How speculation shaped the housing market

View the article online here

The curse of gazumping is back with a vengeance

The issue of greedy house sellers asking buyers for more cash has spread outside the capital. Julian Knight reports

Some would argue that gazumping never went away in some of the posher parts of the capital, but outside of these small enclaves the practice – where buyers are asked for more cash by greedy sellers at the last possible minute of the transaction – has not reared its ugly head for many years. Now though, property market professionals say that gazumping is not only back but is spreading across many parts of the UK.

A new nationwide survey carried out by online estate agency has found that 7 per cent of property transactions that fell through in the past year have done so due to gazumping. “As the property market continues to pick up, we are certainly noticing an increase in the number of buyers being gazumped across the UK at the final hour,” said Russell Quirk, founder of Some cases encountered by the website highlight the very worst aspects of the hot UK property market. “We have come across sellers accepting five or six offers on a property in order to get the best price possible for their home,” he said.

“Nearly 100,000 potential buyers lose out on properties every year as a result of gazumping, resulting in an average of £1,752 being lost with each failed transaction, not to mention the huge emotional toll. Introducing a set time frame (for example, six weeks) for the sale to take place would dramatically reduce cases of this happening,” he added.

It seems that the better economic news and easier mortgage availability as well as an uplift in transactions caused by the government’s Help to Buy scheme lies behind much of the current impetus in the market. As a result, sellers outside the perennial London property hotspots, who had just been grateful to find a buyer over the past few years, are now flexing their muscles.

They can see demand being fuelled by a “wash-out” effect from the capital, where London owners are selling up and moving out to commuter towns, where the schooling may be better and the speed of life a little slower. One leading Hertfordshire estate agent, who did not wish to be named, said the market was “injected again with greed”.

“People read about how there are all these cash buyers in London, and there is such competition for property, that they are getting bold and see once-precious buyers as a cash cow to bring others into the mix and start a bidding war,” he said. “These people are being egged on by some estate agents who believe this is the way to achieve a sale.”

Camilla Dell, managing partner at property search company Black Brick, recounts a recent story of a family looking to relocate to Surrey facing just this “injection” of greed into the market. “During one week alone, we received three enquiries, all from British buyers who had suffered gazumping – one of the most irritating and stressful outcomes a buyer can face,” she said.

“One client was a UK expat family, planning to relocate back to Britain later this year. They have been looking for a family home for the past six months and have been gazumped on three properties.”

And it is not just in the London commuter belt that the curse of gazumping is returning. Some highly desirable properties in Cheshire, central Manchester, Bristol and historic centres such as Bath are also becoming embroiled in gazumping. The only place that is free seems to be areas such as Wales and Northern Ireland where the market is still weak and in Scotland, which operates an entirely different sales system.

However, north of the border, particularly in affluent parts of Edinburgh, solicitors report that many properties are achieving far more than expected at sealed bid stage – a very good indicator of a market in take-off mode. Caspar Harvard-Walls, also a partner at Black Brick, said: “It looks like gazumping is well and truly back, and with a force. The last time we experienced a market like this was back in the heady days of 2007.

“The difference now is that gazumping is happening much further outside of the traditional core market of prime central London. This is partly down to buyers being priced out of super-prime and looking further afield for better value, and partly down to a constant lack of supply of sensibly priced, well-located properties that aren’t in some way compromised.”

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, reckons some of this frenzy is caused by concerns that interest rates – currently at historic lows – have only one way to go and that is up. “There is now growing panic that interest rates might actually rise next year, rather than 2016 as the Governor’s Forward Guidance previously indicated.

“But with inflation falling close to its 2 per cent target and the economy still in recovery mode, it is unlikely that the Bank will risk hiking interest rates too soon. Even if targets are met, there will still be good reasons to keep interest rates at 0.5 per cent. We still believe the first rate rise may not be until 2016.” But this may be little comfort to a buyer having to navigate a market that is noticeably tilting towards the seller.

Mr Harvard-Walls advises chivvying along any sale, which means staying on top of the legal work, agents and mortgage providers. “Be prepared – ensure your finances are in place and solicitors are instructed,” he said. “The quicker you can get from the point of the deal being agreed through to an exchange of contracts, the better. No one can get gazumped after exchange. You can also try offering the seller a non-refundable deposit to try to get the property removed from the market and have a period of exclusivity, however often by the time lawyers have finished drafting exclusivity agreements, you could have exchanged contracts.”

For some, they have the finances sorted, though that means having sold their home and be a cash buyer, which is only for a chosen few with greater flexibility to their lives.


More than just location, location, location

By Gwenda Brophy

Summer is here, the much derided home information packs are gone, house prices are slowly returning to their 2007 peak and you have decided to put your home on the market. This time, however, it is different – you have recession wary and double-dip conscious buyers to contend with. They will interrogate and evaluate, sniff around inside and even dig around elsewhere. But get the essentials right and invest only in improvements that will add value, and a faster sale, better price, and reduced chance of deals falling through could be your reward.


“At the moment it will take on average 10 weeks to sell your home”, says Nigel Lewis, property analyst at, “and people are now spending more time looking at property before making their decision.” The clock starts ticking even as potential buyers arrive. “You can add another four weeks upwards to that if a property has an unappealing front fascia or untidy garden”, says Lewis. “Outward appearance is an important factor in the speed of a property sale, second only to price”.

James Hyman, Partner for Residential Sales at agents Cluttons agrees on the importance of the exterior. “External space is always sought after and invariably commands a price premium. Utilising it to its full potential is one of the most valuable commodities from which a seller can benefit, whether it’s a balcony or capacious gardens. It needs to be exploited from the outset”. He estimates that landscaping a garden “could add up to 5 per cent to the value of a property yet be done for as little as £1,000”. Off-street parking may be less pretty than pot-plants, “but the advantages to a buyer are overwhelming”, says Nick Churton of national agent network The Mayfair Office, especially where parking is at a premium or residents-only parking permits apply. “Buyers don’t want to be regularly lugging heavy supermarket bags and unloading holiday luggage streets away, and spending time finding a parking space in the dark or wet.”

Make sure you use permeable materials, and according to Camilla Dell, Managing Partner at Black Brick Property Solutions, adding off-street parking will add around 5-10 per cent to the price of a house. George Franks, sales director of Douglas & Gordon London agents has found buyers prepared to pay between £30,000 and £40,000 for a double off-street parking for a family house in central London, “and around half that price for single off-street parking. If a house is the only property on the street with off street parking, then the value of that parking could be even higher.”


If you undertake work to the interior as a means of increasing value get the details right. For example, Camilla Dell advises that any loft conversion should include a bathroom, and, says while adding an en suite can be a good idea. “In terraced houses they tend not to have an external window and so can suffer from damp, so ensure it includes adequate ventilation. Mould is a big no-no.”

George Franks of agents Douglas and Gordon says the added value of creating an en suite varies entirely on whether the property is big enough to warrant it. “If there is a way of adding a bathroom without sacrificing a bedroom it can add anything from 5 per cent upwards to the value of the property. However if it means losing a room in a small house, resale value can be adversely affected.”
In this energy cost-conscious climate David Adam, head of residential property at Chesterton Humberts, sees current buyers getting hot under the collar about boilers – “whether it has been maintained annually and produces enough heat”. And forget trying to wow potential buyers with your green credentials. “While some purchasers might be interested in ground source heat pumps and solar panels, for most these are just expensive additions.”

Even new-home builders are addressing our newly developed boiler performance focus – Barratt recently brought in five-year guarantees to put minds at rest. So in a resale market it may pay to replace a decrepit one. James Bailey of Henry & James, a central London agent says “if buyers see one on its last legs, they will mentally calculate the cost of replacement, and that’s reflected in the offer.”

“One of the best interior investments is old-fashioned elbow grease”, says Ed Church from Strutt and Parker’s Canterbury office. “A clean house will always sell better then the same house in a poor state. Repaint the front door, clean the windows, vacuum and mow the lawn.”

Lulu Egerton, Partner at Strutt and Parker’s Chelsea office suggests an often neglected area, “making sure your home smells nice.”

And Simon Pritchard-Smith of Robert Bailey Property agrees. “Homes with odours and smells are a huge turn off, as is an unpleasant – or embarrassing – vendor.”


“I was once selling a property with a large nude portrait of the female owner above the bed. It was hard for me or buyers to talk to the vendor with that image in your head”, recalls Pritchard-Smith. In fact, say agents, vendors can be their own worst enemy. Having good or bad neighbours may largely be down to luck, but could raise the value of a property by as much as £5,000 while antisocial ones could reduce the price by up to £30,000 according to recent research by Halifax Home Insurance. Becky Munday, head of sales at agents Wooster & Stock, has found that “good neighbours are becoming as important as surveys for many purchasers. Savvy buyers asking about the neighbours is one of the key questions raised during viewings, and many will do their own detective work before making an offer. Sales can collapse because a buyer finds out there are loud neighbours.”

If you do have paragons next door, Camilla Dell advises talking about them – as well as highlighting advantages of the location from proximity to parks or good-quality schools nearby.


Forget swimming pools, media rooms, or the latest hi-tech gadgets – light-flooded space overlooking the garden is what really presses buyers’ buttons. The reputation of badly built PVC conservatories can and has actually brought down property values in the past, but a quality conservatory can add real financial value, and help with the sale of a house. Knight Frank’s Christopher Bailey sees the role of conservatories “working indirectly through the addition of square footage in a property.” However quality not quantity is the issue, so forget oversized plastic bubbles that boil in summer and are unusable in winter. “Good design is the key”, says Jonathan Hey, managing director of Westbury Conservatories, “even the most critical buyer will appreciate that.” Think expansive and integrated living space “so that it feels a seamless part of the property and not an ill-thoughtout or hasty addition. Essentially an expertly designed, well-built conservatory equals the addition of an extra room to the property, and this can’t fail to add value. It also gives you the additional wow factor that attracts potential buyers instantly – particularly if you’re selling during the summer months when they can see the direct benefit of the extra space.”


“It may be a cliché, but the right house in the right area will sell every time”, says Simon Pritchard-Smith. “But even if it isn’t the right house, if it offers scope for redesign, many buyers will snap it up. End-of-terrace houses, good light and larger than normal gardens will always be preferred.”

If your property does not measure up on those fronts, what you do have control over as a seller is your attitude to the sale. Ed Church from Strutt and Parker’s Canterbury office believes ultimately it is “realism and commitment that sells houses. Those vendors who fail to sell or whose homes sit on the market for months tend to have overambitious price expectations.” Be realistic. And perhaps it says much about us that Andrew Scott puts competition from more than one buyer in his top 10 factors for getting a sale. So be sure to casually mention other interest to any viewers and potential buyers – nothing it seems galvanises us like thinking someone else might be after the property we’ve set our sights on.

How not to add value to your home

Thinking of selling your property? You don’t need to splash out on expensive renovations, just stay practical and functional, says Graham Norwood

Improve, not move is the mantra of our recessionary times, especially for those with a Sarah Beeny-esque penchant for making bags of money from bricks and mortar. We are constantly assailed with advice about what to do to boost the value of our home, but what changes push prices down and make a property less attractive to a future would-be buyer?

The answer? According to leading estate agents and relocatin agents, it’s bad news for you if you have just turned your home into an open-plan space with a flash kitchen and a converted basement containing a swimming pool and gaudy jacuzzi…

Bad move 1: Extravagant kitchens, bathrooms and hot tubs

This is the howler of choice for many homeowners. Estate agents say most buyers fit new bathroom suites or kitchen cabinets to put their mark on a property – so those installed by sellers are usually a waste of money.

“The classic mistake is a very expensive ground-floor jacuzzi room with separate shower unit, in all costing £10,000. It’s hardly ever used, and likely to be ripped out by the next owner. It sounds barmy, but I’ve seen it more times than I’d care to remember,” says William Kirkland of John D Wood estate agency in Oxford.

“There’s something worringly seedy about spa baths, and outdoor hot tubs that are very rarely used. They sit there 355 days a year, covered with a tarpaulin. When you finally dust it down, it’s filled with debris and putrid water,” says Robert Bailey, of Robert Bailey Property.

Bad move 2: Dodgy decoration

Decorations that reflect the eccentricities of the owner can be a turn-off for buyers, which is why estate agents and house doctors say “de-cluttering” and a large tin of neutral-coloured paint tend to maximise the appeal of a property going on the market.

“Purchasers look for quality – not necessarily gimmicky improvements, but high-quality finishes. Neutral ivory or white in a classic modern or period style is always the safest bet,” insists Richard Barber of estate agent WA Ellis.

Sam Trounson of rival agency Strutt & Parker says owners preparing to sell should remember most buyers make near-instant decisions about a home. “Money is often best spent on gravel on the drive and repainting the front door. The last place to spend money is the last room in the house when looking around,” he says.

Bad move 3: Flamboyant renovations

Modern architectural form often favours open-plan interiors, but the problem with emulating this in older homes means valuable bedrooms or private space are lost.

Spencer Cushing of John D Wood’s office in Battersea, south London, was asked for advice by an owner wanting to convert a three-bed, 1,200 sq ft apartment into a one-bedroom flat with a vast open reception area. “I tried to convince him that far from adding value, this would bring the market price down. It’s fine if you’re doing it for yourself but when you’re looking to sell it on for profit, it’s safest to create what the average Joe Bloggs purchaser is looking for,” says Cushing.

Another mistake is restructuring for unsympathetic uses. “A cinema room in a Georgian cottage or a Victorian fireplace in a new-build property will look out of place and will add no value at all,” adds George Franks of estate agent Douglas & Gordon.

Bad move 4: Swimming pools

A pool, especially in the garden, is a status symbol that can also become a liability.

“The running costs are hideous and people tend not to use them as much as they think they will. The cost per swim is extremely high for an outside pool ,” says James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.

Sensible buyers avoid pools, insists Carl Davenport of Chesterton Humberts. He once helped sell the home of Duncan Goodhew, the British swimmer who won gold and bronze medals in the 1980 Olympics. He didn’t have a pool, “and if he doesn’t need one, nobody does,” Davenport says.

Bad move 5: Poorly planned extensions

More space usually means more value – but often only if this means more bedrooms and the home does not become excessively “over-developed” in the neighbourhood.

“Investigate the ceiling price in your area. If most homes like yours are selling for no more than £500,000, then sticking a £100,000 extension on the side and expecting the house to be worth £600,000 is completely unrealistic,” says Sharon Zaremski of upmarket estate agency Strutt & Parker.

Despite the recent trend “large, multi-storey subterranean basements have limited appeal,” says Bailey. “we have relatively little natural light as it is, so buyers will not value basement space nearly as much as light-filled space.”

Even worse, any botched extension work will bite back when you sell. “A lawyer for the purchaser will require proof that the necessary consents were obtained,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick buying agency. If the consents aren’t there? “It’s unlikely a purchaser would be willing to take a risk and purchase,” she says.

So what does add value? A seller’s guide

  • A new survey from the Nationwide building society helps owners focus on three ways of improving a property and boosting value, too.
  • A 10 per cent increase in round floor space adds an average of 5 per cent to value (7 per cent if the home is detached). But the space must be “usable”, so that means adding a conservatory or utility room or home office – not a media room.
  • Adding an en suite bedroom through, say, a loft conversion or extending above a garage can add between 11 and 20 per cent to a property’s value, for houses that expand from two-to-three or three-to-four bedrooms as a result.
  • Energy-efficiency measures can boost a home’s value and “sellability”. New mandatory Energy Performance Certificates for homes on the market make it easy for buyers to compare different properties.

Creative investments: Beyond stocks and shares

By Graham Norwood

PROPERTY AND LAND: ‘Remember, there is more than one way to make money from a property’

Phil Spencer’s home-finding firm has gone bust, developers have downed tools worldwide and The Apprentice hopefuls include an estate agent seeking a career change. It doesn’t sound an ideal time to try to make a profit from property, does it? Yet we may look back on spring 2009 as the moment when we should have acted.

“We’ve seen precipitous falls over an extremely short period. Many [homes] are selling at 30 per cent less than the heady 2007 levels. A new raft of buyers is getting ready to pounce on correctly priced property,” says James Greenwood of Stacks, which finds homes for buyers and bargains hard with sellers to slash asking prices.

