Friday, 28 October 2011

Bobbing for apps

I am told there are 280 buying agents in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea alone. On some days, it feels that there are more buying agents than selling agents; which is indicative of the abundance of money over time in some parts of our market.

As half term runs into its second week, the effect of holiday’s this year has not been insignificant. This was particularly evident in April as Easter gave way to the Royal Wedding celebrations. When I moved out of London 12 years ago, the market has distinct seasons. Post 9/11 two changes have been an increase in holiday entitlements taken with a general lack of seasonality otherwise. The result had been a market that is more affected by the school holidays than it is the weather. This was borne out earlier this year when we were busier during the disruption of the snow in February than the usual watershed of Easter.

The last week in October is also the final week of the financial half year for many businesses. We are working hard to get our clients sales completed before the clocks go back. Monday is Halloween, a sixteenth century Scottish variant of All-Hallows-Even , the night before All Hallows Day. However, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, (originally pronounced sow-an or sow-in) meaning "summer's end". Whilst the warmth is fading in the air as the sun no longer rises to its summer zenith, the magic of autumn is now in full flow. As the tree opposite my office turns burning shades of amber, in market terms it is not the weather that makes the difference rather that families are together over half term. The autumn brings fresh challenges in marketing campaigns; clients are asked to keep lawns free of leaves and photographers chase the sun, which like early season pheasants is reluctant to gain altitude.

The market has some really high quality buyers, ready, willing and able to make a Christmas move. Yet the choice is limited. As the countryside offers everything from field sports to long walks, Hampshire firesides are a special retreat from the rigors of the city. Despite European financial turmoil, interest rates are pegged at record low rates and the FTSE seems as resilient as ever. What better a time to buy or sell a Hampshire home? Demand is still high, supply is low and the countryside becomes even more magical as autumn gives way to winter. Hibernating wildlife cram for winter, yet I cannot help thinking we have not seen the best of this season and our harvest festival could turn into a winter of contentment.

Next Saturday is bonfire night. As fires and fireworks are enjoyed throughout the country in remembrance of the events of 5 November 1605, the cold becomes a welcome visitor. Whether bobbing for apples or enjoying all that a gunpowder plot of your own can bring, spare a thought because everything makes this time of year special is unaffected by headlines and a market that is frustrated.

We launched our new Carter Jonas iPhone app this week which is now available from the App Store for iPod Touch and Apple iPhone.

The last twelve hours have seen the app downloaded as far afield as China, the former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia and the United States. A recent review read; “Quick and easy to use - I like this app as it is straightforward, easy to use and I found it very quick too. Great descriptions and photos and easy link to the map for location too”

The Carter Jonas property app will allow you to search for the latest residential sales and lettings from Carter Jonas.

The functionality includes a shortlist property for later review, search for properties near you based on your GPS position, alternatively search for properties based on your desired town, county, city or postcode, email and telephone the branch directly from your iPhone, view photos and read about the key features of the property, find a Carter Jonas office near you, quickly search for new properties based on your previous search criteria and email your favourite properties to your friends and family.

Matthew Hallett

Head of Residential Sales, Winchester

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Badgers and Bovine TB issue

The Badgers and Bovine TB issue rumbles on with a recent debate in Westminster Hall where Farming Minister Jim Paice strongly defended the government’s proposal to introduce a trial culling programme of badgers.

Much of the debate surrounded the science behind the government’s proposals but Jim Paice responded knowledgeably stating that, “I do not believe that doing nothing should be an option”. He went on to explain in some detail that it is widely accepted that a badger cull as proposed would reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% and explained further that the latest “science shows that the incidence of TB in the culling zones fell by up to 34%”

It seems to me the debate about the science will go on forever but what is also clear to me is that if we only try to control the disease in cattle and pay no attention to badgers which are known to be a source of infection in cattle then the incidence of TB in cattle will continue no matter how many cattle are tested and subsequently slaughtered. That is not to say that other avenues of research should not continue.

For instance an effective injectable vaccine has been developed for badgers although it is not practical to administer on a wide scale while an effective oral vaccine unfortunately appears to be many years away. As far as cattle are concerned an effective vaccine is thought not to be far away but there will then be major problems with the EU in getting agreement to use it.

So while the TB problem is getting worse both financially and geographically it seems the government’s proposals to introduce trial badger culls is coming nearer to fruition but it is also clear from Mr Paice’s statement that there will be a sting in the tail for the wider farming community in that the cattle testing regime is likely to become tighter. As Mr Paice stated in the debate, “We propose to reduce or abandon compensation where farmers are overdue a TB test.” So the bovine TB debate continues and although it appears this government is prepared to implement some form of control of badgers this will be accompanied by ever more stringent cattle testing and biosecurity measures on farm.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The property market and other paradoxes…

September was a record month, both for temperatures and our Winchester business. Hampshire harvests were safely gathered in and although rivers were low, there were some lovely days sport to be had with good grilse runs and some large late season brownies.

