term plans, especially if things don't go their way. Are they preparing to sit out the market a few months more, or years, or forever? The range of replies - listed in the comments section - is fascinating.

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Rosie Millard dares you to like her [Sunday Times]
How much to feel secure at home? [4homes blog]
Phil Spencer asks, does size matter? [Sunday Times]
Would you buy in London right now [CityWire]
In California, celebrities flee the fire [ZeeNews]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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More in this Category - Linkage

Hamptons do it. Foxtons do it. The Americans do it. It's the open-house... when the estate agent rings everybody on their books who might be interested and invites them around for a party at your place. On the plus side... you tidy up and hide the embarrassing book titles once. On the minus side (from this interesting piece in the Telegraph):

Hosting an open house two months ago proved a costly mistake for the owner of one three-bedroom terrace house in Bow, East London, after a crystal decanter worth £1,000 was stolen. "The saddest part was that the estate agent didn't seem all that bothered. They had taken names and addresses of all who attended, but were reluctant to ring them up for fear of alienating potential buyers."

Interestingly, Foxtons limit an open house to 45 minutes, and show people around one-at-a-time, giving them three or four minutes each. Isn't that missing a trick? I've read about American agents drumming up a crowd - including, perhaps, agents from the same office - to try to create a sense of competition and pressure. Mind you, did you know an American agent will clean your place up and hide your dodgy books for you too?

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More in this Category - Estate agents
Mon
22
Oct

/eco celebrates 27 years of green lending by a lender that rewards sustainable development and energy-saving projects, rather than paying off guilt with carbon offsetting. It's the Ecology Building Society... (and if they ever went the way of Northern Rock, they could always sell off the domain name).

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The Sunday Times runs a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to profiting from falling house prices. It's a risky business... especially on sell-to-rent:

For this to work, you need to earn more from putting your profits in a savings account than you would from property growth. The best accounts pay more than 6%, while forecasts for property next year range from a fall of 3% to a 4.5% rise.

And don't forget the cost of renting, the cost of selling, the cost of buying (sometimes the Rat and Mouse feels like it's the only entity in the whole property business shouting STAMP DUTY! STAMP DUTY! when listening to people calculate their theoretical profits), and the cost of putting three-quarters of your stuff into storage. And the risk that prices won't go in the direction you're thinking. The Rat and Mouse knows of several previous sell-to-renters who had their fingers burned, and they've become very angry people.

But Jeez, if you thank that's risky, how about this for an adrenalin rush... spread-bet with IG Index on building shares falling. Ouch! The other three tactics? Buy bank shares. Bet on a falling property market directly via IG Index. Bet on falling interest rates by getting a variable rate mortgage.

As always (we like the Sunday Times' property pages), it's a good read and something to talk about. But the Rat and Mouse's take... if you weren't familiar with these ideas before, you're not the right person to touch them now...

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More in this Category - House prices

Fionnuala Earley is quoted in the Sunday Times on the subject of house prices and 2008. It appears Nationwide are rethinking their 3% growth forecast for the year, and downgrading to something more like, well, nothing. In fact, don't be surprised, says Earley, by falls in some regions, and then a year or two of flat-lining after that. Of course, there are plenty who think we'll be lucky if we get away with that, and Capital Economics - never ones to miss an opportunity to spread fear and loathing at the UK property market - are quick to point out that this is a market that's all about emotion. Even if the economic fundamentals don't point unequivocally to a fall, a loss of confidence in the market might be enough. Which is probably why they're never ones to miss an opportunity... More here.

Meanwhile, there's a new Ernst & Young Item Club report that also shifts a 2008 prediction in a downward direction... from 2.5% to 2.1%. Their accompanying literature does, however, talk of a market that's likely to continue to grow, aided by interest rates, which, it predicts, will start falling again shortly. More here.

And economics professor Patrick Minford, writing in the Telegraph, is having absolutely none of it. He points to the two factors quoted in the recent, much misrepresented IMF statement that may well hold up property prices: lack of supply, growing demand:

How much does this mismatch between supply and demand drive up prices each year? According to our calculations, the scale of the underlying rise has been around three per cent a year after inflation over the past 20-odd years. Taking into account the savage decline in prices during the early 1990s, that has meant that prices had to rise much more to catch up in the late 1990s. Today they may have overshot a bit, but the evidence is not by much - perhaps 10 per cent or so.

He didn't think he was going to get away with that and escape controversy? Check the comments, including:

I rank economists just a shade below politicians and estate agents....

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More in this Category - House prices

Darling's fixed-rate mortgage plans a load of rubbish, say experts [FT]
HIPs roll-out uncertain [The Business]
Would you share your home with an electricity sub-station? [Telegraph]
Kirstie Allsopp to advice Conservative in property market review [Mail on Sunday]
Liars! Say Fools [LondonStockExchange]
Fifty-somethings are cashing in [Sunday Times]
Designer interiors for less... one to bookmark [4Homes blog]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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Fri
19
Oct

Soap characters, property prices, complete blending of fiction and reality... it's the Sun and the Rat and Mouse loves it. The piece ("an exclusive investigation") looks at Eastenders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, and asks whether the characters could really afford to live there. Obviously, the Rat and Mouse is interested in Eastenders, here, and that will only change when somebody proves to us that the north really exists. Apparently Albert Square is based on Fassett Square in Dalston:

20071019Fassett

According to a Foxtons agent interviewed by the Sun, Fassett Square prices have risen by 70% in the last three years, with a three-bedroom house costing around the £800,000 mark... not much more than what Max and Tanya Branning would have had to pay for their Albert Square semi. Max is a dodgy insurance salesman, Tanya's a slutty beautician... even if they'd paid a giant deposit, perhaps negotiated by their agents with the BBC (see how I can do that fiction-reality mix-up thing, too?), they'd still be looking at a 17xsalary mortgage. The Sun suggests they're dealing. Wouldn't put it past them.

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Is Stamp Duty obligatory? No, we choose to pay it [4Homes Forum]
"They no little other than what they are told in the news" [sic] HPCer drops knowledge [House Price Crash]
Great argument over at Yahoo! [Yahoo!]
How will you celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Black Monday? [HousingPanic]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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According to a report that looks analytically at the experience of previous host cities - cited here in the Telegraph - London's Olympic residential developments, if they behave like their predecessors, can expect to see 5%-above-market growth for the next five years. But the report points to a more interesting factor.. the issue of sustainability. The Thames Gateway area of the Lower Lea Valley is earmarked for 40,000 new homes, and the report casts doubt on whether there's been proper planning for infrastructure. There are concerns, too, that London's gone too far... that such a sudden glut of property could destabilise the market, actually damaging prices in Stratford... not - the Rat and Mouse is sure - what all those hand-rubbing property investors want to hear right now.

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More in this Category - House prices
Thu
18
Oct

At 8pm, on BBC 2.

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New mortgage approvals down by 12% [Times]
UK landlords have shortest void periods in Europe [Hot Property]
Minister heckled over HIPs [Mortgage Finance Gazette]
Chancellor warns lenders: shape up [FindaProperty]
Gentrification - what it looks like now [New Statesman]
Property considered "safer than cash" [BBC]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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The Telegraph takes an interesting tour of some of London's cinema redevelopments... lovely old (often) listed "picture houses" that are being turned - for good or ill - into housing or commercial premises. The piece focuses on Henley Homes' remarkable plans for the Granada Odeon in Clapham. The building is - thankfully - heavily protected. From the Telegraph:

"It would be nice if the old auditorium could be turned into a local theatre," says Tariq Usmani, director of Henley Homes. "Or it might be turned into a health club, but whatever happens to it the period features, including the seats, have to be retained, although these could be hidden or moved. They just cannot be destroyed."

When I read this, the first thing I thought - being naturally facetious - was... hey, why not turn it into a cinema?

And then I read this:

Henley Homes has decided not to clean up the brickwork, but will leave it as it is and, as a nod to its former use, will create a private 12-seater cinema on the second floor of the development for residents' use only.

It's a mad, mad world. The plans for the development are extraordinary... a self-supported glass box (it's to be called "Lumiere") right on the top, containing some of the 59 planned apartments.

20071018Lumiere

For more about the UK's old cinemas, go here. And you can find some before and after pictures of another south London Odeon conversion here and here.

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From the Huf Haus Owners Group (a group the Rat and Mouse would very much like to join, but lacks one particular qualification):

20071018Huf

If you're not up on the Huf, it was the brainchild of German architect Peter Huf: a kind of über-prefab, all glass, beams, eco-friendly materials and striking good looks.

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The Beaconsfield Huf Haus is listed at £1.6m.

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More in this Category - For sale
Wed
17
Oct

Is anybody else listening to Radio 5 Live's England v Russia broadcast? Incredible. They can invent a machine that will comment spam the Rat and Mouse in Russian a hundred times a minute, but a phone line from Moscow to London...?

More in this Category - _Other

Apparently, our market is even more overpriced than its US equivalent before the current decline. It's downgraded its forecast for 2008 growth to 2.3%. What's staving off a crash? Anything? They say:

  1. higher lending standards than in the US.
  2. strong immigration combined with constrained supply.

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More in this Category - House prices
Charlotte Brodhurst who sold her property in south-west London stated that "my sale was particularly difficult due to a irascible neighbour and problems with the leases. Alison Craske at Marsh & Parsons got all the leaseholders in the building together one evening, went along with coffee for everyone and got the problem sorted out."

Go, Alison!

"The way that she dealt with everything was outstanding. I have never received such an extraordinary level of care and compassion from any organization before. I am hugely grateful to her for plodding through the mire of paperwork and human difficulties that fell in the way of the sale. She really went beyond the call of duty and I am certain, that if it were not for Alison's ability and charm, the buyer would have walked away before completion."

That's what the Rat and Mouse calls heart-warming.

It's part of a report by the Register of Estate Agents that suggests that, despite a tough climate for estate agents, customer satisfaction is way up. According to RoEA boss Henry Pryor, only a single per cent of comments from RoEA users has been negative, and significant progress has been made since last year, when the Ombudsman received record numbers of complaints. An alternative reading is that the RoEA has become something of a repository for the good guys. Either way, it's useful.

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Non-switchers lose out [Guardian]
Tamara Beckwith's monochrome Chelsea home [Independent]
British homeowners keep faith in property [24 Dash]
Range of mortgages shrinking [Guardian]
Stamp Duty... we're caught in a trap, no turning back [Telegraph]
Children's wellfare at risk from evictions [Housefund]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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The figures come from Shelter, and they're astonishing. More than a million people used high-cost credit card loans to meet rental or mortgage demands in the last 12 months. Of 2,000 households polled, 6% had relied on a card, and when payments were made by young people aged between 18 and 24 that figure rose to 7.5%. If their credit rating isn't good - and, let's face it, using a Barclaycard to cover the rent isn't a positive sign - they could be faced with punishing interest rates as high as 40%.

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Tue
16
Oct

43% looking at property for pension [CityWire]
Time for an interest rate cut? [BBC]
On the architecture of Arnos Grove [Guardian]
The market - overvalued, but likely to rise [CityWire]

20071016Arnosgrove

[Arnos Grove photograph by Fimb]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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When I was a student, I lived in a room that got so cold in the winter the ice settled on the inside of the window. According to this in the Telegraph, students at London's universities - and particularly the richer, foreign students at Kings College and LSE - are about to get a luxury skyscraper, on Middlesex Street, near Spitalfields market. The plan's for a 33-storey building, housing 1,200 students, plus retails space, gym and commercial office space. Presumably, the motivation was commercial property (although - just a the moment - we can't think why), and the student bit is there to fulfill social responsibility criteria. How clever to target the rich kids and make a profit there too. The Telegraph has an artists impression here, and it looks glorious.

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It seems like only yesterday that getting a mortgage felt easy. It wasn't only yesterday. The latest figures - by MoneyExpert.com - reveal that a third of applications have been turned down in the last six months... that's three quarters of a million people turned away. Other stats: if you're aged between 25 and 34, you're most likely to get a rejection, which is probably not a surprise... although this is, arguably, the most important age group when it comes to keeping the property market moving. [A word of caution... those figures were extrapolated from a survey of 1,000.] Meanwhile - according to Estates Review - it's not all bad. Repossessions are up, up, up... with buy-to-let receiverships in particular keeping the wolf from the property receivers' doors.

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That pithy market summary comes courtesy of a country estate agent, interviewed in this interesting piece about the return of the gazunder in the Times. According to research by Knight Frank, the relationship between asking price and price on exchange has changed markedly since June, from +5% to -3%, and buyers are inevitably picking up on market jitters. The temptation to pull a gazunder is back. Mayfair agent Peter Wetherell tells the Times he's seen several instances of buyers trying to chip 5% of the asking price, just in the last six weeks. The Rat and Mouse advises vendors to vet their buyers extra carefully. Can they really afford the house? Can they agree to exchange within a certain time frame? If not, why not? Only agree (reluctantly) to take the property off the market after acceptance of an offer for an agreed, limited time, after which start pressuring your agent for more viewings. In the Rat and Mouse's experience, one of the first signs of a coming gazunder (and especially in an uncertain market) is a dithering buyer, dragging out the process between acceptance of an offer and exchange. Be careful out there... it's dangerous.

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Mon
15
Oct

Crossrail and house prices: hype or reality? [Telegraph]
Are HIPs working? [FindAProperty]
UK's worst places to live [Channel 4 Blog]
Property porn alert: London's most expensive flats, in pictures [Forbes]
Investors bet on crash in commercial market [Independent]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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The last time I wrote at length about British house prices, you were eating cold turkey and I was eating humble pie. You have long ago moved on from the turkey but I have continued to be force-fed the pie. Bearing in mind my earlier erroneous forecast of house price falls, you may well say "quite right too". But I am beginning to wonder whether my time of penance may soon be over.

Capital Economics' Roger Bootle has long been a prominent and outspoken bear when it comes to the UK housing market. Back in the last days of 2005, he forecast a 5% fall in house prices in 2006. Ultimately, the January-to-January DCLG figures (which measure completion prices) came in at 10.9%. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Bootle makes no bones that his record in recent years hasn't made him somebody you'd approach for racing tips, but he suspects his time may be about to come. He's probably right. And his analysis of the market is - as you'd expect from somebody with such a distinguished CV - compelling. But what the Rat and Mouse wants to know is just how long after making a prediction are you allowed to wait and still reap glory when it comes around. All over the place there are interested parties watching, waiting, as they've been for years... and when/if the property market starts sliding, they'll be jabbing the air and snorting I told you so's, even though the market might have risen 20% since they made their initial predictions. Is this a victory? Are these bets still valid?

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So if you're prepared to believe this, this and this, then you've got to believe this is evidence of a bullish, upwardly mobile British housing market... haven't you? Maybe not. Today's Righmove figures for September show a rise of 2.7% in the month, leaving annual inflation at 10.4%. Rightmove have managed to equate an increase in supply with an increase in prices, pointing out a sudden rise in the number of three-bedroom homes being marketed before the September 10 HIPs switch-on, which might have skewed the index by over-weighting it with higher value properties. They may well be right, although it always astounds the Rat and Mouse that - at a time when the market may be toppling and vendors have so many important issues to grapple with - a few hundred quid one way or the other within the context of an expensive move (especially at this end of the market) will be a factor.

Meanwhile, over at Forbes:

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FYI - that 5% is the London gain... just like the good/bad (as you see appropriate) old days.

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Fri
12
Oct

Rumours of a certain rankling over at Connaught Street are currently focussing on the always-edgy subject of parking. Apparently, fellow residents have received a letter asking how they'd feel about giving up a nine-metre stretch of prime parking real estate for Blair-only use.

Blairs need to learn neighbourly diplomacy [July 23, 2007]
Blairs' Connaught Square neighbours start to feel the heat [July 16, 2007]
Connaught Square's message to the Blairs: You're not welcome 'round here [June 25, 2007]

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Next few months... dangerous for first-time buyers [Times]
Why we shouldn't worship at altar of home ownership [Guardian]
HIPs branded "shambolic" by, er, LibDems [24 Dash]
City job cuts next year expected to be enough to empty Gherkin, twice [Business Report]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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... as far as Clapham. Where Lucy Alexander discovers just how much you can buy for £3.85m. Actually, I'm only being facetious out of duty. It's an interesting story about what began as a small project, turned into a major renovation, and is now one of Clapham's finest... a beautifully spec'd house originally built for the creator of Royal Doulton china. The point being made is... why, these days, would anyone pay Chelsea prices to live in Chelsea? Except... guess where the developer wants to move once she's got her sale?

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Thu
11
Oct

Max Davidson writes in the Telegraph about a friend with a novel approach to showing a house:

Make a place look like a slum, Martin reckons, and buyers will instantly be mesmerised by the scope for improvement. I have known him deliberately leave washing-up undone, scuff up carpets, even strew socks on the floor, to give a house that "Renovate me" look.

Martin has apparently been offered asking price on his slummy semi in Uxbridge. Davidson has further tales of extreme offering in west London. The RICS report has still to reach the capital.

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Pitt, Jolie house-hunting in Manhattan [New York Post]
They might have to gazump Jessica Simpson [TMZ.com]
Ex-Judy Garland (1940s), ex-Sammy Davis Jr (1960s) Hollywood Hills home, sells for whisker under $3m [illustrated, Berg's Big Time Listings]
Kanye West, reported window-shopping [Real Estalker]
Billy Joel redefines "minted" by buying $13m neighbouring home after recently spending $17m on current pad [Berg's Big Time Listings]
Christina Aguilera paid $11.5m for The Osbournes venue [Berg's Big Time Listings]
One Madison Park... now home to Naomi Watts, Liev Schrieber, Susan Sarandan, Tim Robbins... [link to particulars]
Gisele Bundchen's two-bed NY condo... $10.9m [link to particulars]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about their house

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The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors report is always an odd one... the proportion of professionals who estimate values who report that they've estimated higher/lower values than in the previous month. But these RICS reports tend to follow the general direction of price movement. In September, prices fell (for the second consecutive month), with 14.6% more surveyors reporting a fall than reporting a rise (in August the figure had been 11.3% 3.3%... see "comments"). Importantly, new buyer enquiries fell for the tenth month in a row, and by the sharpest amount since March 2003.

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Wed
10
Oct

You know the ones... the borrowers who's tasty low-interest rate mortgage terms are about to come to an end, leaving them with a nasty jump in monthly repayments after a bunch of interest rate rises. Online mortgage company mform estimates that between 40,000 and 60,000 borrowers will see their deals end each month between now and August 2008, and many of them will be faced with substantially poorer offers, since in the current climate they may be regarded as sub-prime.

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No mention of any change re. Stamp Duty, no mention whatsoever of HIPs. But:

  • Inheritance Tax threshold rises to £600,000 for spouses and civil partners. What isn't clear is whether this does, in fact, represent a change from what was already possible with the help of a decent accountant. If there's a decent accountant reading... your comments would be very welcome.
  • proposals to encourage mortgage lenders to offer longer-term fixed-rate mortgages.
  • more homebuilding.
  • VAT reductions and other incentives to improve poor-quality housing and revitalise and fill empty homes.

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My home is very colourful. I have added vinyl strips to the floors – a cheap solution, as we had taken out the carpet and were at a loss as to how to cover it without any money. Also there is a lot of industrial tape on the walls in striped patterns that acts as wallpaper. The telephone is covered in masking tape. It looked horrible before.

Right on... the Blue Peter approach to interior design, as practiced by fashion legend Julie Verhoeven in her south London flat.

The loo is one of my favourite rooms... I covered the walls in black-and-white photocopies of pictures, mostly from the 1970s, and fashion prints and music pictures, and then I added fluorescent pink. I have unusual art pieces in my house. Some white crutches I made for an exhibition rest against the fireplace in the sitting room, and there is a bear holding a huge industrial whisk in the hallway. And I have a massive trainer from an exhibition at the bottom of the stairs.

Okay, now you're weirding me out. Haven't you heard of Ikea? Two hundred quid and a lift from a friend with an estate car and you could have a normal flat.

On the subject of interior design and sticky-back plastic, have you seen this Blue Peter guide to re-creating the Simpsons' lounge out of cardboard boxes, cotton wool, straws and felt? Marvellous, But what do you do with it afterwards?

20071010Simpsons

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Tue
09
Oct

Low fees online estate agency HouseSimple was hired (along with Jackson-Stops & Staff and Walkers) to market a £3m Essex estate, including seven bedrooms, 67 acres and a further cottage in the grounds. According to HouseSimple, the website received 5,000 "summary views" and 500 "detailed views" for the property, and it was the only agency to bring in offers. One, the asking price, was accepted. The buyer exchanged last Wednesday. HouseSimple charged 0.67% (a discount from its usual multi-agency deal of 0.75%), earning just over £20,000 in commission. A more typical high street deal of 2% would have cost the vendors £60,000. It might be an important moment, one you'll hear cited many times in the future to demonstrate that these new, online alternatives can shift expensive properties too.

20071009Housesimple

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Listed liabilities: $40.9m
Assets: $487,757

Ninety-thousand dollars of the assets are in the form of a Bentley. Who wants it?

According to the bankruptcy filing, Foxtons' largest creditors are its former parent company, Foxtons Ltd. of London, which is owed $1.8 million, and the London Foxtons' parent company, Heven Holdings Ltd., which is owed $35 million. The company also owes $3 million to Enterprise Fleet Services of Wayne, for leased autos. Other creditors include General Electric Capital Corp. ($272,264); Marple Fleet Leasing of Pennsylvania ($70,958); and AT&T ($61,269).

More here.

Has Foxtons US violated American employment law? [October 5, 2007]
Lessons to be learned from Foxtons USA's disaster [October 3]

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Buy-to-let landlords keep mortgage industry afloat [Channel 4 News]
Homebuyers choose eco-gadgets over extra rooms [/eco]
Rosie Millard on profiting from others' misfortune [Sunday Times]
Capital Economics - Bootle's a big bear [This Is Money]
Rental market booming [Telegraph]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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It's not quite science, but Oodle's new price tool - based on asking prices on its database - provides a useful point of comparison between one neighbourhood and another. Search here, and click the pricing button.

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Mon
08
Oct

Janice Turner, writing in the Times, takes a - let's say - cynical view of the London housing market... from the all-new five signs of an up-and-coming neighbourhood, to the real effect of the Tories' Stamp Duty and Inheritance Tax plans. But she's most entertaining on the subject of Foxtons:

On Saturday morning Foxtons foxstrels are handing balloons out to babies with the legend “0 per cent”. Already, their one-time-only start-up offer to flog your house for free has vacuumed up whole chunks of the neighbourhood: they have 250 houses on their books and counting. Their message to all the long-standing estate agents is “you’re dead, look upon our coffee shop and despair”.

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It's Winslow Hall, in Winslow, Buckinghamshaw, and it's thought to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren. It was described, earlier in the year, as the ultimate trophy house and the Rolls Royce of English domestic architecture, in the Times. The agent has described it as a property of national importance. It was clearly under offer back in June. The latest is that Savills have confirmed they've shown the Blairs around. No offer, though, as yet. Winslow Hall is on the market at £3m.

20071008Winslow

Blairs need to learn neighbourly diplomacy [July 23, 2007]
Blairs Connaught Street neighbours start to feel the heat [July 16, 2007]

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Home in Ealing thirteen times salaries [Ealing Times]
Agents run scared [Telegraph]
Posh London gains least in a year [Bloomberg]
Crossrail - what it means for property prices [This Is London]
Another headline with "buy-to-let" and "bubble" in it [MoveMove.co.uk]
It's property that will see off Gordon Brown [Money Week]
BBC films sub-prime borrowers the wild [BBC]

The Rat and Mouse - property news and mockery

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Sterling Prize, first; because it's serious. It went to The Museum Of Modern Literature in Marbach am Neckar, north of Stuttgart. Yes, it's about British architecture, and the British link is David Chipperfield Architects, who completed the project, a subtle concrete construction in terraces, in 2006.

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That was the sublime, and now the ridiculous. Building Design magazine has been canvassing for the year in architecture's "offal". The Rat and Mouse cast its vote on Tuesday, but not - it appears - for the winner. Ultimate victory went to Opal Court in Leicester, by Stephen George and Partners... student accommodation that can thank its "grim" colours and "pathetic" roofs.

20071007Opal

The Rat and Mouse offers its congratulations to both winners.

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Fri
05
Oct

20071004Spicy
"Avoid Bayswater like the plague" [Telegraph]
Spicy chili danger on streets of London [SignOnSanDiego]
Quarter of ftbs priced out [Times]
Foreign billionaires fuel London boom [Wall Street Journal]
Renting now cheaper than buying [BBC]
Rates no concern for buy-to-let market [Channel 4 News]
Few homes for sale in HIPs era [Channel 4 News]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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According to two former employees, laid off last week, yes. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires companies with 100 or more employees give 60 days' notice before mass layoffs. Foxtons don't appear to have given any notice at all. The employees have retained a lawyer and are gearing up for a suit. Foxtons point to exceptions (natural disasters, unforeseen changes in the business climate, circumstances in which notice might jeopardize attempts to gain financing) but it's hardly clear which of these might apply. If the suit's successful, they might be looking at a bill of $4m to cover lost wages. More here.

Breaking news... Foxtons US will file for bankruptcy [October 4, 2007]
Lessons to be learned from Foxtons USA's disaster [October 3, 2007]
Foxtons US - going bust? [September 27, 2007]

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20071004Watertower1Fun, here, as the Telegraph's Ginetta Verdrickas visits an arresting Victorian water tower in Plumstead, converted into a highly original eight-storey, four-bedroom home (with lift). Inside, it's all Lutron and Starck, but makes sensible use of original features and - via its top-floor observatory - incredible views across London. It's with John Payne, listed at £1.395m. Particulars (a PDF download) here
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Thu
04
Oct

Property blog BricksnClicks has the scoop on news that Tesco appears to have ditched its For Sale By Owner online offering:

Tesco Property Market launched in the early summer offering the public a chance to sell their house privately for £199. The offering immediately ran into trouble with estate agents and the property portals... I understand that all of Tesco’s existing clients will receive full refunds plus a good will payment.

According to BricksnClicks, Tesco's retreat comes after the OFT ruled that Tesco were acting as estate agents, and so must comply with all necessary legislation. The demands associated with that make a £199 fixed fee impractical.

In Tesco's own words:

20071004TescoAs we can't be both an on-line estate agent and private seller we reluctantly have to suspend the private seller service launched earlier in the year. We will however continue to use Tesco Property Market to provide advice and support to home movers, as well as offering great value products including mortgages, insurance, conveyancing and HIPs.

Estate agents grab whatever's to hand, prepare to fight Tesco [July 30, 2007]
Tesco answers back [July 6, 2007]
Tesco - hung out to dry? [July 4, 2007]
Brightsale attacks Tesco [July 2, 2007]
Property portals don't freak out/do freak out over Tesco [July 2, 2007]

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They thought they could avoid it, but it seems not. Thought you'd enjoy this bit:

The decision comes as some customers expressed frustration that the company won't release them from their contracts. "We don't want to be listed with anybody else," said Mary Lou Mangarella, 77, who signed a contract in June with Foxtons to sell her New Brunswick home. "We signed with Foxtons. If they can't service the listing, we want an unconditional release."

More here.

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There was a little excitement before the interest rate announcement (see how I did that? excitement and interest rate announcement in the same sentence?) when Halifax released its September house price figures and they were... a fall. It's a fall of 0.6% nationally, leaving the annual inflation rate at 10.7% (from 11.4%) or a truly astonishing 18.6% in Greater London. While the figures might be different, most of the indices are painting a similar picture of a market that's slowing down. But before we get too excited about this latest Halifax number, the Rat and Mouse would like to remind readers that Halifax reported a 0.9% fall in December, followed by eight solid months of growth.

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... no change at 5.75%. No change. No surprise.

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They're based in south London (Streatham and West Norwood branches) and talk - to the Telegraph - about their paperless office and recycling commitments, and how they plant a tree for every house sold. They're here.

[via /eco]

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It's "sort by newness"... which - as anyone who's used one of these property search engines for real world house-hunting will know - is a very valuable feature, and should go a long way toward combating misleading/old listings. Nestoria's here.

20071004Nestoria

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Wed
03
Oct

First impressions count.

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[thanks, Henry]

Foxton's US - going bust? [September 27, 2007]

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The New York Times takes a peek at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's three-storey Cadogan Square apartment. Apparently, it's kitted out by designer Jamie Drake and contains original works by Warhol, Jasper Johns and Henry Moore. Bloomberg apparently bought the apartment back in 1997, for £2.8m, with a 26 year lease. Earlier this year, he paid a further £3.5m to extend the lease until 2113. It sounds to me like he's got himself a bit of a deal.

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Rents continue upward trend [Residential Landlord]
Stamp Duty... loadsamoney for the Chancellor [Guardian]
HBOS to favour corporate lending over home loans [Telegraph]
Countrywide warns of tough spring 2008 [Estate Agency News]

The Rat and Mouse - because Londoners think about property every three seconds

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Tue
02
Oct

Okay, I've not used Checkatrade. I have - however - used a similar recommendation/review site before, and ended up with a decorator who installed ceiling lights in my bathroom so well the entire ceiling had to be removed to replace a bulb. (Even that wasn't nearly as irritating as his company while he completed the job.) Anyway, times have moved on, the business model has tightened up, and Checkatrade looks fairly impressive. The website's had a complete revamp, and it looks good and works well. Even if you're in the business of needing a tradesman, it's worth idly browsing for the squabbles.

20071002Squabble

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Courtesy of Building Design magazine, who clearly foster serious ambitions for the award:

Launched for the first time last year, the Carbuncle Cup is to the Stirling Prize what the Golden Raspberries are to the Oscars. So while the Riba searches for architecture's prime cuts, we set out to uncover the offal.

Here's the shortlist of seven:

20071002Carbuncles

And, as you can see, Foster, Edward Potter Associates and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris are all proudly representing London. The Rat and Mouse's vote is firmly for Skydec, although we disagree with architect Alan Riley's appraisal that "it looks as though a half deflated balloon has landed on it". It reminds the Rat and Mouse of something altogether different:

20071002Skydec

20071002Helmet

The winner's announced Friday.

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Morgan Stanley's David Miles described himself as "relatively pessimistic" about the UK housing market yesterday, claiming it's in worse shape than its European counterparts, and warning that limited supply won't continue to hold up prices into the future. More here.

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Mon
01
Oct

... abolish Inheritance Tax for anything under £1m, and pay for the whole shebang by squeezing nondoms. (Not as nasty as it sounds.) More here.

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Every time a council tenant decided to cash in, my estate agent would give me a call to see if I knew of an architect who might be persuaded to buy.

That's Isabel Allen, on the 4homes blog, writing about her previous home in the Brunswick Centre. But Brunswick's success, she argues, isn't about the architecture, it's about the location. And it's the location - again, not the Brutalist architecture - that's at the heart of Robin Hood Gardens' failure.

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The estate (a Utopian streets-in-the-sky dream by husband-and-wife architectural team Alison and Peter Smithson, built in Poplar, east London, at the start of the 1970s) is threatened with demolition, and not everybody's delighted. It's not in a great place (knocking it down won't help), and it's structurally and socially flawed... but once it's gone it will be gone forever, and there'll come a time when a new generation will pour over the photographs and shake their heads in disbelief... they just tore it down? Yes, son, they just tore it down, replaced it with cheap-and-easy apartments for the middle classes, their development chums making small fortunes in the process, and sent the original tenants scattering...

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It's a big fat zero for September, nationally. In London, there was a slight shift upward, of 0.1%. The annual (national) inflation figure is 5% (from 5.4% in August). The accompanying report talks of inertia, with a tightening of supply holding prices up.

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There's a survey by Savills into (yes, that perennial) the effect a good local school has on house prices, and it comes up with some interesting headlines, such as:

  • 75% of families, when choosing a new home, place more emphasis on good school proximity than the safety of the neighbourhood.
  • Among those earning £100,000 or more, that percentage creeps up to 94%.
  • Top private schools are adding 20% to property prices.
  • Top state schools are adding 13%.
  • Although the differences between school standards in primary education isn't as great as in secondary education, the effect on house prices is similar.

And it's all our fault. The unreasonable house prices - according to Savills - are directly the result of desperate Londoners realising that even if little Cosmo is crammed to the point of serious psychological damage and he does win a place at a good school, and even if they can scrape up the fees, the school's so oversubscribed it can't issue any guarantees that Cosmo won't end up down the road instead, getting beaten senseless by little Brooklyn on a daily basis. That's the point at which the flight instinct sets in, and the entire family goes house-hunting in the country, a clutch of OFSTED reports in the glove compartment. They fight it out with a dozen other London families, adding 20% to the cost of their house, pricing out any locals... and then settle into a new life, Cosmo's dad still in London four days of the week, running up a massive mobile phone bill and sleeping with Eastern European prostitutes. (The last bit isn't in the Savills report.)

For some fascinating commentary, including real world examples and a photograph of a boy dressed up like a painful accident waiting to happen, read this great Sunday Telegraph piece. Download the actual report here.

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The Ninja mortgage - over here, and dangerous [Observer]
Speculators bet on losses in property sector [Telegraph]
Anger at ministers with snouts in property trough [Daily Mail]
Phil Spencer warns - get it wrong now and you're dog food [Sunday Times]
Telegraph finds a home for Robert Plant [Telegraph]
Post mortgages [Times]

The Rat and Mouse - it's about your house

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