“The fear of a total collapse in property prices has now passed,” Greenwood claims. If that is right, canny buyers will purchase at the bottom of the market – and may remember that there is more than one way to make money from a property. For example, land prices are down 40 per cent or more. A 0.2 acre plot like the one at Abbotscroft near Melrose in the Scottish borders ( 01578 722 814) costs £125,000 and comes with planning consent for a house and garage. If you build during the recession you could make a profit of 25 per cent.

Another plan would be to buy a period apartment in one of the central London private estates on a very short lease – say under 20 years – then extend the lease and thus add 10 per cent to 40 per cent to the property’s value. This tactic is not for the faint-hearted as you must live in the flat for a short while to qualify and then negotiate the lease extension directly with the freeholder. The cost depends on the freeholder’s willingness to extend, on how much a longer lease could add to the value, plus compensation to the freeholder that is worked out by complicated formulae. But every year about 400 people do it and make money.

Another option is to buy a home with viable integrated business. West Cottage Café at Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, is a fine example. On sale for £575,000 ( , 01603 229 229), it sits in a busy tourist area and boasts a £60,000 annual turnover, of which £42,000 is profit. It is ripe for improvement. You could use its four bedrooms as a B&B or expand the café, or both, of course.

Then there’s buy to let – with a twist. Purchasing a flat in a city centre already saturated with identical apartments is the equivalent of burning £20 notes, but buy a carefully chosen student property and you may do well. Student numbers across Britain have grown from 1.8 million in 1997 to over 2.5 million. “The recession has led to a surge in college applicants keen to avoid entering the current job market. Investors who purchase apartments in private university halls or invest in shared student houses can enjoy high net yields of 5 to 6 per cent” says Stuart Law of Assetz property investment consultancy.

All of these investments come with the usual health warnings. Prices may drop further, and make a bad choice of location or property and that profit could turn into a loss. If the recession becomes a depression, everything is up for grabs.

Even stronger health warnings apply to overseas property. There are bargains aplenty, but you need excellent independent research and a good solicitor to check contracts before you sign. Spread your risk by buying property where prices have dropped (so may be about to rise) and which can in any case produce a separate income.

Le Manoir de Raynaudes is a boutique guest house near Albi in south-west France, where prices are 20 per cent down but unlikely to fall further due to resilient demand from Britons seeking a lifestyle change. The hard work has been done – transforming this from a wreck to a hotel in US Travel and Leisure’s Top 500 guide took 15 builders and two years of sweat – but the business has a large turnover and a global reputation. The downside? It will cost you €1.55m (£1.44m) ( , 020-7016 3740).

If terroir is your thing, buy a vineyard. For €700,000 you get 15 hectares of vines near Bergerac with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sémillon grapes (french , 00 33 556 2714 01). There is a large farmhouse needing modernisation and buildings to convert to holiday homes.

More traditional property investors can look for that elusive “emerging market”, but be very careful. Rewards will be high for those brave enough to buy early and who manage to sell quickly if their chosen area becomes a hotspot. But remember, many sellers in Dubai and Bulgaria waited too long and are now seeing prices fall thanks to a glut of homes on the market, with very few buyers in sight. One new area is the Philippines. The Blue Coral resort has apartments from £63,425 with what the developer calls “a guaranteed net income of up to 20.9 per cent” ( , 020-7321 5858). Another new location is Poland, tipped to rival Germany and Britain as Europe’s economic powerhouse in the 2010s. Flats and commercial properties in Lodz – to which computer giant Dell has relocated from Ireland – are on sale from £54,500 ( , 0161-727 1327).

If all this smacks of an era when agents’ details hinted at untold wealth in lands you hadn’t heard of, then your home in Blighty can still make money for you. Whether you rent a flat or own a mansion, you can get a lodger. The Government’s Rent a Room scheme allows you to receive up to £4,250 a year tax-free, provided the dwelling is your main or only home. “In the final quarter of last year, there was a threefold increase in the number of landlords registered with us looking for lodgers,” says Tamara Smith of, one of many websites helping match home owners and would-be lodgers. Or use a home exchange agency to get a low-cost holiday. Advertise your property on services such as, which gives you access to thousands of other homes worldwide. Identify a place and home you like, email the owners and strike a swap deal for anything from a weekend to a month. The result? A holiday without the accommodation costs.

If all else fails, buy a property and live in it until it rises in value – which it will do, eventually. “But it’s a long-term play,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick, a home buying agency. “Anyone thinking they can buy and sell in 12 months’ time for huge profits is not realistic. The market will take at least five years and maybe longer to recover.”

You could put your money into shares, bonds or gold. But they don’t sound as much fun as cultivating a vineyard or running a café, do they? Graham Norwood

Thank you, Darling: How to take advantage of stamp duty changes

By Graham Norwood


The Government’s stamp duty incentive to encourage first-time and low-paid buyers back to the housing market is one week old – and it may be working, up to a point. It is too early to judge whether there are already more buyers, but a few sellers are cutting asking prices to ensure that their properties fall inside the new threshold, where homes at £175,000 and below are exempt from stamp duty.

Peter Rollings, managing director of London estate agent Marsh & Parsons, says: “On the first day, we began to see vendors who’d been asking around £200,000, dropping prices below the threshold. Vendors are already adjusting their behaviour.”

A case in point is a small studio flat in a Victorian house near Clapham Common in south-west London. “We thought it might have sold for around £225,000 last year, but the market’s come off so we were asking £195,000. But when a stamp-duty holiday was announced we thought that we might tempt buyers if we knocked another £20,000 from the price,” says the owner, Clive de Rougemont (Marsh & Parsons, 020-7501 3666).

But what of those other sellers, with properties priced just above the threshold, who are still holding out? If a flat or house is on sale at £180,000 it costs the buyer not only £5,000 more than a property on at £175,000 – it also costs £1,800 stamp duty. What can shrewd buyers do to bargain down the prices of reluctant sellers?

The Independent asked five of Britain’s top buying agents – professional property purchasers who find homes for clients and then negotiate down their prices – to show the best ways that you should view a home on sale and how to bargain hard in today’s market.

View the property carefully

Make notes, take photographs, measure the relevant spaces to ensure your furniture will fit in. Remember, there are few rival buyers around these days so ignore an estate agent urging you to “panic offer” on the property.

Check whether it needs work

A large home on sale at a low price often needs modernisation or is sold by bash-and-botch, do-it-yourself amateurs. Check for damp, inspect windows and sills, ensure roof tiles are secure and look for weather damage on gutters, downpipes and railings.

“If work is required, you will have leverage for negotiation,” insists Philip Selway of The Buying Solution.

Do your homework

If the home is second-hand, check the Land Registry website for sales prices of similar properties; if the home is new, find out about the developer.

“In a softening market it’s likely that similar properties may have sold for less,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick Property Solutions. “Armed with this evidence will put buyers in a good position to negotiate. If buying from a developer, find out its financial year-end date – developers want to get as much stock sold before year-end and they may make a substantial discount.”

Be ready to go

A third of the few sales happening these days fall through, so you must reassure the estate agent and the vendor that you will be able to proceed.

“Show copies of mortgage offers to prove the money is there. Make the agent aware that you’ve discussed it with your lawyer. Ask the right questions about running costs and council tax and see the property at least twice to show that you’re committed. When you have done all that, you’re in a strong position to proceed with a cheeky offer,” says Mark Parkinson from Middleton Advisors, a south of England buying agency.

Find out about the seller

“Obtain as much information as possible. If the vendor needs to sell their home to buy the property they want, they’re much more likely to accept a lower offer,” explains Jo Eccles of Sourcing Property, a London agency.

“Are they in debt, getting divorced or in financial difficulties? These factors will influence what they’re likely to accept. If you’re very brave, you may consider doing some sleuthing among the neighbours,” adds Jo Aldridge of Stacks Property Search & Acquisition.

Negotiate and bargain hard

Data from Hometrack, a consultancy that analyses estate agents’ figures, suggest most sellers are lucky to get 90 per cent of the asking price – even if that price is already much lower than it would have been a year ago. Don’t stop there, especially if you are within sight of the £175,000 threshold. “I’ve no hesitation in being hard-nosed,” says James Greenwood, managing director of Stacks. In some cases this year he has negotiated deals of a third less than the asking price.

He says: “When the market’s going up, estate agents push prices higher. Now it’s falling, so buyers can get their own back.”