October has been marked by England’s departure from the Rugby World Cup and some choice phrases from the Governor of the Bank of England; “It is unfamiliar – that’s because this is the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen, at least since the 1930s, if not ever. And we’re having to deal with very unusual circumstances but react calmly to this and to do the right thing.” Mervyn King’s words, whilst chilling are also apt for the Hampshire property market, where we are contending with very unusual circumstances indeed. The dearth of prime properties for sale is more extreme than usual, yet buyers are less willing to compromise. Whilst there are plenty of buyers looking for good country houses, there is currently less urgency to purchase and the negotiations are more complex than usual. When markets are faring well, buyers are more prepared to compromise, so if 7/10 of their boxes are ticked, they are more than likely to proceed. Currently, however, buyers do not want to consider any risk whilst the markets are uncertain and would much prefer for all ten boxes to be ticked, which can sometimes prove to be an unachievable aspiration. Buyers are reluctant to bid, in effect, against themselves and in many cases, would prefer to wait until there is competition to confirm the level of market value. All of this slows the process whilst the battle of wills is played out.

The oxymoron of a shortage of properties and buyers unwilling to compromise is alien to Hampshire and in stark contrast to conditions in London. The prime London market, which is dominated by international buyers, is moving much more quickly; there is a shortage of property coming onto the market so buyers know that they have to act quickly in order to compete. A mild autumn and a lively London market are the usual indicators of a busy October in Hampshire but sellers of prime property are in short supply. Negative market comment in the media appears to have become a self fulfilling prophesy; clients, like early season partridge are, it seems, understandably easily spooked. Perhaps the most frustrating paradox is the lack of property creates a lack of property; potential vendors are unwilling to enter the upheaval of a sale without a reasonable chance of a suitable alternative home to trade up or down to, thus there is a logjam.

I have just returned from my yearly pilgrimage to Scotland, in pursuit of the silver tourist; Salmo salar and whilst a wonderful week was had, as always, we were plagued by river water levels. Salmon get trapped in pools, waiting for a spate large enough to return upstream to their redds; the Hampshire market has similarities with buyers and sellers in a holding pattern, waiting for the flow of activity to return.

I am regularly updating buyers and their agents and hope that the current impasse in the country market can be resolved before the city Christmas bonuses are announced.

Matthew Hallett

Head of Residential Sales, Winchester 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Wheat prices on the slide

Arable farmers will be looking with a degree of gloom at the recent trend in wheat prices which has seen them steadily fall since a peak in April of over £200/t to £142/t last week, which is the first time in over a year that this year’s price has dropped to lower than it was a year ago. Further a year ago wheat prices were rising on fears of world shortages as Russia had banned wheat exports but in contrast the market pressures are in reverse this year with fears of falling demand due to the slowdown in the world economy and generally better than expected harvests. It seems there is little a farmer can do to influence these international forces and so they must turn their minds to improving the efficiency of production in other ways.

In this respect many readers will have notice that in recent years there has been a trend away from ploughing land following harvest towards what is known as “minimum tillage” where the farmers pass over the stubble with a various types of machinery which usually comprise a combination of discs and tines of one form or another. The seed for the next crop is then “direct drilled” in to the seed bed which has been created. This makes sense on various levels; first it maintains the soil structure which is otherwise broken up during conventional cultivation techniques because a plough basically inverts the soil. Once ploughed the soil has to be broken down again by various other machines to create a suitable seed bed in to which the next crop can be drilled. This work is in itself expensive in terms of machinery and fuel.

At another level the minimum tillage techniques are also believed to preserve an better population of earthworms which help with the soil structure and having been on one farm walk earlier in the year, it was clear that this technique had retained far more moisture in the soil than would otherwise have been the case had the soil been ploughed. This has been particularly important in recent dry years when spring sown crops in particular have suffered from the drought conditions.

However, what I had not realised until I read a recent report of some field trials is that there can be a very significant benefit in yields for wheat crops which have been the direct drilled rather than using conventional cultivation techniques.

A recent study carried out in Suffolk has shown that the average yield from 31 plots which were direct drilled was 3.7t/acre as opposed to an average yield from all the conventionally drilled plots of 2.9t/acre. This represents an increased yield of over 25% which seems quite staggering to me and begs the question why everyone is not adopting this technique.

One reason is perhaps the fear that it is more difficult to control weeds, which is probably true, particularly for such things as “black grass” which can be very pernicious but the benefits of minimum tillage do seem quite compelling and so I suspect this will be an increasing trend for many arable farmers.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells